LOUDON, NH--------The NASCAR Whelen modified tour made
their 50th visit to the one mile oval and while the race won’t rank as one
of the top five events of all time, don’t tell that that to first time
winner Ronnie Silk as he passed six time race winner, Reggie Ruggiero on the
final lap to win the New Hampshire 100 before over 50,000 fans on a sun
drenched autumn afternoon in southern New Hampshire.
Silk, who quit his full time ride in the Roger and Sandy Hill, owned
modified back a few months ago teamed up with Eddie Partridge to win the
prestigious event getting past modified legend Reggie Ruggiero in one of his
best races in years in the Dick Barney owned modified.
“I can’t believe that I won here.” Ronnie said over and over in the media
center. “This race is the biggest race of the year for us in the modifieds,
I’m still in shock.”
Of the previous 49 events held here, only 6 races have been decided by MORE
than one second. With results like that, it’s easy to see why the modifieds
are picked on the NHMS website as the race that most fans anticipate each
year at the ‘Magic Mile.’
The race for the first 50 laps wasn’t exactly what the teams wanted to put
on and the fans wanted to see with multiple cautions slowing the field but
the second 50 was the reason with numerous lead changes and great side by
Silk, who has really honed his skills running weekly on the NASCAR weekly
series and some modified tour events thought he blew his chance for a win by
taking the lead with like 10 laps to go but Reggie, showing his old winning
ways took the lead with about a handful of laps to go and when the ‘Reg’
took the white flag, most of the big crowd stood up and began to applaud
pulling for the ageless veteran but it was Silk using the sling shot past
Reggie as they headed down the back stretch for the final time but as they
did, it drop kicked Reggie to fourth with Donnie Lia second and Ryan Preece
“If you mess up in turn one, it ruins your chance for a last lap pass for
the win, that’s why I waited and knew that I had a good run at Reggie off
the turn. It’s definitely extra special to come here with no full time ride.
I’m just thankful for the opportunity.”
The win for Silk was worth more than $15,000.
LIA MAKES A MOVE
Donnie Lia had a weekend that most drivers would like to forget, but the end
result is what the former modified champ will remember as he earned a hard
fought second place finish after making up THREE laps on the field.
Things started off bad for the Bob Garbarino owned team on Thursday, when
the car caught fire due to a faulty part. The fire was extinguished but the
car and motor was covered by the fire retardant foam and without a back up
car at the track the team packed up and headed back to Mystic, CT to take
apart the car to fix and clean the car. During the race, Lia was involved in
an accident and damaged his car, NASCAR black flagged him as his nerf bar
needed to be fixed and he lost three laps on pit road.
But Lia was the beneficiary of the many cautions and was able to be the
‘Lucky Dog’ to get back on the lead lap.
Lia rewarded the team with the runner up finish and thus clinched the 2009
track championship by his win here in June.
But it was some questionable moves that Lia made working his way through the
field that had other drivers asking if this was the same driver criticizing
Teddy Christopher for some driving tactics the last race here in June.
“Yeah at times, I had made some moves that I shouldn’t have.” Lia said when
asked about his run to the front. “I was going hard, maybe too hard. Going
three wide wasn’t the smartest thing to do.”
Donny Lia has proven that he is a champion and one heck of a driver but he
also proved that drivers forget their own words when they criticize drivers
in the past for the same thing he did Saturday afternoon.
While many tracks on the modified tour have been hampered by the economy and
less than full stands, it was hard to believe that was an issue in New
Hampshire as one of the largest Saturday crowds in my memory flooded into
the grandstands for a full day racing activities.
The day started off with modified practice, time trials for the Craftsman
Truck series, happy hour practice for the Sprint Cup cars, the 100 lap
modified feature, the 200 lap truck race won by Kyle Busch and a 50 lap ACT
tour race (American-Canadian Tour). Eddie McDonald won the special event.
He also won the Camping Series East race on Friday and drove in the modified
race but was the second car out.
Ticket prices were $40.00 but I heard the track had many flyers offering two
tickets for the price of one. In these tough times, NHMS did what they
needed to do to get the fans into the stands for a great day of racing.
NHMS also announced on Friday, that another sell out will greet the first
race for the Chase, as the track only had single seats and standing room
available for the 300 lap Cup race on Sunday.
YOUNG GUN PREECE SCORED POLE
To look at Ryan Preece of Berlin, CT., he doesn’t come across as a race car
driver. With his baby face and just a few months past his 18th birthday, he
looks just like, well, an 18 year old but this year; the first year college
student has grown up and is one of the most feared drivers each and every
week on the modified tour.
