Monday September 24, 2007

By Brian Danko                                                                       

THOMPSON, CT-----------There is nothing like watching a driver earn his first career win. The emotion, the elation and of course the victory lane photos and that is just what a good Sunday afternoon crowd got to see as Ronnie Silk of Norwalk, CT captured his first ever NASCAR modified tour win. Silk, who finished second to Todd Szegedy last week at NHIS passed longtime modified tour competitor Reggie Ruggiero who 13 laps remaining to win the Modified Mania 150 at the Thompson International Speedway.

Silk ran up front all week, just like last week at New Hampshire but this time, Silk was able to bring the car into victory lane. "I've been close a lot. I am really happy to be here." Silk told the crowd as he exited his car following the exciting win over Ruggiero and Silk's longtime friend, Todd Szegedy.

Silk could have been awarded the win at New Hampshire if NASCAR officials found that Szegedy's winning car didn't pass their intake manifold inspection but Silk said this is the way he wanted to celebrate, in victory lane with friends and family. "This was the way I wanted it." Ronnie told the crowd as Szegedy looked on. "I wouldn't have wanted to get a telephone call telling me that we won because Todd was illegal." But Silk said, "If they told me he was illegal, I wouldn't have told them I didn't want it." Anytime you're in a battle with Reggie Ruggiero, you're gonna be the underdog but after Ruggiero wrestled the lead from Silk on lap 131, many felt the race had slipped away but Silk had other ideas. A caution on lap 133 set up another restart and this time Silk stayed right with the 'Reg' and as they exited turn four on lap 137, Silk had the lead and then held on for the popular win.

Silk drove up a bit on Ruggiero in turn one, a move that Ruggiero felt was a little too aggressive, but Ruggiero was one of the first drivers into victory lane to congratulate the first time winner. "We had a really good car today." Reggie told the media in the press box, "I passed him on the restart but then he got a run on me and drove me up a bit in one but his car was the better car today and he deserved to win." When Silk was told of the veteran's comments, he just smiled. "I don't know how Reggie drove when he was younger but I don't think I was over aggressive." Silk, when asked about his recent string of good finishes, said his run at New Hampshire had the whole team pumped coming into Thompson. "Anytime that you win a modified tour event, you can be sure that your gonna beat one of the top drivers on the tour." Silk said if he felt the pressure of having a driver like Ruggiero hunting him down over the last few laps. Silk and his team decided to take on just two tires on lap 57, when most of the leaders pitted saying, "I felt that track position was much more important than getting the third tire." It was that move and his consistent drive that propelled the likable driver to his first ever modified tour win and the $7,200 payday.

When the modified tour event went green, it was Donny Lia jumping out front and staying out front as the race ran with just two cautions the first 56 laps. It was that caution that sent nearly all of the lead lap cars onto pit road for tires, all except Teddy Christopher, who elected to stay out. As the field returned to green, Christopher moved back out front while Silk moved past Ryan Preece into second on lap 66 as Woody Pitkat and Reggie Ruggiero moved past Preece two laps later. As they field moved past the halfway marker, Christopher opened up a ten-car advantage but the question would be would Christopher be able to hold on with worn tires. A spin by Ronnie Yuhas on lap 76 closed up the field and Christopher was up to the task as Ruggiero moved into third past Pitkat on lap 82. As the top three of Christopher, Silk and Ruggiero clicked off lap 90, they were beginning to pull away. Silk slowly began to reel in Christopher as the tire ware was now beginning to slow TC and as they came off turn four on lap 100, Silk slipped by for the lead as Ruggiero also got the 'Plainville Flyer' two laps later. On lap 111, a caution came out and that was the cue for Christopher to pit and he did and everyone knew he would be a force before the race was over. As the leaders hit lap 120, it was Silk, Ruggiero, Todd Szegedy, who consistent run had him running third with Eddie Flemke, Jr. fourth and Bobby Grigas fifth.

Several cautions would fly over the next 13 laps and keep everything interesting but it would be a slow restart by Silk on lap 131 that would give Ruggiero the lead. Many fans felt that another Ruggiero Thompson victory was on hand but the young Silk had other ideas and passed Reggie for the lead. On lap 139, Christopher, who had worked his way to fifth dove low into turn one and drove up the track and made contact with Eddie Flemke, Jr. who was fourth and sent him into the first turn wall. NASCAR officials' black-flagged TC and he lost a lap in the pits ending any hopes of a top finish.

The last 10 laps, Silk drove his line and cruised to the win as Ruggiero finally finished after a string of bad finishes with Todd Szegedy third followed by Bobby Santos, III and James Civali fifth. The rest of the top ten was Bobby Grigas, Woody Pitkat, point's leader; Donny Lia was eighth with Tony Ferrante, Jr. ninth and Mike Stefanik tenth. Silk who was just making his 34th career start on the modified tour gave notice that he and the rest of the NASCAR modified tour young guns will be a force to be reckoned with the rest of this year and into 2008.

