NEMA President Reflects On 2015

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The Northeastern Midget Ass'n had a solid season of competition in 2015. (Dick Ayers Photo)
The Northeastern Midget Ass'n had a solid season of competition in 2015. (Dick Ayers Photo)
The Northeastern Midget Ass’n had a solid season of competition in 2015. (Dick Ayers Photo)

NEW BRITAIN, Conn. – Northeastern Midget Ass’n President Russ Stoehr recently took time to reflect on 2015 season, a year that was highlighted by a diverse group of winners.

Among those highlights were two wins by three-time NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion Doug Coby, one on opening day at the Chemung Speedrome and one at New London-Waterford Speedbowl. Jim Chambers took his first ever NEMA victory at Twin State Speedway and Joey Payne returned to NEMA victory lane after a two year hiatus at Monadnock Speedway after a hard fought victory over NEMA champion John Zych Jr.

Zych captured three wins, those coming at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park, Oswego Speedway and Evans Mills Speedway, and Randy Cabral captured wins at Star Speedway and Thompson.  Todd Bertrand celebrated a victory after winning the Suzuki presents SPEED SPORT televised Boston Louis Memorial at Seekonk Speedway, and Seth Carlson took down an impressive Wings & Wheels win at the New-London Waterford.  Alan Chambers secured Rookie of the Year honors.

In the NEMA Lites division, young star Anthony Payne bested veteran Randy Cabral for the season championship. Scott Bigelow captured his second consecutive owner’s championship.  On the racing front, many highlights included Meg Cugini’s first career win and P.J. Stergios’ repeat win at the Boston Louis Memorial. Jim Cataldo was the NEMA Lites Rookie of the Year.

Stoehr has already been very busy working on the 2016 schedule for the group as a whole.

“Building on the momentum that was created over the last few years – in 2016, we are forging some important strategic partnerships with several facilities that are committed to both the NEMA brand and short track racing in general and are working on multiple dates at Waterford, Thompson, Star Speedway,” Stoehr said.

Those facilities felt the same about NEMA.

“Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park enjoyed our expanded relationship with NEMA and the NEMA Lites in 2015. Both divisions were professionally organized and provided some ultra competitive racing on our five-eighths-mile oval. Congratulations to John Zych and Anthony Payne as well as all other teams on their achievements this season. We look forward to seeing NEMA again in 2016,” said Thomas Speedway Motorsports Park General Manager Josh Vanada.

“We can see that NEMA is on the up swing, and we want to partner with divisions that can both bring us consistent car count, and put on a great show,” said Star Speedway Promoter Bobby Webber Jr.  “We are excited to have NEMA return, and are looking forward to some great races over the year to come.”

“NEMA is very excited to have secured multiple dates at all of these facilities for 2016,” said Stoehr. “Between both divisions, we will have over 12 races at these facilities – Waterford, Thompson and Star – in 2016.”

Stoehr recognizes the stereotype that had been cast over midget racing in the Northeast over the last fifteen years, and is working hard to educate racers who are interested in midget racing on both affordability and reliability.

“We had many races go green to checkered this year and 90 percent of our cars finish the race in both classes,” Stoehr said. “That’s a lot different than midget racing fifteen years ago. We have a tire rule that we actively police to keep costs down, and most teams are running engines between fifteen and twenty races before rebuilds in NEMA and multiple seasons in the Lites.  There are teams who have run the same engine eight seasons in the Lites with no rebuilds.

“If you look at the race cars that are winning – most are older cars that teams have refurbished over the years. John Zych Jr.’s Drinan car was built in 1999, and its the same car he has been running for the last six seasons,” said Stoehr. “These cars exist in garages – with engines, and often times can be purchased for under $15,000.  Many of the Lites cars are fifteen year old cars that have been passed down through the years, and there are teams running in front who have less than a $10,000 total investment in their program.  I’m not sure of a place where you can go this fast, put on a great race, and run for that price.

“The other nice thing is that midget racing is one of the only places where a father and son/daughter team can compete without having an army of a crew to work on the car. The club is great about helping people out and providing assistance at the track. The Zych family is a great example – most races its just the two of them at the race track,” Stoehr said.

There are also changes being implemented in the Lites division to bring parody to the engine rules.

“We decided as a board that the Honda engine package was not the right decision for the club, so we have decided to put a moratorium on those going forward.  We have a solid set of rules for the Focus engines and are looking forward to having the premier division on the East Coast for that engine package going forward,” he said.

Stoehr is also excited about adding new venues to the docket for 2016.

“We have added a big Memorial Day weekend event to the schedule at Riverhead, and will be hosting a memorial race for Allan Cantor.  That’s a place we have wanted to go back to for a long time, and really appreciate the Partridge family giving us a shot to put on a show there,” said Stoehr.

Stoehr is still working on the 2016 schedule, which he expects to publish in December.