On a night when drivers had traveled from all over to coastal New Hampshire’s Star Speedway for one last taste of Supermodified racing for the year, it was the local favorite who came out on top.
Jon McKennedy took the lead early in Saturday’s Bob Webber, Sr. Memorial 125 and held it to the end, winning his third Star Classic in the event’s 55th running.
And as McKennedy’s status as the local favorite never ebbs, neither does his appreciation for winning at the track where he cut his racing teeth.
“It’s a tough race, sometimes mentally draining,” McKennedy said of the 125-lap thrill show that has stood for years as one of the East Coast’s crown jewels for winged Supermodified racing, under the sanctioning oversight of the International Supermodified Association.
To earn his third win in the event, McKennedy had to unseat polesitter Otto Sitterly, then held off a persistent charge from defending Star Classic winner Jeff Abold over the final green-flag stretch run.
“Otto was going hard there at the beginning,” McKennedy said. “I wanted to hang with him, but I just kept telling myself, save something for the middle stages.”
McKennedy, a native of Chelmsford, Mass., made his move on Sitterly not long after two quick yellows slowed the field twenty laps into the race. Sitterly, a nine-time Oswego Speedway Supermodified champion from Canajoharie, N.Y., slipped to second and then third as Abold entered the picture.
Lapped traffic between McKennedy and Abold kept the defending race winner at bay through the middle of the race, but a lap-86 caution for Mike McVetta’s disabled car cleared much of the traffic between the two. On the restart, McKennedy got away from Abold before the Baldwinsville, N.Y. racer could truly threaten for the win.
“I really thought I had something for him on that restart,” Abold said. “But it would just take too long to come in, and he was getting through lapped traffic a little better. I could get to his rear bumper, but I couldn’t do much beyond there.”
Mike Ordway, Jr. wheeled Clyde Booth’s silver #61 to a third-place run, with Sitterly finishing fourth and five-time Star Classic winner Christopher Perley rounding out the top five. Seven cars withstood the leaders’ torrid pace to finish on the lead lap.
McKennedy’s dominance came with a different aesthetic from previous years, after his longtime Supermodified car owners Lee and Pam Vinal retired at the end of 2019. McKennedy delivered the Vinals a walk-off victory at Thompson Speedway in last year’s World Series, then regrouped with a new program for the 2020 season. McKennedy, who has run part-time on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour as well this year, debuted his new ride in victory lane at nearby Lee USA Speedway in August’s Ollie Silva Memorial 75.
But Star has a deeper significance to McKennedy, who grew up racing at the Epping, N.H. quarter-mile and received plenty of career support from track owner Bob Webber. McKennedy won the first Star Classic contested after the elder Webber lost his battle with cancer in 2018. In victory lane, he acknowledged not only Bob Sr., but his father Dennis McKennedy, who passed away last September.
“Got Big Bob upstairs looking down and my dad, we lost my dad a year ago this weekend,” McKennedy said. “It was my first time I’ve been here without him for a Classic.”
The 2020 season has been a challenge for ISMA, with the COVID-19 pandemic laying waste to the touring Supermodified series’ schedule. Travel restrictions forced the cancellation of races at Jukasa Motor Speedway and Delaware Speedway in Ontario, while crowd and track limitations stifled events at Seekonk Speedway in Massachusetts and Oxford Plains Speedway in Maine. Even the discipline’s home track, Oswego Speedway in central New York, was effectively shut down by the pandemic, unable to open in accordance with state restrictions.
Sandusky Speedway in Ohio hosted the annual Hy-Miler Nationals as a non-sanctioned double-feature in July to open the abbreviated season. Lee USA Speedway welcomed the ISMA cars two weeks later for August’s Ollie Silva Memorial. With the intended season finale at Thompson Speedway canceled amid uncertainty of the track’s plans for the World Series, the Star Classic was the third and final event on the ISMA calendar for 2020.
And even with a number of racers, like reigning ISMA champion Mike Lichty from Ontario, unable to make the trip east, an impressive field of the big-block cars turned out for what will likely be their final run of the season. Twenty-five cars took the green flag Saturday night, some from just a few miles away, many hauling in from western New York and Ohio.
The second day of the three-day Star Classic Weekend featured an exclusively open-wheel racing card, a reflection of Star Speedway’s close relationship with New England’s open-wheeled racing community.
Star’s weekly 350 Supermodifieds served as the preamble to the ISMA 125-lapper with the 21st and final running of the Randy Witkum Memorial 60. The Webber and Witkum families announced earlier this year that, as a nod to Randy Witkum’s longtime car number, the 21st running would be the final time the race was run in his memory.
Jeffrey Battle, Randy Witkum’s nephew, took the lead on lap 34 of the 60-lap sprint, holding off a last-lap bid by Dave “Hollywood” Helliwell to win the final Randy Witkum Memorial and keep the race in the family. Eddie Witkum, Jr., Randy’s brother and the defending race winner, finished third in the #21. Star “Mayor’s Cup” winner Bobby Timmons III was fourth, with Mike Collins fifth in the 22-car field.
Timmons and fellow 350 Supermodified regular Kenny White, Jr. also fielded entries for the ISMA feature. White, a former NASCAR Busch North Series prospect, was 19th, with Timmons finishing 21st after losing his power steering.
The Northeastern Midget Association was on hand as well for twin features to kick off the evening. PJ Stergios won the 50-lap Jim O’Brien Memorial race for the NEMA Lites, while Alan Chambers earned the win in the 25-lap NEMA Midget feature.
Clear skies, clean racing, and an efficient pit staff kept the show moving, with the final checkered flag falling just shy of 9:30pm despite deep fields of cars for all four featured divisions. Star also had additional staff on hand ensuring that fans and crew alike abided by New Hampshire’s COVID-19 mitigation mandates, with plenty of outside eyes on the speedway’s biggest event of the year so far.
For sure, the season has not been what Bobby Webber, Jr. imagined before February when crafting the schedule for Star Speedway’s 40th year under the ownership of the Webber family. Despite the limitations and restrictions imposed under the pandemic, Star has continued to set a local standard with the events it has been able to host, with the first two days of the Star Classic exceeding expectations.
A third day remains in this year’s expanded version of the Star Classic Weekend, with the Modified Racing Series returning to Star Speedway after a long absence. Star’s weekly Late Models and Street Stocks will round out the Sunday program, capping off the 55th running of the speedway’s signature event.
Unofficial Results, ISMA Star Classic/Bob Webber, Sr. Memorial 125 at Star Speedway:
1. (79) Jon McKennedy
2. (05) Jeff Abold
3. (61) Mike Ordway, Jr.
4. (7) Otto Sitterly
5. (11) Christopher Perley
6. (97) Tim Jedrzejek
7. (25) Dan Bowes
8. (37) Ryan Locke
9. (27) Jamie Timmons
10. (01) Dan Connors
11. (39) Alison Sload
12. (52) Dave Danzer
13. (88) AJ Lesiecki
14. (51) Dave Duggan
15. (14) Joey Payne
16. (55) Rich Reid
17. (11E) Kyle Edwards
18. (22) Mike McVetta
19. (77) Kenny White, Jr.
20. (29) Bobby Chartier
21. (13) Bobby Timmons III
22. (75) Aric Iosue
23. (02) Brandon Bellinger
24. (9) Russ Wood
25. (55) Mike Netishen