Todd Szegedy was third and the popular driver was thrilled for his longtime friend as he finally got to see him win his first race. "This is a win-win situation." Todd told the media. "We did some partying last night and it was just nice to see Ronnie get the win." If the verdict on Szegedy's manifold went against him, it would have given Silk the win but Todd said, "I'm glad he got the win today and not last week." When Szegedy was asked if he felt at anytime during the week that his win was in question, he said no but added, "anytime you don't hear anything you wonder, especially when you're at the mercy of someone else's decision." The third place finish kept Szegedy's slim title hopes still alive as Lia finished eighth and he closed to within unofficially to 175 markers with just two events left on the schedule.

Tony Hirschman and Danny Sammons didn't compete at the Modified Mania and they were credited with last place and second to last place. Hirschman had problems at the Race of champions at Oswego and dropped out and Sammons was injured at last week's NHIS event and couldn't compete. Many tour drivers did the all night drive from Oswego to Thompson and it paid off for Matt Hirschman as he finished second to good guy, Jan Leaty.

Donnie Lia captured the pole for the modified tour portion of the triple-header with a speed of 118.189 MPH. The Pole was the third of the year for Lia and that leads all drivers with poles to date.

A total of 36 NASCAR modified tour teams ventured to Thompson for the third of four scheduled events at the 5/8th-mile speedway.

The Thompson Speedway has hosted more tour events than any other track in NASCAR history. The modified mania 150 was the 96th event at Thompson with the first one way back in March of 1985 and won by Richie Evans.

The new Modified Mania replaced the traditional Thompson Sunoco 300, a staple on the modified tour event. The new Modified Mania is just open wheel modifieds highlighted by the NASCAR Whelen modified tour. Also on the day activities were the SK modifieds, the Race of Champions modifieds and the True Value Modified series.

Speaking of the True Value Modified series, it was good to see Mark Mockovak, who was the media coordinator for the of the NASCAR modified tour for 14 years, doing work for the True Value modified series. I guess they appreciate what Mark can do for them.

Former modified tour champion, Jeff Fuller was at Thompson Speedway for the original date two weeks ago.. Jeff won 10 times at Thompson during his modified tour days. Jeff now lives in North Carolina.

The NASCAR Whelen modified heads to the Stafford Motor speedway for the Carquest Fall Final. Qualifying for all divisions will be on Saturday and then on Sunday is the popular trackside pit party with features starting at 1 p.m. Sunday.

It was a long and hard week for the Todd Szegedy driven, Mike Smeriglio owned #2 Wisk sponsored modified following their dramatic win at the New Hampshire International Speedway last Saturday.

Szegedy beat out Ronnie Silk and Donny Lia for the win but NASCAR officials had questions concerning the intake manifold. Following the race on Saturday, it was taken by NASCAR officials to the Research and Development shop in North Carolina to determine that indeed Szegedy had scored his first career win at the 1.058 mile oval.

On Thursday, NASCAR sent out a news release that read, 'Following a thorough examination this week at the NASCAR R&D center, the intake manifold from the #2 car that won last Saturdays' NASCAR Whelen modified tour race at the New Hampshire International Speedway has passed inspection.' It continued, 'The R&D center is a great resource for NASCAR to study potential issues that may arise on any given race weekend and this was certainly the case in this particular situation.'

I caught up with Ed Cox, the modified tour series director and Mike Smeriglio and asked about the episode that took the media by surprise, as they weren't alerted that there might be a win in doubt. Ed Cox, who has headed up the series for more than a decade said it appeared that the intake manifold had too much work on it and he wanted it sent to Charlotte to make sure that it was within the limits allowed. The rule according to Cox has a gray area surrounding it. When asked why it took so long to get an official finish from NASCAR, Ed said, "I'd rather look at it slow and correct than fast and wrong. Everything was fine when the officials looked over the intake."  I asked Cox what if this was the only motor that the Smeriglio team had, wouldn't it have been unfair to keep it for nearly four full days but Cox quickly replied, "If that was the case, we would have paid officials overtime to get it done quicker."

For Mike Smeriglio and the Wisk team, they were confident that NASCAR wouldn't fine anything wrong with the manifold but you always have trepidation when NASCAR is questioning anything. "We found out around 4 p.m. Thursday." Mike told me at Thompson Speedway Sunday morning, getting the car prepared for the rained out Modified Mania event at the Thompson International Speedway.  "We were completely confident that the right decision was going to be made. Why it took so long from Monday to Thursday, I don't know." Mike said smiling. He did say that although they were confident, friends, family and well wishers continued to call and offer best wishes on the outcome. Smeriglio stated that he was thrilled to finally have this issue straightened out.