Monadnock Speedway gears for new ownership

  • David Hollstein is fabricator of the “99” car that raced in Saturday’s Firecracker 100 at Monadnock Speedway. An accident or a poor finish, he said, is usually caused by human error, “Sometimes the driver’s, sometimes the pit crew’s.” FOR THE RECORDER/CHIP AINSWORTH

  • Above, Former rookie of the year Roy Seidell Jr. of Easthampton is ready to call it a career. “I’ve got a boat, a Harley and eight grandchildren,” said the 64-year-old Easthampton resident. Below, Larry Cirillo has owned Monadnock Speedway since 1984, but folks in the pits say a plan’s in the works to sell the ¼-mile track to Nashua, N.H. businessman Fred Wrenn Jr. when racing season ends. FOR THE RECORDER/CHIP AINSWORTH

  • Larry Cirillo has owned Monadnock Speedway since 1984, but folks in the pits say a plan's in the works to sell the ¼-mile track to Nashua, N.H. businessman Fred Wrenn Jr. when racing season ends. FOR THE RECORDER/CHIP AINSWORTH

For the Recorder
Wednesday, July 11, 2018

WINCHESTER, N.H.— At Monadnock this summer, the buzz in the pits has been louder than the blare on the track. Everyone’s talking about the speedway’s pending sale to Norman Wrenn Jr., a 58-year-old retired Pro Stock driver and New Hampshire businessman who owns two propane gas companies in Greater Nashua.

Wrenn bought Lee USA Speedway in February, and Star Speedway in Epping is on his radar after longtime owner Bob Webber Sr. passed away in January. Both are near the New Hampshire seacoast, about 75 miles from Winchester.

Wrenn’s intention is to establish a tri-track series with motor racing at Lee on Friday nights, Monadnock on Saturday nights and Star on Sunday afternoons. 

The Monadnock sale won’t be finalized until November to avoid disrupting current licensing agreements. “You don’t want people not being able to buy hot dogs and beer,” joked a racing official.

“It’ll be a big change,” she added. “There’s going to be a lot of (capital) improvements.”

After Lee USA Speedway was sold, The Lowell Sun reported that the day-to-day operations would stay the same. “No changes,” said Norman Wrenn III. “No staff changes, no race division changes.”

In 1971, Monadnock was carved out of a gravel pit by Bill Brown, whose brother Ted raced on the local circuit. Brown sold the track to Bill Davis, and in 1984 Davis sold it to Larry Cirillo and Fred Pafume of Springfield, Mass.

In a feature I penned for The Recorder four years ago, general manager Michelle Cloutier talked about the high price of running a race track. “It cost $1,200 just to turn the gate key,” she said, “and we have six months to pay 12 months’ bills.”

The property tax, she told me recently, is $31,000 a year.

Monadnock’s staff works diligently, but its infrastructure is crumbling around them. The old grandstand is rickety, and a few of the aluminum fold-out chairs that Cirillo purchased from Riverside Park after it closed are still used. The children’s play area on the south side of the bleachers is a patch of sand shaded by a makeshift tent, the yellow caution light on Turn 2 is taped together, and the gravel parking lot is peppered with potholes and moguls. 

Indeed, there was barely enough space to fit the vehicles that arrived for last week’s Firecracker 100 and fireworks show.

Norm Wrenn Jr. will work to keep it that way.

If you’re standing next to a tour-type modified vehicle in the pits when a mechanic turns on the engine, try not to jump.

The explosive sound and its loud angry rumble was for crew chief Joey “The Kid” Kourafas to adjust the carburetor before he sent driver Richard Savory onto the track in the team’s sleek red No. 99 car.

Kourafas’s racing prowess earned him a spot in the New England Racing Hall of Fame as recognition for taking 50 checkered flags at tracks up and down the East Coast. Each week, his gang preps the vehicle to compete in the Valenti Modified Racing Series, a season-long competition for prize money that helps pay the repair bills.

“If we finish in the top five in points, we might make expenses, provided we don’t crash,” said fabricator David Hollstein, who laughed and added, “We hope by the end of the season we’re not completely broke.”

He pointed to a crew member who was checking the air pressure at various intervals on the $165 Hoosier tires. He moved the gauge a few inches, stopped and looked like a doctor who listens on a stethoscope. “We check the pressure more times in one day than most people do in a lifetime,” said Hollstein.

The good-natured Holbrook resident said each of the 10 crew members is assigned specific tasks. “One guy does the tires, one guy does the shocks, one guy, believe it or not, knows how to do the decals.”

Hollstein said he had used left-over sheet metal from his company’s commercial roofing business to build  the car’s chassis from scratch. He wa  s recruited into the racing game a few years ago, and now it’s his passion. 

“We agreed that we’re all socially dysfunctional in some way, so we took to racing. I raised five children and one day they were gone. I went to the races one day, and a couple of days later I said I’m going to go to another, and now I’m the team’s full-time fabricator.”

Their car ran 11th in Saturday’s Firecracker 100 and dropped them out of third place in the season point standings. They’ll regroup for Friday’s feature at Lee USA Speedway and hope that a better showing will help keep them out of the poorhouse.

Veteran driver Roy Seidell Jr. sat near the driver’s compartment of his aqua-colored No. 22 car and said it was time to retire. “This is my last season,” said the 64-year-old Easthampton native. “I got my boat, my Harley, a real sweet girlfriend and eight grandkids.”

Asked to recount his most vivid racing memory, he said, “The night I started on the pole, stood on the gas, spun myself around and was missed by 18 cars.”

“Anyone give you any grief?” asked a visitor.

“Oh yeah, they all did,” he laughed.

STOPS ’N STARTS: After Saturday’s Super Stock event, Tyler Leary was asked how it felt to be runner-up: “You don’t come here to finish second,” said the Hatfield resident, who sounded miffed at the question. …. It could have been worse. “Tough break for Zach Lyn on the hook here,” track announcer Dave Sutherland said as Lyn’s car was being towed off the track in Lightning Stock. … The aforementioned Roy Seidell Jr. said he didn’t know how much prize money was up for grabs in the Firecracker 100. “I learned a long time ago to never look at the purse, you’re gonna be sick,” he said. Not that it mattered, Seidell was last in the 25-car field. …  One of the sponsor decals on Dana Smith’s car is a promise by Logan’s Barber Shop: “If I can’t make you look good, you’re ugly.”

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley. He can be reached by email: sports@recorder.com.