MODIFIED TOUR LEFTOVERS: MARTINSVILLE by Matt Kentfield and Mike Twist
A 30-Car Wreck, TC vs. The World, Coby vs. TC, Yuhas Gambles and Much More
PILEUP COSTS FAVORITES A SHOT
The complexion of Saturday night’s Whelen Made in America 300 was changed dramatically in just the opening laps. Martinsville is notorious for being a tough place to race for the Modifieds or pretty much any other division that races at the historic half-mile. When some 30 cars pile together in one turn, it’s fairly obvious that Martinsville is pretty tough on equipment.
But, lest we forget, there are drivers inside the cockpits of those racecars. When a tight racetrack is combined with 36 drivers willing to stop at nothing to take home the prestigious grandfather clock that is awarded to the Martinsville winner, calamity can’t be too far away.
It only took 14 laps for the tone to be set for the night. In the fourth turn, several of the leaders got together, causing a massive pileup that included 30 racecars. Some of the cars were severely damaged, such as those of contenders Eric Beers, Tony Hirschman and Rob Summers. Others were able to drive away with only minor damage if any damage at all.
Several drivers had different views of the start of the crash, but each saw it was too early to be racing as hard as the field was that early in the race.
“The 10 (Eddie Flemke) and the 48 (Hirschman) got together there and the 48 got down on the curb,” said Beers, whose #3 Boehler Racing entry took perhaps the hardest hit in the wall, causing terminal damage. “The 48 was sideways. I went up to go around him and he cut right to correct it. When he cut right he came up the racetrack and my left rear went over his right front. I went up in the air and into the fence. I couldn’t miss it.
“We were only 14 laps in but the car felt great. I was looking forward to having a good run here, but I’ll be honest, that car is destroyed.”
Hirschman, who entered Martinsville in the thick of the championship battle, took a severe hit in points by finishing 27th after the crash. He saw there was nothing he, or anyone else for that matter, could do to avoid the crash.
“The 4 (Jerry Marquis) beat the 10 (Flemke) down into the corner, so they crowded them getting in there. Flemke gave him some room, he got in, but we all woah’ed up and I got punted from behind when someone’s left tire hit me in the back. It turned me and my right front came out in front of traffic. Everybody else wrecked and ran into us.”
It was the veterans of the series that were at the front of the field. Names like Hirschman, Stefanik, Marquis and Flemke were at the front of the field at the time, leaving Hirschman scratching his head as to why this had to happen so early.
“It’s a 250 lap race,” said Hirschman. “All we gotta do is get in line and ride. I don’t know, I guess there’s some guys that can’t start up front.”
Even former Martinsville winner LW Miller, who started 13th, was involved in the crash. While he was deep enough in the field to not see the start of the crash, he was able to formulate his own thoughts on the incident.
“I didn’t see it very good but I talked to Eric Beers and he said that Flemke ran the 48 on the curb, and when the 48 came back across the track, it just flipped Eric and got him airborne. Everybody back behind them, it was a cluster,” said Miller, who was able to get his car repaired enough to finish 25th.
“It’s unbelievably frustrating. We had an awesome racecar. I can’t understand what they were doing up there. It doesn’t make sense. Then again, there was Eddie Flemke up there. That’s the way he races.
JUST TC BEING TC
Plainville, Conn.’s Ted Christopher has grown into a reputation as being a hard racer who wins his fair share of races all over the Northeast in any kind of racecar. Sometimes, he’s been known to race really hard, much to the delight or the chagrin of fans and competitors, depending on their allegiances. To say that the Whelen Made in America 300 was a typical Ted Christopher race wouldn’t be too far off.
Christopher started 15th and got off to a sluggish start. He was involved in the lap-14 melee, receiving very minor damage to his Eddie Whelan-owned #36. Being mired in traffic, Christopher was about to lose a lap to leader Mike Stefanik later in the race before TC made contact with the lapped car of Jim Storace with Stefanik hot on their heels.
NASCAR officials penalized Christopher with a stop-and-go penalty for his role in Storace’s spin, but TC remained on the lead lap and was working his way back up through the field before he was spun by Doug Coby later in the race. After some more contact with Zach Sylvester, TC rallied all the way up to second at the fall of the checkered flag.
But, after the race, Christopher was all smiles, knowing that he just ran the kind of race that the fans either love or hate to see out of Ted Christopher. According to TC.
There was carnage everywhere at Martinsville after a lap 14 wreck. (Top - Howie Hodge Photo, Others - 51 Photos)
regularly-scheduled 250 laps, Christopher was sitting right behind Jimmy Blewett in second. Christopher, who had fresher tires than Blewett, was hoping for Mother Nature to cooperate so that he could be the star of the show.
“It’s disappointing. You end up sitting there knowing you’ve got four fresh tires and you’ve got 60 laps to go. Everyone else is just sitting ducks. You sit there and pace yourself a little bit. I waited for the 15 (Sylvester) to finally get really loose, he did, and then he drill-shot me. Racing deal, whatever. But another restart and Jimmy would’ve been done too because we were just so fast. But what are you gonna do?
