Monday September 18, 2006

By Brian Danko                                  CLICK IN ANY PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

LOUDON, NH--------The NASCAR Whelen modified tour event at the New Hampshire International Speedway is always the best race of the weekend and this past Friday at the 'Magic Mile' it was no different as John Blewett, III won as he did in July, but this time without the controversy. Blewett took over the lead on lap 93 of the 100-lap event and then held off a third turn charge by Jerry Marquis to capture the New Hampshire 100.

In the July race, NASCAR mistakenly sent James Civali to the winners circle as Blewett left the track to race in New Jersey, as he was leaving the speedway, NASCAR reviewed the scoring tapes and declared the Howell, NJ driver the winner. "The car was too tight early on so we pitted to free up the car. The longer I went, the better the car got but we were too loose in the middle." Blewett told the media of his win worth more than $13,000. "I needed to get in the clean air and I thought we'd be good."  While Blewett scored his fourth win of his career at the 1.058-mile oval and the 10th of his modified career, when he was asked about his success here he said it's pretty simple. "Bob Bruneau. I think if you look back the guys who have won here it's Bob." That is the motor builder that Blewett has used in his wins and John said he is the main reason.

While Jerry Marquis scored a great run for the Bob Garbarino owned Mystic Missile, he tried to give it one last shot at Blewett but he couldn't make the move after getting by Ted Christopher for second on lap 98. "I tried him getting into three but I knew I couldn't make it so I backed it down and said second is good." The soft spoken driver from Broad Brook, CT said after the finish, his best in a modified here while he has secured a Busch East win. "In the beginning, I was just riding it out and try and stay in the top five." Marquis said. With about 25 laps to go, Marquis nearly lost the car heading into turn one and he had the car sideways but made the right corrections to save the car and get the runner up finish. "I tried to get back in line and I hit the 36's (Christopher) nerf bar, I didn't see him as I thought I cleared him. I just started cranking the wheel into it and it corrected." Marquis said with a laugh. "I am real happy for the team because we have been struggling and the crew did a good job on the pit stop so second is good today."

For Blewett, this time he was able to enjoy victory lane and all that goes with it.When asked how his day went, John said for the most part, it was pretty uneventful. "In the beginning the car was just too tight, we came in and pitted and freed it up but the car seem to come to me once I got into the top five." When guys would step out to make a pass, I was able to stay and get the spot. When I got the lead from Teddy there at the end, I thought for sure that he would be able to make a run but he didn't'." Blewett started 21st and while many in practice go as hard as they can, John said he never does. "I never practice for speed, I generally practice for comfort and I use the mind set to never win practice and that helps come race time." So while he got to celebrate only in victory lane, you can be sure that Blewett can hardly wait until next summer when the NASCAR modifieds
return to the 'Magic Mile."

As the front row of Mike Stefanik and Eddie Flemke, Jr. brought the field to the green flag, it was Stefanik getting the early jump and taking the lead one lap. But Todd Szegedy, the 2003 modified tour champion went past on lap two and stayed there until the 10th lap with several mods lining up behind him. One driver that all have come to fear at NHIS, is Ted Christopher of Plainville, CT as he powered by from his seventh starting spot to take over on lap 11 with Szegedy, James Civali and Eddie Flemke, JR in tow. Todd Szegedy in the Wisk Ford then reassumed the lead on lap 15 and that is where he would stay the next 22 laps but the battle for second and beyond him was wild and woolly. As the race continued caution free Ted Christopher in the Ford powered #36 went back to the lead on lap 37 as the top nine cars were separated by a mere 4/10ths of a second. The first challenge for the leaders would be on lap 44 when they encountered several lapped cars all running for position but all the leaders navigated their way through the pack.

The first caution of the afternoon came out on the 48th lap when Doug Coby stopped on the track near turn one. That sent most of the leaders to the pits for tires but several drivers, most notably Tony Hirschman and Eddie Flemke, Reggie Ruggiero and Chuck Hossfeld stayed on the track. When the track went green on lap 54, it was Hirschman taking control but Eddie Flemke took over on lap 60. Now the action that many in the crowd of 18,000 anticipated was taking place as the bump drafting, three wide racing and lead changes was taking on urgency with the race heading into the later stages. Hirschman retook the lead on laps 61 and 62 but Flemke went back past on 63 with Mike Stefanik back in the lead pack but with the cars running in such a tight pack something was bound to happen and it did on lap 63.

