Monday October 30, 2006

By Brian Danko                                  CLICK IN ANY PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

STAFFORD, CT---------Todd Szegedy of Ridgefield, CT wanted to give his crew chief, Phil Moran another win before the season ended and Szegedy knew Stafford was just the place to do it.

Szegedy wired the Carquest Fall Final on a cold, blustery day closing out the season and he did give Moran a going away present. Moran, a longtime modified crew chief is leaving to work at Bill Davis Racing working under Tom Baldwin, Jr. next year. "I have to thank Phil for putting a great car underneath me today." Todd said of his second tour win of the year. "To go on one set of tires, it was awesome but at the end, Ken Barry gave me all I could to hold on for the win."

Ken Barry matched his career finish with second with Zack Sylvester third, Tony Hirschman fourth and fifth to John Blewett, III. Szegedy, the 2003 champion returned to run the full season this year and despite only two wins, Todd was happy with the way things out, especially, with a new car owner in Mike Smeriglio. "The car was perfectly balanced today. We can't wait to get started for next season." It was then that Todd, who had a short lived life in the south, won't have Phil Moran, a class act as well as a respected chew chief. "You know that drivers from here can't go down south with a good resume but a crew chief or crew member can. Phil deserves to be down south, he certainly deserves it."

While Szegedy led the entire 150 laps, the last 30 laps were an adventure for Todd as he fought off Ken Barry. Szegedy's car was going by the wayside and Barry was applying heavy pressure, actually getting into Szegedy with seven laps remaining. "With about 30 laps to go, if you asked me if I was going to win, I would have said I didn't know. Ken is a good driver and he did what he needed to do but I wanted to make sure that I didn't give him the inside and I slowed down a little getting into the turns." While Ken Barry has struggled in 2006, the second place was something that Ken said the team could build off of heading into next season. "We sure did crash a lot of cars." Ken said with a slight laugh. "We had something for Todd but not at the right spots. I have too much respect for Todd to get into him and knock him out of the way for the win." "This car today was rebuilt from Thompson and it performed good, so hopefully, we got the monkey off our backs."

When the green flag flew on the final race of the season, it was Szegedy jumping out right away but three quick cautions in the first 22 laps kept the field at a snails pace. On lap 30, the fourth caution of the day appeared when Chuck Hossfeld, who might have been the happiest person to see the season end with his lousy luck in the Roger Hill owned modified slowed off turn four. Reggie Ruggiero, with nowhere to go climbed right over the rear tires of Hossfeld and slammed the wall. Hossfeld continued but Ruggiero, who had just climbed into the top ten, was through. Teddy Christopher in his final ride in the Ed Whelen owned modified was now in second and beginning to ride the rear bumper of Szegedy but on lap 40, TC slowly began to back up and on lap 50, Christopher slapped the first turn wall hard ending his day. Christopher must have had something break on the car as it just snapped out from under him. That caution sent many of the lead lapped cars to the pits for tires but Szegedy stayed out, the course of action the team decided upon before the race started. On lap 59, Matt Hirschman brought out a caution with a spin in three. The top five on lap 60 were Szegedy, John Blewett, III, Donny Lia, Tony Hirschman and Ronnie Silk. Everything stayed status quo for the next 16 laps but another caution just past the halfway marker slowed the field when Danny Sammons looped his #0 off turn four. Eddie Flemke, Jr., third in the points championship pitted for a third time and the hard work of the crew would pay dividends at the end with a ninth place finish and he edged out Ted Christopher for second in the points run by a single digit. The modified drivers finally got into a good rhythm and ran the next 47 laps under green conditions but again it was Szegedy setting a solid pace. John Blewett pitted on lap 76 and slowly moved back into the top seven, getting past Jerry Marquis with 31 markers left. The final caution came on the track on lap 127 and that was the last thing that Szegedy wanted to see. With Szegedy setting the pace and Barry running a strong second, Zack Sylvester was a strong third, everyone was wondering if Szegedy had enough to hold off Barry. Mike Stefanik, who ran in and out of the fifth through seventh spot a good portion of the day, was running another solid race in the sixth spot. But the day would belong to Szegedy, despite Barry scaring Todd a little; it was the former champion giving his crew chief a great going away present. The rest of the top ten was Mike Stefanik, Donny Lia, Ronnie Silk, Eddie Flemke, Jr., and Jerry Marquis. "I just wanted to drive smooth the final laps. I didn't want to make any mistakes and not spin the tires and I was able to do that and I'm glad were able to give Phil something to get through the winter."

For young Zack Sylvester, it was a good solid run for the team that suffered through a lot of tough luck in 2006. "We can't complain about this one. We've had a good car everytime here (Stafford) this year. This was a good job by all of the guys at the shop and at the track."

For Mike Stefanik, it was a ho-hum day with really no excitement after wrapping up the title when he took the green flag at the start of the race. "We came here relaxed and ready to race and race just for the shear fun of it." Mike told the media in the media center after clinching his seventh NASCAR modified tour title and his ninth overall when adding in his two Busch East titles. When he was reminded of tieing Richie Evans for the most titles of any driver in the history of NASCAR racing, he said he felt humbled. "We had to do something in the clubhouse here and I looked at Richie's picture and his eyes. Richie was one of the drivers who gave me a break early in my career and I am humbled to be mentioned with Richie." "Richie was the man. I can't compare myself to Richie Evans. It's also a different time and different way to determine a champion." Stefanik thanked car owner, Eric Sanderson for giving him the opportunity to drive for the team. We'll have more on Stefanik in the next couple of weeks on yet another title.

It appears the modifieds are going to be apart of the Toyota Showdown series next fall and it could end up at a couple of southern tracks with South Boston and Myrtle Beach, SC mentioned.

Rumor also had it the modifieds will run both races at the New Hampshire International Speedway on Saturday next season.

The Carquest Fall Final was the fourth and final tour race at Stafford for the 2006 season. Winners of previous races at the half-mile oval were Doug Coby winning the Spring Sizzler, John Blewett, III won the Connecticut Classic 150 while rookie James Civali captured the 150 lapper in August. Civali also became the 25th different winner in a tour race at Jack Arute's speedway. The purse for the Carquest Fall Final 150 was $83,893. Tony Hirschman is the defending champion of this event.

There have been 81 previous modified tour races at Stafford since the 1985 season. There were no races at Stafford in 1988. Driver's still competing on the tour that have won the Carquest Fall Final include former modified tour champion, Wayne Anderson in 1994. Tony Hirschman is a three-time winner with wins in 1999, 2005 and 2005. Jerry Marquis, 2000 and 2003 and Reggie Ruggiero 1987 and 1989 are two time winners. Jamie Tomaino has one win in 1986 while Mike Stefanik is the big winner in this event with wins in 1990, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1998 and 2002.

The modified tour is now off until Saturday, December 16, 2006 when the annual awards banquet takes place at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, CT. The event is by invitation only.

Photo Credit: Fran Lawlor