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1980 Year in Review

1980_Bob_Potter_Modified_Champ (Kennedy)
Bob Potter won his 2nd Speedbowl title in 1980 (Steve Kennedy photo)
In one of the most significant changes to the weekly divisions in Speedbowl history, the supporting divisions were revamped prior to the 1980 season.  The Grand American division, the struggling Late Model division whose cost to be competitive had risen over the last few seasons, was finally dissolved after the 1979 season when their car counts dipped below 10 on several occasions.  The Street Stock division, which began in 1977 as a low-budget alternative, had flourished during that same time into highly competitive division.  Beginning in 1980, a new Super Stocks division was created and featured drivers from both the previous Street Stock and Grand American divisions. Although in the beginning the Super Stocks were more similar to the previous Street Stock division, they eventually grew into the current Late Model division.

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The 1980 Blast Off event was delayed to fix potholes in the racing surface (New London Day photo)

The season started with controversy during the Blast Off 100 event on March 31st.  A snow storm hit the area Friday night into Saturday morning.  Track crews worked non-stop from Saturday afternoon until Sunday to dry the track, but by practice time on Sunday some race teams – including Art Barry and his #21 team – chose not to compete due to the conditions.  Water seeped up through the ground onto the track, making the inside groove extremely slippery.  There were also times when action was stopped to repair holes in the asphalt in turns 1 and 4.  Despite the DMV's presence, and Harvey Tattersall Jr's proposal to postpone the event at the drivers meeting should race teams feel as a whole that the conditions were unsafe, the event went off as scheduled albeit with the periodic delays.  Claremont (NH) Speedway regular Marty Radewick won the 100 lap event from the pole.  The Speedbowl would then take the month of April off before resuming with it's weekly Saturday night program on May 3rd.

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Harry Rice became the 1st champion of the revamped Super Stock division in 1980 (Steve Kennedy photo)
Perennial fan favorite Bob Potter won his 2nd Modified Championship at the Speedbowl over George "Moose" Hewitt and Rick Donnelly.  It was the second straight year they were the top 3 point finishers.  Potter won a division-best 7 races including a 100 lapper in July as well as his second straight Waterford 200 victory.  Donnelly won the Memorial Day 100, which was postponed to June due to rain.

In the Super Stocks' first season, former Street Stock standout Harry Rice beat out former Grand American star Brian McCarthy for the points championship.  Rice won 5 times – including the first 2 (and 3 out of the first 4) to start the season.  He capped the season with a non-point 50 lap win during the Race of Champions weekend which the Modifieds had off.  Mike Lovetere won the longest race of the year – a 100 lap event held on Wednesday July 30th.

On May 3rd, Rae Ann Williams became the first female to qualify for a feature event in Speedbowl history.  It was the second race of the season.  Rae didn't fair too well in the main event, she finished a disappointing 22nd.

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Rae Ann Williams became the first female to qualify for a Speedbowl feature event on May 3, 1980 (Steve Kennedy photo)

On July 26th, competitors in both divisions went on strike in protest to a new tire rule the track was trying to implement.  The current Firestone 46 tires were to be replaced by a more expensive McCreary tire.  Many race teams believed the Y3 compound in the 13.5" McCreary tire would last for one race week only.  McCreary tires were $35 more per tire than the Firestone brand.  Over the next few days, Speedbowl officials decided to allow both tires during competition and racing resumed on Wednesday with the Super Stock 100 event.  After a rainout the following Saturday, weekly point racing resumed on August 9th.  Only 3 Modified race teams chose to use the more expensive McCreary tires:  George "Moose" Hewitt, Don Bunnell and Larry Lamphear.

The NEMA midgets again made a visit to the shoreline oval.  This season's 25 lap event was won by Butch Walsh in early May.  The New England Mini Modifieds (now Pro4 Modifieds) touring series returned during the Super Stock 100 event in July.  The 25 lap feature was won by Ron St. Ives.

Rain cancelled 5 of the 7 events scheduled from Memorial Day weekend until the 4th of July.

1980 was the 33rd and final season of the United Stock Car Racing Club.  Formed in 1948, it was the premiere sanctioning body for auto racing in the northeast throughout the 1950's and 1960's.  Waterford had been the lone United track left since 1976.  Tattersall's Summer Corporation dissolved after the 1980 season, with John Janisaitis moving to the Seekonk Speedway.  Harvey Tattersall Jr would own the Speedbowl for another 8 seasons, but leased the racing operation out to several promoters during those years.

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