NASCAR WHELEN MODIFIED TOUR LEFTOVERS : THOMPSON ICEBREAKER by Mike Twist
Leaders Get a Scare, Stingy Cautions, Kopec Has Great Run, Haydt Learns Quick & More
BARRY GIVES LEADERS A SCARE
It was hard to have a moment in the race that was more exciting than the side-by-side finish, but that just might have happened midway through the race as the leaders were exiting turn two.
The #21 car of Ken Barry had spun into the infield, but no caution flag was thrown. Desperate to stay on the lead lap, Barry, drove back onto the track at the start of the backstretch. The only problem was that he did so directly in front of the three-way battle for the lead between Tony Hirschman, Ted Christopher and Mike Stefanik. The leaders split Barry’s car and even thought they came within inches of slamming into him. Stefanik managed to shoot by his competitors into the lead, but the caution was thrown because of the mess and the pass didn’t count.
“Somebody was spun there and was just getting going,” said Stefanik. “I saw it and I just took a left. I wasn’t trying to take advantage of the situation. I just didn’t want to get checked up and go into the back of the #48.”
The fact that the incident involved three of the most talented drivers on the Tour might have kept the incident from being a total disaster.
“There were some good drivers up there just using there heads,” said Stefanik.
“I don’t know, it’s years of experience I guess,” said Hirschman. “You come up to that situation and it’s right in front of you, so you ask ‘what do you do?’. Do you turn the wheel left or right? Guys were behind me and we all just ended up getting through there. I don’t know how.”
Hirschman had an experienced voice on his radio as his spotter. His son Tony, III, who has spotted in the IRL and NASCAR Busch Series, was spotting. But Hirschman said that the incident happened so fast that he can’t even recall what his spotter might have said.
“He probably said something on the radio,” said Hirschman. “But he can’t tell you where to go. I saw him coming out of the infield with all of those rocks and dirt on his tires. He slid right up the track in front of everybody. It was really dumb.”
Hirschman was pretty fired up about the way that the whole incident happened.
“That was a ridiculous move,” said Hirschman. “I hope that every driver here goes up to him and chews his ass out about that. It was a really dumb move. I know that he didn’t want to go a lap down, but he almost took the whole lead pack out of the race.”
Barry was candid about his mistake and how it happened.
"It was basically, it miscommunication with the spotter,” said Barry. “Drivers nowadays, and I am not trying to make any excuses, can't really see out of the cars anymore. With all of the headrests in the car you can only look straight ahead. The spotter was telling me we had to go because the leaders were coming. She didn't say how exactly close they were. When I got the car going and got it out on the racetrack the tires were all full of sand, dirt and rocks and the car kind of came up the track on me.”
When it comes to Hirschman being mad, Barry understand that too and wants to make things right.
“I went and apologized about it to NASCAR and plan on apologizing to Tony and the other guys,” said Barry. “We have straightened it out with the spotter and it won't happen again.”
SYLVESTER HAS CAREER DAY – SO FAR
Although Zach Sylvester was all smiles after the race and a fine second-place finish, the fact that there was any late race cautions, especially the one that set up a green-white-checkered finish where he lost the lead, probably didn’t please him too much.
But it was something that Sylvester had dealt with before.
“That wasn’t the first time that happened to me,” said Sylvester. “So we tried to get a game plan together and we stuck to it, but it wasn’t what needed to happen.”
When the green flag waved on the final restart, Sylvester was watching the #50 of Chuck Hossfeld in his mirror. He wasn’t as concerned about the #13 of eventual winner Ted Christopher at that time.
“I didn’t know that the #13 was back there, but I knew the #50 was there,” said Sylvester. “I knew that we had a little bit left and it was partially my fault. I left the door
“I wanted to get through and get around to the finish, but Nevin and Hirschman kept rolling instead of putting their foot on the brake,” said Coby.
Meanwhile, Barry wasn’t too happy about sitting defenseless on the frontstretch without a caution slowing the field down.
