After that incident, fans called Civali immature and labeled him as a villain. But his actions were anything but what a bad guy would do. The young man apologized for his actions. He took a step back from racing. He went through a phase of soul searching. Even after he served his penalty, he still stayed out of a racecar. Some questioned if he would ever come back.
Civali came back in 2006 though and what a difference a year can make.
CIVALI TURNS NEW ATTITUDE INTO MOD TOUR SUCCESS by Mike Twist
When the Going Got Tough, This Young Driver Made Some Changes
Last season was quite a roller coaster for James Civali.
The year got started when Civali locked horns with none other than Ted Christopher in the SK Modified class at Stafford Motor Speedway (CT). TC played the role of veteran roughneck and Civali was the young buck who wasn’t going to be intimidated. A mixture of the two competitors having a past history together to go along with a series of on-track and off-track incidents in a single afternoon left Civali with an indefinite suspension from weekly racing competition at the track.
Without a track to call home anymore, Civali made the step up to Tour racing. He entered both the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and Busch North Series ranks and was immediately fast. Civali qualified quick and raced even quicker. He went wheel to wheel with longtime winners like Andy Santerre and Jerry Marquis.
“I adapted well,” said Civali. “I see what is going on around me and how I need to drive. I see what you need to do to make it to the end and try and do that.”
But along the way, Civali also ruffled a few feathers with his aggressive style of driving.
Some of those feathers flew after Civali went fender-to-fender with Dave Dion in a Busch North race at Stafford. Things got heated, then crossed the line into dangerous, as the two played bumper tag with Civali eventually putting Dion into the fence – hard. Dion claimed later that Civali tried to kill him. NASCAR was not amused and sat Civali down with a suspension.
The Civali talent that was evident in 2005 is still there, but the brashness is all gone. Entering this weekend’s Tour race at Jennerstown, Civali sits third in the standings as the driver of Don King’s #28 car and while the two Tour races so far this year have been wild and crazy affairs where even veteran drivers like Mike Stefanik have been criticized for being too aggressive at times, Civali has looked like anything but a rookie. He’s been smart, calculating and nowhere near any of the trouble that his fellow competitors have seemed all too eager to get involved with.
Before getting hooked up with King’s #28 team, which has a history of developing young Modified drivers, Civali had his own doubts on whether he would race again.
“There was [some soul searching],” Civali said. “At the end of last year, I was wondering what I was going to do. Around November, I realized that the only way to do this and to do it right and not be stressed out would be to drive for someone. I just couldn’t be doing it all by myself with my Dad helping me out. I
Doug races with the #3 of Eric Beers last season. (Howie Hodge Photo)
Civali's #28 King Racing ride.
couldn’t work on it during the week and do my job at the track.
There was too much stress. I was burned out.”
Civali’s previous arrangement was one where perception did not match with reality. Because of his quick success at a young age and the trouble that seemed to follow him, many people assumed that Civali was handed things. Not so. This was one young man who worked his tail off to go racing – and that burned him out.
“When I worked on my own stuff, there was a lot of stress in worrying about everything that was going on. Now it’s different [racing with Don King]. He’s got some good guys working on the car and it’s easy on me. I try to go over to the shop. I haven’t been there in awhile, but I try to go there. But they have it all handled. There’s not really much that I can do.”
Civali and the #28 crew have clicked right away. They had no history together. They didn’t go to Florida Speedweeks or any Southern Modified Tour races to get used to each other. They just showed up for the season-opener at Thompson and immediately finished in the top 10.
“It’s going great,” said Civali. “I don’t know why or how, but it is. The communication is great. There are no problems and no stress. It’s a lot of fun to go racing.”
Having the season get rolling at two tracks where Civali has logged plenty of laps in weekly competition didn’t hurt either.
James Civali (51 Photo)
“Knowing Thompson and Stafford is a big help,” said Civali. “This car has been really good. The guys have been doing really well with it. It’s a front-running car, so we’re trying to get some good races in – good finishes from good starts.”
If it sounds like Civali has changed his attitude when it comes to driving, you’re correct and he’ll agree as well.
“[I’ve changed] a little bit,” said Civali. “I’m taking it easy. If you do that, the easier that you go the more
respect you will get. You just go out there and drive, but not set the world on fire, and it works out.”
Next up is to earn the respect of his fellow drivers, and that is a work already in progress.
“It’s coming,” said Civali. “It is going to be a slow, long process, but it’s coming.”
Civali also has plenty of other plans for the 2006 season. His family team will still run their Busch North (now Busch East) car and Civali sure wouldn’t turn down a ride at Stafford, now that he has been reinstated there.
“We’re looking forward to running the Busch East car a little bit,” said Civali. “We’ve still got my car and we’ll be at Loudon. We’ll do a couple of races in that. We might run Thompson, but it’s looking like Loudon really will be our first one.
“I’d love to get a ride in a SK. I don’t want to put my own cars back together, but I’d jump at a ride in one. I’d race everyday of the week if I could.”
Civali, and the other competitors on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, will compete this Saturday night at Jennerstown Speedway (PA).
Civali (#28) goes wheel to wheel with Ted Christopher at Thompson to start the season. (Jim DuPont Photo)