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2004 Year in Review

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Ed Reed Jr jumps into his father's arms after clinching the 2004 SK Modified championship at Waterford
For the 4th consecutive season, Ed Reed Jr and Dennis Gada finished 1-2 in the SK Modified point standings, but this was the first in which Reed came out on top to win his first SK Modified track championship.  Car owner Gordon Rodgers won his 2nd track track championship with Reed (1997 Late Model) and 3rd overall. Reed also became the first driver to win track championships in the Speedbowl's 2 premier divisions – the SK Modifieds and the Late Models.  James Civali won the $5,000 SK 150 during Modified Nationals weekend.  1992 Champion Ted Christopher won the 100 lap SK portion of the Pepsi 300, while Dennis Charette won the Finale 100.  Charette, Reed and Jeff Pearl led the division with 3 wins a piece.  There were a total of 14 different SK Modified feature winners during the season.

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Corey Hutchings repeated as Late Model Champion at Waterford in 2004 (Fran Lawlor photo)
Corey Hutchings, who won his 2nd consecutive Late Model and 3rd overall track championship at Waterford, was named the Exide Shortrack New England Region champion by NASCAR.  He also led the division in wins with 6 – including the season opening 50 lapper and the Finale LM 100.   Allen Coates (5 wins) beat out Mark St. HIliare (2 wins) on a tie-breaker for the runner up spot in the final point standings.  Phil Rondeau won his 101st Late Model feature (and 108th overall) on August 7th.  Although never officially announcing his retirement, "Farmer Phil" completed his last full season with 3 feature wins (including the mid-season 100 lapper) and a 4th place finish in the point standings as the driver of the #31 Payless Auto Glass entry.

The Sportsman division had one of the track's wildest championship battles ever.  Going into the Finale's 50 lap race, 4 drivers were alive to win the championship.  Norm Root Jr, who was the point leader going into the race, was collected in a late race incident also involving defending champion Ed Gertsch Jr and Keith Rocco.  All three were point title contenders.  While the latter 2 were sent to the rear for the restart, Root's #80 left the track on the hook and was the first of the remaining four to be eliminated from the point championship.  Gertsch's teammate & step-brother, Dwayne Conant, was the 4th title contender.  Conant started 2nd on the ensuing restart, and had inherited the up-to-the-lap point lead, but Rocco would come from deep in the field to pass him in the closing laps.  Roger Perry, who finished the season 5th in points, won the race.  Keith, son of former Modified driver Ronnie Rocco, won his first track championship after finishing second to Gertsch the previous season by only 2 points.  He won 3 times, including the first 2 legs of the Sportsman Triple Crown events.  Gertsch, Conant and Root all finished within 12 points of Rocco in the final standings.  Gertsch finished the season tied in points with teammate Conant, but won the wins tie-breaker 6 to 2.  Gertsch extended his career record for Sportsman wins to 26 feature victories.   

For the 2nd year in a row, the Speedbowl held it's Nextel Cup Night.  This year, the visiting superstars from NASCAR's premier division included the legendary Bill Elliot (who won the late model exhibition in Bruce Thomas Jr's #35), Ken Schrader and Kerry EarnhardtLarry Goss, who redesigned his Late Model into a replica version of Kevin Harvick's #29 Goodwrench car, unfortunately wasn't rewarded for his team's efforts as Harvick cancelled earlier in the day.  

At the left is a video from a WTNH Channel 8 edition of their former 'This is The Pits' sports segment on the Speedbowl.  This one highlights Larry Goss' disappointment on Nextel Cup Night and includes  interviews with SK Modified competitors Ed Reed Jr & Rob Janovic and Sportsman drivers Ed Gertsch Jr & Dwayne Conant.

