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April 03. 2013 8:02PM

Tom Herzig's Trackside: Valenti Modified Series kicks off season

THE VALENTI Modified Series gets the New England short track racing season started this Sunday on Budweiser Blastoff Weekend at Waterford (Conn.) Speedbowl. The track is a few miles west of series sponsor Bob Valenti's Automall in Mystic and a short jaunt south of the Mohegan Sun Casino on I-395.

This is the Series' 10th year and things are looking up. Haulers were reportedly lined up out to the main road for last Saturday's practice session at the 3/8 mile track. Qualifying for Sunday's 100-lap main event takes place Saturday.

"I expect 30-34 cars this weekend," Modified Series founder Jack Bateman said. Bateman brought down his No. 17 for driver Todd Owen of Somers, Conn. to dial in. "We had about 25 cars at practice and four or five guys - including Rowan Pennick in Gary Casella's No. 25 - were shaking things down at Thompson."

"The rules haven't changed very much, but we've gone to a double tether spindle as a safety change to lessen the chances of a wheel coming off," Bateman said. The Modified Series will open Monadnock Speedway Saturday, April 20 at 5 p.m.

Norm Wrenn of Nashua, who is coming off his best Modified season, said his Advanced Gas Distributors No.53, built by Dave Bergmann of DB Fabrication, went well at the practice. Wrenn's helped out by long-time crew members Craig Carter and Chris Nelson, who have been with him since his Pro-Stock days, and Phil Lausiere. He was third at Waterford last year and fourth in 2011. Figuring it's never too late to try something new, Wrenn and Bergmann have signed on to drive Dirt Modifieds at Canaan the night before the Valenti Modified 100 on the asphalt track Saturday, July 13.

Chris Pasteryak of Jewett City, Conn, a past Series champion, turned some of the fastest practice laps at Waterford. The field will be bolstered by several local competitors, including Keith Rocco, Jeff Rocco and Jeff Pearl. Two drivers who won't be there are last year's champion Jon McKennedy and veteran Todd Patnode of Richmond. McKennedy plans to run a full ISMA Supermodified schedule in a Paul Dunigan Jr. car and some select Modified Series races for owner Art Barry, but Barry's dealing with a health issue that's going to put things off until the Monadnock race at least. Patnode's engine builder is still waiting for a piston order to arrive.

Other Granite State drivers likely to haul to Waterford include Meliassa Fifield of Sanbornville, Rob Goodenough of Swanzey, Jim Boniface of Winchester and rookie Arthur Heino Jr., the racing logger from Newport.

Heino Jr. has converted over the No. 97 A&G Logging Modified Sportsman car he drove last year at Monadnock. Greg Millette, Steve Robbins and cousin Richard Heino are on the crew. "We got around Waterford pretty good in practice last weekend," Heino Jr. said. "We did our homework and the car was good. It was more about my getting seat time and learning about the track."

Scott Tapley, formerly the race director at Waterford is the 2013 Modified Series Director. "I looks like everything is in complete running order for this weekend," he said. "Sometimes drivers are a little overanxious on opening day, but there's plenty of professionalism in this series. I'm optimistic about the car count. We'll start 24 cars Sunday."

Lee USA opens next Sunday April 14 with the ACT Governor's Cup 150. Wayne Helliwell Jr. will begin his ACT title defense on the 14-race tour, which moves to Thunder Road Sunday, April 28.

When asked if he had to put another driver in his car, who would it be, Helliwell's answered "Brian Hoar" who waged an epic battle with him for the ACT crown in the series finale at Airborne Speedway last year. Hoar was the Governor's Cup win last April.

Lee USA is expecting more than 50 cars for the Governor's Cup 150. The race card will include the Northeast Mini Stock Tour. Defending champion Danny Field of Deep River, Conn, Emerson Cayer of Contoocook, Opie Thayer of Deerfield, Loren Smith of Bow and Shaun Waites Jr. of Epping will be among the competitors. The Late Model Sportsmen have a 50-lap main event scheduled.

Star Speedway opens Saturday, May 4. The 3rd annual SBM 125 Open Modified event set for June 15 is already gathering steam. Star welcomes back the ACT Tour for the Firecracker 150 July 6.

Canaan Dirt Speedway's opener is Friday, May 3. The Granite State Pro Stock Series is at Canaan Asphalt Saturday, May 3. Round one of the ISMA Supermodified Series goes Saturday, May 4 at Oswego Speedway (N.Y.).

Tom Herzig's Trackside column runs each Thursday in the New Hampshire Union Leader. Email him at

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