“I was seven laps down at the end and running the same lap times as the leaders.  We were definitely trucking at the end and had a car that could have finished in the top five today.  It’s disappointing.”

Coby ended up finishing 16th.

GOOD START TO HIRSCHY’S TITLE DEFENSE

Tony Hirschman wasn’t thrilled about finishing fifth.  He wants to win poles and races.  But solid finishes are the key to winning championships and since Hirschman is the two-time defending titlist on the Modified Tour, he is able to look at the big picture.
THOMPSON ICEBREAKER MODIFIED TOUR LEFTOVERS by Mike Twist
Coby, Civali, Hossfeld, Szegedy, McKennedy, Blewett, a few Hirschmans and Many Others
COBY ALMOST OVERCOMES A TOUGH DAY

The Icebreaker ended up being an impound race where teams were not allowed to do any work to their cars between qualifying and the race without having to start in the rear.  That meant that most teams got to enjoy a little bit of down time in the few hours before the feature started.

That sent Coby to the rear of the field with an unproven driveline.  But that didn’t hold him back.  The yellow #77 steadily moved up through the field in the early and middle stages of the race.

“We started last and worked our way to the top five,” said Coby.  “We got messed up on our pit strategy.  We wanted to pit when Hossfeld did, but NASCAR, and I don’t like to criticize them, definitely didn’t have their act together when it came to communicating when the pits were open.  All these guys pulled down and passed us when the pits should have been closed based on what they told our spotters.  We stayed out instead of losing all those spots by pitting the next lap.  We stayed out and passed a bunch of guys.”


That wasn’t true of Doug Coby’s #77 Curt Chase-owned team.

“It was definitely a long day,” said Coby.  “We went out for the scuff session and were really fast.  I thought that we had a shot at the pole.  I scrubbed the tires and got the tires really warm.  When I got on the gas, the clutch was slipping.  We ended up being the last car in on time out of 47 even with a slipping clutch.  That wasn’t bad.

“In between qualifying and the race, which was probably a two hour period, these guys went to work and ripped the clutch out and put a new one in.” 
But without racing luck, a happy ending to the #77 team’s story could not be had.  Coby was one of over 10 cars involved in a pileup off turn four on lap-99.  In fact, it was literally a pile-up for Coby as he ended up on top of a pair of cars and had to back up, and off, to get all four of his wheels back on the track.

“After we were in that wreck and up on my side, we pitted and the only thing that kept me from staying out on the racetrack was a tiny, tiny pinhole leak in the lower radiator hose,” said Coby.  “There was nothing bent on the suspension, no flat tire and not even a bent rim.  We were up in the air on top of the #15 car, but nobody hit me too hard.  So I backed off him and drove it back.  I would have liked to have seen at the end what would’ve happened if the hose hadn’t broke.
Tony Hirschman.  (51 Photo)
The #77 team works on their clutch problems before The Icebreaker.  (51 Photo)
Look closely and you'll see Coby's yellow #77 on top of a few other Modifieds.  (Howie Hodge Photo)
Hirschman.  “The guys with fresher tires came up and put a charge on.  All of the red flags and the cautions helped them.  It worked in their favor.

“I think that if we would have gotten a long stretch of green, we would have been okay.  But when they had that massive wreck there, a lot of guys drove on through and didn’t have to pass their way to the front.  It made it easier for them.”

ONE SPOT SHOT OF A GREAT GIFT

Chuck Hossfeld’s new car owner, Roger Hill, celebrated his birthday on the same day as The Icebreaker.  Hossfeld finished second in the race by just a few inches and just came shy of giving the long-time car owner, and former Southern Modified driver, the ultimate birthday gift – a new trophy.

“It’s Roger’s birthday,” said Hossfeld.  “I guess that he’s 42 or something.  I don’t know how old that he is.  We were joking about it.  I wanted to win for his birthday, but we were a little short.  But, I did the best that I could.”

PRACTICE DAY NOT WITHOUT ITS PROBLEMS

Saturday was an odd day at Thompson.  The schedule called for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour teams to practice and qualify, but rain, sleet and snow nixed that plan.  Track workers were able to clear the track late in the day for a practice session, but the cold temperatures turned that into a wreckfest.
“We’ll take a fifth,” said Hirschman.  “It’s better than last year.  We ended up 13th or something last year.”