“I wasn't too impressed with it to be honest with you,” said Barry. “NASCAR said that they were watching the battle for the lead and didn't see me sitting there until it was too late. Like I said though, it wasn't too cool seeing them come off the corner side by side there and I couldn't move.”
I went to NASCAR and wanted to hear their version of what happened. They explained that everyone in the tower was watching the race for the lead to make sure nothing happened there. They just didn't see me sitting there until the leaders were in turn three.
Barry also wasn’t too happy about the spin itself.
“It all started when I got a good run off the corner under Bo (Gunning),” said Barry. “I don't know if he got loose and came down into me. All I know is I held my line pretty straight. I would like to think that it was a racing deal and he just got loose. It's a shame because we were going to get a top-ten out of a pretty miserable day.”
Meanwhile, Kopec credits the feedback that Stefanik gave last year in making the #16 fast this season.
“It feels good, Mike was here last year and really helped us out a lot with our program,” said Stefanik. “It really feels good to get in a car that is so competitive.”
TC GETS WIN ON TRACK, NOT IN TECH
Ted Christopher has now won the Icebreaker two years in a row. But the circumstances of each victory were extremely different. Last season, he finished second on the race track when apparent winner Todd Szegedy was DQ’ed in the tech line because of a rear end gear rules violation. TC found about his win with a cell phone call as he was leaving the track.
This year, Christopher won after an epic three-way battle to the finish for the win.
“I really wanted to try and win it this year so that we could get some photos,” said Christopher. “You don’t get to celebrate your win when you don’t get to go to victory lane. We had our victory lane when we were heading up the highway in your car.”
HAYDT HAS FUN IN TOUR RACE NUMBER ONE
Dodge, Nissan and Kia dealerships in Massachusetts. The dealerships sponsor both Ken Bouchard and Flemke on the Mod Tour.
LIA HAS BUSY THOMPSON WEEKEND
Last season in the World Series at Thompson, Donny Lia and his #18 Lia Motorsports, Inc. team literally had the wheels fall over their wagon at Thompson International Speedway (CT). They finished 27th after a strong run in that event when a hub broke on their car.
So this weekend, when the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour returned to Thompson for the season opening Icebreaker, the LMI team didn’t spare any amount of preparation to make sure that the problem didn’t happen again.
But there is no predicting a parts failure either. Lia led a few laps early in the race before the hub started giving him trouble again. Eventually, the team would fall three laps behind as the team replaced the hub and Lia motored on to a finish of 17th.
“I think what happened to us was the same thing that happened last fall at the World Series,” said Lia. “The wheel came lose again. We don’t know what it is, but we are going to have to figure it out. We took precautions after we had the problem and we still had the problem, so now we are thinking that maybe we got a bad batch of hubs or something.”
Ken Barry's #21 pulls out in front of the rapidly closing #48 (Hirschman), #13 (Ted Christopher and #00 (Stefanik). (51 Photos)
open going into turn one a little too much [on the restart]. I kind of knew something like that was going to happen anyway. I gave them the leeway and tried to get them in the last corner.”
Sylvester is only 21 years old and he takes pride in the fact that his crew is also fairly young.
“The oldest guy on the crew is 34 years old and everyone else is under 30,” said Sylvester.
WHERE'S THE CAUTION?
On the final lap of the race, there were two incidents but no yellow flags displayed. Ken Barry looped his #21 at the start finish line while Tony Hirschman and Nevin George went around in turns one and two. The lack of a caution perplexed some of the drivers.
“I’m not too happy with the way that the last lap went,” said Doug Coby. “There was a wreck on the frontstretch and then Hirschman wrecked in the corner. Throw the caution flag or someone is going to get hurt. Making the leaders race around to the frontstretch when there are two cars stopped there isn’t good. They were trying to win a race."
Barry's #21 still sits on the frontstretch as Ted Christopher heads to victory lane in the background.
It was like a free for all, you know that a green-white-checkers is going to be a free for all anyways, but when cars wreck you throw the caution and then you have another green-white-checkers. This isn’t Nextel Cup, it’s not like you have one green-white-checkers and then that’s it, we are going to finish the race under green. Why have wrecked cars on the racetrack when everyone is jockeying for position?”
