1980s (1980-1989)

Just two years after the beginning of the Pro Stock division, it had become clear it was going to be a major success, with drivers taking their firm grasp on the class and not letting go, while car counts continued to rise. Seekonk’s second-tier division (now Late Models) would watch 10 different champions win in as many years, while the Street Stock division would take a few years off from crowning a champion, but return in the second half with multiple drivers earning top honors. The decade also crowned champions in the Charger, Modified, Mini Stock and SK Modified divisions at different times. It was just plain filled with winners and top names.

Pro Stock champions included George Murray, Don Dionne, Wayne Dion, Norm Holden, Leo Cleary, Joey Cerullo, Johnny Tripp and Bugsy Stevens. The list of feature winners was just as impressive. Names like Len Ellis, who would become a Seekonk Wall of Fame member, Jimmy Wilkins Jr., Dave Dion and Wall of Famer Vinny Annarummo were also victorious. Add Rick Martin, Joey Kourafas and Dick Houlihan and you’ve just added some of the top names in track history. And that’s not the end of the list. Pro Stock races spread from 30 to 100 laps, giving drivers the chance to showcase their talent over a wide range of lap counts in competitive fields.

Holden, who would win double-digit races in this decade, would become the first three-time champion of the Pro Stock class, with titles from ’83-’85. Cleary, who started winning in ’55, would continue his winning ways right through this decade, where he won his final championship. He won in just about everything he sat behind the wheel in, and drove for many of the top owners throughout his career, at his home track of Seekonk, and elsewhere.

The list of modified winners has some of the top talent in not only Seekonk, but NASCAR history. Bugsy Stevens, who would win countless NASCAR Modified races, was a Seekonk winner, while George Summers, the all-time Seekonk wins leader, George Murray, Ken Bouchard and Ed St. Angelo were right there with him. Champions in the Modifieds included Stevens and Bruce Taylor. In the Mini-Modified division, Bill Singerson, Marcel L’Etoile, Bob Fitzpatrick, Dick Houlihan, Richie Murray and Leo Cleary would be on top.

St. Angelo garnered over 25 wins in his Seekonk career, spreading between the Late Models, Modifieds, SK Modifieds and Pro Stocks. Possibly his best season was ’83, when he picked up eight victories, winning the SK Modified championship in the only year they competed at Seekonk. He would become a Wall of Fame member himself decades later, going in with friend Annarummo in ’19.

In the second-tier class, names like Ron Kingsborough, Deke Astle Jr., Paul Round, Dave Sylvia and Kevin Nabb were just some of the drivers who earned the top honors. Roots extended deep down into the Street Stock division, where track favorite Ray Souliere would earn his first title in ‘80, while Rick Hanatow, Bill Wilcox and Roland Wheeler would join as champions. In the Charger class, Souliere would score another, joined by Dave Silvia, Dennis Dupuis and Johnny Gomes Jr., who added their own name to the list.

Houlihan, who earned his first of three track titles in this decade (’85), wouldn’t win another championship for 17 years. Souliere, who started his title success in ’80, would go forward with more than 16 years of success towards the front of the field, ending with another title in the late 90s. Some of the top car owners in Seekonk history also ran through this decade. Ken Casper and Fred Astle Jr., who were owner/driver’s, were joined by Art Barry, Joe Brady, Rollie Lindblad, Bob Garbarino and Len Boehler as owners to win races. It’s quite the impressive list, and it doesn’t even scratch the surface.

Early in the decade, four races for the NASCAR North Tour were won by Steve Poulin, Mike Rowe, Roger Laperle and Bobby Draggon.  The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour visited in ‘87, for their inaugural stop as part of their third official season, with veteran Reggie Ruggerio grasping control into Victory Lane in the Coors 200. He would beat Jimmy Spencer, Bugsy Stevens and Bruce Taylor across the line, scoring one of 44 career tour wins. The field included the late Mike Stefanik and Wade Cole, veteran Jamie Tomaino and former champion and late Tom Baldwin.

The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East would visit twice in the same year, with one outsider and track regular earning glory. Chuck Taylor would be victorious in May, while Rick Martin beat 24 other competitors to defend the home turf in September. This would be just the beginning of local competitors defending turf against outsiders of countless divisions for years to come. Martin would beat New England racing veteran Dale Shaw to the line in a race that included the likes of Cleary, Kelly Moore, Holden and Kourafas, along with others.

Although he didn’t start in his decade, veteran technical inspection Jim “Smiley” Waterman worked to make sure cars were following the rules, and also served as the head tech inspector for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour in ’85. He worked with D. Anthony closely to create and implement a package that was strict, but affordable.

If you haven’t figured it out, this decade was filled with top names from across New England. D. Anthony Venditti’s plan was working, the group of competitors was growing, and the stands were packed on a weekly basis. By this time, Saturday night racing was a reality, and the track’s weekly divisions were spearheaded by the Pro Stocks, who were in their first full decade of creating success stories. Many of those success stories ended with drivers earning their way into the Wall of Fame years later.