As several front runners came off of the fourth turn, Chuck Hossfeld bobbled a bit and was hit slightly by Szegedy. Hossfeld went around and several others got tangled up in the mess. Both of them would continue but innocent victims would include Reggie Ruggiero Ron Yuhas and TC, Ted Christopher would have the nose of his car slightly damaged.

On the restart on lap 68, Mike Stefanik in the Diversified Metals Chevrolet would retake the lead but over the next few years he and Flemke would swap the front spot. As the scoreboard clicked off lap 70, the field was Flemke, Stefanik, TC, Jerry Marquis, Donny Lia, Tony Hirschman, James Civali, John Blewett, III and Eric Beers. Christopher would move from third to lead on lap 76 while Marquis and Hirschman were fighting for the second and third spots. Mike Stefanik's car then faltered on lap 78 falling all the way to eighth from the third spot. On lap 79, Tony Hirschman encountered the same deal except Hirschman was moved out of the way after James Civali moved up the track on him dropping him to 14th.

While Flemke, Christopher and others were fighting for the top spot, John Blewett had snuck into the top five and was now setting his sights on the positions in front of him. Civali would get by for the lead on lap 86 with Christopher, with the nose bent because of the incident earlier in the race would set the pace on lap 87 and looked hard to beat as those behind him battled for position. Blewett now showed his strength as he went into third on lap 90 dispatching Donny Lia and into second two laps later getting by Civali. Now he set his sights on the season sweep and he did so getting Ted
heading into turn one on the 93rd circuit.

The driver everyone else was now watching was Jerry Marquis as he moved into third with four to go and got by Christopher with two to go but the former modified tour champion did have enough to mount a final charge. As Blewett streaked under the checker with Marquis in for second, James Civali got into TC heading off the fourth turn to finish third with Mike Stefanik fourth and former champ, Todd Szegedy fifth. The rest of the top ten was Ted Christopher, Ed Flemke, JR., Zack Sylvester, Eric Beers and Tony Hirschman.

James Civali of Meriden, CT capped his first year at the New Hampshire International Speedway with a third place finish. He was declared the winner in July here but later overturned by NASCAR.
When asked about his success here, he said you have to be aggressive and that aggressiveness got him into trouble with Tony Hirschman and Teddy Christopher.

"You have to drive like crazy here." James said, "I drive hard naturally, that's my style but Eddie (Flemke) has helped me out a great deal." When asked about the incident with Hirschman, which sent Tony over to Civali's car on the tech line, he said, "He was lifting a lot earlier in the corner than I was and I got into him. I walked the car up the track and got into him, and that sent him into the marbles, it wasn't intentional."

Christopher later also had harsh words for Civali after he moved Ted out of the third on the last lap and that dropped the points runner up to a sixth place finish as he lost a few more points to Mike Stefanik. Blewett with the win also captured the Lincoln Electric modified tour championship and will collect $5,000 at the annual track Christmas party in mid-December. Unofficial James Civali was second and will collect $3,000 while third, again, unofficial was Mike Stefanik and he will get $2,000.

While the weather forecast for Friday was iffy at best in New Hampshire, the day turned into a sunshine drenched afternoon. The modified tour race started exactly at 5:10, the starting time on
the entry blank.

Rain-washed out the qualifying on Thursday for the modified tour and the Busch East Series. 41 cars were on hand for the 40 car-starting field and once again, Bob Bahre and his staff proved what great promoters and people they are when they decided to start all the cars for the modified event.

The Busch East series had 46 cars and Bahre also started all of them so no one needed to go home.

The NASCAR modified tour race at the 1.058-mile oval was the 44th all time for the open wheeled machines at the track located about 20 minutes from the capital of Concord.

Tony Hirschman leads all drivers with seven wins at the track while Reggie Ruggiero and Mike Stefanik are tied for second with six wins.

The NASCAR Whelen modified tour heads to the Waterford Speedbowl on the Connecticut shoreline for the 150-lap event. The event in July was rained out and postponed. The show is a one day show with the feature starting about 5:15 p.m. Sunday night.

Photos By Fran Lawlor