Coby thinks that the melee might have cost him a position or two at the finish.
“That was everything that we had, I thought that maybe if Mike could get by, he could make a hole for us,” said Kopec.
Stefanik was very proud of how his protégé was able to run.
“Chris is doing a good job, he’s good a good racecar that and he must have enjoyed it,” said Stefanik. “You can race with him and run hard and he’ll do the same thing to you.”
“I got into the #48 a little bit at the end,” said Kopec. “I didn’t mean to do that. We went to go under him going into turn one and he came down to block us. I got on the brakes and clipped him a little. I saw the spot open and just went for it. I hate it. Tony’s a good racer and I don’t want to race him that way.”
Hirschman, as a veteran of the series, expected trouble at the end when there was a green-white-checkered finish.
“Well, the shit broke loose at the end,” Hirschman said. “I think that the #16 got me and turned me. I don’t even know what happened after that. I was just trying to get around and finish the race.”
“It was crazy out there, that’s for sure,” said Haydt. “I was just trying to miss all of the accidents. I was dodging cars left and right.”
FULLER HAS GOOD DAY DESPITE FLAT
Rick Fuller looked pretty racy at Thompson. He was a threat for the lead throughout the second half of the race and finished fifth with a little bad luck towards the end. Nevertheless, he was still happy with his race.
“The car was awesome all day, we definitely had a winning racecar,” said Fuller. “The right rear went flat there with 20 to go. I’ll take fifth.”
FLEMKE AND TETO TEAM STRONG IN DEBUT TOGETHER
Another new pairing for 2005 is the combination of Eddie Flemke and the #10 Gary Teto team. They qualified well together and started the race on the outside of the front row. Flemke even led laps early on. The veteran driver correctly sensed that the early laps would be ugly and tried to be conservative, but even that didn’t keep him from getting caught up in a wreck not of his making.
COBY STRONG WITH CHASE #77
The Icebreaker wasn’t the first start for Doug Coby with the #77 Curt Chase-owned team. They raced together at the Thompson World Series and in the North vs. South Shootout last fall. But it was the start of their first season together. It was a strong day for the pairing. Coby ran towards the front all day and finished in the ninth position.
Ever the racer though, Coby knows that things could have been just a bit better.
“We were good enough to hold our own, but it seemed that a few other guys were a little better off the corners,” said Coby. “All in all, it was a decent day. The car is in one piece. We didn’t have our best weekend, but it was a start. The best is yet to come.”
“Should’ve, could’ve, would’ve,” said Hirschman. “The car was awesome. When I took the lead there, Teddy couldn’t do nothing with me. I just drove away from him and was just riding. Then he pitted and the #50 [Hossfeld] was behind us and we drove away from him. This car was just perfect, but it just gave out with about 20 to go and I had to back it down. We were still a top five car until the green-white-checker came out.”
Hirschman blames the worn tires for having a partial role in his getting spun out on the final lap.
“You know, you are sort of helpless when you have no tire left in the back and no bite,” said Hirschman.
Hirschman got bit by his tires late in the race,
KOPEC HAS AWESOME RETURN TO MODIFIEDS
There were a few feel-good stories after the race. Zach Sylvester’s near win was one storyline that thrilled the fans. Another one was the fine run to a sixth-place finish by Chris Kopec. The finish came after Kopec sat out for the 2004 season to let Mike Stefanik into his #16 car.
“After taking a year off and coming back, that was a good run,” said Kopec. “The guys believed in me again and gave me a real good racecar. We knew that we had something good in practice yesterday. I don’t qualify well. I’d like to, but I don’t. So we started 28th and got caught up in that first mess down there. That dropped us to last, but we came back. We got up as far as we could go, it was cool,”
Kopec credited the help of the voice in his ear during the race to help him avoid trouble and get the best result possible during the wreck-filled 150 lap event.
