Monday May 1, 2006

 

ARCHIVES
By Brian Danko                                        

 

STAFFORD, CT----------Doug Coby of Milford, CT should have at least four or five wins on the NASCAR Whelen modified tour but various mechanical problems and crashes ended sure-fire trips to victory lane.

So when Coby qualified poorly and needed to take a provisional just to get into the field for the Spring Sizzler, he wasn't high on the list of potential winners. But Coby proved everyone wrong and cruised to his first ever tour win in the most prestigious of all races of the modified tour, the Stafford Spring Sizzler.

As Coby pulled into Carquest Victory Lane, the 26 year old driver paused a minute before exiting the car to the high five's and hugs from the Chase crew and the well wishes from many around the hallowed ground.

"Wow". That was Doug's first words when asked about what it meant to win not only on the modified tour but to win it at the Stafford Motor Speedway, a track just 10 years earlier when he was a mere 16 years old and drove in the late model division.

"This means so much to me, not only to win on the tour but to win here at Stafford. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not usually at a loss for words but this has done it." An ecstatic Coby the track announcer as he drank the traditional bottle of milk.

Coby, driving the #77 Curt Chase owned modified sponsored by Angellinos Italian Restaurant and Red Line Oil was able to keep Donny Lia behind him at the end as Eric Beers finished third with Mike Stefanik fourth and fifth to Rob Summers.

Coby, who steadily worked his way to the front took over the lead on lap 139 and was never headed although he did encounter heavy lapped traffic, which didn't heed the passing flag.

Many fans were wondering if Doug Coby and Donny Lia, who have a confrontational past might get together before the day was out but both Coby and Lia didn't want to ruin a great finish and add more fuel to an already rocky relationship.

"I know that Donny and I have had our run ins but I knew he wouldn't risk a good finish. I knew that the only way that he was going to go around me was on the outside but I also had saved plenty of my car so I figured that we were in good shape."

Although Lia won the Bud Pole for the fastest car, he said after the race that he didn't have a winning car or even a second place finish so he was thrilled to take the second and go on to the next race.

"We just missed the set up a bit." Donny said. "I have to congratulate Doug on getting his first win. This track is hard to pass on so track position is quite critical here."

When he was asked about if he could have gotten closer at the end and knowing of the past history with Coby if the fans could expect more of the same but Lia was quick to point out that is the past, for now.
"I am sure that Doug and I are going to be racing side by side a lot more and things can happen but neither one of us are going to take a chance and ruin a good day."

But this day belonged to Coby, who has raced and won in every division he has raced in at Stafford and although those many 'lost' wins would have been nice, to win at Stafford and in the Sizzler couldn't be finer.

"This track has meant so much to me and my career and to get the win here and have Mark and Jackie (Arute, JR) come up and congratulate me means a whole lot. I wish that Jack SR was here to see it." Doug said as one by one the crew lifted his up off his feet in victory lane.

The 35th annual Spring Sizzler couldn't have been run on a nicer spring afternoon and with a capacity crowd on hand, they were about to be entertained to 200 laps of racing.

It was Chuck Hossfeld jumping out front on the initial green and for the first 43 laps, the race was being run liked they were all double parked on the street but as the old saying goes, cautions breed cautions and that never was more true than Sunday at Stafford.

John Blewett, III took over the lead on lap 22 before the yellow fever hit the track, as there were five cautions, all within 36 laps and for mostly minor spins.

On lap 52, Todd Szegedy, former series champion took over the lead from Blewett but just as he did, Jamie Tomaino spun.

As the track clicked off lap 60, it was Szegedy setting the pace in the Wisk/Snuggles Ford with Blewett second, with Stefanik third, Eric Beers fourth and tour champion, Tony Hirschman fifth.

On lap 70 a caution flew for Zack Sylvester and it was a chance for both Coby and Lia to duck into the pit area tires and adjustments and with Stafford a tricky track to pass on, the early pitting played out later down the road.

Mike Stefanik in the Diversified Metals Chevrolet then moved into second and began applying pressure to Szegedy for the lead but T.C., Ted Christopher, the master at Stafford passed Stefanik and soon set his sights on Szegedy before passing him on lap 87.

On lap 93, another caution slowed the field and many of the front cars all pitted but Christopher and Szegedy stayed on the track hoping to pit later and have fresher tires at the end.

On lap 100, the caution again flew as the field hit the halfway point in the feature and the top five cars were TC, Szegedy, Reggie Ruggiero, Ken Barry and Rick Fuller.

On lap 106, Reggie Ruggiero in the Dick Barney owned #41 showed he hasn't lost anything behind the wheel despite being a part timer on the tour recently. He dispatched Szegedy for second with Fuller taking third as Szegedy settled into fourth with Matt Hirschman moving into the fifth spot.

Another caution flew on lap 116 when Mike Stefanik, getting impatient with cars in front of him made it three wide in turn one trying to get around but it caused the cars of Hossfeld and Blewett to become locked together and spin in turn one.