Hirschman stayed out when most of the leaders pitted for tires on lap 78.  If the race been a little bit cleaner and greener at the end, he might have been able to nurse his old rubber right to victory lane.  After all, he’s the master of getting the most miles out of a set of Hoosiers.  But the race didn’t exactly play out like it needed to for Hirschman to win.

“We thought that we had a shot at a win there for awhile, but the car just sort of went away on us,” said
Todd Szegedy  (51 Photo)
Tom Bolles wrecked his #76 hard after getting sideways off turn four and hitting the inside retaining wall.  He was okay, but his car was likely destroyed.

The next incident came when Renee Dupuis and Matt Hirschman wrecked together in turn one. 

“It was the first warm-up and I had several car lengths between the car in front of me and behind me,” said Hirschman.  “I’m going to guess that Renee got in a little too hot on cold tires.  I saw her lock them up and she went up into the wall. 

"When I got on the brakes, my brakes locked up and that caused my car to slide up further than I wanted to and she was right there.  We made contact with her car, not the wall.  Cold tires probably caused her to hit the wall and caused me not to have enough control to avoid her.”

Both teams were able to repair their cars in time for Sunday’s feature.

“It just made a lot of extra work,” said Hirschman.  “There are a lot of bent up parts.  But there is nothing that set us back so far that we weren’t back where we started.” 
But a storybook ending was not to be had, Pasteryak came a little bit short in qualifying and was one of nine drivers who did not make the starting field.

HEALTHY ENTRY LIST LEADS TO DNQs

Joining Pasteryak, and Tom Bolles [who withdrew his wrecked car on Saturday] as drivers who did not make the starting field for the Icebreaker were Chris’ uncle Carl Pasteryak, Joseph Mongeau, Ken Heagy, Tommy Cloce, Joe Hartmann, Jake Marosz and Dennis Charrette.

SZEGEDY’S BACK

It was good to see 2003 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion Todd Szegedy back in the saddle at Thompson.  Szegedy hoped to turn a limited schedule Busch Series ride with Joe Nemechek into something more permanent and moved to North Carolina last year.  Szegedy did work for Robert Yates Racing building shocks and even tested an RYR car, but found driving opportunities few and far between down south.
After assessing the damage, the #5 team loaded their car up on Saturday night and planned to withdraw from the event and plan for the next race.

“It needs a front clip, so we’ll fix it for Stafford and try it there,” said Pasteryak on Saturday evening.

But wait…there’s more.

On Sunday morning, the Pasteryak hauled rolled back into the pit area.  A late night by the team put their #5 back together and Chris was ready to try and get into the race after all. 
#5 TEAM GETS AN A+ FOR EFFORT

Also wrecking in the Saturday practice session was Chris Pasteryak, who takes over the familiar blue #5 that his father Charlie had driven for years.  The personable driver took the blame for hitting the wall late in the day.

“That was driver error,” said Pasteryak.  “I screwed up.  I went into the corner a little too hard and too high and hit the fence.”
Tom Bolles' #76 was finished after practice.  (Top).  Matt Hirschman's #59 team managed to get their  car fixed for the race.  (51 Photos)
Chris Pasteryak smiles and his car is straight before practice.  Both things would change later on.  (51)
Szegedy has moved back to New England and joined forces with the #2 team started by Michael Smeriglio. 

It might be a new team, but it was like going home for Szegedy.  The #2 team features Szegedy’s former crew chief from his title season, Phil Moran.  The equipment is mostly made up of cars that were bought from Szegedy’s former car owner, Don Barker.

Szegedy was happy to be back and is very optimistic about his chances in 2006.

“Things are going real well,” said Szegedy.  “There are some bugs to work out, but the car is good and everyone is really excited.  It’s the same team that Chuck
[Hossfeld] had last year and basically the same team that I won the championship with.  I think that we’ll be a top five team everywhere we go.  If we are contenders, that should get us a win.

“If I can race full-time in anything, that’s a good thing.  It’s not fun to sit on the sidelines like I did last year.  I learned a lot, but I’m glad to be back home.”

