Normally, the cars that had pitted would have had the opportunity to come back through the pack and battle with Hossfeld and company for the lead. But since most of those machines got caught in a major wreck on lap 97, that didn’t happen for most of the would-be contenders.
So that left Hossfeld to hold off the charges of Stefanik, Ted Christopher, Reggie Ruggiero and Tony Hirschman late in the race.
STEFANIK SURVIVES TO WIN THE ICEBREAKER by Mike Twist
Mod Tour Opener a Crash-Filled Affair
The best way to sum up the story of the race for the season-opening NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour “Icebreaker” at Thompson International Speedway (CT) would be to take a look at the 11th-place finisher’s car. Ronnie Silk was one lap of the pace and one spot shy of the top 10 with a car that looked like it was ready for the crusher after getting caught in one of many wrecks during the day.
Stefanik doesn’t even know how he got to the end unscathed.
“It was a wild race, I’m not sure how we ended up winning it,” said Stefanik. “But we’ll take it. We certainly aren’t going to give it back.”
Things off to a bad start early when six cars got into a fracas in turns one and two.
Silk wasn’t alone. He joined Jerry Marquis, Eric Beers, Matt Hirschman, Renee Dupuis, Ron Yuhas, Jim Storace, Ken Barry, Anthony Sesley, Danny Sammons, Doug Coby, Zach Sylvester, Eric Berndt, Donny Lia, John Blewett, Kevin Goodale and a few other drivers as wreck victims during the 150-lap event. Two red flags and seven caution periods were the ending statistics to tell how rough of a race that is was.
It shouldn’t be much of a surprise then that you needed to be a seasoned veteran to finish well. The top five finishers had a combined 161 victories between them…well, actually make that 162 and counting thanks to Mike Stefanik’s win on Sunday.
On lap 47, another car hit the wall in the same place. But what this incident lacked in the number of cars involved, it more than made up for with its intensity and significance to the race. Jerry Marquis, who had led from the start, hit the wall with a stuck throttle in turn one and rode along the fence almost as far as the backstretch. A small fire erupted under his destroyed #4 car.
Observers were relived to see Marquis walk away from such a vicious wreck. He was done for the day. After the race, we caught up with Marquis who reported that he was very sore and planning to visit a doctor to have his ribs checked out.
Steve Whitt inherited the lead soon after the incident and Donny Lia took the top spot a few laps later. Another caution at lap 78 created the perfect opportunity for the leaders to make a mid-race pit stop. Lia gave up the top spot and Chuck Hossfeld was now the point man in the race.
“We pitted fairly early because we were struggling a little bit,” said Hossfeld. “That worked out pretty good. My crew chief David Hill made all of the right calls, so we came back up through pretty strong.
The "Big One" in terms of cars involved, came just before the 100-lap mark. (Howie Hodge Photos)
This is the car that finished 11th and it was one of the prettier looking machines after 150 laps! (Jamie Williams Photo)
Jerry Marquis dominated the race early, but then wrecked hard. (Mary Hodge Photos)
Jerry Marquis had a problem with a stuck throttle or something and a lot of good cars got wrecked. There’s a time to race and a time to ride.”
That got Stefanik to the finish, but it almost cost him the lead when he looked up in his mirror within a few laps of the checkered flag and found Hossfeld’s #79 right on his tail.
“I wish that I hadn’t been riding with two laps to go,” said Stefanik. “I guess that I should have stayed hammer down, but the car was getting tight and I didn’t want to give Chucky the bottom there.”
With less than 30 laps to go, Hossfeld yielded the top spot to Stefanik who was on fresher tires. Then Christopher got by. It looked like Hossfeld was toast.
“We had 100 laps on our tires and the other guys had less laps on their tires,” said Hossfeld. “I thought that I was doing the right thing holding the high line. I thought that I could hold the momentum up there, but they had fresher tires and got by on the bottom.”
But then a funny thing happened – he picked up speed and made another charge to the front.
“The thing that was cool was that when they got by, I was able to find a couple of sweet spots on the track and catch Stefanik again,” explained Hossfeld. “He got by and then I got by Teddy again and found where I could really put the gas down good. That let me catch him again.”
Meanwhile, Stefanik was being conservative up front.
“It’s always good to keep your car nice and straight,” said Stefanik. “A lot of fast guys had misfortunes today.
Stefanik and Ted Christopher get by the #79 of Hossfeld, who would come back to battle for the lead just a few laps later. (Jim DuPont Photo)
And on the last turn of the last lap, Hossfeld made his final strike. He went low, Stefanik blocked. The two cars touched and both got squirrelly. But rather than finish off Stefanik and possibly wreck the top three cars in one shot, Hossfeld played the part of the racing gentleman and gave Stefanik a precious few inches to save his car.
“I got on the bottom as low as I could and I don’t know if his spotter told him I was down low, but he came down and did a good job [blocking],” said Hossfeld. “I got into him and then got out of the gas. I let him save it. I don’t want to win that way. He’s a hell of a driver and he won.”
“Chucky was very good there at the end, especially on the last lap,” said Stefanik. “He made it very exciting for everybody including me.”
The exciting finish helped to make up for the ugliness of the first 149 laps for fans and the two drivers who battled to the finish line.
“I won’t say it’s as good as a win,” said Hossfeld, who finished second. “That would be a lie. But as long as you are either winning or competing for the win, that’s something to be happy about. If you are running around eleven-teenth, that’s not good.”
Patience was the key to top five finishes for Stefanik, Hossfeld, Ruggeiro, Christopher and Hirschman.
“We had a good pit stop and the car was very fast for the last portion of the race,” said Stefanik. “It wasn’t always the fastest car every lap, but that fastest car doesn’t always win the race. We got to the finish line first and that’s what matters.”
And even though the season is only one race old, a couple of title contenders might have made themselves known.
Stefanik, a six time Modified champion, is running the full season for the first time in several years after the NASCAR Busch East Series team that he drove for, Grizco Racing, closed their doors in the off-season.
“I’m going to run the whole series,” said Stefanik. “But we’ll just take it one race at a time. You’ve got to race smart and prepare well. However it ends up, it ends up.”
Meanwhile, Hossfeld is starting the year with his third
team in three seasons - Hillbilly Racing. There doesn’t
seem to be much of a learning curve there though. The
duo tuned up for the season by finishing second in the
NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour opener earlier
this month at Caraway Speedway and backed that up
with their runner-up finish at the Icebreaker.
“I think that we’re going to be in really good shape,” said
Hossfeld. “This is a good team and I’m pretty proud of
Caraway and this race. We should have a good year
The teams have the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour will now have three weeks to repair their equipment before heading to Stafford Motor Speedway for the April 29th Spring Sizzler.
Stefanik, Hossfeld and Ruggiero come to the finish line. (Jamie Williams Photo)
Mike and Julie Stefanik in victory lane. (Howie Hodge Photo)