Monday October 16, 2006

By Brian Danko                                  CLICK IN ANY PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

THOMPSON, CT----------- Reggie Ruggiero has probably forgotten more about racing than most of the competitors on the modified tour have amassed in their career. Ruggiero knows that sometimes you have to slow down to go fast. That was never more evident as Ruggiero gave himself plenty of room in third place and watched the two leaders, Teddy Christopher and John Blewett, III slugged it out and crashed with just two laps left in the modified portion of the World Series at the Thompson Speedway.

"Nobody wanted to win today." A happy Ruggiero told in the media center. The win was the 44th of his career and first since June of 2004 at the Wall Stadium in New Jersey. "I've been racing 1969 and I have learned a few things. I just watched the two in front of me and gave them plenty of room."

What he saw was John Blewett, III dive low and pull along side of Christopher when the two headed into turn three, from their its anyone's idea of what happened as either TC came down on Blewett or Blewett rode up on TC. Now, whether or not the incident has anything to do when Christopher took out Blewett on August 17th, it is only known to the two drivers. Blewett was leading with only a hand full of laps left. Christopher had to be helped out of the car and seemed to be favoring his leg while John walked dejectedly back to his damaged car.

All Ruggiero knows is that by lying back, he inherited the lead and then held off Jimmy 'Showtime' Blewett for the win with Jerry Marquis third, Donny Lia fourth and points leader Mike Stefanik in for fifth. Unofficially, Mike Stefanik will win his seventh NASCAR modified tour championship by starting at Stafford on October 28th.

According to Ruggiero, it was Christopher who came down on Blewett. "I ought to know what happened because I was right behind them. I knew that Blewett was faster than Ted and he turned down on him in turn three." That resulted in both Blewett and Christopher crashing hard into the third turn wall on lap 148 of the 150-lap feature. The win for Ruggiero was big in front of a packed grandstand on a perfect autumn afternoon in northeastern Connecticut. It was also a big win for car owner, Dick Barney, who didn't make the trip to Thompson but Reggie was quick to call Barney, who has been fielding modified race cars for several decades.

In four races at the Big T in 2006, Ruggiero has one win, a second a third place and one DNF, not bad for a semi-retired driver who has shown that he can still teach the kids on the modified tour a thing or two. When Reggie was asked if the tremendous ovation he got once he climbed out of the car was satisfying, Reggie said it always is but joked, "A lot of the these people don't remember me when I was running 40 races a year and winning."

One of the 'kids' on the tour is first year full time driver, Jimmy Blewett, younger brother of John, who himself has quite a 2006 season with a win at Martinsville and a few seconds. "This year has been a big learning curve for me." Jimmy said after congratulating Reggie on the win. "There is so much experience on this tour and I'm just trying to learn. You look at guys like Reggie, Jerry and my brother, John, they have done a lot on the tour." When the younger Blewett was asked if he saw what happened between his brother and TC, he said, "there was so much beating and banging going on out there today, I don't know what happened between Ted and my brother and I don't want to know." While Blewett continues to learn a lot this year, he said he is happy with the outcome and what he and his car owner, Ed Partridge have done this year. "The crew has worked really hard and we keep learning."

The modified tour closed out the big weekend at the Thompson Speedway and it was Jerry Marquis getting the lead on the start and holding it until the field slowed the first time on lap 22. On the restart, defending series champion, Tony Hirschman powered by the top spot and held on through a couple of cautions that slowed the field. Marquis, in the Bob Garbarino Mystic Missile then retook the lead on lap 47. A multi car accident took place on lap 48 but on the lap 54 restart, Ted Christopher took over the lead going past both Marquis and Hirschman from his third position. Another quick caution slowed the competitors when Eric Beers tough season continued when he hit the third turn wall-doing damage to his modified. Mike Stefanik, who pitted on the last caution, was now working his way back to the front.

