April 13, 2010

ARCHIVES                                         

By Brian Danko

THOMPSON, CT------

YOUNG GUNS HOLD OFF PAST CHAMPIONS

The Modified tour might be in good hands. On Sunday, Bobby Santos capped off a perfect weekend as he captured the Icebreaker and in the process held off Ryan Preece to win the season opener. Both Santos and Preece should contend for the title as they bested three of the best drivers on the tour to the checkers, the three are all past champions.

Finishing third through fifth was seven time champion Mike Stefanik, Ted Christopher and Todd Szegedy.

Burt Myers of ‘Madhouse’ fame finished 14th in a well run opening program for the NASCAR modified tour.

OPENING DAY

The first race is the spring is always magical. Whether your team has a legitimate shot to win races or to win a championship, the hope is always there.

The first race of the New Year always brings out all of the cars with new paint schemes, some teams with new drivers and sponsors.

Getting off to a good start is always beneficial if your team hopes to win a title and with only 13 races on the 2010 schedule, DNF’s must be kept to one or two to have a shot at the coveted championship.

HILLS TO COMPETE FOR TWO TITLES

Roger Hill and his family, despite living in North Carolina have always been dedicated to the NASCAR Whelen modified tour and despite the mileage and hours spent on the road each and every week; they are dedicated to the northern modified tour.

This year, the Hill’s have their sights set on capturing not one title but two as they plan on running for the both northern and southern modified tour titles.

The southern modified tour has only 10 races and three of them have already been run and James Civali, the Hill’s driver is leading the chase as they head into their spring hiatus.

“We are going to try for it.” Both Roger and his son, David said at Thompson as they prepared for the Icebreaker, the opener for the northern tour.

“We are able to because of where we live and because we can try it.” David said. “We are already 30% through with the southern tour.”

While in the past, the Hills have always bypassed southern races if they conflicted with Northern races, this year on two occasions, it will test them as the first conflict will come when the modified tour is at Lime Rock Park and the southern tour is at Caraway while the second one will be one month later when the mods are at Stafford and the southern mods are at Bowman Grey Stadium.

“That will be a tough one.” David said while working on the Coors Light Pontiac. “We qualify at Lime Rock on a Friday and the race at Caraway is that night. I am trying to get a plane lined up that can get us out of there and get us down to Caraway and then be able to fly us back to Lime Rock after the event.”

“We will qualify at Bowman Grey on Friday and we race at Stafford the same day. I guess there we might just have to start in the back at Bowman Grey and that may not be a bad thing.” David said laughing.

The Hills have already won twice on the southern tour, the first one was with Cory Lajoie winning at Atlanta and the second was James Civali winning at South Boston Speedway.

“We are excited about trying it.” Roger said the patriarch of the family. “With the schedules the way they are, we’ll give it a go.”

The Hills have always earned the respect of the northern competitors with their dedication to the tour and all will be pulling for them to win the southern title, the northern title, well that is a whole different story.

MADHOUSE COMES TO THOMPSON

Whether or not you watch the History Channel and the reality based ‘Madhouse’ and actually believe all of the drama that takes place each race between Junior Miller and the Myers Brothers, it is great to see modifieds on television.

One of the main characters of the show, Burt Myers made his first trip up to the Thompson Speedway and needless to say, the Myers car was the one that most people in the pit area were swarming over to.

Myers has always wanted to compete at several events on the modified tour but was unable to because of scheduling conflicts with either the southern tour or Bowman Grey Stadium.

Myers did himself quite proud as he qualified fifth for his first time at the big 5/8ths mile speedway. On Saturday night, he was able to get a ride for the SK race at the Waterford Speedbowl, an event that was called after just 12 laps because of the carnage on the track.

Myers was himself caught up on a lap six wreck, which sidelined him for the night but he told a funny story afterwards about his Waterford experience.

“At Bowman Grey, we at least wait till the last 10 laps before we start wrecking each other, but here that started right off at the drop of the green.”

SANTOS EARNS POLE

Bobby Santos proved that he hasn’t forgotten how to drive a modified as the first year driver for car owner, Bob Garbarino captured the fast time for the Icebreaker.

Santos, a master on the midget circuit and a driver who has proven that he can drive just about anything with wheels on it toured the Thompson Speedway in 18.418 seconds, 122.163 MPH. It was not only his first career tour pole but it also was a track record.

Santos should be a natural fit for Garbarino as he looks to bring the well respected car owner his first title, without Donny Lia behind the wheel.

THOMPSON TIDBITS

The Thompson Speedway is celebrating their 70th year as a racetrack. The track was carved out of what was left after the deadly Hurricane of 1938 decimated the John Hoenig landscape. In fact, Thompson Speedway was the first paved oval in the country.

The track opened on May 26, 1040 and when it did, it was the largest oval in New England. The Thompson Speedway has also hosted three Sprint Cup series races, the first in 1951 and the last two in 1969 and 1970.

Since then, the track, now operated by Don Hoenig and his son, D.R., have made the track one of the best operated ovals in the United States.

The track has also hosted 109 Whelen modified tour events; the most at any facility that has run the NASCAR modified tour.

In the 109 races, there have been 29 different race winners with Mike Stefanik leading all drivers with 14 wins.

Jeff Fuller, another terror at the Thompson oval leads all drivers with 36 poles.

Last year, Ted Christopher won both the pole and the race for the Icebreaker.

The Speedway will also host the tour in mid August and then the season finale in October.

The modified tour is starting its 26th season and in that time a total of 516 modified tour races have been run from North Carolina and Virginia to west as far as Indianapolis Raceway Park to Oxford Plains Speedway in Maine.

Jamie Tomaino has run in all but 5 tour events, although he has been to each and every one.

While the Thompson Speedway will host the Whelen modified tour three times in 2010, it will also host the Bob Valenti AutoMall modified series cars twice. In addition to all that the speedway, which runs every Thursday night starting on May 6th runs the Whelen All American series which is a six division program featuring the SK Sunoco modifieds.

HATS OFF TO THE JET

Jeff Zarrella finally is a Sprint Cup race winner. Zarrella, a childhood friend of mine from Southington, CT. has been a longtime Sprint Cup crew member and while he has tasted the fruits of his labor in other NASCAR divisions, Jeff couldn’t get into Sprint Cup Victory lane.

That was until Ryan Newman won the race at the Phoenix International Raceway. The ‘Jet’ as he is known on the modified series is the tire specialist for Newman’s team and in fact, Newman credited Jeff in Victory lane for getting the tires just right.

After many, many years as the tire Specialist for Paul Menard, Jeff left and joined Stewart-Haas Racing and now is rewarded.

Jet, congratulations and hopefully it is the first of many.

FIRST CLASS PROGRAM

The Thompson Speedway Icebreaker couldn’t have gone much better as the weather was perfect and a great crowd turned out for the mod tour opener.

Thanks to Don Hoenig, Ben Dodge and Russ Dowd for a great weekend that saw the track have to waste time as they were so far ahead on their schedule.