“We dodged a lot of bullets out there,” said Kopec. “ We had a really good spotter today – Mike O’Sullivan. He races a Pro Stock and spots for us here and Stafford. He kept us out of so much trouble. He is up on his game when it comes to that..”
STEFANIK RACES AGAINST OLD RIDE
It must have been a surreal experience for both drivers when Kopec raced wheel to wheel with the previous driver of his #16, Mike Stefanik, in the late stages of the race. Stefanik got the best of the battle and finished fourth, which might have even helped Kopec.
WORN RUBBER KO’s HIRSCHMAN’S TIME UP FRONT
Tony Hirschman looked like a threat for the lead until the last few laps. That is went the tires went away on his #48 car. He dropped back to the bottom have of the top ten before getting spun around on the last lap and finishing 11th.
The #16 of Kopec and Stefanik's #00 do battle.
Tyler Haydt made his NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour debut at Thompson in the seat of the #28 Don King-owned car. The day was nothing short of spectacular for the Pennsylvania teenager. He was able to make up a lap after early race problems and ended up getting up to an eighth-place finish at the end.
“We wanted to make a strong entrance and we ended up pretty good,” said Haydt. “We are thrilled. This is a great start to the year for us.”
There was plenty of action around Haydt throughout the day.
Mike Christopher (#79) runs under his brother Teddy's #13.
MOD DRIVERS TO GET VIDEO GAME
In the driver’s meeting, NASCAR’s Don Hawk told drivers that actual Whelen Modified Tour drivers and their cars would be featured in the upcoming EA Sports video game, NASCAR 2006, that will be in stores well before the Christmas holiday.
“It was a good first day,” said Flemke. “We had a top five car today. We didn’t quite have a car to win I think, unless we got it better during a pit stop. We were a little tight purposely, because we were in a conservative mode. What got me into trouble on that wreck was that I was being too conservative. I kept taking it and taking it and backing up and I probably should have just given it back to everybody. I probably would have been in front of the wreck instead of in the middle of it. But that’s not who I am or who I want to be.”
Flemke ended up finishing 23rd after sitting in the infield
for repairs for many laps in the middle of the race. He finished second in Modified Tour points last season and is not down about a bad finish at Thompson.
“It’s a long year, but maybe this is our bad week,” said Flemke. “Maybe it is our mulligan. Hopefully, we got this out of our way.”
Regardless of the finish, Flemke was thrilled though with the performance of his new team.
“They did a good job, Most of guys came with me,” said Flemke. “The core of the old team is still here except for three guys. So I knew it was going to blend. Gary and his guys are all nice guys and were very accommodating and generous. It worked out good. I knew that we would be off a step, but that’s about it.”
KOPEC AND HIRSCHMAN TANGLE AT END OF RACE
On the final lap, Chris Kopec and Tony Hirschman got together while racing for position. Hirschman got the worse of the deal, spinning into the infield and dropping to 11th as Kopec finished sixth. However, both drivers thought of the tangle as nothing more than a racing incident.
The 2005 version of the game featured Modifieds at tracks such as Martinsville and Nazareth, but used generic paint schemes and fictional drivers.
Donny Lia has played many video games in his time. He is an active participant in online racing leagues and loves the idea that he and his closest competitors will be included in a game.
“That’s cool,” said Lia. “It’s going to be fun to play a game that has my name and car in it. It’s going to be
weird to know that the whole nation can buy a game can buy something that I’m in along with all these guys.”
Lia also sees another hidden benefit to the game.
“I can go on there and crash into them and take out all my frustrations from the race before without tearing up any equipment,” said Lia.
IT JUST WASN’T THEIR DAY
Mike Christopher debuted with the #79 Hillbilly Racing team at Thompson. They were luckless during the 150 lap race with all kinds of problems keeping them to a finish of 24th.
Sylvester keeps his #15 in the tire tracks of champions Tony Hirschman (#48) and Mike Steafnik (#00). The young driver would beat both at the end of the race.
It was an all Bouchard front row.
Coming soon to a video game near you?
