Monday Sept. 12, 2005

ARCHIVES

By Brian Danko
 

THOMPSON, CT-------

TC WINS 300-WORDS FLY BETWEEN COBY AND LIA
 

Ted Christopher of Plainville, CT scored one of his biggest modified wins when the NASCAR Whelen modified tour points leader captured the Thompson Sunoco 300 at the Thompson International Speedway.
 

Christopher, notching his 22nd career win and his second straight big win after taking the Made in America 300 one week earlier at Martinsville, VA.

He will go for the trifecta this Friday at the New Hampshire International Speedway.
 

Christopher edged out Tony Hirschman for second with defending 300 Eddie Flemke, Jr. third, Jerry Marquis fourth and Mike Stefanik fifth.
 

But all eyes were on the battle for second between young Doug Coby and Donny Lia.
 

In a strange situation, Donny Lia hit Coby under caution and sent Coby into the wall as a stunned crowd watched as the field slowed for debris on the track.
 

As in all stories, there are two sides to it and while Coby was smiling on the outside after the race, he was seething inside.
 

"I ran him up in turn one and took the spot." Coby said when asked about the incident. " Next thing I know I'm in the wall."
 

When Coby was asked if he was already for Christopher on the restart, his eyes gleamed with excitement, almost knowing that the 300 could be his race.
 

"I knew that we'd have something for him."
 

After track officials removed Coby, who was waiting for Lia on the track, NASCAR officials promptly gave Lia the rest of the afternoon off for rough riding.
 

When I reached Lia, he sat on the back of his hauler, looking remorseful over the turn of events.
 

"It wasn't intentional." Lia said. "I didn't anticipate it happening, in fact, I don't know what happened."
 

"I would never do that, that isn't the way that I race. I was going to rub up against him to say, hey, I wasn't to pleased with that."
 

But Coby begged to differ.
 

"Here is a guy who has been in racing for four years and he thinks he knows it all." Coby added, "Mike Stefanik would never do that and neither would Tony Hirschman, that's why they are champions."
 

Coby, who has been knocking on victory lanes door seemed to have the fastest car the last 30 laps and once he admitingly drove Lia up the track to claim the second spot, he seemed to be in position.
 

Coby, just 26 years old has played the part of veteran since teaming up with the Curt Chase team late last season and has been a consistent top five driver each week.
 

While the Chase crew was repairing the damage to the #77, Curt Chase yelled out that NASCAR did a lousy job allowing much slower cars to stay on the track and impede the front runners all afternoon.
 

Coby agreed with Chase concerning the lapped cars. “It seemed that every couple of laps we were lapping some of the slower cars. They weren’t living up to the minimum speed.”
 

The incident between Lia and Coby ruined what was one of the most enjoyable Thompson 300's to date, a race that goes back over 26 years.
 

THOMPSON 300-THE WAY IT SHOULD BE
 

The Thompson 300 was just that. A 300-lap, flat out racing and the drivers, owners and crews couldn't have been any happier.
 

Last Saturday, during the drivers meeting at the Made in America 300 at the Martinsville Speedway, Don Hawk of NASCAR announced that Thompson Speedway officials decided not to do a stop at the 150-lap marker.
 

"We are going to put the wheel back into the hands of the drivers and the pit crews make changes like always." Hawk said drawing a hearty round of applause from the modified tour competitors.
 

The 300, which last year was 3 100-lap races with the drivers finishes being divided by 3 to give the driver his overall finish.

It was confusing to both the teams and fans.
 

During the week, I contacted Ben Dodge, Jr., who is a consultant for the Thompson Speedway and according to Ben, there was no 'determining factor' in returning the race to its history of 300 laps of racing with regular pit stops, not a mandatory stop at the half way point.
 

"Don (Hoenig, track owner and promoter) said if they don't want to stop, they don't have to." Ben said when asked about the change of heart.
 

There were conflicting reports as to why the Thompson 300, one of the most prestigious races on the modified circuit was undergoing a change the last couple years and whose idea it was.
 

NASCAR officials said that Thompson officials were behind it that they are the ones posting the purses and they could do what they wanted but according to Dodge, NASCAR needs to take some blame.
 

"Last year, when the 300 race was run in 3 segments, it was apparent that it was a fiasco." Ben said, "Don Hawk told Don Hoenig, 'next year we need to do a stop at 150, this isn't going to work this way."
 

Dodge said Hoenig's reasoning in doing it was that those competitors who might have received some minor damage or needed to replace a shock or something similar might be able to without taking themselves out of the race.
 

