Monday September 4, 2006

By Brian Danko                                          

MARTINSVILLE, VA--------------
They say that you never forget your first love. For racers, it's their first win and Jimmy 'Showtime' Blewett of Howell, NJ will never forget his as he captured his first ever NASCAR Whelen modified tour race at the Martinsville Speedway on Saturday night. Blewett took over the lead on lap 181 when he pushed Mike Stefanik out of the way and then held on until NASCAR was forced to checker it on lap 200 because of persistent showers that popped up. The race was scheduled for 250 laps. While Blewett said apologizes to Stefanik for getting into him, 'That's racing.' Said the hard charging driver hugging his car owner Ed Partridge. "This is the guy that I owe everything to. He is the one that took a chance on me and maybe saw something in me that others haven't." What will make the win sweeter for Blewett is that he scored a Martinsville win in his first ever visit to the tight oval.

Teddy Christopher of Plainville, CT was second with James Civali of  Meriden, CT third with Todd Szegedy of Ridgefield, CT fourth and fifth was Doug Coby of Milford, CT.

Besides the light showers that finally KO'ed the event, it might also have something to do with the race ending at almost 1:15 Sunday morning. The night's activities got off to a rough time when about 40 minutes before the start of the 50 lap qualifying race, a black cloud moved over the speedway and opened up as blue skies shown elsewhere. That took nearly 90 minutes to dry the track and the competitors were ready for the 250-lap feature that finally hit the track at 10:20 p.m.

The night had all the markings of a disaster and it lived up to it's billing after the rain as there were two wrecks within the first twelve laps of the race. The second caution, which required a red flag to clean up the carnage in turn third and to repair a section of the safer wall.

But the story was Blewett and his car owner Ed Partridge almost beside themselves in the Martinsville press box. Partridge in disbelief that he got a win and Blewett wondering possibly the same thing but it will be the move that got Stefanik out of the way that had many people shaking their heads. "I got a good run on Stefanik on the restart and when I went into turn one, I hit my brakes and they failed and I got into Mike, I apologize for that but that's racing." Blewett told the crowd, some members of the media questioning the story of the brakes but this is Martinsville. "We have had a good car since we got here." Jimmy said of his initial visit to the track shaped like a paper clip. "I just wanted to get the car to the halfway point and put us in contention for a win and that's what we did."

In Victory lane, Blewett dedicated the win to his car owner, who was friends with Charlie Jarzombek, who lost his life at Martinsville back in the late 80's. One of the most prestigious trophies a driver can win is at Martinsville Speedway because the trophy is a six foot Grandfather clock but Blewett said it wouldn't be going home with him but rather the man for putting him in the position to earn one. "That's Ed's." Jimmy said, "Ask him, he going to get it because he is the one with faith in me." While Blewett was answering questions in the press box, other media was in the media center grilling Ted Christopher about his day, which saw him, part of the multi car wreck on lap 12. "We were messed up from the start." TC said kind of dejected. After pitting time and time again, the crew was able to get the car so that Teddy could get it around and despite getting a black flag from NASCAR on lap 95 for spinning a driver in front of the leaders he had a strong  run. "Once we got bent up we made a bunch of changes but it sucks that the rain had to come in again."

Christopher was also responsible for help bring out the final caution of the day on lap 193 when he got into the back of young Zack Sylvester, who was running second and sent him spinning. "He was getting looser and looser." TC told the media, "It was just a matter of time before I got by him for the spot." So a day that started off badly for Christopher ended up a rather productive day in the points standing as his finish, coupled with Stefanik's 14th place finish closed the points gap to an unofficial 22 points. Stefanik decided to pit just before NASCAR figured enough was enough between the rain and the possibility of more wrecks.
When the Made in America Whelen 300 took the green it was Eddie Flemke, Jr. and Tony Hirschman bringing the field around with Flemke getting the lead. A lap 3 caution found several cars tangled in turn three and on the restart on lap 12, all hell broke loose scattering cars all over the fourth turn. It took nearly 30 minutes before the cars were removed and the safer barrier was fixed. Tony Hirschman entered the race third in points and was one of the cars caught up on the big wreck and he lost several laps in the pits making repairs to the Kamco Chevrolet. On that restart, Jerry Marquis in the Bob Garbarino Mystic Missile powered to the front with Mike Stefanik moving into second with Flemke third. On lap 32, Stefanik went back out front but two more cautions flew again on lap 44 and then again on lap 50. While Stefanik was setting the pace, Marquis was riding his rear bumper waiting for a chance at the lead again. Todd Szegedy began to slip back as Zack Sylvester moved into the third spot. The teams seemed to be on a good pace and the laps began to click off toward the mandatory red flag at the half way portion of the race. On lap 95, TC was running as the last car on the lead lap and had both Stefanik and Marquis ready to pounce on any mistake he made. But, Christopher got into a lapped car bringing out a caution. NASCAR deemed it intentional and sent him to the pits for a penalty. Several cars pitted including Marquis and Flemke while James Civali also took on tires as did Doug Coby and Kevin Goodale, the winner of the 50-lap qualifier race. Marquis pitted as the leader having gotten by Stefanik before NASCAR threw the caution. Stefanik retook the top spot when Marquis pitted and many thought that Stefanik might take the opportunity to pit but he elected to stay on  the track. A caution on lap 122 brought out the caution that would send the teams mercifully to the pits for any changes to the car expect that they wouldn't be allowed change tires under the halfway caution. Stefanik in the Diversified Metals Chevrolet was beginning to stretch his advantage over Sylvester while Donnie Lia was now in the hunt with Szegedy fourth and Jimmy Blewett fifth. On lap 172, after Blewett had picked off a couple of competitors in front of him now was watching and waiting on Stefanik but every time, Steffy was up to the challenge. A caution for Jim Storace on lap 175 is what changed the race for Blewett, Stefanik and possibly the championship. On the Restart, Blewett got a good jump, staying on Stefanik as they headed into turn one. Blewett hit him in the middle of the turn and then slammed him getting into turn two. Stefanik bobbled and moved up the track toward the wall losing a few positions and putting Blewett in command with Sylvester second and all of a sudden, Ted Christopher third. TC tried Sylvester several laps but each time Zack could hold on in another great run for the driver of the TAS Construction machine but on lap 193, TC hit the rear of the #15 sending him spinning in turn one. That sent Sylvester and Stefanik to the pits for tires figuring that the race would be run the full distance but after they pitted it began to mist heavily and the fate of the race changed when NASCAR decided to close it out on lap 200.

