Ruggiero a True Racing Legend
induction in the NEAR Hall of Fame from noted racing journalist
Bones Boucier. (Steve Kennedy Photo)
|By Brian Danko, Staff Writer
The New Britain Herald & Bristol Press
CLICK ON PHOTOS FOR FULL
Reggie Ruggiero doesn’t consider himself a legend in the world of modified
racing. He might be the only one.
When you look at the history of modified racing in and around New England
and the Eastern United States, Ruggiero, who grew up in New Britain and
now lives in Rocky Hill, has visited victory lane well over 250 times in
his career from the New Smyrna Speedway in Florida to Martinsville
Speedway in Virginia to the ultra fast New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
He hasn’t just been an occasional visitor but a frequent guest. He has won
every modified race that worth’s winning, and he’s done it multiple times.
That is what legends do. That’s why this past January Ruggiero was
inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame.
Reggie with his first Modified in 1969 at
Phil Hoyt Photo
“I wish I was still driving but it would have to be one of our cars,”
Ruggiero said, referring to the company he co-owns called Race Works that
builds race cars. “There are not a lot people out there racing. I could
have a ride tomorrow if I had a lot of money, but I am not going to do
that. I don’t need to do that.”
The biggest difference in racing today and when Ruggiero started at the
Plainville Stadium in 1969 is money. Back then, you could build a car and
race for $500, including the motor.
A win in the Don Moon Flying 9.
Phil Hoyt Photo
“Now every rich kid who thinks he can race does because they go out and
buy everything needed to race but most don’t have the talent. When you
were young you earned your next ride, now you just buy it.”
That, according to Ruggiero, is the biggest problem in racing today, not
only on the local level but also in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series.
“When I first raced, the fast cars started in the back every week and you
only had 50 laps to get to the front. That is where you learned to drive.
The kids today couldn’t do that because on the (modified) tour, the
fastest cars start up front so you don’t have to pass anyone.”
For a driver who has won at many tracks in his career, it was Plainville
Stadium that was the most influential in him becoming a great driver. He
would earn 18 wins at the flat quarter mile.
“At Plainville you learned car control, so when I left there and went to
Riverside Park Speedway (Agawam, Mass.), I felt like I was racing on a
super speedway because of the banking. Then, racing at Riverside weekly
helped me when I went out and was racing for a living across the country.”
Ruggiero would go on to win 93 races in his career at the speedway, but
Ruggiero said his biggest win might have been at the Richmond
International Speedway in Virginia in the first night race there where he
lapped all but the second and third place finishers.
Another on the list would be the Race of Champions at the Pocono Raceway
in Pennsylvania and, of course, the Martinsville Speedway in Virginia.
“The Race of Champions was just that, a race of champions, and the wins at
Martinsville Speedway meant you got a grandfather clock as your trophy.”
Ruggiero also won six times at the one-mile New Hampshire Motor Speedway
including five in a row from July, 1992 to April, 1994.
Reggie after a Mod tour win in the Dick Barney 41.
Fran Lawlor Photo
While the history books will show Ruggiero never won a NASCAR modified
points title, he did finish second six times in his career.
“It does bother me a little but not to a great extent. I always raced to
win and when you race to win, sometimes things happen in a race and you
wreck or get a flat. I never point raced,” he said.
“Points racing” is where a driver would rather stay where he is than risk
moving up and possibly wreck.
“You see it all the time on TV when a driver will say, ‘well that was a
good points day for us today.’ That was never me.”
Ruggiero is second on the all time wins list on the NASCAR Whelen modified
tour with 44, behind only Mike Stefanik with 70. Stefanik is still racing
today. Ruggiero was also selected by NASCAR as one of the top 10 modified
drivers of all time.
He raced in the most competitive series in NASCAR at the time with the
biggest stars of that generation.
“I raced in the good times on the modified tour. I raced with drivers you
could trust and who trusted you. There isn’t a whole lot of respect left
in racing today.”
There isn’t a lot Ruggiero didn’t do in his career but the one thing that
he thinks twice about was his decision to stay here in the north instead
of running the Busch series.
“I raced several races for this team on the Busch series and they wanted
me to run the rest of the year but I told them I had a handshake agreement
with my car owner at the time to race the modified tour. They were going
to move me south, set me up with a job and race for them but at the time,
there wasn’t the big difference in what I was earning up here and down
there but you have to wonder what could have happened.”
Auto racing legends know no boundaries or divisions. When Tony Stewart,
reigning Sprint Cup champion first raced at the New Hampshire Speedway,
the one driver he wanted to meet was Reggie Ruggiero.
Ruggiero insists he isn’t through racing but if he did strap on his helmet
for the last time, it will show 420 modified tour starts, 169 top fives
and 227 top 10’s. Throw in several track championships at Riverside Park
Speedway and Stafford Motor Speedway along with two at New Hampshire Motor
Speedway, you have the making of a legend and while he may not admit to
being one, ask anyone else.
Reggie with Hall of Famers Billy Harman & Ray Miller
at the 2011 Plainville Stadium Reunion
Phil Hoyt Photo
Brian Danko can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org