June 30, 2009


By Brian Danko

LOUDON, NH--------The NASCAR modifieds have always put been the best show at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway and this past weekend it was more of the same excitement. But this time it also produced some heavily damaged race cars.

In another modified finish that will be talked about for many years, five cars came off turn four heading for the checkered flag when all hell broke loose with the potentially winning cars of Todd Szegedy and Ted Christopher riding the wall after several cars made contact off of turn four

TC & Todd Szegedy ride the wall. Getty Images for NASCAR

That was the needed space for Donnie Lia to avoid the debris to win the New England 100 edging out Eddie Flemke, Jr. and Ronnie Silk for the popular win before a great Saturday crowd on a perfect summer weekend day.

It was after the race that many drivers were questioning the tactics of themselves and how they race, especially at the end of the race.

Eddie Flemke, Jr., a longtime veteran says they all need to look at themselves in the mirror.

“A lot of times we are getting rewarded for some of the moves that we make on the racetrack. If you’re willing to take the chance, you get the trophy and you get the girl.” Eddie said but added, “At what cost.”

“I just sat back and watched it happen because it wasn’t good. Either you get up there and push with them or you step back. This time I stepped back and it paid off. I’m happy, a second place finish is best we’ve finished here.” The Southington, CT resident said.

Many drivers were openly questioning the tactics of Ted Christopher over the final 15 laps when he recovered from being a lap down early in the event. On several occasions, Christopher dived into turn one moving up several drivers and when asked if Christopher was better on the bottom, Ronnie Silk said, “No, he’s just willing to take more chances with his car.”

Ronnie Silk said he might have been the cause of the last lap incident saying he just misjudged his place on the track and just got into Lia. “I just clipped the 4 car (Lia) and that’ how it started, I hate it for the guys who hit the wall on the last lap but there was nothing I could do. I was trying to get to the bottom just like they had before I misjudged by about and inch.”

As the gaggle of cars came off four it was Christopher, Szegedy and Lia with Silk and Flemke but soon Christopher was rim riding the wall with Szegedy being sucked into the wall as both cars suffered heavy damage and limped to the checkered flag with Lia leading the way as he earned his 12th career win on the modified tour and his second at New Hampshire.

“I tried to get it between the 2 (Szegedy) and the 36 (Christopher) and keep my foot into it.” Lia told the media assembled after the race but added, “We need to get away from this type racing.”

Lia figured that he made his move to soon on TC but as the trio headed into four, “I made the move and then (Szegedy) came all the way on the bottom, I just saw him coming so I rolled out early and tried to cross them both up to go three wide down the middle. Whoever was on the bottom tried to move up. I had nowhere to go; somebody was on the outside of me. I got the two cars mixed up; I don’t know if it was Teddy or Todd.”

“They tried to run me up but I stayed there. I hate it that they wrecked coming to the line, but you have three racecars and you only have so much room.”

But it is exactly this type of hard nosed, no holds barred racing that have made the modifieds the favorite series to watch at New Hampshire but you can also understand the logic of the drivers so the question is, who is going to back off on the lap few laps with a possible win at the premier track for the modifieds.

While the drivers are responsible for the great racing at New Hampshire, it is also themselves that are responsible for some ill advised moves that put other drivers in dangerous positions.

Who though is going to be the driver to back off in turn four for a shot at the win? My thinking is no one.


Ted Christopher, driver of the No. 36 Al-Lee Installations Chevrolet. (Photo Credit: Getty Images for NASCAR) 

While Ted Christopher was looking to add another win to his early 2009 win total, the Plainville, CT race was forced to pit early when an oil line came loose on the first lap of the race. Christopher then fought to be the first car one lap down to earn the ‘Lucky Dog’ pass through but it seemed as though another caution might not fly.

Then with about 35 laps left, the caution flew and that allowed Christopher to move around the field and run up front and it was no time before the defending series champion was knocking on the leaders door and when TC took the lead with a hand full of laps left, many felt it was all she wrote but it just wasn’t to be.

Last year, Teddy was leading Chuck Hossfeld coming off four but it was Hossfeld winning the closest race in the history of the modified tour by .001 seconds.

This year, it is Christopher in a wreck and Lia, driving the same car as Hossfeld snatching the win.

While it will be the ending of the race that everyone is talking about, it was nearly a runaway for Todd Szegedy and Ryan Newman who was running rough shod over the field pulling away and opening a five second advantage over the third place car during the middle stages of the race. Newman and Szegedy swapped the lead several times.

Newman, who plans on running the September modified here is also likely to be behind of the wheel for the Bristol modified event as well and Newman showed his open wheel prowess but his afternoon came to and end on lap on lap 64 when he lost control of the car heading into turn two, looped the car and backed it into the wall, all while running second.

It was on the ensuing restart, that Sprint Cup regular, Kasey Kahne was caught up in a restart accident ending his day while running in the sixth spot.

The NASCAR modified tour head officials, Chad Little and Brian Vance laid the law down at the drivers meeting that no drivers opinions are necessary at the DRIVERS meeting or even wanted. NASCAR maintains that if drivers have questions, that they have an open door policy, either before the drivers meeting or after, but not during.