After scoring his first win last year at the Martinsville Speedway, the
youngster has followed that up with two more wins this year and less than
100 points out of the points lead before the race on Saturday and his third
place finish didn’t hurt any as he gained on TC, Ted Christopher and Todd
On Friday, Preece notched the pole in the Mike Boehler prepared ole Blue
that his father, the legendary car owner, Lenny, prepared for some of the
best modified drivers in history including Bugsy Stevens and Fred DeSarro.
Modified racing blood also runs deep in the Preece household as his father,
Jeff, raced and his mother, is the daughter of longtime modified car owner
and crew chief, Bob Judkins, who had many top drivers during his long career
including Gene Bergin, Eddie Flemke, Sr., Ronnie Bouchard and Jerry Marquis.
Preece toured the 1.058 mile oval in 29.765 seconds good for 127.962 MPH.
OLD GUYS HAVE GOOD DAYS
As mentioned earlier, it was a good day for Reggie Ruggiero with his fourth
place finish but it was also a good day for seven time modified champ, Mike
Stefanik as he finished fifth.
I mentioned in the media center to the top three drivers of Silk, Lia and
Preece on the run of Ruggiero and they all said it was good to see both
drivers running up front and going for the win.
“Reggie and Mike Stefanik have more class on the modified tour than the rest
of us put together.” Donnie Lia said after the event while both Preece and
Silk said, “You knew that either of them wasn’t going to make a move that
could hurt you or him; it’s a pleasure racing with guys like them.”
After the race, Reggie said, “I wanted this win but I screwed up. I
shouldn’t have taken the lead when I did and waited till the last lap. The 6
car (Silk) was holding me up on the straights and I got a run and got by him
but I should have stayed behind him.” Reggie said.
“I really wanted to win but it was good to run up front. Maybe this quiets
some people who said I can’t race anymore. Give me a competitive car and
I’ll run with them every week.”
Ruggiero also never pitted in the 100 lap event.
While Mike Stefanik has the most wins of any driver all time on the tour,
the Coventry, RI must has ticked off the racing gods as ‘Mighty Mike’ has
been fast but mechanical issues and other peoples accidents have sidelined
the driver in many races the past couple years. It was good to see two
modified greats running up front with legitimate shots of a win.
NEWMAN SOLID ALL DAY
Ryan Newman showed the large crowd his open wheel experience as one of the
Sprint Cup drivers to drop down and run the modified race as Newman left the
track with a eighth place finish.
Newman drove the Tom Baldwin tribute car, a black modified with the famous
7NY that Baldwin campaigned on the modified tour for years. Kevin ‘Bono’
Manion is the crew chief for the car as well as Cup driver Martin Truex.
Newman was unable to qualify the car on Thursday and they summoned Steven
Park to qualify but that meant Newman was forced to start from the rear and
Newman steadily moved his way to the front, taking the lead several times in
the late stretches of the race before ending up in the top ten.
CHRISTOPHER, SZEGEDY TOUGH DAYS
When ever the modified tour pulls into the New Hampshire Motor Speedway, a
couple of quick race favorites are Teddy Christopher and Todd Szegedy but
while Christopher settled for a seventh place finish, it wasn’t a typical
Christopher day. TC would run in the front but never led and while Szegedy
was solid, the former modified tour champion was caught up in a late race
incident and ended up 29th, severely damaging his hopes of securing his
OTHER STRONG RUNS
Many drivers can have a solid day at a track like New Hampshire and not have
the finish to show for it but a few drivers need acknowledgement of their
Rowan Pennick finished sixth but he ran up front and led. Pennick is another
driver like TC who will show up anywhere and race and his steady diet of
racing has paid off for the Philadelphia area driver.
Erick Rudolph, Chuck Hossfeld, Doug Coby and Chris Pasteryak finished 9th
through 12th but all were contenders.
Rudolph led a couple of the times before getting shuttled back. Chuck
Hossfeld, a former winner here at NHMS showed up with his own team and Chuck
was a top five runner late in the race while Doug Coby had another strong
Chris Pasteryak has shown great promise this year and after years as a crew
member on his fathers, Charlie’s team and his uncle, Carl, the young driver
has learned the ropes quite well running some modified tour events but also
many True Value modified series races.
As I have mentioned, it’s only been two years since I stopped covering the
tour full time and just making spot appearances but I can’t help but notice
how many new faces have replaced the many familiar faces that I knew for
over 30 years covering the open wheel machines.
Not only are there new faces, many are fresh young faces which bode well for
NASCAR’s oldest division bringing in more youthful drivers but the tour
still has its grizzled veterans like Ruggiero, Stefanik, Tomaino and
Christopher to learn from.