On lap 117, when pit road opened up, Christopher, Ruggiero, Szegedy, James Civali, Barry and Blewett all pitted. Ruggiero's crew lost him a lap on pit road when they had trouble with a right front tire.

That surrendered the lead over to Rick Fuller in the Joe Brady owned/Polar Beverages Chevrolet.
On lap 130 with Fuller still setting the pace, it was Zack Sylvester second with Tony Hirschman third, Doug Coby fourth and fifth to Matt Hirschman.

Another caution flew on lap 134 for another simple spin but it was the 'Lucky Dog' for Ruggiero as he was able to get back on the lead lap.

Zack Sylvester and Tony Hirschman were on the front row for the restart but as the duo hit turn one, Sylvester rode Tony up the track and Hirschman spun and as Sylvester was trying to correct himself, Coby sneaked by for the lead.

The final caution of the day, thankfully, flew on lap 145 as Kirk Alexander brought out the caution as he stopped in turn three.

At lap 150, the top five were Coby, Lia, Rob Summers, Eric Beers and Matt Hirschman.
Mike Stefanik was now on the move up to seventh on the track and he was clearly the quickest car on the track but would there be enough time.

Stefanik moved to sixth on lap 158 and then just four laps later passed the younger Hirschman for fifth.

On lap 174, Eric Beers got by Rob Summers, who the night before won the feature at the Waterford Speedbowl, for third and Stefanik took the opening to get by Summers also for fourth.
In the mean time, Coby was beginning to stretch his advantage just slightly over Lia but as they clicked off lap 190, the leaders were beginning to encounter lapped traffic.

On lap 196, they caught the last car and Steve Whitt, who has run up front in the past didn't give Coby and Lia any room and that allowed not only Lia a chance at Coby but for Beers and Stefanik to close in and challenge.

But it wasn't to be and Coby finally got the big ape off his back and cruised to win the biggest race in modified racing, the Spring Sizzler.

"To be racing here since I was 16 and to get my first win here and to win the Sizzler is unbelievable. I have to thank Curt and the entire team for taking a chance on me and today it finally paid off."

One can be sure that the second win won't take as long as the elusive first one did.
Coby earned $7,600 for the win
.
Sixth through tenth was Ted Christopher, James Civali, the highest finishing rookie for the second straight race, Matt Hirschman, Tony Hirschman and Danny Sammons in his first top ten finish.

MOD SERIES NOTES
Eric Beers who finished third and captured his first tour win last year at the Seekonk Speedway said the cautions just didn't fall right for him but was pleased with the results. "When I didn't want a caution, we got plenty of them and when I wanted one at the end, I couldn't get one but that's the way it goes." "I want to congratulate Doug on the win, he deserved it but I am really proud of our team today." The Northampton, PA driver said after the race.

Danny Sammons is in his first year driving on the modified tour for veteran car owner, Ralph Solhem after running in the Hooters Cup series and other full fender series but the New Jersey resident has made some noise. He earned his first top ten here but was also running in the top 12 at Thompson when he was caught up in a wreck late in the race at the season opening Icebreaker. Sammons and the rest of the young rookies are capable of running up front and giving the veterans fits before the season is out. These rookies on the tour this year are rookies in name only.
 
Donnie Lia captured the Bud Pole award for the Spring Sizzler, setting the fastest time for the 48 drivers who attempted to qualify for the race. Lia turned the half-mile in 18.600 seconds good for 96.774 MPH.

Defending series champion, Tony Hirschman was second with Todd Szegedy third, Eddie Flemke, Jr. fourth while Mike Stefanik rounded out the top five.

Sixth through tenth was John Blewett, III, Eric Beers, Ted Christopher, Chuck Hossfeld and Mike Andrews.

M. Jodi Rell, the Governor of Connecticut was the grand marshal for the annual Spring Sizzler.
The 35th annual Carquest Spring Sizzler was the second of 17 modified tour races in 2006 and the first of four at the half-mile Stafford Motor Speedway. The other events at Jack Arute's oval will be May 26th with the Connecticut Classic 150, August 11th for the New England Dodge Dealers 150 and October 1st for the Carquest Fall Final weekend.

The Carquest Spring Sizzler was the 79th modified tour event at Stafford and the 460th since the inception of the tour back in 1985.

Richie Evans was the winner of the first Whelen modified tours Spring Sizzler.

Posted Awards for the Spring Sizzler, one of the most prestigious events on the modified circuit was $90,963 for the 200-lap event.

Tony Hirschman captured last years Spring Sizzler; it was the first of his career and his fourth victory at Stafford. He also won the New England Dodge Dealers 150 and the Fall Final bringing his total wins at six.

Mike Stefanik leads all drivers with 18 modified tour wins at Stafford. Reggie Ruggiero is second with eight, Ted Christopher and Tony Hirschman with six; Rick Fuller with five while Jerry Marquis has four. Eddie Flemke, Jr. has 3 wins with John Blewett, III, and Todd Szegedy has 2 checkers while Jamie Tomaino has one.

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.