ARUTE REMEMBERED BEFORE THE RACE

The flags at Thompson International Speedway were at half-staff and there was a moment of silence before the feature in honor of Jack Arute, Sr., the owner of nearby Stafford Motor Speedway who passed away recently.

ARUTE REMEMBERED IN THE PIT

Many drivers also had Arute on their minds at Thompson.  One of those racers was Doug Coby, who furthered his own career at Stafford and looked up to Arute as a mentor and friend.
“He always had good things to say,” said Coby.  “He put me in line when I needed to get in line and I told me that I did well when I did well.  It was always nice to know that he was on my side.  When he wasn’t on your side, that wasn’t a good place to be.

“He set the bar high for short tracks in America.  By creating the SK division, he allowed a lot of people to compete at the Modified level.  When I was 16 years old, my father said that we were going to Stafford to run a Late Model and I really didn’t know what racing there meant.  When I started moving up and winning races and championships there, I saw what it meant to accomplish that there.”
Coby has one final memory of Arute that he holds close to his heart.

“I think that one thing that every driver at Stafford will remember is that he would give us a thumbs up and wave to us during the pace laps of the feature,” said Coby.  “I think that he did it for every division.  The SKs were his favorite division and you could tell by the look on his face because it was just a little bit different than when he was out there for the other divisions.

“The last time that I raced there, I was starting in the back running Teddy’s [Christopher] car.  I was about 10 car lengths behind the rest of the field at the start and he must have thought that I was crazy for being so far behind, but he still gave me a thumbs up.  I swerved the car at him and he smiled and waved at me like saying ‘get the hell out of here’. 

SESLEY HAS UP AND DOWN WEEKEND

Rookie Anthony Sesley had a mixed weekend at Thompson.  He practice well, was nervous about qualifying, time trialed 11th, ran strong in the race and then got caught in a crash.
All in all, it was a productive weekend for the young driver though.
 
“We had a bunch of new stuff that we did over the winter that we wanted to try in practice,” said Sesley.  “Some of the stuff worked, some didn’t, but I was really comfortable…super comfortable in the car.  Once I got going, I felt like I never even sat out for the winter.”

Sesley also felt very comfortable in the race, that was until he got caught in the big wreck on lap-99.

“The car ran good, the engine was good and it’s a shame that we got caught in that wreck there,” said Sesley.  “I was stopped when we crashed.  It was just one of those
deals.  We were up to fourth at one point and it’s the most comfortable that I’ve felt in a long time.”

Sesley’s exact plans for the season are unclear at this point, but one thing is for certain – he’ll have a busy year.

“I’ll be happy to make the first three [Modified Tour] races of the year and take it from there,” said Sesley.  “Then we’ll see if we do the whole deal.  There are a select few crew members.  It’s tough because my sister is running a Modified full-time too, so my parents have a full summer of racing ahead of them.  On my off weeks, I’ll be helping her.”

GREGG SHIVERS MISSING AT THOMPSON

Last season, Gregg Shivers attempted to run the entire NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour schedule.  However, the personable Long Islander was not at Thompson with his yellow #23 car.  There’s no word on whether or not he will enter the Spring Sizzler at Stafford later this month.

IT’S JUST WASN’T HIS DAY

Zach Sylvester ran in the lead lap for most of the afternoon at Thompson, but like countless other drivers he was caught in the big wreck on lap 99.  That’s when Doug Coby actually ended up on top of Zach’s #15 car.
It wasn’t the way that Sylvester hoped to end his day – especially considering that he finished second in last year’s Icebreaker.

“We have a new crew chief, the guys gave me a good pit stop and things were going the way that they needed to go,” said Sylvester.  “I was just trying to work my way back to the front and ride for a little while in some good company.  I just didn’t make it there.”
Sylvester saw the big wreck unfold in front of him, but he could do nothing to avoid getting in the middle of it.

“The guys in front of me got collected and I had no where to go,” said Sylvester.  “I hit the wall and then got run over.  It added insult to injury.”

McKENNEDY DOESN’T NEED POWER STEERING FOR GOOD FINISH

Jon McKennedy collected his first career NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour top 10 finish at The Icebreaker, but it came under less than ideal circumstances.

