June 30, 2008

Chuck Hossfeld (No. 4 Mystic Missile Dodge) edged Ted Christopher (No. 36 Al-Lee Installation Chevrolet)
by .001 to win the New England 100 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway Saturday, June 28, 2008.
(Photo credit: Howie Hodge/NASCAR)

ARCHIVES                                         

By Brian Danko
LOUDON, NH----------What can you say about the NASCAR modifieds at the one-mile New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Sorry Cup fans and Nationwide fans but at NHMS, the modifieds rule and they showed why in a dramatic race won by Chuck Hossfeld edging Ted Christopher by .001 seconds.

It was most likely the closest finish in the history of the modified tour.

It was a race that kept the fans on their collective feet the final 20 laps and they cheered the longest when Chuck emerged in Victory Lane.

Christopher was the dominate car leading 93 laps in the 100 lap event but don’t think for a minute it was boring as there was probably 24 or so ‘unofficial lead’ changes in the event that saw the caution just fly four times.
It was the collective cars of TC, Chuck, as well as Eddie Flemke, Jr., who finished third along with Eric Beers and Bobby Santos, III that kept the fans thrilled with the bump draft and swapping the lead ‘unofficially’ every other lap. To put it the best, it is what modified racing at New Hampshire is all about. The legend of the modifieds at NHMS continues to grow.

For Hossfeld, it was his second win this year in Bob Garbarino’s machine and his third career win at New Hampshire and added to his points lead but it was the emotional side of Chuck that played out to the media members covering the race.

Hossfeld drove for Garbarino, one of the most respected people in any form of racing once before and for whatever reason, Chuck departed, despite a somewhat successful run in the Mystic Missile.

“I am just glad that I got a second chance.” Chuck said when asked about this year and this ride now as his voice quivered a bit.

“We’re just glad to be apart of this. It is a great series.”

For Bob Garbarino, who won his first title in 50 years of racing last year with Donny Lia, the team is like fine wine, just getting better each year with age.

Garbarino was needlessly to say, thrilled with the win and when asked if this was better than winning with Lia last year, Bob said, “When you repeat a win, it makes a bigger statement than winning the first time. Anytime you can win at New Hampshire, it’s a great win.”

Although TC was upset about the second place, he was very jovial in the media center. “I made a mistake on the last lap and it cost me. We had a real good race car and just a tremendous motor in the car today.”

TC has been one of the top cars on the tour and despite a second at Thompson Speedway back a couple weeks ago and now another second, the Plainville, CT hotshot just can’t gain ground with Hossfeld’s great, consistent finishes.

The rest of the top ten was Eric Beers in fourth with Reggie Ruggiero fifth. Sixth through tenth were Bobby Santos, III, Todd Szegedy, Ryan Preece, Jeff Fuller and Ronnie Silk.

NASCAR has tried to make life difficult for the modifieds forever, but even they can’t deny the modifieds are in a league of their own at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE PEOPLE
When you are involved with anything, whether it be sports, school activities or racing, it comes down to one thing that makes you are glad you’re apart of it. It’s the people.

This past weekend was my first modified tour race of the year and for the first time, in a long time, I was excited about going to a race. It wasn’t the racing I missed and it certainly wasn’t the travel, it was and always has been about the people that I missed and that’s what makes the sport of modified racing special to me.

When Bob Garbarino, a man I respect more than anyone in the series spotted me on pit road, he stopped working on his car to come over and spent time with me and that was special. To see many of my friends in the media saying to me how glad they were to see me and how the series isn’t the same without me was heart warming.

To have Tony Hirschman, a five time champion, who is also somewhat retired, spend about 20 minutes with me; made me realize what I loved about the modifieds. It wasn’t the racing, it wasn’t the politics, it was the people because they are what make you coming back, week after week, and year after year and for me it was 33 years covering modified style racing.

Now I don’t what anyone to think I have reconsidered my ‘retirement’ but it means that my next race in September will make me realize just how blessed I have been in my life. To be around the people of the NASCAR modified tour.
I thank you all for welcoming me back.

PUT ME IN COACH, I CAN PLAY
Kyle Busch was all set to play in the New England 100 NASCAR Whelen modified tour event at the 1.058 mile speedway but Hall of Fame football coach, Joe Gibbs, had other ideas.

On Tuesday, Busch, the current Sprint Cup points leader was forced to drop out of the Kevin ‘Bono’ Manion owned modified. Bono is the crew chief for Martin Truex and himself a former modified tour chief on the modified tour.
I don’t blame Gibbs but lets be honest, they are worried about injuries and while I agree, then these Cup drivers shouldn’t be running on the Nationwide Series and the Craftsmen Truck Series. They are just as likely to be injured there as in a modified.

While the modifieds are ‘very fast cars’, Gibbs must have a problem with them because Busch was scheduled to run a Super Late modified at All Star Speedway in nearby Epping Saturday night.

Tony Hirschman was asked to fill in for Busch but declined.

