Monday September 11, 2006

By Brian Danko                                  CLICK IN ANY PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

THOMPSON, CT---------The Boehler family and the Thompson Speedway have quite a history together but the driver of the Boehler owned 'OLE Blue' #3 modified, Eric Beers, hasn't always met with much success, in fact, it's been quite a pain for him.

Beers in his first race for the Boehlers last year suffered a broken shoulder and was sidelined a couple of weeks but on Sunday, Beers had it covered winning the NASCAR Whelen modified portion of the 'Modified Mania.'

Beers, of Northampton, PA took over the lead on lap 101 and then held off Reggie Ruggiero and John Blewett to capture his second modified tour race of his career and the first this season.

"I have to hand it to the crew, we were one of the slowest cars in practice on Saturday and the crew just worked and worked to get this car to where it should be." Beers said after the event.

"After the last couple of months, we deserved to get a win." Eric responded after posting only his third top five of the season. "My crew did a great job on the pit stop." Beers said as he headed to the pit area to get ready to run the Race of Champions modified race which followed the Whelen modified tour.

While Reggie Ruggiero would run up to the bumper of Beers machine in the turns, Beers had the power down the front and back stretch. "I was worried about Reggie because he is always fast. But I just wanted to hit my marks and make sure that I made no mistakes."

For car owner, Mike Boehler and his mother, who took over after the death of Lenny back several years ago, he was glad to get a win at a track they called home for over 35 years with such drivers as Bugsy Stevens and Fred DeSarro. "We have a long history at Thompson Speedway so it's nice to get a win back here."

For Reggie Ruggiero in the Dick Barney #41, it was another top finish at one of his best tracks. "We were real super the entire weekend." The Reg said after the race. "We were a little too tight early on but after pitting we were too tight." "I could catch the 3 (Beers) in the middle of the turn but I couldn't get off, I had to wait before I could hit the gas." Reggie who was caught up in an early wreck at Martinsville last week said he hopes this gives the team a little momentum heading to NHIS. "We are going to have a new car and motor and we should be ready to run up front at New Hampshire."

When the green flag flew on the modified feature at 4:30 in the afternoon, some 90 minutes after the scheduled start, it was Ronnie Silk and Matt Hirschman bringing the field to take the green. Matt grabbed the lead but before the first lap could be completed the caution flew. Jamie Tomaino and Jim Storace tangled in turn one damaging both machines.

Matt Hirschman looking to get his first modified tour win and the young son of champion, Tony set a quick pace early on. Hirschman, Tony Ferrante, JR and Silk ran nose to tail as the modifieds got into a smooth run and opened up a little bit of an advantage. John Blewett started the race from the 12th row but he showed that he would be a driver to contend with after moving to the 13th spot by lap 32. On lap 37, Danny Sammons tough year continued when something broke in the rear end of the Ralph Solhem owned #0 sending Sammons into a spin at the start finish line. That sent several cars to the pit area including Eddie Flemke, JR, Chuck Hossfeld and Steve Whitt. On the lap 41 restart, Ronnie Silk who was third, never got up to speed and nearly caused a massive wreck but everyone recovered as Silk limped to the pit area. John Blewett was now in the seventh spot after watching a few drivers pit but he quickly moved into fifth on lap 45 getting past Ruggiero and Ron Yuhas. After a quick caution on lap 48, the restart saw Mike Stefanik quickly dispatch Hirschman for the lead on lap 53 as John Blewett moved into second dropping Matt to fifth. Stefanik and Blewett set the pace but on lap 71, Chuck Hossfeld's nightmare season continued when he spun in turn one sending Stefanik and the other leaders to the pit.

Matt Hirschman continued to lead TC on the restart with Eddie Flemke third and Zack Sylvester fourth. Christopher and Flemke made contact exiting the turn. Ted backed off to collect his car and that allowed Flemke to get past TC. As Tony Hirschman was trying to get to the front a log jam in front of him began to slow because of TC's contact and that sent Hirschman, who has just no luck the last month, hard into the wall. NASCAR blamed Christopher for brake checking Hirschman. NASCAR held Christopher for three laps and all but doomed his day and any chance to gain any points on Mike Stefanik, who led by 35 entering the race.

