Sept. 5, 2005

ARCHIVES

By Brian Danko
 

MARTINSVILLE, VA. ------- As the laps were winding down in the inaugural Made in America 300, Ted Christopher knew that he had one shot left to try and win.
 

With just 24 laps remaining in the race, Christopher got a good jump on the lap 226 restart. He then nudged leader, Mike Stefanik in turn one and then went on to cruise to the win before more than 18,000 fans to witness the historic first night race at the Martinsville Speedway.
 

What Christopher did was just a move that has been executed many, many times before here, sometimes it works, other times, well, that's another story.
 

"I didn't want to get into him (Stefanik) like that." Ted said of the bump that just wiggled the 8-time NASCAR champion out of the way. "I knew that the laps were coming down and I had to do it on the restart. To beat Mike, who is the best in the modifieds is awesome. I knew it was my shot."
 

Third was John Blewett. III, with Eric Beers fourth and Doug Coby fifth.

Stefanik, a four-time winner here at Martinsville was looking for his first win in a modified in the 2005 season knew it would be tough to hold off Christopher.
 

"He got position on me." Mighty Mike said, "We did the slide for life when he got into me but I have to congratulate the 13 crew for the win. They did a great job."
 

While Christopher was basking in the television lights for the post race interview on the Speed Channel, Stefanik came over and put a big hug on Christopher.
 

"I wanted to get him into a choke hold." Stefanik laughed with Christopher in the press box following the event. "I didn't get a good shift off turn four. My wife, (and spotter) Julie, kept saying inside and I tried to squeeze Ted as much as I could"
 

"We were racing for the clock (Grandfather clock given to winner), we did what we could but just ended up second." Stefanik said.
 

Christopher knew as the laps were rapidly clicking away, this was the chance to make a charge for the lead but a misstep could also ruin a dominating day at Martinsville for Christopher.
 

"I knew that Mike would run me tight. We both hit the curbing in turn one, it's lucky that he's such a good driver and got control of it because we both could have gone around." Christopher told the media.

It was a statement that Stefanik concurred with.
 

"He battled me hard for the win but he also knew that he couldn't dish out more than I could handle because it would have been bad for him too."

For Christopher, who did a lot of the pre-race hype for the event, he was thrilled to get the first win under the lights and because of his ties with Whelen.


"They are a home state (Connecticut) sponsor. When they announced the race, I was there to talk about it. They also sponsored my Busch car in the past. They have done a lot." Christopher continued.
 

Maybe the biggest prize of the day was the winner's Grandfather clock, which was awarded for the first time ever to a non-Sunday race winner. It was something Christopher wanted desperately.
 

"I'm getting married next November. I will have to make sure that I have a real nice house now to put the clock in," T.C. of Plainville, CT said with a laugh.
 

Christopher started on the pole with Bud pole winner; Chuck Hossfeld and quickly the black Mystique #13 shot into the lead but quickly, as too often lately, the caution flew on lap for Kevin Goodale.
 

The caution flew again on laps 15 and then on 19 for simple spins on the restarts.
 

Each time Christopher was able to hold off Hossfeld who tried to stay with TC each restart on the outside.
 

Eddie Flemke, Jr., whose dad, Eddie Flemke, Sr., ran here many times during his great career then moved into the third spot on lap 25 but Hossfeld, with the preferred inside line took the spot back one lap later.
 

On lap 44, it was evident that the cars of Christopher and Hossfeld were the class of the field as they opened a 30-car length advantage and began lapping the slower cars.
 

Another caution on lap 55 slowed the field but again on lap 60, a cluster of cars got together on the restart in turn three, which also included the cars of point leader, Tony Hirschman and Jerry Marquis. Both Hirschman and Marquis had to pit.
 

On lap 68 more trouble for Hirschman as he was caught up in a melody of spins in turn one but again he was able to pull away.

One of the cars on the move was that of Reggie Ruggiero in the Dick Barney owned car.
 

Ruggiero, who for years gained most of his fame driving the #44 for Mario Fiore was again in the #44. The car was renumbered from 41 because of a conflict with one of the southern teams (Jay Hedgecock) moved into 10th after starting 29th and winning the last chance race earlier in the night.

On lap 96 the caution flew for debris on the track. Mike Stefanik, Doug Coby, Tony Hirschman all pitted for tires but the remainder of the leaders all stayed on the track.
 

