NEMA, Speedbowl: A Torrid Love Affair

Waterford, CT — It’s doubtful if anybody loves Waterford Speedbowl more than the Northeastern Midget Association. A large contingent ranging from 34-year veteran Nokie Fornoro to 17-year old Chris Leonard agree with Joey Payne Jr. – “it’s probably the best Midget Track on the east coast.”

“If I had to pick any midget track that I would like to race on once a week, 52 weeks a year, it would be the Speedbowl,” says Fornoro.

NEMA is one of the visiting divisions for the 12th annual, April 12-13, season-opening Budweiser Modified Nationals. The $5,000-to-win SK-150 headlines the 10-division show that also includes, in addition to the Bowl’s Late Model, Sportsman, Mini Stock and Legend divisions, the Pro4 Modifieds, AllStar Trucks, Allison Legacy Cars and NEMA Lites.

It is, all agree, a “momentum track” with the best turning mid 17-seconds laps in competition. “You can get those things really wound up at the Speedbowl,” continues Fornoro. “The cars really want to go there.”

Fornoro, Payne (three wins), Randy Cabral (4), Bobby Santos III (4) and, Ben Seitz (4) will come to the Nationals with strong Speedbowl resumes. The Speedbowl-NEMA marriage dates back to 1953, NEMA’s initial season.

Fornoro’s first (1981) and fourth (last year) Speedbowl wins are separated by a quarter century. He remembers the last repaving in 1988 taking “a couple seasons to get the bite that’s there now. It is excellent. It’s a racy joint.”

And a challenging place as well. “That race track changes in a 25-lap midget feature like you can’t believe,” he says. “It changes day to night, day to the next day.”

The key challenge is probably tires. “You can light up a tire there, blister it if you don’t let it cool,” Fornoro continues. “That’s how fast that track is.”

“It’s at Waterford where people run their best,” the now-retired Russ Stoehr pointed out several seasons ago. “We go to the Speedbowl, all of us, expecting to do well.”

“I just love the place,” says Bobby Santos III who points to both the surface and layout. “You can pretty much put the car where you want it, three, maybe four, lanes of racing.” Santos’ first full Midget win came at the Speedbowl.

“I’ve made four-wide passes on both the bottom and the top at the Speedbowl,” says Randy Cabral who was near flawless in winning last year’s Finale. “There is not another track we go to where you can do that.” Cabral has four career Speedbowl wins.

“I’ve passed three wide there,” says Payne. “I’ve passed on the bottom, in the middle, on the top. There are three racing grooves and I’ve used them all.”

“The Speedbowl is definitely our favorite track,” says Leonard. “The minute I saw the place, I knew it was a perfect midget track. It’s just so much fun to race there.”

It is “smooth but with some transitions,” says Fornoro who offers a primer on where to expect the action. “Going into one it looks like you can really sail it in there but you have to be careful because the fence can pull you in,” says. “Off two, there’s a little dip and if you hit that the wrong way it will loosen you up pretty good. It narrows up real hard out of four and you can eat the fence through there.”

Sources: Dave Dykes/Waterford Speedbowl PR

March 2008
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