Who’s Out of the Title Chase? Plus, Junior Miller, Brown, Fleming, Smith, Hutchens & More
FOLEY & CRAMMER HAVE QUITE A DUEL
It was no surprise that Jay Foley, the 2001 Southern Modified Tour champ, was up front once again at Caraway Speedway. He led from the get-go on Saturday, but after winner Burt Myers got around him, his #57 machine began to fade.
He held onto second, for the second race in a row, but not before a heated battle with Brian Crammer, who is making the haul from New Jersey to compete in all the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified shows this year. Crammer had the faster car at that point in the race, but Foley kept the Jersey speedster in his rear-view mirror.
“He slammed the door a couple times,” admitted Crammer, who is eighth in points after two races. “You ain’t going to make no friends wrecking nobody and we still got a long season. We’ll just sit here run third and be happy about it.”
“I was doing all I could do just to hang on at the end,” said Foley, who is the SMT point leader. “I slipped up off of two there and gave him a chance to run up on the outside. I just kept on fighting that bottom as hard as I could go because I knew that outside was pretty slick. It was a heck of a race; I’m just glad he didn’t take us out. I appreciate him driving us clean.”
But don’t think the thought didn’t cross the mind of the 20-year-old.
“Yeah it did, but I’m from the North and I’m young and they don’t like neither of them so what are you going to do. Plus, I’m running race by race with money here so I can’t afford tearing him up this week and then next week him tearing me up. If that happens my season is all over with.”
CRAMMER MAKES TREK WITH JUST TWO GUYS
Brian Crammer showed a lot of poise and patience in the 150-lap event. He’s a kid with a lot of heart and a love for the Modifieds. This year he will make the 600-plus mile trek from Jersey to compete in all the Southern Modified Tour shows and this past week he did it with just two crewmembers, who are as dedicated to the craft as much as he is.’
“I got my two best friends, Mike Bohn (NJ Mod driver Eddie Bohn’s son) and Chris Jadacki and my dad who really can’t do anything because he’s got a really bad back,” said Crammer. “I can’t thank them enough for helping me. Everybody in Jersey guided us too, from the Blewetts to the Tomainos and we came down here and showed them what we can do.”
Crammer, who keeps his car in Jamie Tomaino’s (’89 Northern Modified Tour champ) shop, started fifth, fell back to as deep as eighth and then slowly picked them off throughout the race.
“All those guys want to go all out the first couple laps so I just sat and rode for a while,” explained Crammer. “I let them pass me and they came right back to me. I think I was good enough for second, but that’s the way everything plays out.
“We were either going to be on the wrecker or in the top-three, so we made out pretty good by finishing in the top-three.”
LOFTIN DOESN’T MAKE IT TO THE GREEN AGAIN
Brian Loftin has the talent and the best equipment money can buy. One thing he doesn’t have right now is luck. For the second-straight race, Loftin didn’t take the green with the rest of the field. In fact, it appeared that the same gremlins that bit his #23 machine last time did him in again this time.
“It worked fine all day, through practice and qualifying, and then we get to warm-up laps for the race and it was dead,” stated Loftin. “I said to myself, ‘This can’t be happening again!’ I was pretty mad. I think I have a little knot of my hand here to prove it. I ain’t sure what I hit (in the cockpit); I just know I hit a bunch in there.”
After losing many laps with his crew under the hood of the car, the team finally figured out their snafu.
“We thought it was the distributor and tonight we finally found it the hard way,” said Loftin with a shrug of his shoulders. “It looks like it was a coil wire. Evidently there was a little short there and that was our problem.”
Brian Crammer's #89 at Caraway. (51 Photos)
Loftin did get out on the track, and while he was more than 100-laps down, he did get some valuable track time and finished 17th. The only problem, it made him realize just how good his chances were if the problem didn’t occur.
“We put on the old tires we practiced on today and went back out there to practice a little. We had a really good racecar. I think we really had something for them. I’m tired of saying it; I’d like to show it and we will one of these days.”
