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Small Block or Big Block, Timmons is Living His Supermodified Dream

Bobby Timmons III made only his second-ever ISMA Supermodified start in September's Star Classic. But in two races, the Maine native describes himself as "hooked" on the big-block alcohol-fueled cars. (Jeff Brown photo)

Bobby Timmons III has his pick of tracks he could call home. From Timmons’ home and shop in Windham, Maine, he could head a few miles north to Oxford Plains Speedway, or a few more miles south to Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough. Or he could drive east a little farther to Wiscasset Speedway.

But on Saturday nights, Timmons loads up his race car and sets off south down I-95, across the state line, and west to Epping, N.H., home of Star Speedway. It’s an hour and a half from Timmons’ shop to Star Speedway, but for the 27-year-old, the drive is worth every minute.

Because there is no track in Maine where Timmons can race this car.

Timmons sits in his 350 Supermodified before practice. (Jeff Brown photo)

Timmons, a third-generation driver, carries on the family legacy at the wheel of a Supermodified.

This summer, Timmons fulfilled a longtime goal, building and racing a big-block alcohol-fueled Supermodified in September’s Star Classic. And this weekend, Timmons will take another step in his Supermodified adventures, running both his weekly 350 Supermodified and his big-block car at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park for the Connecticut track’s year-ending Sunoco World Series program.

“My dad never raced anything, besides a few one-off deals, other than Supermodifieds,” Timmons says. “It was all I ever wanted to do.”

Supermodifieds are a rare breed of asphalt short track car, beloved in their native lands but virtually unknown in others. Built by hand from the ground up, Supermodifieds eschew anything that fails to promise either speed or safety. The tapered tube chassis is tipped by a nose wing and often topped by a massive roof wing, mounted on struts that level it for maximum straightaway speed and tilt it forward for maximum corner downforce. The engine rides alongside the driver for better weight distribution. A driveshaft mates the engine directly to the rear axle, with no power-robbing transmission, clutch, or starter.

A Supermodified is simple, yet exotic.

Fortunately for the Timmons family, the Northeast was one of the early hotbeds of Supermodified action. While central New York’s Oswego Speedway is recognized as the East Coast’s home of Supermodified racing, the short tracks of coastal New England have been friendly to the open-wheeled cars for years.

“My grandfather started racing A-class cars, Supermodifieds, at Beech Ridge on the dirt in the 1970s,” Timmons explains. “Beech Ridge did away with the class, and eventually my grandfather ventured down to Star Speedway to continue racing Supermodifieds. My dad followed suit, making his debut at 19 years old in 1983.”

ISMA, the International Supermodified Association, formed in Oswego in the late 1970s and sanctioned Supermodifieds as a touring series in the Northeast and eastern Canada, with drivers like Doug Heveron and Bentley Warren picking up championships along the way. Some tracks, like Lee USA Speedway and Star in New Hampshire, hosted Supermodifieds as a weekly class. But in the late 1990s, the big-block cars began to price themselves out of weekly competition. Tracks like Lee, Star and Oswego devised a “350 Supermodified” package with small-block engines and modest tires that were friendlier to weekly budgets, while the ISMA-sanctioned big-block cars toured the Northeast from Star to Sandusky, Ohio.

“They raced Star, Lee, Oswego, and most New England region ISMA shows,” Timmons says of his father and grandfather, “until they both retired from driving in 2009.”

As the elder Timmonses’ careers wound down, the younger Timmons’ own career was ramping up. Bobby worked his way through Legends on up to the upper-echelon Pro Series at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway. Open-wheeled cars may have been Timmons’ heritage, but in Maine, fendered cars reigned supreme. Timmons and his father prepared a Super Late Model owned by Pro All Stars Series veteran Scott Mulkern, who fielded cars for himself and an all-star lineup of part-time drivers including Austin Theriault and Ted Christopher. Mulkern’s usual ride was #84; Timmons’ was a reversed #48.

Bobby Timmons (#48) races his Super Late Model at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in 2017. (Jeff Brown photo)

Despite an older chassis and a limited budget, Timmons found success, winning weekly features at Beech Ridge and finishing second in the track standings in 2014. For 2015, Timmons and Mulkern ran the PASS races at Beech Ridge and Oxford. In seven starts, Timmons completed all but five laps with a best finish of fourth.