At the 100 lap run down, it was Christopher, Hossfeld, Eric Beers, Rick Fuller, Mike Christopher, John Blewett, Todd Szegedy, Tyler Haydt, Reggie Ruggiero and Jerry Marquis.
 

Mike Stefanik was quickly charging back to the front after pitting and was running in the ninth spot when the 15-minute break came at lap 125.

Teams could do anything to the car except change tires.
 

On the restart, Christopher was able to maintain his lead over Hossfeld but another spin by Dean Hoag brought out a caution on lap 138. This was the caution that the leaders or at least, a majority of the drivers were looking forward to.
 

Much to everyone's surprise, Chuck Hossfeld and his crew chief, Phil Moran decided to stay out on the track. With the tight turns of Martinsville Speedway, they felt track position was too valuable to give up, a move that would later come back to bite them.
 

On lap 147, Hossfeld ran Stefanik who inherited second up the track and that allowed Coby to move past Stefanik.
 

Donny Lia, who had a top ten race going, pulled his car behind pit road on lap 148 while on lap 152, Stefanik moved back into second past Coby.
 

Chuck Hossfeld slid up the track when he hit some liquid on the track and that allowed Stefanik to move into the lead on lap 157. Right after the lead change, caution flew on the speedway when Reggie Ruggiero and Kevin Goodale came together and it ended the good run by Ruggiero.
 

Stefanik, in his usual championship style drove a smooth, steady race but now had southern hot shoe, Jay Hedgecock in the mirror.
 

Hossfeld, who lost the spot to Hedgecock now, had Christopher, with fresher tires coming and the two of them dispatched for second and third on lap 176.
 

Eric Beers then made a move on Doug Coby to get the sixth spot on lap 181 as Stefanik in the #16 Diversified Metals Chevrolet was beginning to pull away.
 

As the 200 lap marker was clicked off the board it was Stefanik leading Hossfeld, Christopher, John Blewett, Beers, Coby, Hedgecock, who got loose on the outside and fell back to seventh with Jamie Tomaino, Tony Hirschman and Mike Christopher rounding out the top ten.
 

On lap 202, Christopher put the move on Hossfeld for second and just one lap later; Chuck spun his car in turn 4.
 

Hossfeld pitted but then was shown the black flag for jumping the start on lap 211.
 

Stefanik knew now that he wanted the race to go green the remainder of the event but on lap 221, Eddie Flemke, Jr., running many lap down spun Jay Hedgecock as they entered the second turn and ruining Hedgecocks strong day.
 

It set up the pass for the win on lap 226 and from their Christopher set sail for the win.
 

While it was the first win for Christopher at the .526 mile oval, it was also the first for his crew chief, Barry Kuhnel who had been win here in over 29 years of racing at Martinsville.
 

"I have to credit Barry. He is the one that makes the calls. This win means a lot." Christopher said after notching is 21st career Whelen modified tour win.
 

"We've had a pretty rough run in the middle of the summer, with tire problems and other things and we lost a bunch of points. Tonight we got the maximum number of points."
 

Racing always seems faster at night, but when you toss in the history of Martinsville and the history of the modified division here, you get something special.
 

Ask the largest non-Cup weekend event crowd if they enjoyed it and the answer was a resounding yes.
 

Six through tenth in the field was Jamie Tomaino, Tony Hirschman, Mike Christopher, Steve Whitt and Todd Szegedy. Brian Loftin at 12th was the highest finishing southern driver.
 

MOD TOUR NOTES
 

John Blewett, III, came home third in his own #66 modified and was thrilled with the run for his own team.
 

"We were good all night. Early in the race I just found a groove and fell into it."
 

"We had a close call with 50 laps to go but other wise it was an uneventful night." John said.
 

He also added that at Martinsville, there is a fine line on running good or great. "It's a very fine line between loose and push. We got it right."
 

Blewett missed a good part of the season when he had intestinal surgery and he said he felt fine throughout the race, the longest of the year to date.
 

"I spent 4 months recovering from it but I feel real good. I really have to thank my crew tonight. They did a great job the whole weekend."
 

Ted Christopher with the win also retook the point's lead from Tony Hirschman who finished seventh. Teddy, who entered the race 13 points down now leads by 21. Jerry Marquis is third and Chuck Hossfeld fourth.
 

At the drivers meeting, it was announced that all of the teams would receive commemorative T-shirts of the first night race at Martinsville.
 

Also at the drivers meeting, Clay Campbell, track president said the modifieds would return here next year on Labor Day weekend, prompting a round of applause from drivers and crew both north and south of the Mason-Dixie line.
 

