As John Zych Jr. and Anthony Payne are celebrating their 2015 NEMA driver’s championships, NEMA President Russ Stoehr is reflecting on a very successful Northeastern Midget Association season. It was a year that highlighted a diverse
group of winners across both venues, and 13 events.
Highlights on the season included 2 wins by back to back NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion Doug Coby, one on opening day at Chemung and one at Waterford, respectively. Jim Chambers took down his first ever NEMA victory at the 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 John Zych. Champion, Zych captured three wins, coming at Thompson Speedway, Oswego and Evans Mills, and Randy Cabral captured wins at Star Speedway and Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park. Todd Bertrand performed a “wing dance” after winning the Speed Sport TV, Boston Louis Memorial at Seekonk Speedway, and Seth Carlson took down an impressive Wings & Wheels win at the New-London Waterford Speedbowl. Alan Chambers took down Rookie honors.
In the Lites division, young star Anthony Payne bested the wiley 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 ever career win, and PJ Stergios’ repeat win at the Boston Louis Memorial. Jim Cataldo took down Rookie honors.
President, 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,” he said.
And 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 5/8 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 TSMP 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 NEMA President, 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 ninety percent of our cars finish the race in both classes,” he 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!,” he went on to say.
“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. 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,” he said. “The other nice thing is that midget racing is one of the only places where a father & 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 went on to say.
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,” he said. Stoehr is also negotiating the schedule, which will be published in mid December, with a number of other venues.
With a very interesting schedule taking shape, a growing list of car owners, and costs & reliability well under control there is no doubt that the Northeastern Midget Association is on the upswing headed into 2016.