The May 1st mini stock feature had one of the more unbelievable finishes in the division's history.  Running the outside groove, Richard Brooks was battling with Glenn Colvin for the lead as the two raced side by side through turns 3 and 4 toward the white flag.  As they came to the front stretch, 2-time mini champ Jeff Miller, who was in 3rd, made a move for the win on the inside and for the next complete lap they would drive 3 wide fighting for the lead.  Amazingly, the cars never hit the wall or each other, until they again reached turn 4 where Brooks, who was still on the outside and closest to the armco barrier, finally backed out.  Jeff Miller crossed the stripe first for the win, followed by Colvin and Timmy Jordan, who got by Brooks through the final turn.  At the time they were the top 4 in the point standings – a battle Colvin, Jordan & Brooks would continue to the final weeks of the season.  Colvin won the points championship while Jordan & Brooks tied for most wins (5).  They also each one a Triple Crown event – Jordan the 30-lap opener, Colvin the mid-season 50 lapper while Brooks won 4 of the last 6 races, including the Finale 50.

Mike Pepe won the Saturday Legend Car Track Championship while George Whitney won the Wednesday series.  Whitney led the mid-week division in wins (5) and had 6 victories overall.  He also set fast time during the INEX National qualifier time trials.  Young Gun Jeffrey Paul came on strong at season's end, winning 4 of the last 6 Saturday events (4 of the last 5 overall) including the INEX 50 lapper in September. 

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Funk Master Flex addresses the competitors with Speedbowl owner Terry Eames during his Late Model Invitational event filmed as a special for the Spike TV network in August of 2004 (Fran Lawlor photo)

This was also the first season that the track implemented transponders to record lap times which provided competitors with more accurate scoring.  Each race team needed to purchase devices to adhere to their car.  Drivers who did not comply were not allowed to compete, a rule that still stands today.  

Thursday, August 5th was another notable event.  New York City hip hop personality Funkmaster Flex created a Super Series Late Model Invitational event to debut at Waterford.  The mid-week event drew close to 8,000 spectators and featured celebrities such as LL Cool J, Lil' Kim and the Orange County Choppers.  The event was filmed and later broadcast on Spike TV with NASCAR broadcaster Mike Joy and former Speedbowl & NWMT Champion Rick Fuller as commentators.  Home track favorite Allen Coates won the event, taking home a vintage Chevy Camaro along with his prize money.  Other notables in the event included 6-time Waterford champion Phil Rondeau and former Speedbowl champions Ed Reed Jr and Ted ChristopherJason Fowler set a new Late Model Lap Record with a 15.456 time trial during qualifying for the event.  For more on this unique event click here.

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Todd Szegedy won the NASCAR Modified Tour event in September 2004 at Waterford (Howie Hodge photo)
NASCAR Tours made three visits to the 'bowl in 2004.  The newly sponsored Whelen Modified Tour held two 150 lap events – won by former weekly SK competitor Ed Flemke Jr (May) and eventual 2004 NASCAR Modified Champion Todd Szegedy (September).  The 150 lap NASCAR Busch North even held in June was won by Mike Johnson.

Former Legends Car standout Ben Seitz won 3 of the 4 NEMA Midget events at the 'bowl, including the prestigious Boston Louie Memorial in August.  Bobby Santos III won the remaining event during the tour's June visit.

Jeff Walsh (X-cars) and Philip Balmer (X-mods) both won 5 of the first 8 features in their respective Wednesday divisions.  Both finished with division best win totals (6) although neither won the track championship.  Walsh's season included 5 straight victories from late May to mid June.  Duke Place won his first Super X-car title, Walt Kowalsky repeated as X-car championship and the inaugural champion of the X-Modified division, a new entry level, inexpensive alternative for open-wheel racing, was John Mianetti Jr.

Late Model competitor Bruce Thomas Jr, who was sidelined for a majority of the season due to health concerns, returned late in the year to win the last 30 lap Late Model feature of the season.  In his absence, 4-time track champion Jay Stuart drove the Thomas #35 Late Model to 2 victories early in the season.  In fact, including the Nextel Cup Night exhibition, the #35 car earned trips to victory lane 4 times despite Bruce's extended time off.

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