Timmons also made his Oxford 250 debut in 2015, starting 18th and finishing 19th, seven positions ahead of future NASCAR Cup Series racer Christopher Bell. Timmons’ feat became a running joke years later in his tenure as a “permanent guest” on the Black Flagged Podcast, a weekly broadcast hosted by Beech Ridge racers and friends Charlie Sanborn and Brad Saucier.

Timmons ran another limited PASS schedule in 2016, finishing eighth at Beech Ridge and twelfth in his second Oxford 250 start. But the strain of running in New England’s premier fendered short track touring series on a shoestring budget was reflected on the results rundown. A change of scenery was in order.

“At the end of 2016, a guy waited for me and wrecked me at Beech Ridge for whatever reason,” he recalls. “The next week I drove my dad’s 350 Super at Star for the first time, and I told him this is all I want to do. We ran a few Super Late Model races in 2017, but the writing was on the wall.”

Timmons’ last start in Mulkern’s Super Late Model came in the fall of 2017, in a Granite State Pro Stock Series event at New London-Waterford Speedbowl in Connecticut. He finished fifteenth. But by then, he had already found a new racing home.

That new home was Star Speedway, the only track in New England that still hosts 350 Supermodifieds as a weekly division. Lee USA Speedway, only a few miles away, discontinued the class after the 2018 season. At Star, though, the Supermodified is a sacred cow. Bobby Webber, Jr., who took the reins of the quarter-mile after his father Bob lost his battle with cancer in 2018, has taken great pains to ensure not just the survival, but the success of the beloved Supermodifieds.

“They’re affordable, and the pay is good,” Timmons says of the division. “We can normally just about break even on our operating costs.”

Timmons has long maintained that his budget for a few Super Late Model races easily covered his 350 Supermodified program for the season.

“I felt we were low-dollar on the PASS tour spending $1200 a week to get $400 to start,” Timmons explains. “The 350 Super costs us about $500 a week and we can normally bring home at least half that or more every week. Plus the Supers [have] much lower weekly maintenance. Supermodifieds may look radical, but they are fairly simple race cars.”

That means Timmons can race more. And Timmons is far from alone. On a typical night at Star, sixteen to eighteen 350 Supermodifieds (or “flappy-birds,” as Timmons and friends lovingly call them in podcast parlance) are in the pits, a testament to the Webbers’ devotion to the discipline.

Timmons ended 2019 fourth in points, and entered the offseason with plans of adding a second car to the stable. The “new” chassis was close at hand; it was in the shop of his grandfather, Bob Sr., who had passed away earlier that year.

“My grandfather acquired it somehow. He was a wheeler and dealer. He had stripped the car, had it painted, and was working on reassembling it. He never actually raced it. When he was still alive, I always told him I liked that car and I wanted to race it someday.”

Timmons and his father brought the car to their shop in November. “The original plan was to have two 350 Supers,” says Timmons. “When ISMA announced their schedule that included Oxford, we decided to shift gears and try some big block races.”

One could expect stark differences between the big-block Supermodified and the more modest 350 Super. But aside from the engine, the fuel, and the tires, Timmons describes the two cars as “fairly similar.”

“My small-block car has a solid-mount torque arm, whereas the big-block car has a floating torque arm with dual locators. The small block car has the wing shocks mounted to the rear end. [On] the big block, they are mounted to the chassis. Those are the two striking differences between them.”

But to power the ISMA-legal car, Timmons would have to find a big-block Chevy V8, not the modest GM crate engine he was accustomed to. And the chassis, almost as old as Bobby, needed some updates.

“We bought a motor from Joey Scanlon,” Timmons says. “It had been sitting in his shop for about 10 years. But it was a solid piece. The chassis itself we basically cut in half. We put a roll cage and redesigned most of the rear suspension to torsion bar springs. The car was very short in wheelbase, so we lengthened that out a bit too.”

Timmons planned to debut the big-block car in late August, when the ISMA Supermodifieds would visit Oxford Plains Speedway on the night before the Oxford 250. But pandemic-related travel restrictions, track closures and fan restrictions forced the cancellation of most of the ISMA season. Oxford was one of those casualties.

