Monday July 3, 2006

 

ARCHIVES
By Brian Danko                                        

 

THOMPSON, CT-------------Todd Szegedy of Ridgefield, CT wants potential car owners down south to know that he can still drive and win.

Thursday night at the Thompson Speedway, the 2003 NASCAR Whelen modified tour champion reminded everyone on the tour that he is back and looking to reestablish his name. Szegedy took over the lead from Eddie Flemke, Jr. on lap 67 and then fought off Flemke and James Civali to capture the New England Dodge Dealers 100 before a packed house.

"This is just awesome." Todd said when asked about revisiting victory lane in a modified after trying to get a ride down south in the Busch or Truck series. "I have to thank Wisk and Snuggles and of course, all the guys on the team."

Szegedy, who at 27 was the youngest modified tour champion ever, went south in what he thought could turn into a potential ride on the Busch series. Despite running several races on the circuit, it just didn't pan out but at the age of 30, he isn't ready to throw in the towel. "I know that the age is a factor but David Gilliland, the winner at Kentucky is only 30 so I know it's possible." Todd told the media gather for the NASCAR twin bill with the modifieds and Busch East circuit. Szegedy ran only two modified races last year while working as a shock specialist for Robert Yates Racing but when the outlook appeared bleak, he decided to come back home to the modified tour, for now."I know that I can get the job done with good equipment. I just want another shot to prove it."

This year he is driving for a new car owner, Mike Smeriglio, but the crew chief and the cars are the same when he won the championship driving for Don Barker. "The core of the team is the same. Mike gave Phil the reigns to the team so it's been just like with Don. In fact, Don was my spotter tonight."

The race at the old, historic speedway was one of the better races as Szegedy, Flemke, Civali and earlier, Eric Beers all battled up front but in the end it was a classic over/under move that got the job done.

Flemke, who led most of the race at the Jennerstown Speedway only to have Ted Christopher wrangle it away with three laps to go. He was one of the strongest cars at Thompson but after Szegedy got by Eric Beers for second on lap 64, he tracked down Flemke and used a 'cross over
outside and then inside for the lead' on lap 67. He and Flemke then fought each lap for the front spot with rookie Civali right there waiting to capitalize on a mistake by either ofthe two front runners.

"Everyone ran me clean. I waited until the restart to try and take the lead but Eddie was right there. I thought it was a clean and awesome race." Szegedy, now the winner of nine modified tour events and his first win on the tour since September of 2004 at Waterford.

Flemke, who was looking to get back to victory lane after the tough loss at Jennerstown, was also thrilled with racing Todd and Civali. "I love racing with Todd and although I have never raced close with James Civali, he was very good and clean." Eddie said about his second place finish, which propelled him into a tenth place points tie with business partner, Reggie Ruggiero who was seventh.

"It was fun to race with people that you can trust. I have heard horror stories about running with Civali and I have talked to him many times but he was good and clean to run with."

Flemke, never one to shy away from a conversation or controversy, he believes that Szegedy is the best driver on the modified tour today. "I was running every lap as hard as I could and it felt good to hear Todd say he was running every lap as hard as he could also. It was a real good race."

James Civali, who has a history of being over aggressive was suspended last season by NASCAR after purposely sending Dave Dion into the wall during a Busch East race last season at Stafford.
This year, Civali seems to have learned and has prospered moving into third in the season point's just 32 points behind Mike Stefanik.

Civali told the PA announcer that he "was thrilled with the run and couldn't be happier for the crew. This is just another great run for us. I also have to thank my car owner for the chance he has given me." Civali than had to run and get ready for the Busch East nightcap race and didn't speak to the media upstairs after the event.