After the redraw, the front row for the race was heavy on the Bouchard influence. His brother, Ken, started the race on the pole while the outside front row starter was Eddie Flemke, his brother-in-law and driver of the Ron Bouchard Auto Stores #10 car.
Bouchard made it to the NASCAR Cup Series and drove Jack Beebe’s Race Hill Farms car to victory at Talladega in 1981 in only his 11th start. Bouchard retired from driving in 1987 to go into the automotive business. Nearly two decades later, his decisions seems to have paid off as he currently owns a chain of Honda, Acura, Mitsubishi,
Before that, Lia had already run two races at Thompson over the weekend. He was entered in twin features for the SK Modified division driving the #47 Wisk car. On Saturday, Lia finished seventh and on Sunday, he was battling for second place when he got involved in a spin and dropped to the end of the lead pack with only five laps to go. Lia moved up to finish eighth at the end of the race. He enjoyed racing the SK and learned a lot prior to starting a full season of racing the car at Stafford Motor Speedway.
“Kenny Barry decided to dump me,” said Christopher. “We must have caught a rock up in there and it took the crank trigger out. It’s a wheel that spins on the front of the motor that fires it and it took a chunk of that out. It shut right off.”
Eventually, Christopher retired on lap 122 with transmission troubles.
Still, Christopher was all smiles after the race because of the potential of his new deal.
“We are having a lot of fun,” said Christopher. “We’ll be good at Stafford.”
LUCKY DOG GETS ADOPTED BY MOD TOUR
The Icebreaker was the first NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race that used the “Lucky Dog” rule already in place for NASCAR’s top divisions. The rule allows the first car one lap down to make up a lap under a caution flag.
The rule was announced in Sunday’s drivers meeting and will not be in place for any restart with less than ten laps to go.
BOUCHARD LOCKS DOWN FRONT ROW
Modified legend Ron Bouchard hasn’t driven a race in years, but at the Icebreaker, he had his hands all over the event.
“We were overheating, but it never threw any water out,” said Christopher. “But I was concerned. I watch the gauges and I know how much these motors cost. We started checking, pulling panels off. Then we were just too loose. But we finally got going and we were pretty darn good there. It was still running warm, but it was OK.”
And the handling was a little lacking with the new Modified Tour tires this year.
“The tires are a little bit different, so we are searching on that,” said Christopher. “We needed some forward bite.”
And that wasn’t all.
Chir Kopec got into the Tony Hirschman on the final lap in a racing incident.
“It’s just like I figured it would be,” said Lia. “Those are tough 25- and 30-lap races. You’ve got to race everybody hard and not give an inch. It’s a lot of fun. It’s good racing, sometimes a little bit dirty, but I like it a lot.”
Lia was quick to praise the Wisk team.
“They did a great job, the car drove nice and it was fast.” said Lia. ““We got together, worked well and got to know each other. It was definitely good right off the bat. They had the car really figured out, I just needed to adjust it a little bit for my own personal preferences. But they already had it going good.”
Pulling double-duty at the track took some getting used to though as a driver.
“It’s harder than I thought it would be running two cars,” said Lia. “Everything went pretty well this weekend. We didn’t have any major problems. Hopefully at Stafford it goes even better now.”
There was one time in particular when Lia wishes that he could have been in two places at the same time.
‘We had a little problem going over the scales with NASCAR,” said Lia. “They needed me in the car to get the weight and I didn’t even think to go and take care of that. I was racing the SK when they did that and I should have got on top of that before. I was running around like a chicken with no head, so I apologize to everyone for that. But now that we’ve done it, I’ve got a better grasp on it now.”
But Lia knows that he can juggle the two schedules with little difficulty because of the teams that he is with.
“I have two really good teams and that makes it possible,” said Lia.
Lia will have next weekend off in both cars and will return to action on April 23rd and 24th at Stafford Motor Speedway with both the #18 LMI Modified Tour entry and the #47 Wisk SK Modified.
Donny Lia had fun in his #47 SK, uh Sunoco, Modified at Thompson.
Tyler Haydt pits his #28.
Flemke slides through the infield after Nevin George and his #0 car.