That meant Timmons could instead focus on September’s Star Classic, one of the three weekends on the calendar that had not been canceled. But to ensure his car was ready to go for the biggest weekend of the year, Timmons pushed to get the green monster ready for the Ollie Silva Memorial at Lee in early August. It was an opportunity to shake the car down in race trim before the Star Classic.

Timmons made it to Lee. And while he finished eighth of thirteen cars in his first ISMA-sanctioned race, just taking the green flag was a victory in itself.

“We were lucky to make it to that Lee show,” Timmons says in reflection. “The car was realistically only 90 percent done but we ran out of time. All in all, the day went way smoother than we could have anticipated, despite breaking the engine and losing cylinder eight about 40 laps into the race. The big block cars are certainly much more high-maintenance versus a small block car. The 350, you put gas in it, charge the battery, and go. Not much to it.”

It was not until he started tearing the car down at home that Timmons learned just how severe their engine problems were. Severe enough, he believed, to force the car onto jackstands for the year.

But as racers do, Timmons re-evaluated the situation a week or two later. Maybe they could rebuild the engine. If they could rebuild the engine, maybe they could still make the Classic. If nothing else, at least they were going to try.

The Star Classic, after all, is Star’s signature event, anchored by the ISMA-sanctioned Bob Webber, Sr. Memorial 125 and the Randy Witkum Memorial 60 for Star’s own 350 Supermodifieds. If they could complete the ISMA car, Timmons planned to race both features.

“It was a long couple of weeks,” Timmons says of the hours spent between the family’s machine shop and the race shop. “Trying to get parts for these cars seemed to be a struggle. Friday morning of Classic weekend, Dad was still rebuilding the engine and machining custom wheel centers so that we had enough wheels. I don’t think I ever got to enjoy knowing we were going to run the Classic until they dropped the green flag in the Classic.”

But by Friday night of Classic weekend, Timmons and his cars were at Star Speedway. His 350 Supermodified was tucked in a borrowed trailer in the infield for the night. His ISMA car was in his own trailer, waiting for the exodus of Friday-night racers to clear a pit pad.

Not that Timmons was kicked back with a beer in hand. The Granite State Pro Stock Series anchored the first night of Star Classic weekend, and while Timmons’ Super Late Model driving days are behind him, he was in the pits helping a friend, Beech Ridge regular Rusty Poland. A few weeks before, Timmons had been the voice of experience on a young team, helping Poland in his bid to qualify for the Oxford 250. Poland faltered in his heat and started near the back, but battled to an eighth-place feature finish, his best touring Super Late Model performance.

The next day, as Timmons unloaded his two Supermodifieds, he was joined by his own entourage of friends and family. “I couldn’t do it without them,” says Timmons. “The actual car racing part is just a small cog as to why we do this. Almost all of my friends that I have, I made through racing cars.

“It’s another family, really.”

Bobby Timmons races Mike Collins in the Randy Witkum Memorial 60 for 350 Supermodifieds. (Jeff Brown photo)

Timmons came to Star riding a wave of momentum. After struggling to find the handle on the 350 Supermodified most of the year, he had turned the corner a week before, driving to his first feature win of the year. In practice, the small-block car still had plenty of speed. With thirty 350 Supermodifieds in attendance, some traveling from as far as Oswego, Timmons qualified in the top five for the Randy Witkum Memorial 60.

The big-block car was another story. Every run in practice unveiled another problem to overcome or something to work through. In time trials, Timmons clocked in second-to-last. “I wish we had time-trialed better,” Timmons says, “so that I could feel like we actually made the race, instead of getting in because they took everyone. Lack of race-day experience really hurt us there.”

Back-to-back features for the Northeastern Midget Association’s NEMA Midgets and NEMA Lites gave the Timmons team a moment of repose to prepare for the night’s main events.

In the Randy Witkum Memorial 60, Timmons started fourth after a pre-race redraw. After playing it safe in the first half of the race, Timmons turned up the pressure in the second half, driving back to a fourth-place finish. In the 21st and final running of the Randy Witkum Memorial, Witkum’s young nephew Jeffrey Battle drove to victory, with Witkum’s brother Eddie Jr. finishing third. Sandwiched between the two was Dave Helliwell, who drove the Witkum family’s #21 to a track championship the year before. Timmons, who had been closing on Eddie at the checkered flag, was only a couple laps from spoiling the victory lane family reunion.

