May 21, 2012

ARCHIVES

LINKS

















New Britain’s Ruggiero a True Racing Legend
 


Reggie accepts 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 SIZE

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 Plainville.
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 bdanko@newbritainherald.com

 

Brian Danko has been covering Auto Racing for over 30 years for various magazines & and racing papers including Area Auto Racing News. His weekly column can be seen "In The Print Edition" of  The New Britain Herald & The Bristol Press.

 

Copyright © 2012 Brian Danko