Vance said the purpose of the drivers meeting is to go over race procedures and rules. Doesn’t it make sense that if drivers have a question on a rule or procedure that the drivers are allows to speak up at a drivers meeting to get clarification of a rule but evidently not in the world of NASCAR.

One driver after the meeting told me, “This is a waste of time. Just write the rules on paper and hand out copies.”

If these two ever leave NASCAR, they would be great spokesman for the ruling clerics over in Iran.

Doug Coby has always been one of the drivers that people would look to for picking a winner at a modified tour race and on Thursday, the Milford, CT driver earned the pole for the mod 100 lapper.

Coby, who earned his only tour win, winning the Spring Sizzler driving for the Curt Chase team was thrilled to get the coveted pole at NHMS.

“Finally I am able to get a pole here at New Hampshire. What I would really like is to get a win here.”

Doug Coby earned the Coors Light Pole Award. (Photo Credit: Getty Images for NASCAR)

Coby said his recent good runs still won’t allow the team to compete on the entire modified tour series as they plan on missing races at Spencer, Riverhead, Chemung, Bristol and Martinsville.

Coby said though that he hopes to get a ride for Bristol and compete one day after his 30th birthday. ‘That would be a great birthday present for me.” The likeable Coby said sitting on pit road.

While Doug will be missing from several mod races, he still will be busy running his SK at Stafford and running some Waterford events as well as some True Value Series races.

The modified tour received some great news on Saturday at the drivers meeting when it was announced that the modified tour race from Bristol will be shown on a same day, delayed basis and that the modified tour will also be taped in September when the modified tour returns to the ‘Magic Mile’.

While TV is not the end all for the division, it will help show the excitement that the modified tour can produce. It’s just too bad that the cameras weren’t rolling for this weekend’s exciting finish.

The two races will be shown on the Speed Channel and the September mod race will be shown October 15th.

When Bruton Smith bought the then New Hampshire International Speedway, many openly wondered if the days of the modified tour in New Hampshire were over but the modifieds, with their wildly entertaining brand of racing have won over the chairman of Speedway Motorsports.

Track president, Jerry Gappens told the drivers meeting that Smith is ‘a big fan’, even going into the stands to watch when the modifieds are out there.

In a poll on the NHMS website, it asked fans what their favorite series to watch at the one mile oval and it was over 61% favoring the mods over the Nationwide, Sprint Cup and Camping Series East.

Gappens also told the group that he wants the modifieds to feel that New Hampshire is their Super Bowl of racing.

When teams on the Cup, Nationwide and Trucks make the trek north to New Hampshire, it is a chance for many former modified crew members to catch up and meet with many former colleagues from the modified tour days.

I caught up with former driver, Bruce D’Alessandro, now working with Joey Logano and the Joe Gibbs team. Former tire specialist for Reggie Ruggiero and former Southington, CT resident, Jeff Zarrella is now in his 11th year as a tire specialist for Paul Menard.

Former modified tour champion crew chief, Phil Moran is now working for Tommy Baldwin Racing. A host of many other familiar faces dotted the garage and all couldn’t wait to steal a minute and gets over and catch the modifieds in action.

I also talked with former Mike McLaughlin crew member on the 1988 tour championship team, Scott Zipadelli, now the crew chief for Jason Leffler and spotted his brother, Greg Zipadelli, the longtime crew chief for Tony Stewart and now Joey Logano.. Both Zipadelli’s are from Berlin, CT while Aaron Kuhen, a tire specialist for Tony Stewart is also a resident of Berlin. Also on hand, was nationally known racing author, Bones Bourcier, himself a longtime modified fan from Connecticut, now living in Indianapolis.

One thing is certain that if Bruton Smith owns a race track, major changes or additions are coming and this week, the track showed off their new improved infield.

With four divisions running at the one mile oval, needless to say, the infield can get pretty crowded with hundreds of cars and haulers.

The most impressive improvement is the expansion of the infield resulting in over 400 percent in useable land. Overall, this portion of the infield has grown from one and a half usable acres to nearly seven.

Fencing installation was another big project at the speedway. Interior fencing in the infield was replaced with new, black chain link.

They also redid Victory Lane which will serve as the interim Victory lane. The physical construction only took two months but the project is the result of 18 months of rigorous planning and approval.

While former track owner, Bob Bahre had an agreement with the town, that they wouldn’t add lights, rumor is that it is one of the projects on the docket for the future is lights and knowing that what Bruton Smith usually wants, he usually gets it.

While the economy has played havoc with people’s lives and with many people unemployed, New Hampshire Motor Speedway offered fans a variety of ticket options including tickets for the Cup race for just $39.00. The speedway also had a package that was $99.00 and included everything at the track. It is easy selling tickets when the economy is good but it is in the hard times that people need to get their hard earned monies worth and the folks at NHMS are putting it to the test.

Competitors in all four divisions this weekend raced for a record purse at NHMS as nearly $7,005,549 was up for grabs. The Cup was competing for $5,423,189 while the Nationwide series drivers were running for $1,197,559 followed by the Camping Series East running for $217,884 and the best show of the weekend, the modifieds running for $166,917.

When Bob Bahre owned the Speedway, Everyone was treated like family and made to feel welcome at the track and that same friendly atmosphere remains the same with Bruton Smith in charge. It still is customers first.