Monday July 17, 2006

By Brian Danko                                             Click on Photos for Full Size

LOUDON, NH----------It seemed for a while that the winner of the 2000 Presidential election might have taken less time than to figure out if John Blewett, III or young James Civali captured the New England 100 at the New Hampshire International Speedway on Saturday.

Civali was told that he had won the modified race but NASCAR officials later informed him that Blewett was declared the winner that left almost 45,000 fans standing in awe in another classic modified race at the ‘Magic Mile’.

The fun all started as the modified competitors were coming to get the white flag. Civali edged by Blewett as they took the signal for the final lap with Reggie Ruggiero in tow.

The caution flew as the cars headed into turn one and that is when the adventure started for Civali, Blewett, Ruggiero and the NASCAR officials.

Normally once the white flag comes out, the race would be official and cars scored as where they were on the track.

Because this race was in conjunction with the Nextel Cup, NASCAR officials had to check the scoring loops to figure out who won but it took nearly 40 minutes as Civali was being interviewed like he won.

The win instead was Blewett’s second in a row and robbed Civali of his first career win and the fans of another fantastic finish.

Jim Hunter, NASCAR’s vice president and communication director told us that Blewett was declared the winner after looking at the scoring tapes and the electronic information from the scoring loops around the track.

For Civali, it was a roller coaster of emotions for the 22 year old from Meriden, CT as he was whisked to the media center after all of the pictures were taken with him and his crew had been taken in victory lane.

In fact, his parents were in the media center with the winners trophy.

Blewett on the other left the track as he was flying back to race at Wall Stadium Saturday night.

Civali, who last year was suspended from NASCAR after he dumped Dave Dion in a Busch North at Stafford last season.

He has come across as a young, cocky kid with talent but little regard for others but this year the ‘kid’ has grown up and has gained the respect of the modified veterans and the results has shown for Civali.

“Last year was a bad year.” Civali told the media, thinking he had just secured his first win. “There was stress involved and I let things get out of hand. The suspension definitely helped me, I think it helped me a lot. It made me realize that it’s about the big picture.”

Kristen Costa, a member of the NHIS public relations staff then informed Ron Meade, who was conducting the press conference that a change might be in the offing.

Civali then told the media that regardless of the outcome, he was pleased with his run and the team’s performance for his first time on the intimidating track.

“I am just so happy for Don King, (car owner) and the crew. No matter how it plays out it was great.”

Civali was sitting next to Reggie Ruggiero who finished third and is one of the respected elders on the modified tour and even the ‘Reg’ was impressed with the youngster.

“I am looking to see who is around me and I see the #28 (Civali) and I’m like where did he come from? It would have been interesting on the last lap to see what would have happened.” Reg said and then joked “maybe I won the race.”

Reggie who started third and was always in the top five never pitted during the 100-lap race was happy with the run and the show that the modifieds put on.

“It was a very interesting race. The track was really slippery out there, there was a lot of beating and banging going on out there.”

Ruggiero was later in the hauler with Tony Stewart, who dazzled the crowd with his run. Stewart and the ‘Reg’ were laughing and discussing the race and both drivers said they couldn’t wait to do it again in the future.

Reggie, who is running the tour full time for the first time in several years, is showing that like a fine wine, he is getting better with age.

The modified race featured 28 lead changes; just two shy of the track record for the modifieds but it didn’t seem like it would be a banner day in the beginning of the race.

Zack Sylvester and Jimmy Blewett, two of the young guns on the modified tour brought the field to the green with Blewett getting the advantage.

Ted Christopher, the recent master of NHIS then powered by Blewett or the lead on lap six.

TC as he often likes to do was trying to put distance on the field but he couldn’t quite shake the remainder of the field.
On lap 8, Donnie Lia went by Christopher to tackle the top spot.

The caution flew for the first time on lap 17 when Jimmy Blewett slapped the turn two wall hard after either cutting a tire or having the wheel come off the car.

Blewett’s car then snapped around and sent him spinning to the infield in a ball of flames.

Just as the cars went back to green, Nevin George got loose off turn two and went spinning into the infield as Ted Christopher grabbed the lead on lap 23 and held it until lap 35.

After another caution, this time for James Civali, who spun off two, Reggie Ruggiero got the jump on the restart and took over the lead on lap 36.

Doug Coby was now coming to the front as the top cars of Ruggiero, TC, John Blewett, III and Rob Summers were fighting for the top five spots.

Tony Hirschman then came out of the pack to claim the front spot on lap 41 as the Reg got out of line and dropped from the lead to fifth.

The ‘Reg’, then using the low groove on the track worked his way back to take over first on lap 44 but Hirschman taking the spot two laps later.

Doug Coby, who has always been fast at NHIS put his #77 out front on lap 47 as the top six cars were running under a blanket switching positions like people change shirts on a hot day.

The next 20 laps or so saw the lead changed almost every lap as the crowd was standing on their collective feet watching in amazement as these open wheel drivers were thrilling everyone, including themselves.

Coby’s great run ended when he spun in turn three and slid up against the wall to bring out the yellow on lap 66.