While we all want the modified tour to continue to flourish, NASCAR has a
nice group of which to do it with, if they don’t make ridicules rules
changes and send them to tracks that either can’t afford a modified tour or
they buckle under and offer cut rate races to tracks that take several
modified tour races.
NASCAR, the track owners along with the car owners and teams should all be
partners in making the modified tour pulling in one direction. That is
something that hasn’t been done for many years.
When a track like New Hampshire runs a major event, you always want perfect
weather but this weekend couldn’t have been any better with blue skies and
sunshine the entire weekend.
The last couple of years have seen the Cup race cut short because of rain
but when a track gambles and brings in many support divisions like NHMS
does, everything must fall perfectly and for once it did.
Bruton Smith and his team at New Hampshire deserve a great deal of credit
for keeping the modified tour and the Camping Series East but also adding
the ACT tour, giving those teams and FANS a chance to see their favorites
running at New England’s largest sporting event. It’s a major gamble because
of weather and this time the gamble paid off, let’s hope it continues to pay
off for everyone for years to come.
MIKE CHRISTOPHER RETURNS
Mike Christopher, twin brother of TC, Ted Christopher, returned to New
Hampshire running his own modified with sponsorship from CoCo Key Water
When Mike was asked why return to racing at NHMS, he said, “It’s just the
greatest place to go. I’ve had great success there finishing second twice.
It’s just a fun place to run at.”
While Mike has been busy with his Honda business, he always wanted to return
to big modified races but without proper sponsorship, it’s impossible but
with the backing of CoCo Key Water Resorts, he got a freshened up motor and
gave it another try.
“Its’ great to have someone like CoCo Key, who is a national chain want to
get involved. This is great. They may also want to do something in the
future.” Mike said speaking on Gary Danko’s Speedway Line Report radio.
While TC will race anything anywhere, MC is more reserved, even if he had
full time sponsorship. “Right now, I don’t know if I would want to return to
racing, even if it was with a well financed car owner.”
But in the world of racing, never say never.
BRISTOL BACK ON
It was announced on Friday, that the Bristol Motor Speedway, another of
Bruton Smith’s track had resigned the modified tour to another race at the
high banked oval in Tennessee for 2010.
According to what I was told, it is a multi year deal. One of the knocks on
the first race was the purse, running in the low $90,000 range but the teams
supported it and the crowd, announced at 46,000 seemed pleased with the
racing in a race won by Donnie Lia last month.
20 YEARS RUNNING
It’s been 20 years since the then New Hampshire International Speedway
opened in July of 1990 with a NASCAR Busch series race. It is also the first
year that the modifieds ran on the big track and showed what aerodynamics
can do to an open wheel machine.
In September of that year, NHIS ran a racing tripleheader with the modifieds,
Busch North and the new Sportsman division.
While there were three races, there was only two winners because Mike ‘Magic
Shoes’ McLaughlin captured not only the modified tour race but also the
Busch North race. In those races, Greg Zipadelli was the crew chief on BOTH
Mike, now retired was on hand this past weekend, to meet many old time
modified friends. Mike is on the Joe Gibbs payroll and served as a mentor to
Joey Logano during his first year on the Camping Series East, coaching that
resulted in Logano winning the championship in his first year.
Mike still does a little testing for Gibbs but mostly works with their
20 YEARS AND FIFTY RACE WINNERS
Tony Hirschman leads all drivers in modified wins at the New Hampshire Motor
Speedway as the Northampton, PA. Resident has seven wins while Reggie
Ruggiero has secured six wins including five in a row from July of 1992 to
April of 1994. Mike Stefanik also has six modified tour wins.
Ted Christopher is fourth on the list with five modified tour wins while
Steve Park and the late John Blewett, III, both had four wins.
Three time race winners are Mike Ewanitsko, Jeff Fuller and Chuck Hossfeld
while two time winners are Jan Leaty and Donnie Lia.
Single race winners have been recorded by Mike McLaughlin, Tim Connolly,
Doug Heveron, Todd Szegedy and now Ronnie Silk.
Just how dominate has Ted Christopher been at the one mile oval in southern
New Hampshire. TC leads ALL drivers who have ever competed at the ‘Magic
Mile’ with 10 wins and also in the most poles with 9.
Teddy has five wins in the modified and also five wins on the Camping Series
East. Of all of the poles, seven have come in the modified and two on the
Camping Series East.
While TC is at the top of the list other drivers in the top ranks in wins
including Mike Stefanik with eight, six mods and two Camping Series East,
Tony Hirschman with seven wins, Reggie Ruggiero and Mike McLaughlin with six
wins apiece. Reggie’s wins were all in the modifieds while McLaughlin won
four times in the Camping Series East and once in the modified and once in
the Nationwide Series.