July 5, 2010

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By Brian Danko

LIME ROCK, CT------It was wine and cheese fans move over, the beer drinking, hot dog eating fans of NASCAR took over the Lime Rock Park  for the day and what they saw was a historic first and not a bad race as the Whelen modified tour made their first ever stop at the historic road course located in the northwest corner of Connecticut.

When the schedule was released it was circled on many in the modified communities calendar and while the tour supplied just 25 cars, it proved to be an entertaining event that was dominated by Todd Szegedy but won by road racing specialist , Dale Quarterley as he pass Todd with just four laps remaining.

It also proved to be a good days for the points chasers as points leader, Bobby Santos III suffered his first DNF of the season as he hand grenaded a motor towards the end of the race, bringing out the final caution with fewer than 10 laps remaining.

While it did close up the points somewhat, Santos did manage to record a 17th place finish while T.C., Ted Christopher managed a fifth place tally after running second most of the race, at times swapping the spot with Mike Stefanik.

The road course of Lime Rock, which usually host the exotic looking cars of the BMWís, Lexus and Porsche, this time it was the open wheeled modifieds and the fendered series cars of the NASCAR K and N Series and the crowd responded as thousands of people brought their portable chairs and found their favorite place to sit or to roam the grounds and get a different perspective of the world famous track.

For those who have never been to the 1.5 mile road course, there are no stands so the fans are allowed to sit wherever. There are several hills to catch a glimpse of the road course but like most road courses, no place to watch the entire race. Some fans prefer the infield  watching them enter the first turn at the end of the long straight-away and make their way through the first set of turns while many like sitting on the outside of the track and watching the pit action, long straight and winding turns.

But it was definitely a NASCAR day as most fans were garnished wearing NASCAR garb and swilling beer  and while this was an expensive day for Lime Rock Park track owner, Skip Barber, with the two purses,  the crowd was certainly a good starting point for what could become a huge crowd in future years but NASCAR, everyone agrees needs to schedule another road course for next year and in the future to cut down on the cost to the modified teams.

While the modified tour has only driven at Watkins Glen, in the past, there is the new road course in New Jersey and according to a NASCAR rep, a road course in Canada, right on the border of the two countries.

This reporter was surprised by the lack of cars but according to most teams, they felt it was right because of the cost of switching the car over to turn both left and right.

One veteran modified crew chief told me that it cost several thousand dollars to convert the usually left turning cars only into something that is respectable on the twisting and turning road course.

While the roar of the start of a modified race is usually ear screaming, you definitely knew the 600 horse powered machines were taking the green at Lime Rock as the engine sound reverberated throughout the mountains surrounding the track.

All in all, it was a successful debut for the NASCAR Whelen modified tour cars and it added another first time winner to the long list of race winners on the tour.

SOME NAYSAYERS

While many thought the mods put on a good race for the first time, one former NASCAR employee that was based in Daytona said it was just too much money for many of the teams and thus the lack of cars and he blamed his former employees for putting the cars out of their element.

ďItís just too much money. From the time you get done switching the A frame over, the air cleaner, move suspension around itís a very expensive deal for these teams.Ē

He did acknowledge that another road course in the future would allow the teams to either build a road racing car or to split up the cost of the Transmission and other parts over the cost of two or three road course events.

But while he softened somewhat on the cars at Lime Rock, he said the race at Monadnock Speedway in Winchester, N.H. could be terrible for the tour.

ď$2,600 to win. Youíre going to get the point chasers and thatís about it figuring that they would have less cars than the 25 that showed up at Lime Rock and he is convinced that the Daytona brass feels what they are doing with the tour will work with these patch work small purse tracks but added they arenít dealing in the real world.

The teams just canít afford to lose money each and every race he added.

K & N SERIES HURTING TOO

While the modifieds were paired with their K & N East series cousins, it gave me the chance to see some old modified friends now living down south and working on the developmental series. Two of them are Clyde McLeod, who at one time was general manager of Sherwood Racing that propelled Mike McLaughlin to the modified title and Mike Greci, a onetime modified car owner as both work for Michael Waltrip racing series driver, Ryan Truex, brother of Cup driver Martin.

Both said they hardly know anyone connected with the modified tour, other than the standouts like Mike Stefanik, a driver that Greci won two Busch North titles with and Ted Christopher and Ed Flemke, Jr.

K & N SEASON NEARLY DONE

The race for the K and N Series title is 60% through following the race at Lime Rock and when I asked one team member about their schedule he said, ďHave you seen us race, itís awful. The tracks donít want us, they parade us around the country trying to get us races but the racing stinks and it has no fan following, itís not like when it was based in the northeast.Ē

The teams on this series are now off until July 30th when they run at the 1/3 mile Lee USA Speedway in New Hampshire, then track to Georgia for a race followed by New Hampshire Motor Speedway in September then the season finale at Dover.

The K & N East series runs just 10 races.

Other tracks they visit are Greenville Pickens in South Carolina, Iowa Speedway, South Boston and Martinsville Speedway, both in Virginia.

SANTOS LEAD CUT

Following the Lime Rock 100 for the NASCAR modifieds, Bobby Santos points lead shrunk to 74 points over race runner up Todd Szegedy and 86 over Teddy Christopher. Ryan Preece is fourth in points while Mike Stefanik is fifth.

The modified tour heads to two true bull rings with Monadnock on July 17th and then the traditional race at Riverhead Raceway on Long Island.