When all the dust settled it was 1992 modified tour champion, Jeff Fuller getting the ride after Juan Pablo Montoya declined the ride after potential car owner problems arose.

Fuller last drove a modified at the Thompson Speedway September 7, 2003 and finished third in the Thompson 300.

NEW HAMPSHIRE NOTES AND QUOTES
The modified tour 100 was the 47th race for the only opened wheel division in NASCAR (other than the Southern tour).

42 cars were entered for the 38 car-starting field. With Qualifying being rained out on Thursday, it meant the NASCAR rulebook set the field and that left drivers Doug Coby, Kenny Bouchard, Kenny Horton and Jon McKennedy out of the starting field.

Coby was scheduled to driver the Jeff Preece owned #40, last year driven by Ryan Preece.

There have been only 15 different winners at NHMS led by Tony Hirschmans seven wins. Reggie Ruggiero and Mike Stefanik both have six wins while Ted Christopher has four modified tour wins as well as five Camping World East wins.

The “Reg” won five straight events from 1992-1994.

This is the first of two modified tour events at NHMS with the second race on Saturday, September 13th. Three of the last four seasons saw one driver sweep both races in the same year. Teddy Christopher dominating in 2004 and 2005 while the late John Blewett, III captured both races in 2006. Ruggiero and Hirschman also tuned the trick in 1993 and 1999 respectively.

Donny Lia is the defending champion of this race but won’t defend as he is in Memphis for the Truck race.

2007 has produced four winners in four races so far with Eddie Flemke, Jr. capturing the Icebreaker at Thompson with TC, Ted Christopher winning the Stafford Spring Sizzler while Chuck Hossfeld won at Stafford and Ronnie Silk at Thompson.

SPENCER HONORED AT NHMS
Jimmy Spencer, the 1986 and 1987 modified tour champion was honored this past weekend as part of NASCAR honoring its 60-years of modified racing champions.

Spencer, known as Mr. Excitement, a name provided by announcers Ben Dodge, Jr. and Mike Joy, because of his driving style, which is very similar to that of Ted Christopher. Spencer went on to win races in the Cup and Nationwide series and only raced one time in a modified at New Hampshire and was caught up in a wreck early in the race.

Jimmy was asked about his time in the modifieds and his time in New England and the strapping 51-year-old just started telling stories of his time in the open wheeled rockets.

“I remember how I was booed in New England.” Spencer said laughing. “I don’t think it was as bad as when Geoff (Bodine) was running the modifieds. I think what did it for me is when I beat local hero, Bugsy Stevens.”

Spencer talked about the people who reached out to him in his time in the modifieds and the great racing with drivers like Reggie Ruggiero, Mike McLaughlin and Ray Miller.

“A lot of you guys (national media) may not know these guys but they were as tough as they were good and you learned a lot racing with them on a weekly basis.”

Spencer, who now works for the Speed Channel and is known for his outspoken style of broadcasting say that racing has a lot of ‘punks’ and a few who forgot the people that are giving them the comfortable life style they have today.

“The modifieds are what gave me a base to go south and I didn’t forget them, or the people who made me what I am today. The modifieds are a ‘click’ group, always have been and are a tight bunch crowd.”

Once the group session was done with the media, Jimmy joined myself and noted auto-racing journalist, Bones Bourcier and we talked about racing from years ago, reliving all of our younger days when modified racing was fun.

FLEMKE HITS MILESTONE
Eddie Flemke, Jr. of Southington, CT earned his 300th consecutive when he qualified for the New England 100. Flemke capped of the milestone day with a third place finish.

The last time that Flemke didn’t qualify for a modified tour event was on July 22, 1992 at the Riverside Park Speedway.

Ironically, it was Riverside Park Speedway that Flemke was named Rookie of the Year back in the early 70’s.
Flemke has 17 wins and 16 poles in 358 races and has finished as runner up twice for the NASCAR modified tour championship.

THE OLD GUYS CAN STILL DRIVE
Reggie Ruggiero and Jeff Fuller have won hundreds of races in their career and on Saturday in New Hampshire, they showed why as Ruggiero started 29th and finished fifth while Fuller finished 9th after starting 38th on the field.

Reggie didn’t appear to have the front stretch speed but he more than made up for it in the corners. Fuller seemed to take his time in the Bono Manion owned 7NY modified working his way to the front and at the end of the race was just as fast as anyone in the top five.

The modifieds may have a lot of young guns on the series but it’s the older ones who show what racing is all about.

CHANGES AT NHMS
When Bruton Smith bought New Hampshire Speedway last November, many New Englanders were worried about what that meant for the two Cup events held in Loudon along with races for the modifieds and the Camping East series.

While that may not be decided for years to come, new signs were evident all over the speedway, as was a new electronic sign at the front entrance and fresh paint throughout the speedway. I fully expect NHMS to keep both races and possibly look for more races at NHMS as early as next year with the IRL possibly returning to the one-mile oval.

BRIAN DANKO'S COLUMN CAN BE FOUND EACH WEEK IN AREA AUTO RACING NEWS.
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