Ron Yuhas had a strong run and finished sixth in the A. P. Marquadt, Inc. Chevrolet while Matt Hirschman recovered for seventh from the second wreck on lap 12 with Kevin Goodale in for eighth. Ninth was Tim Brown, the highest finishing southern driver with Gene Pack, another southern
driver tenth.

Jimmy Blewett has shown signs of greatness in a modified and Saturday night in Martinsville, VA will be a night he came of age and became a winner on the NASCAR Whelen modified tour. Blewett earned over $7,700 for the win and the beautiful Grandfather Clock.

The crowd for the second Labor Day modified race was down from last year but Clay Campbell, president of the Martinsville Speedway and grandson of its founder, H. Clay Earles said that the Labor Day weekend at Martinsville would become a traditional holiday event for the modifieds.

After the race, Todd Szegedy wanted to know why a car brings out a caution for a simple spin and it takes 10 laps before they go back to racing. I think NASCAR needs to explain because many drivers, crews and especially the fans, are getting sick of lengthy cautions for a minor incident.

Many of the NASCAR Whelen modified teams were complaining about the mandatory stop at half way. It was done to accommodate the southern teams because they don't have race pit stops and thus no firesuits for the crewmembers.

But, Don Hawk, who at the time was in charge and the voice of NASCAR told teams that in 2006, the race would be run start to finish with no breaks. Seems they can't keep their word.

Last year, NASCAR rolled out all of the big wigs for the first event with Jim Hunter, vice president of communications on hand as well as many others. NASCAR officials said this was too prove to the modifieds and the teams that the modifieds are indeed a big part of NASCAR for now and into the future. Jerry Cook, a six time NASCAR modified champion and who has worked for NASCAR since retiring now than 20 years ago was the highest ranking official.

Geoff Bodine, former modified terror and Nextel Cup driver was the 'Grand Marshal' for the Made in America Whelen 300. Geoff had 13 wins at the Martinsville Speedway including 4 Cup and 7 modified wins in what he calls one of his favorite tracks. Although Ted Christopher leads all drivers on the tour in 2006 with three, he trails Mike Stefanik by 71 points as the tour heads to the finish line. Defending series champion; Tony Hirschman is third, 113 points behind Stefanik.

A total of 66 drivers have attempted to qualify for a northern modified tour event and with and with 15 southern taking time it brings the total to 81.

Mike Stefanik of Coventry, RI captured the Bud Pole award for the fastest time on Friday night with a lap of 18.833 seconds for 100.547 MPH. Greg Sacks set the track record for the modifieds at Martinsville Speedway in 1986, 18.746 seconds for 101.014 MPH. Second quickest was Todd Szegedy with third Donnie Lia. Fourth was Jerry Marquis with Eric Beers fifth. The rest of the top ten was Tony Hirschman, Reggie Ruggiero, Eddie Flemke, Jr., Jimmy Blewett and Zack Sylvester. The mandatory modified redraw saw Eddie Flemke, Jr. on the pole with Tony Hirschman on the outside. Reggie Ruggiero picked seventh and had two numbers left, the 8 and the 1, he drew number 8, giving the pole to his business partner, Ed Flemke.

A total of 49 modifieds took time under clear but cool skies. Ted Christopher of Plainville, CT started his 225th career NASCAR Whelen modified tour event at the 1/2-mile oval. Ted has 26 career wins. James Civali leads Matt Hirschman for the 2006 rookie of the year award. Civali has been the highest-ranking rookie in five of the ten races run, including the win at Stafford.

Martinsville Speedway's first ever NASCAR sanctioned race was a modified race in 1948 and was won by Fonty Flock with PeeWee Martin second and Buck Baker third.

The weather for qualifying on Friday afternoon was cloudy with a bit of rain in the area but the modifieds rolled out a little after five for there practice session. The Martinsville Speedway, one of the truly historic tracks in NASCAR has hosted 30 modified tour events but many, many before the inception of the tour in 1985.

Drivers with four wins to their name include Mike Ewanitsko, Jeff  Fuller, Reggie Ruggiero and Mike Stefanik. Charlie Jarzombek had three wins while Tom Baldwin and Brett Bodine each has two wins.

A total of 58 cars have entered with 38 coming from the northern modified tour while the southern series has a very respectable 20 modifieds. The purse for the Made in America Whelen 300 was $127,953. for the 250 lap event. It paid $7,000 to win while 27th through 43rd was $1,200. That was a small increase from the race last year.

The race will start 43 cars with 20 coming from time trials while the remaining 23 will come from the 50 lap-qualifying race. Martinsville Speedway took measures to correct the shadows on the track  after last years event and added another tower of lights to the back stretch that will light up the front and especially the fourth turn.

The modified tour returns to the Thompson Speedway this coming weekend for the new 'Modified Mania', which features a 150 lap for the NASCAR modified tour while the True Value Series and the Race of Champions modified series will each run 75 laps.