September 14, 2009


By Brian Danko

Ahhh, the good ole days. Everybody talks about how things were better ‘in the good ole days.’

Not only was living it seemed easier, but our sports were better. Or were they?

I was thinking about that as the NASCAR Whelen modified tour is getting ready to head to the New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the second and final time of the 2009 season.

What made me thinking about it was it seemed that the racing at the ‘Magic Mile’ was better when the modified tour made their first visits to the ‘new’ track back in the early 90’s.

It seemed that there were more lead changes among more drivers than lately and that made me scourer through the record books at New Hampshire to get the facts.

I also talked with drivers Eddie Flemke. Jr. and Ted Christopher to get their views to see if they felt the racing was better in back then or now.

Eddie Flemke, Jr. is one of the drivers’ who thinks the racing was a little better back then but not by much.
Flemke said back then everyone was new to running on a mile oval and as they were at Bristol recently, they were apprehensive about the speeds and making an ill advised move.

Flemke said one thing about the racing now is it has been 100 laps and that he feels has hurt the racing a little.

“Look at the race distances back then.” Eddie said from his Race Works shop in Berlin, Ct., “all of the race distances were different in length. It changed everything about how you’d run the race. Right now, the races have a predictable outcome.”

Back then, it seemed that less people had the best equipment and while you had many name drivers like Ruggiero, McLaughlin, the Fullers, Tony Hirschman and Mike Ewanitsko swapping the lead and running up front, that now more drivers on the tour have top equipment.

“Today more drivers have the good stuff. They need to if they are going to compete on the modified tour today. The separation of the haves and the have nots is greater back then.”

Ted Christopher also echoed the statements of Flemke. “Certain people have stepped up their programs and they are now capable of running up front more.”

One thing about today’s races at NHMS is one driver who is able to drive away from the field and literally stick up the show.

Back in the day, it seemed that in the words of Eddie Flemke, Sr., the Eastern Bandit, ‘you need to put on a show for the fans.’

When I mentioned that to Eddie, Jr. he smiled and told of a story when his father told a young and upcoming driver with the name of Ronnie Bouchard.

After Bouchard went out and stunk up the heat race, Eddie, Sr went to the youngster and said, ‘you are being paid to race by the people sitting in the stands and they want to see a race. You’re in the entertainment business, so you need to entertain them.’

Bouchard is also Flemke’s brother in law.

Mark Mockovak is a veteran modified observer and served as the NASCAR public relations director until recently and saw many of the races at NHMS.

“The race that really woke people up to the modifieds at New Hampshire was the April 1991 race that Mike Stefanik won. There were 24 lead changes among 8 drivers and was a close finish.”

After that everyone expected ‘an epic race’ Mark said when I asked him if racing was better than.

He seems to think that the talent pool was better than but that you also had more car owners looking to put the best drivers in the car, not just a car owner looking to see who can bring the most money.

Now it seems that a driver will pull out to a lead at New Hampshire and run away with the show, fully knowing that a caution is more than likely to come and get rid of the advantage he built up.

When I mentioned that to T.C. he laughed, “You don’t want someone on your bumper. You want to open up a lead and run away. I know your suppose to put on a show but as a driver you want to win.”

Looking back into the record books, since 2000, there has been 208 lead changes among 86 drivers while when the track first open and ran the same amount of races, there was 168 lead changes among 82 drivers.

So why does it seem that the racing was better than? Who knows? But as a fan of the NASCAR modifieds, all I know is that two of the must see each year for me are the two events held annually at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway and I for one can’t wait.

In the words of Jim Nabors, who played the part of Gomer Pyle on a mid 60’s television show, SURPRISE, SURPRISE, SURPRISE, when a press release said that the rained out event from the Chemung Speedway on August 29th has been cancelled.

Everyone with a brain knew this race wasn’t going to be made up, yet NASCAR and the track played the part of taking the time to show that they were working to get a date.

According to Chad Little, the modified tour director, “We worked really hard to find a suitable date to reschedule and unfortunately, we just weren’t able to find one.”

According to several teams that I talked with after the Bristol race, they kept saying that they have heard that Chemung was looking for a way to cancel the race and when the rains of Tropical Storm Danny were heading towards New England and New York, you knew that they were doing their rain dance.

NASCAR is in a pickle, they are trying to secure dates for the modified tour and these ‘Flash race’, reduced purse races, or what ever you want to call them are not the way to go.

To NASCAR, you have a couple of track that the modifieds have raced on that you own that the modifieds could return to in the names of Watkins Glen and Richmond International Speedway.

Sometimes finding something you need is always right under your nose.