Monday April 10, 2006

 

ARCHIVES

By Brian Danko                                        

 

THOMPSON, CT-------Mike Stefanik of Coventry, RI proved that despite all of the young drivers on the Whelen modified tour, the tour still belongs to the 'old guys.'

Stefanik, running full time on the modified tour this year because his Busch East team folded is focused on winning his seventh modified title and said winning at Thompson was a great way to start the hunt.

Stefanik beat back the charges of Chuck Hossfeld, Reggie Ruggiero, Ted Christopher and defending series champion, Tony Hirschman.

"In other years, I might have taken a few chances that maybe I wouldn't have done but going for the title, I don't want to give spots away." Stefanik quipped.

The win for Stefanik was the 67th of his legendary career and the 8 time NASCAR champion said the tour is still for the veteran guys.

"Look at who was up their, Reggie, Teddy (Christopher), its fun racing with these guys on the tour. There is nothing better than running a modified." Stefanik said while talking with the media following the win.

Stefanik passed Chuck Hossfeld for the lead on lap 127 and then held on when Hossfeld got into the back of Stefanik in turn four of the last lap, but was able to correct it and hold on for the win.
"Chuck was going for the win. He got into me and lifted the rear wheels off the track. We both almost stopped on the track because of the sun glare but I just wanted to hold the line down and keep him behind me.'

Chuck Hossfeld, running his first race for the Roger Hill team of North Carolina apologized to Stefanik but Mike knew he was going for the win.

"My hats off to Mike Stefanik and his whole team. I got into Mike and allowed him to correct, I wanted to win but if I have to be second, there is no one I rather finish second to than Mike." Hossfeld said after the 150-lap event.

Stefanik said his eyes are glued on the big prize, the championship and it's great to start the year off on a positive note.

"This was just awesome. I have to thank Eric Sanderson (car owner) and the crew for their hard work. I was just driving the car as hard as I could all day."

The modified tour kicked off the 2006 season on a sun-splashed day at the Thompson International Speedway and the large crowd waited all day for the first big event of the year in the northeast.

Jerry Marquis brought the field to the green flag and jumped out front ahead of Steve Whitt.
The first caution of the season flew on lap 9 and it collected ten cars in the process ending the day for such drivers as John Blewett, III.

Jerry Marquis was up to the task on the restart holding off Whitt, who has improved year after year on the tour, On the 33rd lap, Eddie Flemke, Jr. was black flagged and forced to pit while running ninth. On the 46th lap, Jerry Marquis day came to a abrupt halt when he hit the turn one wall hard when something in the front end broke ending his day of the back of a wrecker. Many of the tours top drivers came down pit road for tires including Tony Hirschman, Jamie Tomaino, Mike Andrews, Jr. and Chuck Hossfeld. Steve Whitt stayed on the track and continued to lead but on lap 57, he slowed and brought his Greenfield Dodge pit road. That gave the lead to Donnie Lia with Mike Stefanik, Reggie Ruggiero and young Zack Sylvester in tow.

Doug Coby was forced to start scratch on the field because of a clutch problem and he quickly worked his way to the fifth spot by lap 65.

At the halfway point, Renee Dupuis slapped the first turn wall and brought out another caution, the third of the afternoon.

That was cue for the other drivers who didn't pit earlier to duck in for tires with Lia surrendering the lead as Mike Stefanik Reggie Ruggiero, Zack Sylvester and Coby all pitted.

This allowed the #79 of Hossfeld, running his first tour race for Roger Hill, who happened to be celebrating another birthday to take over the lead.

A rash of cautions slowed the race from lap 93 to 103 when three cautions slowed the pace including a red flag situation.

An 11 wreck occurred on lap 98 when Jim Storace lost it coming off turn four and many teams had no where to go and piled in.

When the carnage was cleaned up and the race went back to green, it was Hossfeld continuing to set the pace over Hirschman with Mike Stefanik now third and Ted Christopher fourth.
A caution on lap 115 for a spin by Jamie Tomaino slowed the field one final time and set up a great run to the finish.

As Hossfeld lead, Tony Hirschman's car got quite high in turn two and that allowed the lapped car of Eddie Flemke, Jr. between Hirschman and Hossfeld.

Now with Mike Stefanik moving past Hirschman and with Flemke dropping off, allowing the leaders to settle it amongst themselves, Stefanik put a charge on Hossfeld and moved along side of the Ramsonville, NY driver on lap 125.

Finally, after getting good forward bite off the turn, Stefanik was able to get past with Ted Christopher also able to dispatch Hossfeld who fell to third with Ruggiero fourth.

On lap 136, Donnie Lia who ran in the top ten most of the race dropped off the pace and onto pit road while Stefanik fought off Hossfeld, who got back past Christopher.

On lap 140, Christopher began to slide backwards and fell to fourth.

On the 143rd lap, Ruggiero was able to get past Christopher while Hossfeld worked over Stefanik but to no avail as Stefanik claimed his first modified tour win since October of 2004 in the World Series.

"I was trying to save a little at the end." Mike said, "The longer I ran the tighter the car got, Chuckie was going for the win and when he hit me, I thought he was going to get me."

But it wasn't to be and Stefanik served notice that he will be a major contender for his seventh modified title and ninth overall under NASCAR.

MOD TOUR NOTES
Reggie Ruggiero of Rocky Hill, CT finished third and he proved that he still has what it takes to compete on the tour despite not running the whole tour in several years.

"I love this race track." Reggie told the crowd when interviewed after the race. "We didn't qualify that good but we ran great. Dick Barney and the crew wanted to come here for the first race. We are going to run Stafford and then we'll see where we are."
 
The Reg thought he might have had a chance to sneak past both Hossfeld and Stefanik in turn four of the last lap but said the sun was just too bright to see anything.

The modified tour added two definite races for the 2006 season with 100 lap events at the Jennerstown Speedway and another one at the Holland Speedway in the Buffalo area.

Look for NASCAR to add one more event at the Motor Mile Speedway in Virginia if all of the rumors are true.

A total of 13 rookies will compete on the NASCAR Whelen modified tour in 2006.

The Icebreaker is the traditional season opener for the NASCAR Whelen modified tour and the track will also close out the 2006 schedule. Three other races will fill out the tour events at the 5/8ths-mile oval located in northern corner of Connecticut.

The second tour date at Thompson is Thursday, June 29th while the August event, another Thursday night is slated for the 11th. The September 10th date will feature the Whelen modified tour, the True Value Series, the Race of Champions series and the SK modifieds.

The posted awards for the 150 lap modified tour open was $89,573.

Ted Christopher of Plainville, CT is the two time defending champion of the Icebreaker.

Other drivers still competing on the tour who have scored Icebreaker wins include Chuck Hossfeld in 2003, Tony Hirschman in 1990, Jerry Marquis in 2002 and Mike Stefanik in 1998. Rick Fuller is a three-time winner of the Icebreaker scoring wins in 1991, 1997 and 2001 while Mike Ewanitsko won the event twice in 1988 and 1999.

Five drivers who still compete on the tour ran in the 1985 Icebreaker, the first year under the current format and they are Ken Bouchard, Jan Leaty, Rick Fuller, Carl Pasteryak and Jamie Tomaino.

The Thompson Speedway has hosted more modified tour event than any other track with 86 races.
The modified tour is off now until April 29th with the running of the Spring Sizzler at the Stafford Motor Speedway.

BRIAN DANKO'S COLUMN CAN BE FOUND EACH WEEK IN AREA AUTO RACING NEWS.  FOR THE MOST IN AUTO RACING NEWS SUBSCRIBE BY CLICKING ON THE LINK BELOW.