Monday April 23, 2007

By Brian Danko                                                                  

THOMPSON, CT--------James Civali of Meriden, CT scored his second modified tour career win when the 2006 NASCAR Whelen modified tour Rookie of the Year captured the Icebreaker in the Don King owned #28 Chevrolet.

Civali, who came into the series as a driver with a chip on his shoulder, has earned the respect of everyone as they have watched the kid become a driver.

"It was a very interesting day." James told the media after the race that saw his hold off Chuck Hossfeld of Ransomville, NY on a green/white/checkered finish. The rest of the top five included Ronnie Silk in third, Jimmy Blewett fourth and Matt Hirschman fifth.

"The cautions at the end of the race were driving me nuts. These cars pick up a lot of rubber and I was just hoping that I got it all off. The car was good all day but it was a little too free early on in the race."

Civali took the lead the final time on lap 109 and then watched as contenders faded before him or crashed trying to get to the front. Civali said that he had several teams that he was concerned with, especially the cars of Donny Lia and John Blewett.

"I wasn't sure how good the #4 of Lia was because he may have been saving his car and the #66 of John Blewett. I was really concerned with them, especially on the restarts because of the tire build up and some guys aren't pressing the gas until later in the race."

While Civali seemed to have the field covered, he knew that last restart would be fun. "I knew that it would be a hectic restart. I was just hoping that the tires stuck. Chuck was fast and he did everything he could."

When James was asked about  his the turn around in his racing attitude, he pointed to two veterans on the modified tour for guidance in Eddie Flemke, Jr and John Blewett, III.

"The biggest things those guys taught me was patience. If you spin on lap 25 in a 150-lap race, you still have 125 laps to get back to the front. That there is no need to get all bent out of shape." Civali said of the win worth more than $7,000.

Chuck Hossfeld has a knack for finishing second in the Icebreaker as he matched last year's runner up with another second for the recently transplanted New Yorker, who drives the Coors Light Pontiac. "I can't say enough about the whole team. I have to thank Roger and Sandy Hill for giving me the opportunity to drive their car. We had a championship like race today, we made all of the right moves, especially in the pits after the early spin."

Hossfeld, who moved to North Carolina to work on the car, said this is the best situation he has had in the modifieds. "The Hills have treated me as good as anybody has. That's one of the reasons I moved down there." Chuck and the Hills have run several of the Whelen modified tour southern races and Chuck feels that it has helped the team learn more and more about each other and the cars.

Hossfeld thinks that his team is poised to make a title run, saying he learned a lot from Mike Stefanik at the banquet last winter. "Mike Stefanik is one pretty smart dude. He talked about getting out of  the car all you can, but to know the limits of your car that day and not over push it. If I have a seventh place car, make sure you finish seventh or eighth."

The race started with Richard Savery and Ted Christopher bringing the field to the green to start the 150-lap event and Christopher quickly jumped out front. The first caution came out on lap 18 as several cars got together and then on the restart, a cluster of cars tangled in turn three slowing the field again.  As the field went back to green, Donny Lia applied heavy pressure to Christopher and then took over the top spot on lap 31. Lia then began to set a steady pace but one car that appeared ready to challenge and would was that of John Blewett. Blewett had to restart from the rear after spinning in turn four with several cars but he showed his cars quickness moving into the top ten by lap 40 and just outside the top five by lap 50. Lia continued to set a winning pace but when the caution came out on lap 69, most of the contenders pitted but Lia stayed on the track. Former champ, Todd Szegedy was forced to pit under green on lap 79 while in the top ten while James Civali had hunted down Lia and was all over the rear bumper of the Bob Garbarino owned car. On lap 85, Tony Ferrante, Jr spun in turn two to bring out a caution and most figured that Lia would duck into the pits for fresh tires but never did, a move that would come back to haunt the team. On lap 92, Civali and Silk touched in turn one as Lia opened his lead slightly but Civali continued to close and on lap 97, snuck under Lia for the lead off turn two with third place driver, John Blewett taking second away from Lia. On lap 99, Jimmy Blewett and Tony Hirschman made contact heading into turn one and Hirschman got the worst end of it suffering front end damage while Blewett drove away.

Reggie Ruggiero, the ageless veteran showed he hasn't lost anything to the younger generation as he was in the top five but he pitted on lap 102 for fresh tires. Matt Hirschman was now set to challenge as he was in third getting by Richard Savery, who turned a lot of heads with his strong run in the Art  Barry machine. John Blewett powered by Civali on lap 107 for the lead before Civali retook the lead for good on lap 109. A caution on lap 117 slowed the field and while under yellow, John Blewett suddenly headed down pit road and parked it behind the wall with what appeared to be an overheating problem. On the lap 121 restart, Civali pulled away as Savery and Hirschman were fighting for third as Donny Lia fought back to second but another caution on 126 brought the field to a crawl. On lap 130, Savery passed Lia for second while Matt Hirschman was on the outside and faded from the top five but Reggie Ruggiero had worked his way to fifth as the laps were clicking off.