TIM BROWN IS BACK
Longtime Southern Modified competitor made his return to the open-wheeled wars after missing the first race due to his beautiful #83 Mod not being ready.
Crammer's crew at Caraway. (51 Photos)
“We were waiting on some parts,” admitted Brown, who attempted to compete with Rupert Sink’s back-up car until it sprung an oil leak in practice. “With the NASCAR deal, we had to change some stuff around on our cars that we had already bought stuff for and all of a sudden there was a shortage of parts that you needed. We just got caught by it.”
Brown didn’t have the 2005 debut he was hoping for. He qualified 10th, but almost immediately things went sour in the race.
“I was going to come in and park it. I wasn’t going to take a chance of wrecking it or making myself look bad,” admitted Brown, who ended up 12th. “We started passing cars early and I didn’t know it, but the right rear tire leaked down to eight pounds of air and the car got really, really loose. After we pitted, the car was real good again so hopefully we can come back and have some better luck next week.”
ARE BROWN, LOFTIN & HEDGECOCK OUT OF THE TITLE CHASE?
Two races in and it appears as though a few favorites for the inaugural NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour championship already have a tough row to hoe.
As we mentioned, Brown missed the first show; Jay Hedgecock had a mechanical bug bite him while running up front in both races and Loftin hasn’t even seen a green flag out his windshield yet. However, none of them are giving up the battle just yet.
“If I don’t have good luck next week, it will probably put me out of the points deal. It’s a shame,” said 13th place point man Hedgecock. “I wanted to run all the races this year and go for the points because this is a NASCAR deal and they are really promoting this series. You guys at Speed51.com have come on board and together we are getting more publicity than we ever have down here. We have a lot of fans coming out and we still have real good racing, it’s just that people know about it now.”
Young gun Brian Loftin sits even worse, 18th in the standings after two shows, but this is something he has become accustomed to.
“Basically this is just like last year,” explained Loftin. “I had two bad races at the beginning of last year. Now it’s don’t worry about points, just go out and win races and points will take care of themselves. If I win enough races, I’ll be back in it.”
And then there’s Brown who, despite missing the first race, is actually higher in points than Loftin.
“After tonight and after missing the first one, we’re just going to come and try to win a couple races now,” said Brown, who is 15th in the tally. “You take the good with the bad. It’s still fun, if it wasn’t we wouldn’t be doing this.”
JUNIOR MILLER TOUGHS IT OUT
Junior Miller knows a thing or two about running for a championship; he’s won seven of them. Race number two on the SMT was one he’d probably rather forget, despite the fact that he still finished sixth.
“We went from 12th to fourth in like 12 laps so the car was pretty good early on,” explained the Advance Auto Parts driver. “Then I was just going to ride there and save my tires until the end because there was still a long way to go. But after like 40-laps the car just gave out.
“We came in like three times, but it didn’t help. The car just went away and I think it was we had some bad tires. Northing really helped so I think we had two bad rear tires.
“We came up to sixth and that was ok, but the second-place guy was holding us (a pack of cars) up a bunch. We could have done a little better than that.”
Junior Miller has won 7-Southern Mod title but even he was puzzled Saturday night at Caraway.
HUTCHENS HITS A HOMER… WITH JEFF BURTON’S HELP
It’s been a while since Bobby Hutchens has run like he did the other night at Caraway. Then again, as he admitted to us after the first show, it had been nearly a year since he was on a track as big as the half-mile nestled in the Northern part of the hills in the North Carolina.
Saturday night, Hutchens, who is among the top brass at Richard Childress Racing by day, finished fifth.
“We had a little brake problem and I couldn’t keep the balance of the car like I wanted. We had a good run, a top-five, and I’m just about to get used to driving again. From that perspective we are pretty happy. We’re gaining on it.
“I tried to charge to corner a little more without the brakes I needed and I kept pitching the car and I started losing time. At the end I started getting out of the gas and started letting it roll and I caught back up. I just ran out of laps.”