Another caution on lap 74 slowed the field as everyone is now watching the sky for rain or showers and the clock as the time was ticking towards 3 p.m. when the Busch series race was scheduled for live television.

Thankfully, for everyone, the cautions slowed and the pace was frantically picking up on the track.
On lap 82, Blewett retook the top spot from Christopher and held it until lap 87 but John repaid the favor on lap 88.

Jerry Marquis, who for the most part was a non-factor then sprung to life and took over the lead on lap 89 as the caution flew with 11 circuits remaining.

On the restart, Reggie retook the lead as Tony Stewart had climbed into the top five with moves not seen in a modified in years.

As the drivers exited turn two with a hand full of laps left, Stewart got under Marquis and the two bumped. That sent Stewart heading towards the infield at full speed but like true championship form, he never lifted, corrected the car and came out from third and dropping just to fifth.

It was now the top three of Civali, Blewett and Ruggiero as they took the two to go.

Civali literally came out of nowhere to challenge as Blewett and Reggie were fighting side by side as the crowd stood waiting for the three wide charge to the checkered.

As they came for the white flag, Civali had the lead at the line but Blewett had taken the lead as the yellow flew and after a lengthy delay, Blewett was declared the winner with Civali second and Ruggiero third.

Fourth through tenth were Eddie Flemke, Jr., in a great run with Mike Stefanik fifth.

Stefanik was involved in a skirmish early in the race and the rear end of the car was junk but he managed to secure a top five finish and add to his points lead.

Todd Szegedy was sixth, TC for seventh with Marquis eighth and Tony Stewart ninth while tenth was Ronnie Silk.

The win for Blewett was worth $14,400 but he had to be called by his crew to inform him of his victory while Civali was the tough luck second place finisher, who handled it with grace earned $11,900 with Ruggiero pocketing $8,400 for third.

“It was still a fantastic run for us.” Civali told everyone, realizing his bubble had burst, “The only way I can look at it us like if the caution didn’t come out, I probably wasn’t going to win the race anyway. Blewett and Ruggiero were driving by me when the caution came out. The win is going to come for us.” Civali said.

Tony Stewart & Carl Edwards


Tony Stewart had a few run ins with modified tour regulars and champions like Jerry Marquis and Tony Hirschman.

Marquis blamed Stewart for running him nearly into the wall late in the race while Hirschman had a few goes with Stewart for position.

Eric Beers had to run a Mike Stefanik back up car when he wrecked the Mike Boehler machine in the Saturday morning practice when he clipped the wall after slowing for another car and he was hit and sent into the wall doing severe damage to the front end.

Tony Stewart ran a Curt Chase modified with all of the money won going to the Foxwoods Racing against Cancer.

Tony was then going to sign the panels of the car and raffled off with all that money would also go towards this great worth while venture.

Bruce Dell, former modified tour driver and now a shop foreman for Gibbs racing was back at NHIS working on the Stewart modified with his brother, Doug and his father in law, Rock.

Carl Edwards was quite happy driving the Don Barker modified. Edwards would later drop out after tagging the first turn wall but not after getting the car into the top seven.
He had tangled with Matt Hirschman on lap 43 but said the blame was with him, not with Matt. He then retired the car with suspension problems.

The crowd was one of the largest to ever watch a NASCAR Whelen modified tour race. There were also several Nextel Cup car owners, crews and other drivers were all on top of their Haulers watching the modified race, once again, the best race of the weekend at NHIS.

Zack Sylvester captured the Bud Pole for the NASCAR modifieds at the 1.058-mile New Hampshire International Speedway on Thursday afternoon. The pole was the second of his career. Zack turned the speedway in 30.326 seconds, good for 125.595 MPH.

Jimmy Blewett was on the outside of the front row with a speed of 125.409.

The rest of the top ten included Reggie Ruggiero, Tony Hirschman, Eric Beers, Todd Szegedy, Doug Coby, Ted Christopher, Donnie Lia and Kevin Goodale.

Carl Edwards in the Don Barker #50 was 14th quickest at 123.920 MPH while defending Nextel Cup series champion, Tony Stewart was 21st at 123.358 MPH.

This was 43rd time that the modifieds have raced at the New Hampshire International Speedway.
Tony Hirschman leads all modified drivers with seven modified wins while Reggie Ruggiero and Mike Stefanik are tied with six modified wins. Ted Christopher leads all drivers with a total of nine wins, four modified and five Busch East victories.

13 different modified drivers have pulled into victory lane.

In the 42 previous events, there have been 505 modified lead changes for an average of 12.02 per race.
The purse for the New England 100 was $160,193.

The New England 100 was the first of two races at Bob Bahres's speedway located about 15 miles from the state capital of Concord. The modifieds return on Friday, September 15th.

The modified race at NHIS might have been the best race that fans could only witness in person as the cameras were set up but the modifieds once again had no television for the show. What a shame NASCAR.

The modifieds return to the Waterford Speedbowl this coming Saturday for the first of two visits to the Connecticut shoreline oval.

Photos By Fran Lawlor