The race started on a humid overcast day that had the possibilities of  thunderstorms but thankfully for everyone they held off. Civali and Beers brought the 35 car starting field to the green with Beers grabbing the top spot but quickly Flemke proved that he would be a contender all night long as he powered by to take the lead on lap 3. Beers was now caught up in a battle with Civali for second with Hirschman and Lia all running under a blanket. On the 11th lap, Beers moved back past Flemke for the lead but some of  the big names that started in the back began moving to the front. Reggie Ruggiero was now 16th after starting 20th while TC, Ted Christopher was 24th after starting 29th. While Beers continued to set the pace, Mike Stefanik in the Flamingo Motorsports #16 was up to ninth on lap 16 while Jerry Marquis in the Bob Garbarino Mystic Missile was tenth.
On lap 28, Marquis picked up two more spots and was running in eighth and was clearly the fastest car on the track. On lap 41, the first caution of the night came out when Ronnie Silk spun in turn two. On the lap 47 restart, Flemke quickly retook the lead but on lap 48, Jerry Marquis got tapped off turn two and he collected several cars including Matt Hirschman and Tony Ferrante, Jr. As the cars crossed the lap 50 marker, it was Flemke, Beers, Donnie Lia, Tony Hirschman and Todd Szegedy in the top five. Szegedy began to show life in his car then went past Hirschman for fourth bringing Mike Stefanik into fifth on lap 58. Eric Beers looked to retake the lead from Flemke, pulling along side of  his Pontiac but couldn't make it stick after two laps of side by side racing. Szegedy caught Beers in turn two and moved into second on lap 64 while Hirschman has slipped to the eighth spot. It was now a time from the past as Mike Stefanik and Reggie Ruggiero; two longtime rivals on the tour were racing side by side for the fifth spot, entertaining the fans with the duo. On lap 68, Ruggiero was loose in turn two and it sent the cars of Chris Pasteryak and Chuck Hossfeld spinning into the back stretch wall. Ted Christopher was also collected in the accident and it ended his night as he pulled behind pit wall and it cost him the points lead. The final 28 laps were a battle between the three cars of Szegedy, Flemke and Civali while Beers, Hirschman, Stefanik and Ruggiero were all fighting for the fourth spot. Szegedy won by 1.8 seconds over Flemke with Civali, Beers and Hirschman rounding out the top five with sixth through tenth Mike Stefanik, Reggie Ruggiero, Steve Whitt, Ron Yuhas and Ken Barry.

Mike Stefanik retook the points lead by 2 over Tony Hirschman with Civali third, while Eric Beers is fourth, 35 out with fifth being Donnie Lia, 50 back.

"I have driven against a lot of good drivers but these guys on the modified tour are as good as any in the world." Todd said after the win worth $6,800.

MOD SERIES NOTES
Ronnie Bouchard, Eddie Flemke's brother in law and former Talladega 500 winner was at Thompson catching all the action. Matt Kobyluck won the Busch East 100 lap race. It was his first win of  the year.

The crowd for the first of two Thursday night tour events at Thompson was filled to the brim. Thompson continually draws a great crowd for the mid week event and one of the reasons is that speedway officials keep the show running and usually has everyone on their way by 10:30 p.m.

A total of 44 NASCAR modifieds filled the pit area with 28 Busch Series cars. Thompson Speedway also had their regular divisions on the Thursday night affair. Rick Fuller missed the Jennerstown race and now Thompson, just minutes from his home. Word is that Joe Brady is out of money and Polar Beverages pulled out. Fuller has always been a fan favorite and front runner and the tour just isn't the same without him.

Long time modified tour competitor, Tony Ferrante, Jr. and his dad made their first appearance after 'retiring' last year. Tony did say in 2005 that he would keep his modified and run maybe a couple events a year. He is scheduled for one more race in 2006. Tony and his entire race team were one of the most popular drivers in the pit area and he and his crew were greeting well wishers all afternoon.

The NASCAR Whelen modified tour 100 at the Thompson Speedway was the only time this season that the modified run with the Busch East cars.

The modified 100 was the second of five tour events at Thompson. The purse for the event was $84,213 for the 35 car-starting field. The Thompson Speedway has hosted more modified tour events than any other track on the series. Tonight's race was the 88th since the inception of the touring concert in 1985.

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.