“Around lap 30, I lost the power steering and it was tough to hang on,” said McKennedy.  “At first it wasn’t too bad, but the first 40 laps I was really feeling it.  I made it tough to pass cars.  That was the biggest thing that screwed us up.  We had a few miscommunications where I went in the pits when I shouldn’t have a few times, that cost us a few spots, but overall it was a good day for our first race.”

McKennedy’s plans for 2006 are very similar to those of several rookies on the Tour this season.

“We’re going to run the first few races and see where we’re at and go from there.”
CHRISTOPHER AND BEAR PUT FIRST RACE IN THE BOOKS

A loose wheel on a pit stop kept Mike Christopher from
the type of finish that he was hoping for in his debut race
with Bear Motorsports.  Christopher drove the #14 car to
a 14th place finish.

“We lost like five laps in that pit stop,:” said Christopher.
  “One of our tires were loose.  But what are you going
to do?  We ran pretty well.  We had some little issues,
but we’ll work on it.”

CIVALI IS TOP ROOKIE AT THOMPSON

James Civali was the best finishing rookie at Thompson.  The new driver of Don King’s #28 ran like a veteran all race and finished sixth to start off the 2006 season.

The race exceeded the expectations of Civali and the team.
“It was actually better than expected,” said Civali.  “We were looking to just qualify for the race and then we just wanted to finish the race.  The car got better and better at the end.  We kept on adjusting it and that brought us to the front.

“All that we were trying to do was to stay out of trouble.  It’s a long race and towards the beginning, we were just trying to hang on back.  I didn’t push the issue and if I saw something happening, I’d lift earlier and not try to go in and pass cars.  I took it easy.”
COBY AND BLEWETT DON’T PLAY NICE, BUT MAKE UP LATER

Doug Coby and Jimmy Blewett got together on lap 93, with going for a spin as a result.  After the race, both drivers discussed the incident and settled their differences before it got out of hand.
“I got into the #12 when he was a couple of laps down,” said Coby.  “I didn’t mean to and we’ve spoken about it.  I know Jimmy’s not happy with me, but he was four laps down and I was trying to get to the front.  I totally didn’t mean to get him, but I did clip him going into turn three.  It was my fault.”

“No hard feelings,” said Blewett.  “He got into me and he’s gotten into me in the past.  I just wanted to address the situation before it escalated to the track.  It’s easier to settle things in the pits than to wreck expensive racecars.”

Blewett had a strong car in the race, but was mired laps down because of a mechanical problem.

“We had a driveshaft break early on,” said Blewett.  “We had a car that could have contended for the win, but when that broke we went 18 laps down and basically used to rest of the day as a practice session.”

Blewett ended up finishing 20th.
GAS HOG COSTS LIA A GOOD FINISH

For awhile, it looked like the sun was shining brightly on Donny Lia during The Icebreaker Lia led 25 laps and looked to be on track for a strong finish, possibly even a victory, in the annual event.

But then, Lia’s luck began to chill after a scheduled pit stop to take on tires. 
As Lia was advancing through the pack along with several of the other top guns who pitted, he was one of over a dozen drivers to get caught in a big wreck off turn four.  The rear of Lia’s #18 car was damaged, but he kept trucking to the finish line – until he ran out of fuel with only six laps remaining.  Lia ended up with a 15th-place finish.

“We had a good car and I’m really, really proud of these guys,” said Lia.  “I don’t blame them one bit for missing on the fuel, because I never saw it coming myself.  I never thought about it.  We’ve just got a gas guzzler.  I’ve got a great motor, but it’s a guzzler.  We weren’t on top of how much gas it was using and that cost us.”
Rather than be disheartened after the race, Lia looked ahead to what he expects to be a strong season with his LMI Modified team.

“I’ve got a good team and we’ve got some good cars,” said Lia.  “I’m really excited about what’s ahead of us for this year.”


Doug Coby  (51 Photo)
Anthony Sesley helps to fuel his car.   (51 Photo)
Zach Sylvester limps his battered #15 back to the pits.   (51 Photo)
The Bear Motorsports #14 car.   (51 Photo)
James Civali (#28) races with Ted Christopher (#13) at Thompson.  (Jim DuPont Photo)
Jimmy Blewett goes for a ride after a tap from Doug Coby.  (Top - Howie Hodge Photo, Bottom - Jamie Williams Photo)
Donny Lia's team practices their pit stops.  (51)