Several good battles were going on the track as Donny Lia and Zack Sylvester had a spirited race for fourth but the car on the march was that of John Blewett who moved into fifth from his 13th starting position. While everyone was fighting for position, Christopher opened up a healthy advantage as the 90th lap clicked off the scoreboard TC was followed by Marquis, John Blewett, Richard Savery, Lia and Sylvester. On the 94th circuit, John Blewett spun his car off turn two to bring out the caution and that sent in Blewett but also TC, Marquis and other leaders. Richard Savery stayed out to take over the lead and held off Donny Lia and Jimmy Blewett through a couple of cautions but all the cautions did was allow Christopher to slice his way through the field as Teddy was fourth on lap 120. On lap 121, Jimmy Blewett took over the top spot as the top six cars were all fighting for position. On lap 122, TC was now fighting John for second while trying to get past Jimmy for the lead. Christopher took over the top spot as he now had a mirror full of two Blewett's, Jimmy and John knocking on his rear bumper. Reggie Ruggiero, who had laid back a little and watched what was going on passed Jimmy for third on lap 129. While Christopher had a comfortable lead over John and Reggie, it appeared that the #36 of Christopher began to smoke slightly and on lap 143, the caution that would change the race came out when Billy Pauch, Jr. crashed in turn two. On the restart, John got a great jump and pushed the 36 of Christopher off turn two before pulling to the inside of him as they entered turn three, from there, contact was made and both drivers hit turn three hard handing over the lead to Ruggiero.

The race was scheduled for 150 laps but because of the caution, it went into overtime when it went back to green on lap 158. Ruggiero had more than enough for Jimmy Blewett and Marquis but as they leaders exited turn two on the final lap, Matt Hirschman and Richard Savery tangled and crashed into the turn two wall bringing out the checkered. Both Savery and Hirschman had top five's locked up before getting together.

Ruggiero said that while he isn't racing full time anymore, it doesn't mean he forgot how to win. "We've come close to winning a couple of times this year. I'm excited about heading to Stafford in a couple of weeks, we've have a new car, I can't wait." Ruggiero has the same fire in his eyes that he had for years when he was a terror on the modified tour. In a series that is being overrun by young guns, leave it to the veteran Ruggiero to climb into victory lane and Mike Stefanik to virtually clinch yet another modified title.

While Jerry Marquis has had an up and down season driving for Bob Garbarino, the third place was enough to put a smile on the former series champions face. "We've struggled with this new car but the crew has continued to get at it and we're finally getting it to come around. We pitted later in the race and it is tough coming through, especially here." "We haven't given up yet and it shows with this finish."

When Mike Stefanik officially clinches the championship, it will tie the legendary Richie Evans, one of Mike's mentors in his earlier days for the most championships in NASCAR history. Richie's nine were all in the modifieds while Michael will have seven in the modifieds and two in the Busch East series.

The weather for the annual World Series was just great as sunshine greeted competitors and fans alike for all three days of racing. Chris Pasteryak, who is learning the ropes from his father, Charlie had to change motors on Sunday morning and was forced to drop to the back at the start of the race.

Chuck Hossfeld and the Hill Enterprises car had struggled all year. This past week, Chuck had to struggle to get out of his Buffalo, NY area home as the greater Buffalo area was hit with over two feet of wet snow that toppled trees and left thousands without heat and electricity.

The World Series at the Thompson International Speedway is a race fans delight with over 14 different division of race cars competing over 3 days. The modified tour, the Supermodifieds, NRMA Midgets, Sunoco modifieds, pro stocks and late models all had feature events on Sunday.

The purse for the modified tour portion of the weekend was $86,093. The race was also the 91st tour race at Thompson since the first race on March 31, 1985. It has hosted more tour races than any other track. This was the fifth and final race at the 5/8ths mile Thompson Speedway, one of the oldest paved tracks in the country.

Winners at Thompson this year include series point leader, Mike Stefanik winning the Icebreaker, Todd Szegedy won the June race with Ted Christopher winning the New England Dodge Dealers 150 in August and Eric Beers winning the Modified Mania last month.

Current drivers on the tour with wins account for 53 of the 90 races run here. Mike Stefanik leads all drivers with 14 while Rick Fuller and Tony Hirschman have 8 wins apiece. Reggie Ruggiero has five wins with Jerry Marquis four, and Eddie Flemke, JR with three victories. Single race winners who still compete include Charlie Pasteryak, John Blewett, III and Eric Beers.

James Civali captured the 2006 Rookie of the Year award driving for Don King. It is the second straight year that King has had the Rookie of the Year driving for him.

The modified tour heads to the Stafford Motor Speedway this coming Saturday, October 28th for the final race of the season. In case of rain, the race is set for Sunday, the 29th..

Photos By Fran Lawlor