Eddie Flemke, JR, who did his patented short pitting on lap 37, now challenged Matt Hirschman for the lead taking over the spot on lap 89. As the modifieds clicked off lap 100, it was Flemke, Beers, Tony Ferrante, JR in a great run in just his second race of the year was third with Hirschman fourth and steady Jerry Marquis in fifth. The racing for the top eight spots was great with drivers looking high and low trying to get an advantage. Reggie Ruggiero then got by business partner, Eddie Flemke on lap 109 and slowly but surely made up ground on Eric Beers who had been pulling away.
Another caution on lap 114 slowed the field and that allowed Blewett to close the gap and he pass Matt Hirschman for fourth on lap 127 and then Flemke just three laps later. One more caution set up the final run but Blewett couldn't get his car to respond as it did early on and Ruggiero was only able to get to the rear bumper of Eric Beers as he cruised to the win.

Eddie Flemke of Southington, CT was fourth and moved into third in points while 'Nice Guy' Tony Ferrante was fifth. The rest of the top ten was Jerry Marquis, Doug Coby, Matt Hirschman, who never pitted for tires was eighth with Mike Stefanik ninth and tenth to Rick Fuller.

Reggie Ruggiero has enjoyed a lot of his success at the Thompson Speedway but his car owner, longtime veteran Dick Barney doesn't like the high banks of Thompson, in fact, he wasn't even at Thompson. "He's home right now getting the motor ready for the new car." Reggie said when asked where Barney was. "His son is here but not him." "We are going to have a new car for New Hampshire so he figured that he'd stay back and begin to get it ready." Reggie one of the true veterans said he missed the Thompson 300 because of what it took to win the race. "Some drivers don't know what it takes to win a race like that. The strategy that goes into it and just running 300 laps itself."

John Blewett looked like the driver to beat and he proved that once again he will be a threat to win at NHIS this coming Friday afternoon. "We had a good car today." John told the media after the event. "We let the last race slip away here. The guys on the crew did a great job on the pit stop." John during the race quickly moved up from his 23rd spot starting position and could put the car anywhere he wanted but after he pitted, the car wasn't as good." "Track position is so critical here and I'm surprised we got to the front as quickly as we did." John could have tried to dice it up with Reggie and possibly Beers but he was looking at the big picture and that is this Friday and try and get the season sweep at New Hampshire. "I don't need a wrecked race car so I figured that a third was a good finish, especially on this tour because it is so difficult to win."

Donny Lia captured the pole for the modifieds on Saturday afternoon; it was his second pole of the season for the Long Island driver. The new format called 'Modified Mania' replaced one of the tracks and modified most prestigious events in the Thompson 300 but with dwindling crowds for what was the longest race of the year, Thompson officials decided that the 300 needed a make over. They cut the modified tour event to 150 and added in the Race of Champions series and the True Value modified series, throw in the SK modifieds and the pro four modifieds and the new TIS modifieds, it was an open wheel fans delight.

There was a lot of discussion over the addition of the ROC series but more so with the addition of the True Value Series. Many felt the NASCAR modified tour, clearly the top modified series in the country, was being forced to share the billing with the ROC's and TVRS. The modified tour portion of the event was $83,753. The Modified Mania is the fourth of five-scheduled races at the Thompson International Speedway. The event was also the 90th all time tour race at Thompson since 1985. The modifieds close out the season October 15th with the annual World Series.

There have been three first time winners on the tour this year. Jimmy Blewett joined Doug Coby and James Civali as first timers in 2006. The track qualifying record for the NASCAR modifieds is still held by Bob Polverari. Bob, now retired circled the oval in 18.505 seconds (121.515 MPH) back in 2001.

The modified tour returns to the New Hampshire International Speedway this weekend and they run a 100-lap event starting at 5 p.m.

Photos By Fran Lawlor