Instead, Timmons climbed from his white #13 350 Supermodified and into the emerald-green #13 ISMA Supermodified, ready for only his second ever race in the big-block car. Before the race, Timmons had cautioned that he might have to stop for fuel mid-race, as the car’s fuel cell was just large enough to leave him running on fumes at Lee.

Timmons started in the rear of the 25-car field, but wasted no time in putting his home-track advantage to good use. Jon McKennedy, already a two-time Star Classic winner, took the lead after two early yellow flags slowed the field, but even as he carved through lapped traffic, Timmons was holding his own, battling veteran Joey Payne and racing for fifteenth.

Just before halfway, though, Timmons’ pace slowed, taking him out of the battle for position and into the clutches of McKennedy. Timmons drifted high off turn two, then peeled off down the backstretch for the pits, never to return. McKennedy, who cut his racing teeth at Star, went on to win his third Star Classic in dominating fashion.

“We lost power steering,” Timmons said after the race, as the team went about the slow process of breaking everything down for the trip to Maine. “It usually doesn’t come back after it goes.” And with no mirrors or spotters to guide drivers through traffic, a slow Supermodified becomes a liability.

Timmons finished 21st.

“It was a long day,” Timmons says in retrospect. “A lot to take in as a driver. Both races, we had a better car than the finishes show, but that doesn’t reflect or take away from the effort everyone put in to get us there. The 350 race, I wish I had been more aggressive earlier. The ISMA race, I was more or less just trying to gain seat time and experience.”

Experience, Timmons says, that ranks among his best times in the sport.

“It ranks top-three, for sure, along with racing in the Oxford 250 and going out to Oswego to race Supers. The Oxford ISMA race was going to be cool, to race in front of a lot more of my family and friends compared to normal. But even 800 horsepower and big wide tires don’t make that place fun to drive.”

In the end, all the effort invested just to make it to the Classic was justified.

“I grew up going to the race every year with my dad, so getting to compete in it was really cool.”

And despite the disappointment in the results, Timmons was pleased with what he and his team had accomplished on a budget far outpaced by the top teams.

“I definitely take pride in the low-buck operation we have,” he says. “That’s how my dad did it his whole life, always making the most of what he had. It’s tough to overcome the lack of equipment in ISMA, but it keeps me humble and my expectations are low enough that we can still go out there and have fun. Even the slowest ISMA Super is still faster than every other type of race car in the pit area.”

Originally, the Star Classic was to be the second and final ISMA-sanctioned race of the season. When promoters Cris Michaud and Tom Mayberry stepped in to revive the World Series for 2020, the ISMA cars were replaced by an open feature for 350 Supermodifieds. Citing Thompson as his father’s favorite track, Timmons made plans to head to the high-banked Connecticut track for the first time.

And then, with Connecticut easing fan-attendance limitations in September, Michaud and Mayberry reached out to ISMA, quickly adding the big-block Supermodifieds back to the Sunday schedule for the World Series.

Timmons will run the 350 Supermodified feature Saturday, then dust off the ISMA car for his third-ever big-block race on one of the fastest tracks he has ever raced on. “The season didn’t go quite like everyone had hoped,” he says, “but after two races, I am hooked on big-block racing.”

After Thompson begins the long offseason, where Timmons hopes to get both cars freshened up for next year at Star and whatever big-block opportunities arise. “Both cars will definitely get new bodies built for them,” he says. “We may do some updates on suspension on the ISMA car.”

With two fast cars in his shop, a competitive track to call home, and a close circle of racing friends, Timmons considers himself lucky.

“I’ve been really fortunate to do a lot of cool things in my life in racing,” he says. “I remind myself quite often that I’m getting to do something most people can only dream of doing.”

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Jeff Brown is a contributor to Short Track Scene. A native of New Hampshire and a long-time fan of New England racing, Brown provides a fan's perspective as he follows New England's regional Late Model touring series.

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