CT--------The Spring Sizzler. Just mention those words to a NASCAR modified
tour driver and it will evoke good memories to the winners and bring a frown
to the losers of the ‘Biggest race in the history of spring.’
weekend, the gates of the Stafford Motor Speedway will swing open to usher
in the spring and to celebrate the 40th annual Spring Sizzler.
Arute family has fostered the Sizzler and made it, its biggest race at the
speedway annually, it wasn’t the Arutes that initiated the Sizzler but a
trio of three friends.
In the off
season of 1971, Dick Berggren, yes, the same gentleman working on Fox during
the NASCAR races, along with Lew Boyd and Bruce Cohen came up the idea of
opening the season with a high paying modified race that would bring out the
best drivers in the northeast and then including the southeast.
trio rented the track for a $1,000 and spring time magic was made as over
137 cars registered for the 33 car starting field for a 80 lap race and
despite threatening clouds all day, 11,500 fans jammed every last seat in
the speedway making the inaugural race both a financial success as well as a
was won by the late Fred DeSarro as Eddie Flemke, Sr. blew a water pump with
10 laps to go handing the win over to DeSarro. Denis Giroux and Bugs Stevens
rounded out the top three and in the field of 33 it featured 19 modified
coupes and 14 late models.
history of the Spring Sizzler is pretty much the history of modified racing.
When the modifieds were the rage of the northeast, it featured many high
paying, prestigious events such as the Thompson 300, Race of Champions, and
Budweiser 200 at Oswego but there was always something about the Spring
Sizzler that brought a twinkle to the eye of a winning driver.
because it was an 80 lap sprint race. Maybe it was the big dollars being
posted or maybe it was the prestige of beating the best modified drivers in
the country. Whatever it was, the Spring Sizzler is and for many will always
be the race to win.
the history of the event, the names of modified lore jump out to you as in
1973 when Eddie Flemke, Sr. this time with his car staying together held off
DeSarro to win in the Bob Judkins Pinto bodied 2x. An upstate New Yorker
named Maynard Troyer would finish third with southern gentleman Paul Radford
another Stafford legend won as Carl ‘Bugsy’ Stevens earned the win to beat
young upstart driver, Ronnie Bouchard.
season opener in 1975, Richie Evans became the first outsider to win the
Sizzler and the Rapid Roman followed the feat the following year holding off
Geoff Bodine for the win. In fact, Richie led from green to finish.
1977-1979, there was just one winner and that was Maynard Troyer, the
veteran New York state driver capturing the Sizzler and thus becoming first
three win winner. Troyer would later be known for the innovator of the
Troyer chassis that is still used today on the modified tour.
decade turned into the 80’s, it was former modified bad boy, Geoff Bodine
winning the Sizzler in what would be his final Stafford Speedway win. Bodine
was a terror in the Dick Armstrong #1 winning many races at Stafford on a
weekly basis but this time, he was living down south trying to pursue a then
Winston Cup ride.
came up from North Carolina and teamed with crew chief, Billy Taylor took
over the lead from Jerry Cook on lap 29 and never looked back in recording
Stafford Sizzler fans, it might be the 1981 finish that had everyone talking
about as a packed house watched Riverside Park kingpin, Bob Polverari hold
off Richie Evans by about a foot in the closest Sizzler finish to date.
Ruggiero finished third behind Evans in his first Sizzler race.
and 1983, it was Long Island driver, Greg Sacks winning the event in the
Willsburg #5 modified as the future Pepsi Firecracker 400 winner would hold
off Reggie Ruggiero in both ’82 and ’83 as future Sprint Cup driver, Brett
Bodine would finish third in 1983.
became the first driver to win the Spring Sizzler after pitting.
1984 Sizzler it was Mr. Excitement, Jimmy Spencer winning after taking over
the lead from Stan Greger on lap 31 and then holding off Corky Cookman and
NASCAR came up the NASCAR Winston modified tour, a traveling circus if you
will of the top drivers in the northeast battling for the championship and
in ’85; it would be Richie Evans earning his final Sizzler win beating out
Brian Ross and Ruggiero.
It was his
third win and he would become the first modified tour champion and the ninth
modified title of his career but sadly, Richie would lose his life later
that year in a crash at the Martinsville Speedway.
finally got the monkey off his back as he captured the 1986 version of the
Sizzler and in 1987; it was the ‘Reg’ Reggie Ruggiero earning his first
Sizzler driving for noted car owner, Mario Fiore. In fact, Reggie became the
first driver to pit twice in the race and earn the win.