For Hutchens it was an especially good night due to the facts that his dad, who is battling cancer, was on hand and his #14 Modified also had a new sponsor.
“Jeff Burton and I had a little conversation a week ago about a tire sponsor and he said he knew a real good company to sponsor me, but I didn’t realize until I got the decals that it was Jeff Burton’s fan club. I appreciate what he’s done for me.”
CLIFTON FOURTH IN RACE & FOURTH IN POINTS
Michael Clifton, who owns a Plumbing company in North Carolina, says he’ll run the Tour as long as he’s got the money to do it. Well, so far, so good for the man who won the 2004 opener for the SMART series.
“I think we had a whole lot better car than what I was showing,” said fourth-place finisher Clifton. “I just hate we didn’t finish any better. It seemed like I couldn’t get around anybody. Every time I tried to get up under them the back came out or if I went up high I would scoot up the track with as much speedy-dry that was up there.
“When you finish a race, you’re happy. It’s a whole lot better than bringing it home tore up. I’m just looking forward to coming back now because we are gaining on it.”
TIRE BITES FLEMING TOO
Early on it looked as though Frank Fleming may be standing tall in victory lane as the winner of only the second-ever Whelen Southern Modified Tour race. He was running second and pressuring Foley for the top-spot. But as they said on the movie Days of Thunder, “Tires, son, is what wins races,” and Fleming did have some tire trouble.
Check out the new sponsor on Hutchens machine; it's JR for Jeff Burton Fan Club. (51 Photos)
“As the race went on I knew I was hurting my right rear a little bit, but I was trying not to punish it. I was babying it,” said Fleming. “After that red flag (due to oil on the track), my car was pushing going in and loose getting off. I knew it (the tire) was getting ready to go so I had to come in. Our wheel had a real slow leak in it. When I came off the track, it had seven pounds in it.”
Fleming lost a couple laps in the pits changing the tire, but still wound up ninth.
“Everybody has an excuse and I ain’t saying I had the winning car because Burt was pretty good, but I had a
Fleming gets ready for the race. (51 Photos)
car that could have run for the win. It was just a freak thing. That’s just bad luck, but it could have been worse. I’m here to be competitive and that’s what we’re doing. If we keep that up, our wins will come.”
SMITH BIT BY FLU BUG
When we first saw John Smith during the autograph session just prior to the race, you knew something was not right. He just looked a little pale and that southern smile wasn’t on his face.
“I had the flu,” said Smith just before climbing in his Modified.
As if having the flu wasn’t trouble enough, Smith’s normally fast #25 Modified was way off pace the entire distance of the event.
“That was the sorriest car I’ve ever had here,” he admitted. “It was like someone turned the switch off; my car just went bad. We had a right-rear tire that was checking like 80 (on the durometer) and the rest of them were checking like 40 so it was an uphill battle all night long.
“We came in and lowered the track bar three or four rounds and put air in the left-rear tire and put a rubber in there too and it still didn’t help. After all that, seventh isn’t too bad.”
Smith, who works in the Wood Brothers Nextel Cup shop during the week, was fortunate to be able to race Saturday.
“I left work yesterday and went to the doctors and they told me I had the flu,” said Smith, who finished seventh for the second consecutive race on the Tour. “If I was to race yesterday, I couldn’t so I wreckon I’m just lucky I got to race anyways. I just guess we’ll count our blessings and go on to race next week.”
JASON MYERS ENGINE BITES THE DUST
Jason Myers told us after the first race that he shut off his #4 Mod as soon as the oil light came on. He said he just couldn’t risk hurting the engine. He didn’t have that same luxury this time around.
“We never saw a light tonight,” said Myers. “I actually felt the motor tightening up a little bit going into the corner. I felt something, but I wasn’t sure what it was until I picked the throttle back up. Quicker than I could get her turned off, the light came on and it came out the bottom end.”
Saturday night, things looked bleak for Jason. His brother was in victory lane, but he did not know if he would be racing the next week because that was his only engine. Fortunately, brother Burt’s car owner Phillip Smith is coming to the rescue.