NASCAR Vice president, Jim Hunter, a big fan of the modified division was also on handing as was six time former modified champion, Jerry Cook, now a NASCAR official.
 

Jamie Tomaino, Jr. made his first ever Whelen modified tour event. Todd Szegedy, the 2003 modified champion was behind the wheel of the Joe Brady car.
 

Chuck Hossfeld of Buffalo, NY earned the pole for the Whelen Made in America 300 with a lap of 18.940, 99.979 MPH. It is the second pole of the season for Hossfeld.
 

"I want to win the race, but I'm excited about winning the pole." The soft-spoken driver said in the media center after the time trials.
 

Hossfeld, though, wasn't too happy with the redraw for position, a practice normally not done on Nextel Cup tracks.
 

"I think it sucks that you win the pole and could start 10th." But added, "The car was good today, if it stays that way, we'll be all right."
 

When Chuck was asked about the lights, he was thrilled with them. "I think they lit up well. I think it is as well if not better than most of the tracks that we already race on."
 

Eric Beers in the Roby's Propane/ Reynolds Auto Chevrolet was second quickest with a lap of 19.059 with Tony Hirschman third in the Kamco Supply Chevrolet at 19.076 seconds.
 

The rest of the top ten was Donny Lia, John Blewett, III, Doug Coby, Ted Christopher, Eddie Flemke, Jr., Zach Sylvester and Mike Christopher.

The first southern driver was Brian Loftin in 12th.
 

The Made in America 300 was made up of a 250-lap feature with a 50 lap-qualifying race.
 

In the 250-lap race, the race was stopped at lap 125 so that teams could do any normal maintenance except change tires which could be done under caution or green flag conditions.
 

This was mainly done for competitors and crews on the southern modified tour because they don't have live pit stops and aren't equipped with the helmets and firesuits for the crews that are mandated on the Northern Whelen tour.
 

The weather for the whole weekend couldn't have been any better with sunshine and warm temperatures greeting the competitors and fans alike.
 

Clay Campbell, the president of the speedway was ecstatic over the weather, the enthusiasm for the event and naturally, the advance ticket sales, which according to Mike Smith, the tracks public relations director was the largest ever for a non-Nextel Cup race.
 

The purse for the Whelen Made in America 300 was $124,155. For the 250-lap race on the track most northern modified teams consider home in the south.
 

The race started a total of 43 cars. The pre-entered list showed 55 modified teams from both the north and south with a total of 46 showing up for the historic first night race at Martinsville Speedway.
 

Some drivers missing the race were from the northern modified tour were Tony Ferrante, Jr., Nevin George, Ken Barry, Mike Molleur, Tom Bolles, Jimmy Blewett and the Pasteryak brothers, Carl and Charlie.
 

Jason Myers, who had run all races on the southern tour, missed the race. He was 13th in points while John Smith, 15th in points was also a no show.
 

The official total of races for the NASCAR Whelen modifieds at the Martinsville Speedway is listed at 29 but that is a gross misunderstatement.
 

The 29 are only for modified tour events since 1985, the first year of the touring concept at Clay Campbell's half mile speedway gem that his grandfather, the late H. Clay Earles opened in 1947.
 

Mike Ewanitsko, Jeff Fuller, Reggie Ruggiero and Mike Stefanik all have four wins at the paper clip shaped track located just minutes from the North Carolina boarder.
 

Other tour winners since 1985 include Charlie Jarzombek with 3 wins, Tom Baldwin and Brett Bodine with two wins while single race winners have been John Bryant, Tony Hirschman, George Kent, Mike McLaughlin, L.W. Miller and Satch Worley.
 

The modified history at Martinsville started in the 60's and usually was a race in mid March that would open the season and in late October that would close it.
 

One of the most talked about races was the race in 1981 that Geoff Bodine and Richie Evans crashed on the last lap. Evans, with a destroyer racecar stood on the track posing with the trophy and his foot on the mangled front end while Bodine literally climbed the front stretch wall and also a destroyed car.
 

H. Clay Earles said it was his favorite moment in the long history of the track.
 

The modifieds return to the Thompson Speedway for the running of the annual Thompson 300. It is a two-day event with qualifying on Saturday for all divisions and then features only on Sunday.
 

NASCAR officials also told teams at the drivers meeting, that the Thompson 300 would be just that, a 300 lap race. There was supposed to be a break at lap 150 for what most teams were calling a soda and hot dog break.

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.