Donny Lia's great strong run came to any end on lap 137 as he spun in turn two after fading to 20th as his tires gave up. With seven laps to go on the restart, Ron Yuhas was third and Chuck Hossfeld fourth; the two washed up off turn two. Reggie Ruggiero saw an opening and tried to fill it getting past both to get into third but as he tried to clear, he made contact with Yuhas ending both their days in the wall.

That set up the green-white-checkered finish and Civali had enough to hold off the charge of Hossfeld and Silk. One media member voted Civali as the 2007 modified tour champion and it seems this year that Civali has the mental make up to make a legitimate run for the title.

Maturity, a fast car and a good team are signs of a championship contender and Civali certainly has all three lined up.

Ronnie Silk from Norwalk, CT had a career best third place finish and was quite please with the finish. "This was our best finish on the tour and I am thrilled with it, as is the crew." Ronnie said, "I was just sort of hanging on at the end, it was a matter of survival." "It is important to get off to a good start, I run good at Stafford and look forward to going there. The big thing is to bring the car home in one piece and this is a good start."

Eddie Flemke, JR of Southington, CT never took the initial green flag of the race as he coasted into the pits with an ignition problem. The crew worked hard to get him out but he started almost 15 laps behind at the end.

Mike Stefanik, the seven time modified tour champ, didn't get off to a great start as he pitted several times early with a vibration but then his day came to an end on lap 34 when he tagged the wall ending his day.

Tony Hirschman appeared poised to have a top five finish but as he was hunting down the third spot, he and Jimmy Blewett touched sending Tony into the wall in turn one. Another victim of the incident was Ted Christopher as he was caught up in car spinning and was collected in the carnage.

The two best looking cars on the opening weekend have to be the #2 Wisk Ford of Todd Szegedy along with the #12 of Jimmy Blewett.

The weather couldn't have been any better for the race following last weeks flooding rains. It was a bright blue sky with a high in the mid-70's. The crowd also responded and while it wasn't a packed house, it was a good solid start to the season.

At a media only breakfast before the season opening Icebreaker, NASCAR and Whelen Engineering introduced the new champion's trophy. Phil Kurze, director of motorsports for Whelen showed off the new trophy, a three-tiered burlstone base with a crystal bowl. Kurze said the purpose of the trophy is "to preserve the history of the series and the trophy is made to reflect this." The most intriguing part of the new trophy, which the champion gets to keep, is that the proud history of the modified division, NASCAR's oldest, has every champions name on it since the first title was won in 1948.

Since the first modified tour race on March 31st, 1985, a span of 92 races has taken place at Thompson Speedway with 25 different winners taking the checkered flag. Richie Evans won the Icebreaker that year and finishing third was Jamie Tomaino, who is still competing on the tour and is the all time leading driver in starts with 467.

The Icebreaker at the Thompson International Speedway is owned by Don Hoenig's, whose father built the track following the hurricane of 1938. The 5/8ths-mile oval is located in the northeast corner of Connecticut. It is also one of five races on the 2007 schedule set for Thompson, which if memory is correct is the second oldest paved speedway in America, just behind Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The posted purse for the 150-lap race is $89,186.

Current drivers on the series with Icebreaker wins include Ted Christopher in 2004 and 2005, Chuck Hossfeld in 2003, Tony Hirschman in 1990, Rick Fuller in 1991, 1997 and 2001 and Jerry Marquis in 2002.

Drivers still competing on the series who were in the first ever-modified tour race in 1985 include Carl Pasteryak, Rick Fuller, Jamie Tomaino and Ken Bouchard.

Correction on the cause of the wrack that Reggie Ruggiero had last weekend. It was the clamp on the gooseneck radiator hose that broke sending Reggie hard into the wall. I stopped by Race Works during the week and Reggie told me it was the hardest wreck he has ever had in a modified.

Three members of the NASCAR Whelen modified tour competed in a 'reality' show in California in February. Driver Renee Dupuis, crewmember Justin Dutton and modified tour car owner Billy 'Bear' Calicchio. The show is 'Setup' and will air this Wednesday night on Speed at 8 p.m.

The modified tour heads to the Stafford Motor Speedway this coming weekend for "The Greatest Race in the History of Spring" takes to the track for the 36th annual edition.