“He didn’t want to see me sit out so he’s letting me borrow a motor,” Jason told us on Wednesday. “We’ve kept his cars up since ’95 or ’96 and he’s been real good to my brother and I. As much as I hate to run somebody else’s motor, I appreciate the help that he is giving us.”
TRIUMPH TO TRIBULATION FOR HOAG
“It’s just unbelievable the highs and lows of this sport. Last time we were on cloud-9, euphoria, and this week we are just kicking the dog. It sucks.”
Those were the words of Alex Hoag, grandson of famous Mod racer Dutch, as he pondered how he would get to the next event after blowing his engine in race number-2.
Hoag again was turning in an impressive performance. He finished sixth in the opener and looked to at least match that this time around.
“It was too early to be running hard and we got spun (he and Michael Clifton made contact) and then two laps later we broke a lifter,” said Hoag. “It’s really disappointing; I wasn’t pushing. I still had plenty left for the end. I was right there with Brian (Crammer) and he wound up third.”
And while at first things appeared bleak for Hoag, 51 learned Wednesday that sometimes appearances can be deceiving.
Brian Loftin's immaculate #23. (51 Photos)
Hedgecock has run well, with no luck. (51 Photos)
Jason Myers all strapped in. (51 Photos)
Alex Hoag happy to be racing again. (51 Photos)
“We got lucky,” said Hoag over the phone. “It was only a rocker (arm) so we are fixing it and we’ll be back this week. Performance Technology sent us a set of rockers; we are putting them in and I’m glad we’ll be racing again.”
We’re glad too.
THE PACKS HAVE A ROUGH GO OF IT
The father-and-son combination of Gene and Brian Pack have been around the southern Mod scene for sometime now, but neither can think of a more difficult time. Sure both of them have had their troubles in the past, but not at the same time.
Brian was the first to have trouble this time at Caraway; the #81 had mechanical issues from the onset of the day.
“It’s been a pretty rough three weeks,” claimed the younger Pack. “Two weeks ago, we blew a motor and clutch; this week, we changed everything we could so we don’t know what the deal is.
“We changed the MSD, the coil, the distributor; we changed everything, so this week we are just going to have to rewire the car and see what happens. I think me and Loftin has the same luck right now.”
Father Gene Pack scored his second straight 11th-place finish, but not without his share of difficulties.
“Last time we lost in the rear-end with the grease; tonight we lost it in the front-end with the power steering,” explained Gene. “We ran the last 106 laps without the power steering and that’s kinda tough.”
So what do the Packs need to do to improve their luck?
“I don’t know,” said Gene. “This is stuff that usually doesn’t happen to us. Our guys work hard in the shop and we buy all the top-quality stuff, so this is a new experience for us. All I know is that we have to get rid of it.”
“It is frustrating, but my boys made it up to me,” said Brian. “My little one (Brandon) won a go-kart race last night and my older one (Austin) hit a homerun today, so it wasn’t too bad of a day. That kinda makes up for all of this.”
SMITH & WYATT WITH TOP-10s
Danny Wyatt was at the first show a couple weeks ago, but didn’t get to compete due to mechanical issues, but this time around he more than made up for it by capturing an eighth-place finish.
Corey Smith, on the other hand, went 40 laps in the first outing, but this time he went the entire distance for a tenth-place run.
“Second night out was better than the first. We’re getting used to these cars. We’ll spend the next race here getting familiarized with things and then, during this long break, we’ll get a chance to test a little. Just trying to get the car dialed in as well as the driver,” said Smith, who was running in only his second-ever Modified race.
ONE MORE BEFORE THE BIG BREAK
This Saturday night, Caraway Speedway will host race #3 on the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour. After this event, the series will take nearly a two-and-a-half month hiatus while the Modifieds begin their weekly series at Bowman Gray Stadium.
However, the event at Ace Speedway (Altamahaw, NC) was washed out a couple weeks ago and so far there is no word on when that race will be rescheduled.