What irked Thompson officials is that no one from the tour, whether it was drivers or owners called Thompson Speedway to voice their displeasure with the revamped 300.
 

"No one ever called. If they did, we would have looked at it and said if these many people are calling, we need to so something about it. No one called. We then get a call from Hawk on Saturday morning, asking us to change it back which we did." Ben said.
 

Ben, a former promoter at the defunct Riverside Park Speedway said Hoenig's intentions were to 'just enhance the 300 itself.'
 

The Thompson 300 is the longest race on the modified tour and at times, can become hard to follow with many slower cars being lapped early in the race.
 

So, it can become difficult for fans to follow the action and know who exactly is on the lead lap and who is a lap down.
 

But the history and the prestige of the race is based on 300 laps of flat out hard racing.
 

Eddie Flemke, Jr., was the overall winner of the 300 last year, a race that his father won in 1977.
 

Eddie Sr.won by beating the pace out of the pits as many leaders pitted despite the threat of rain. It rained and Flemke added to his legacy by winning using pit and race strategy.
 

This year, whomever wins it will know that no special gimmicks were needed and that they and their crew were the best in the most grueling race of the year.
 

WHELEN THRILLED OVER MADE IN AMERICA

No one really knew what to expect when the NASCAR Whelen modified tour competitors pulled into the Martinsville Speedway for the Made in America 300 last weekend.
 

What would the crowd be like, especially with the escalating fuel cost be, how would the weather be?
 

Those questions and many others were answered with a huge crowd, great weather and a great race, that saw Teddy Christopher take the win over Mike Stefanik, passing the six time modified champion with 24 laps remaining.
 

Phil Kurze, the man behind Whelen Motorsports, who is the sponsor of not only the northern modified tour but also the southern modified tour as well as the race sponsor, was ecstatic.
 

"It was terrific." Phil said about the whole weekend. "The weather was fine, the track was great and the racing was great. As an event sponsor and tour sponsor, it was just a great weekend."
 

"The staff of the Martinsville Speedway did a great job accommodating the teams and making them feel special. We had hero cards made up for all the teams and there were special commemorative tee shirts made up and given to the crews of all teams."
 

Kurze said that he got a chance to meet some of the southern drivers for the first time and he found them friendly and outgoing.
 

"I hadn't met some of them before. It was nice to finally get to met Junior Miller and Burt Myers and some of the other teams." Kurze said with the excitement of the past weekend still fresh in his mind.
 

"We had a chance to witness history." Phil said of the first ever race under the lights at the Martinsville Speedway; a track that itself is steeped in not only modified history, but also NASCAR history.
 

"They are pros at Martinsville. They know what they are doing and it was a enjoyable day for everyone connected with the modifieds."
 

The race was taped on Speed Channel for showing in December if all reports are correct and Kurze said that is the only draw back.
 

"I wish the race would be seen earlier than December but I guess a little TV is better than no TV."
 

Kurze said that he is already looking forward to next year's race and making it better than it was in 2005.
 

PARK RETURNS TO MODIFIED
 

Steve Park, one of the modified tours brightest stars is returning to his racing roots, when the driver on the Craftsman Truck Series returns to his home track and runs in the Fall Final weekend at the Stafford Motor Speedway.
 

Park, who finished second in points twice in his career to Tony Hirschman has a total of 16 career wins and 23 Bud Poles will attempt to qualify in a back up car of current modified tour point leader, Ted Christopher.
 

Steve as most know was signed to a contract with Dale Earnhardt, Inc. and won the Rookie of the Year in the Busch Series. He also has a couple of Nextel Cup victories to his credit but a freakish crash during a Busch series race hampered his career.
 

Now, Park is back in the Truck series and already has a win this season at the California Speedway and looking to make a return to NASCAR's top series. But on October 2nd at Stafford, it will be a chance to renew friendships and try and beat the best on the NASCAR modified tour.
 

RICK FULLER HOPING FOR ANOTHER TOP TEN POINTS FINISH

Rick Fuller of Auburn, MA has been around the NASCAR modified tour for years and his consistent finishes have always led to finishing among the top points drivers on the tour.
 

Fuller, driving for the Curt Chase team won the championship in 1993 and while the popular driver sponsored by Polar Beverages of his hometown, has gone winless the past two seasons, he is showing signs of breaking through for an overdo win.
 

Just how consistent has Fuller been, well, he has 10 top five-season ending point's tallies. He has finished in the top 10 15 times in his long modified career but the versatile driver has also driven on the NASCAR Busch North series as well as the NASCAR Busch series.

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.