With the presumptive favorite for Saturday’s Star Classic Supermodified showdown racing elsewhere, it seemed likely that a first-time event winner could be crowned at the end of the evening.
Jeff Abold had other plans.
The Baldwinsville, N.Y. racer took control on lap 60 and held off local racer Dan Bowes to win the Bob Webber, Sr. Memorial 125, the main event of Star Speedway’s 57th annual Star Classic Weekend.
“It’s awesome,” Abold said after climbing from his car in Star’s brick-paved winner’s circle. “That’s a lot of hard work here today.”
Saturday night’s feature was the eighth and final event of the year for the New York-based International SuperModified Association, and the only ISMA race in New England this season. For the handful of ISMA teams based in the Northeast, the Star Classic is their moment to shine.
For the last few years, the Northeast’s flag has been carried by Jon McKennedy, a Star Speedway graduate and winner of three of the last four Star Classics. But McKennedy is in the thick of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship battle, so he and the Tim Lepine-owned race team were in Riverhead, N.Y., far from the pits at Star.
That opened the door for locals like Bowes, Ben Seitz, and Anthony Nocella to make their moment in Star Classic history.
But Abold, the 2019 winner, is always a threat on the Epping, N.H. quarter-mile. In nine prior appearances in the Star Classic, Abold had not finished worse than fifth.
Defending ISMA champ Otto Sitterly set a new track record in time trials, lapping the bullring in 10.747 seconds. Rolling off second after a redraw, Sitterly went straight to the lead, showing the way through a spin for Bobby Timmons III and a mechanical problem for Russ Wood that forced a red flag to extinguish the fire on his machine.
Before the red flag, Bowes and Abold had climbed to second and third. On the restart, Bowes charged to the lead with Abold in tow. Bowes had last won an ISMA feature in 2018, taking the victory at the shuttered Jukasa Motor Speedway in Ontario.
Abold, second fastest in time trials, pursued Bowes for the race lead, finally drawing alongside the local on lap 58. Bowes fought back on the outside, but after a two-lap side-by-side battle, Abold pulled ahead and into the lead.
Single-car spins for Rich Reid and Dan Connors, Jr. brought out back-to-back caution flags on laps 67 and 68, but Abold shook free of Bowes on the final restart, setting a blistering pace at the point.
After skipping last year’s race due to late-season engine woes, Abold looked every bit at home as he streaked to victory under the lights.
“We worked on race setup all day long,” he said. “I think we really hit on it there, it was really good. I was trying to be as patient as I could with lapped traffic. I mean, everyone out here is fast, you can race with lapped cars and everything, but you’ve gotta be on your A-game.”
Bowes’ runner-up finish was his best performance by far at his home track, and a badly-needed elixir for a challenging season. “We’ve had a horrible year,” Bowes said. “Blew two engines, found out the engine that I wrecked last year over in turn three in practice, the engine block was junk. So we’ve had a horrible year. And once we got running again, three weeks ago, we just haven’t had good runs.”
Seitz, the new wheelman of Vic Miller’s familiar #11 entry, was closing in on Bowes in the final laps. The Bourne, Mass. driver settled for third after back-to-back runner-up finishes with the New England Supermodified Series.
Sitterly slipped back to fourth at the finish, but captured his second straight ISMA Supermodified championship over veteran Mike Ordway, Jr., who nursed a broken shock to finish seventh. Bobby Chartier rounded out the top five.
Eighteen big-block Supermodifieds turned out for the Star Classic, a solid turnout given the absence of some familiar competitors. One, of course, was McKennedy, a four-time Star Classic winner who had raced in every event dating back to 2013. Lending to his team’s focus on the NASCAR Modified Tour this year, McKennedy did not make a single ISMA start in 2022, winning his only Supermodified attempt in a NESS feature earlier this year.
McKennedy’s father’s legacy remained at the track, though, with the second running of the Dennis McKennedy Memorial 50 for Star’s 350 Supermodified teams. Star is one of two tracks in New England to campaign the crate-engined variant as a featured division.
Former track champion Brad Babb started up front and held the early lead in the 50-lap special feature, but a parts failure forced Babb to the pits before halfway. Bobby Timmons III, the runner-up for Star’s 350 Supermodified championship, assumed the top spot, but found himself mired in slower traffic with second-place Jeffrey Battle bearing down.
Battle, the 2022 track champion and a scion of the Witkum family, used a lapped car as a pick to get past Timmons, coasting home to yet another win for the talented youngster. Timmons finished second, with Battle’s uncle Eddie Witkum, Jr. in third.
In victory lane, both Battle and Timmons paid tribute to early leader Babb, whose family raced with heavy hearts after the passing of patriarch Bob Babb, Sr. “I feel bad for Brad Babb there,” Battle said. “I know he had a rough week this week with a family loss. I feel bad for the Babb family. My condolences to them.”
Timmons, a third-generation Supermodified racer from Windham, Me., was the only driver to race both Supermodified features. Debuting a newly-built car for the ISMA feature, Timmons qualified tenth but a spin and ensuing mechanical issues forced him to the pits well before halfway.
The Northeastern Midget Association opened the evening’s feature racing, with Ben Mikitarian topping PJ Stergios and Avery Stoehr to win the NEMA Lite midget feature. Stoehr would return for the NEMA Midget main event, cruising to victory over Randy Cabral and Jim Chambers.
Trevor Krouse, who made his stock car debut the night before in the Granite State Pro Stock Series Ty Cooper Land Holdings 100, won the evening’s GO Motorsports NELCAR Legends feature to clinch his second straight NELCAR title.
Saturday’s racing program dodged the inclement weather and the mechanical misfortunes that plagued last year’s Star Classic, prompting speculation that the Star-centric 350 Supermodifieds would take over top billing for the weekend. Track owner Bobby Webber and ISMA have been at odds in the past, with Webber acknowledging the steep cost to welcome ISMA versus the convenience of featuring his own racers.
But there is deep sentimentality for the big block Supermodifieds, which at one time were a weekly division at tracks like Star and nearby Lee USA Speedway. It was the love of Supermodifieds that prompted Webber’s father Bob to purchase Star in 1980. And despite the challenges of hosting the winged speedsters, Webber and Star have remained ISMA’s New England home.
With no controversy to shake off in 2022, Supermodified fans and racers can breathe a bit easier as they look forward to next year.
Unofficial Results, ISMA Bob Webber, Sr. Memorial 125 at Star Speedway:
1. (05) Jeff Abold
2. (25) Dan Bowes
3. (11) Ben Seitz
4. (7) Otto Sitterly
5. (29) Bobby Chartier
6. (52) Dave Danzer
7. (61) Mike Ordway, Jr.
8. (51) Dave Duggan
9. (55) Rich Reid
10. (01) Dan Connors, Jr.
11. (78) Mark Sammut
12. (97) Anthony Nocella
13. (41) Russ Wood
14. (13) Bobby Timmons III
15. (28) Eric Lewis
16. (98) Tyler Thompson
17. (32) Moe Lilje
18. (12) Jake Smith