A scheduling conflict between an established short track and an expanding touring series has spawned a spontaneous show of support from Supermodified supporters.
And as a result, Saturday night’s Bob Webber, Sr. Memorial Race at Star Speedway will reward those who side with the venerable bullring with a substantial prize purse promising upwards of $6,000 to win.
The groundswell of support is a point of intrigue in a turf war between Star, one of the last havens for Supermodified racing in New England, and 350 SMAC, a touring organization seeking to enrich the rare division on its own terms.
Supermodifieds trace their history to central New York’s famed Oswego Speedway, with the 1961 Oswego Classic cited as the first Supermodified showdown. The alcohol-fueled big-block offset cars, with or without rooftop wings, are among the fastest machines to lap the bullrings of the East Coast. ISMA, the International SuperModified Association, was created in 1976 to take the ground-pounders on the road. But the discipline also found a new home at weekly tracks throughout the region.
One of those tracks was Star, a quarter-mile oval in Epping, N.H., where the Supermodifieds were in line with the track’s rich open-wheel history. During the 1980 season, though, it appeared that Supermodifieds might disappear from the track’s roster the following year. Bob Webber, a Supermodified fan, took a leap of faith and purchased Star outright, with the intent of ensuring the future of Supermodifieds at his local track for years to come.
Over the next twenty years, though, rising costs made the big-block Supermodifieds a less viable option for weekly racing. Local Supermodified loyalists devised a more cost-conscious approach, swapping the alcohol-burning powerplants for a small-block engine and introducing tire restrictions. The “350 Supermodified” platform debuted at Hudson (N.H.) Speedway, a track Webber purchased in 1989, then settled in at Star and the nearby Lee USA Speedway for several years.
The 2018 season would prove pivotal for the future of Supermodified racing in New England. Webber lost his battle with cancer that January, with son Bobby officially taking the reins at Star Speedway. At the end of the season, Lee USA Speedway quietly moved on from 350 Supermodifieds, leaving Star as the only track in New England hosting the division weekly.
2018 also marked the on-track debut of a new program championed by Supermodified racer John Burke. Burke’s 350 Super Modified Atlantic Charter – or 350 SMAC – aimed to expand the small sphere of 350 Supermodified racing with touring events at other New England tracks. Jeffrey Battle, a scion of the Witkum family that was integral in creating the 350 Supermodified, won the first-ever 350 SMAC feature at Wiscasset Speedway in Maine.
With only so many Supermodifieds in New England, the tandem of Star’s weekly 350 Supermodified program and 350 SMAC’s limited touring slate seemed destined to coexist. Star featured the winged warriors as its marquée division, even flirting with elevating the 350 Supers to the featured attraction of September’s Star Classic weekend. On the touring side, 350 SMAC kept a lower profile, sanctioning only one or two events a year until last season.
Indeed, this year is 350 SMAC’s most ambitious yet, with nine feature events each named in honor of a Supermodified legend. Eight of those nine dates avoid a head-to-head conflict with Star Speedway’s twelve events.
This week’s Saturday-evening tilt at New London-Waterford Speedbowl in Connecticut, however, represents a significant clash.
It pits the touring series directly against one of the biggest races on Star’s annual calendar, a feature named in Bob Webber’s memory, with a race distance (47 laps) and a winner’s purse ($1,947) calling back to the late Webber’s birth year. It pits the touring series directly against the track from which it draws most of its racers. And it forces racers to make a difficult choice of where to race.
In a Facebook post shared by the speedway on Tuesday, Bobby Webber expressed his frustrations at what he felt was a lack of respect. “I am not asking for sympathy for Star Speedway,” Webber said. “I am simply asking for people to know the story behind the scenes and respect and honor my Dad for what he did. … I continue to honor him at Star, offering a fair payoff that can cover expenses while still allowing good, competitive racing to take place. I will do my part to assure that this division does not become a tour of [whose] wallet is the biggest.”
As if to answer Webber’s call for respect, members of the Star community stepped forward to make Saturday’s memorial race a bigger deal.
The windfall started publicly with a $147 contribution on Thursday afternoon from Fast Track Concessions owner Steve Rubin, pledged to the driver with the longest tow to Star Speedway. Additional pledges rolled in through the afternoon and evening, most matching the $147 as a nod to the Webbers’ arc number. Some earmarked the additional funds for the winner’s purse, while others chose a finishing position or a lap leader that bore special significance.
Supermodified veteran and track sponsor Russ Wood, Super Late Model star and aspiring NASCAR racer Derek Griffith, and Lee USA Speedway owner Norm Wrenn were among the many racers pledging money to the effort.
Longtime Star sponsor Jeremy Hedges took a different approach, promising to cover entry fees for September’s Dennis McKennedy Memorial on Star Classic Weekend for all drivers who attempt Saturday’s feature. Bryan Kruczek, who won last week’s Granite State Pro Stock Series Hedges Excavating 100 at Star, contributed a bonus of his own for the top ten drivers on lap 19. Not all the bonuses were aimed at the evening’s top performers, either. Veteran spotter Greg Emerson, the 350 Supermodifieds’ presenting sponsor, contributed a $147 bonus for the last-place finisher.
Supermodified racer Bobby Timmons III is proud to see the show of solidarity for the track he has called home since 2018. “It’s awesome to see the support,” he said. “I think it really shows how many people support Star and want to see it continue to grow and prosper.”
A third-generation Supermodified driver, Timmons stepped away from Super Late Model competition after 2017 to focus on building and racing the winged cars. While he has sampled big-block Supermodifieds and won a 350 SMAC feature last year, Timmons’ focus is on Star, where he placed second to Jeffrey Battle in last year’s standings.
Timmons is wary of dividing the already-small base of Supermodified competitors, a concern he has voiced as a co-host of the Black Flagged Podcast. “Both Bob, Sr. and Bobby have done their fair share of work to save this division,” Timmons said. “Pretty much safe to assume Supermodified racing in New England wouldn’t be around if not for those two.”
Timmons’ concerns are reflected in the increased interest in Supermodifieds in recent seasons. Riverside Speedway in Groveton, N.H. added 350 Supermodifieds to their resident divisions, with a six-race slate planned for this season. And a new venture for 2022, the New England Supermodified Series, was organized over the winter with support from Maine’s full-fendered Pro All Stars Series. NESS is targeted at New England’s big-block Supermodified enthusiasts, promising a more cost-friendly crate engine program and a handful of local races compared to ISMA’s two New England dates.
The opportunities to race more frequently are encouraging for the Supermodified faithful. But there are still only so many cars and teams to race them. And in the long run, compromising on a few race dates could pay dividends by allowing a full field of cars to turn out at every Supermodified event.
Timmons, Battle, and Brad Babb will be among those leading the charge on the track for the Bob Webber, Sr. Memorial Race tonight at Star. But off the track, Star’s legion of supporters has already taken the point.