Spring Sizzler was run in controversial style as NASCAR and the Arute family
couldn’t see eye to eye and the race was run featuring the tracks weekly SK
modified division. It is the only year since the modified tour was started
that Stafford didn’t run a modified tour race. The winner was Teddy
Christopher, today Stafford’s winningest driver. He held off Bob Potter, who
will be the 2011 Sizzler Grand Marshal.
change in the Sizzler came in 1989 when the race was run at a 100 lap
distance and Mike Stefanik earned his first Sizzler win beating out Mike
McLaughlin and then in 1990 another major change took place as Stafford
management double the number of laps from 100 to 200 but it made no
difference to Mike Stefanik as he became a back to back Sizzler winner. Mike
‘Magic Shoes’ McLaughlin once again was the bridesmaid.
Jeff Fuller captured his first Sizzler title with the Auburn, MA. Driver
taking over the lead on lap 118 and never looked back beating fellow
Islanders, Wayne Anderson and George Brunnhoelzl, Jr. While older brother
won in ’91, Rick Fuller, wasn’t about to be outdone by Jeff as he won in
1992 holding off Mike Stefanik and brother Jeff.
Ruggiero continued his stellar Sizzler runs as he won the 1993 race beating
Doug Heveron and Tom Baldwin, Sr. The win was the second Sizzler for the ‘Reg’.
Ewanitsko claimed his first title and in the process gave long time modified
car owner, Art Barry, his first Sizzler title as he won in 1994. Mike
overcame a faulty air gun to win and while Ewanitsko like winning so much he
followed it up again in 1995 and again it was hard as he was involved in a
multi car incident but with no damage he drove to victory after holding off
Rick Fuller and Mike Stefanik.
one of the truly good guys earned his first title and was the 17th
different winner when Jan Leaty of Williamson, NY. Took down the win. Rick
Fuller again was second with Tony Hirschman third.
two wins belonged to Mike Stefanik as the Rhode Island driver won in both
1997 and 1998 and it gave the multi time NASCAR champion a record four
Sizzlers wins at the time.
winning the Sizzler seemed to come in pairs, Rick Fuller won in ’99 as he
passed Tony Hirschman on the final lap to win and then in 2000, as he
benefited when leader Reggie Ruggiero lost his ignition box with 9 laps
the late John Blewett, III, won his first Sizzler title and the next two
years saw Ted Christopher win in 2002 and 2003 to give him three while in
2004 Jerry Marquis earned his only Sizzler title, giving the Len Boehler
family another win in the spring Classis, their first since claiming the
Hirschman, a multi time champion in NASCAR was finally able to be the last
man standing when he won the 2005 race after spinning and winning while the
2006 race was won by Doug Coby, driving the Curt Chase owned modified.
started his Stafford career in late models, won the modifieds biggest race
beating back Donnie Lia
Donnie Lia, a Long Island driver finally earned his first title while in
2008, it was the ‘King’ of Stafford, T.C., earning his record trying fourth
win and then followed it up winning in 2009 and 2010 to give Christopher 6
Stafford Sizzler championships
add their name to the historic drivers from above is anyone’s guess, but you
can be sure that the winner will tell you the thrill is the same, whether
it’s your first title or in Christopher’s case, his sixth, it never gets old
and it is truly special.
today’s Spring Sizzler, the greatest race in the history of spring.
MODIFIEDS AND NASCAR
In the off
season of 2009, competitors on the NASCAR modified tour heard rumors of long
promised television exposure for the only open wheel division in NASCAR and
indeed when the 2010 season rolled around, the modifieds and their southern
cousins, the Southern modified tour had nearly 90% of their races on either
the VERSUS network or on the SPEED CHANNEL.
It was the
boost that the series was looking for but when the 2011 schedule of races
was released it showed just two races for the modifieds with the August race
at the Bristol Motor Speedway and in September at the New Hampshire Motor
contacted Jason Christley of NASCAR to see if indeed what was released was
correct and he said it was. “The broadcasts on VERSUS last year were well
received; however, the internal changes with Versus/NBC/Comcast and their
timing have impacted the renewal of that program and we will continue to
work with all of our media partners on the possibility of expanded
feels that with Speed showing both Bristol and New Hampshire live and in
their entirety that is big for the modified tour.
Now I did
talk to someone close to the situation on the television this past winter
and he told me, Speed was interested in doing all of the modified races this
year so something must have changed.
television has never been the end all for the modified tour, after having
all those events either live or taped last year on both networks, you can be
sure that many teams promised potential sponsors of television exposure and
to now only present two races, and both at the later part of the year is
hard to swallow.
All of the
K and N Pro Series East and West series will be broadcast live or taped for
a later showing.
A call was
placed to George Silbermann of NASCAR but he never responded to my email
request for his take on the matter.
ADD NAMES TO LIST
III proved although they opened the season with a bad finish, they are back
as they won the 40th edition of the Spring Sizzler before a
packed, sun drenched crowd at the Stafford Motor Speedway. He held off Rowan
Pennick to win in the Bob Garbarino #4.