“It was a typical Ted Christopher race. I had to pass a million cars to make it a show, right? I should be the Showtime. Maybe I’ll get that on my suit,” said Christopher, referring to the Jimmy Blewett’s nickname.
COBY GIVES TC A LITTLE HELP
Christopher might have thought that when he went spinning across the bow of Doug Coby’s #77 it was “just a wild night”, but there was a little more to it. Depending on your perspective, Coby wasn’t shy about taking the blame, responsibility or credit for sending Christopher’s #36 around.
Even though it was a mistake, Coby seemed to enjoy the moment.
“Anytime that you can get Ted, you know it will come back tenfold, but it is still fun to do it. His bumper was flipped way up in the air, so I gave him a little flick. I got him out of my way.”
The battle didn’t turn into a war though.
“I talked to him afterwards and it’s all good. He was laughing and that’s probably because he finished second. If he piled it into the wall, he’d probably want to kick my ass.”
CIVALI KEEPS DIGGING
For a driver, 250 laps at Martinsville can either seem like a short sprint or a marathon race depending on how good his car is working. If a driver gets spun out early, he knows that he has plenty of time to make his way up through the field, as long as his car wants to cooperate. If a driver is having a difficult race, then it can’t end soon enough.
At Martinsville, that changed with a top five result.
“We finished fifth,” said Coby. “That is the first time in two months that we finished on the lead lap. Jennerstown was the last one and that was June 17th. We definitely didn’t have a winning car and that was because we had a left rear tire going flat. It was flat when we came in, so we were happy for the rain. I couldn’t stay with those guys at the end and that was because the tire was going down.”
The team had plenty of hard work to do after Coby was run into in practice, and then crashed on his qualifying lap when a tire rolled off the rim. But in the end, it was another good Martinsville finish for the team.
Coby's #77 (51 Photo)
Yuhas' #6 Modified (51 Photo)
Brown’s ninth was the highest finish of any Southern Modified driver, earning him SMT winner’s points that will go a long way in trying to chase down that series’ points leader Junior Miller who finished 39th
“We know that we won the Southern side, but it’s still kinda killed because we still finished ninth,” said Brown. “We won just the Southern guys and it will go in the record books as a win and we picked up some points on Junior. We had a good night.
“We qualified 12th and in happy hour we were the quickest car here. We knew we were going to be good.
“All the adversity we had to come from, my God, we must’ve passed 80 cars out there,” said Christopher. “The deal with Stefanik, I don’t know. The guy can’t pass me. I’m not just going to pull over. I was pretty fast. Storace is the one that really slowed me up on that deal. If Jimmy wasn’t there then I could’ve kept my momentum going.
“The deal with the 77? It was just a wild night, y’know? It was a bad night everywhere. The 12 (Jimmy Blewett) dumped the 16 (Mike Stefanik) for the win. It was one of those nights.”
When the rain shortened the event to just 200 of the
Christopher runs his #36 low during the race at Martinsville. (Howie Hodge Photo)
51's Mike Twist (R) interviews Donny Lia (L) for this story.
I was just trying to be patient and was running in the top six most of the night. Then the rain came, then it went away. It came, it went away and that last time I thought we had to stop if the caution came out and get our tires could we could win this thing. We had a gun jam up and lost a lap. Then we got jammed up in traffic and struggled to get back to the front. Once that happened we just focused on winning the Southern side while trying to finish the best we could.”
The Martinsville race is one of several opportunities for the Southern boys to race with their colleagues in the North each Modified season. Each time out, the Northern Mod Squad takes the checkered flag. Every Martinsville race and North-South Shootout at Concord Motorsport Park (NC), the two traditional races that put both regions on the track together, have been won by a Northern Modified driver. That begs the question, will a Southern Modified driver ever steal the checkered flag away from the Northern boys?
“If you look, each time we get to run with them, us Southern guys keep getting a little better. I honestly feel that the more we get to run with them, the better we get. They are better than we are. All these top-10 teams that we run against up here are all full-time teams. They have full-time drivers and it’s a full-time race deal. I have a full-time job and everyone on my team has a full-time job. To come up here for this big of a show, run in the top 10 and win the Southern side, I’m just tickled.”
YUHAS GAMBLES ON WEATHER AND WINS
Ron Yuhas did his best Willard Scott impression. He forecasted a plan based on the weather and it worked out beautifully. The young Whelen Modified rookie from Groton, CT took his green #6 machine to a sixth-place finish.
“It was a good run for us,” said Yuhas. “We gambled a little bit with the weather and we didn’t come in and pit late. We couldn’t gamble on tires too much. We got the car a little better on the halfway mark but it still was a little off.
“We had someone on the phone and they said the weather was coming in so we stayed out. I think someone on the radio overheard a conversation (about the weather), so that definitely helped. All the guys that did pit, it just seemed like not many of them were working their way back through. We just gambled on it and it worked out for us.”
Making the sixth-place finish even more special was that
he had never seen the historic track before. Yuhas is well aware of the history of Martinsville, and a solid finish there on Saturday was the virtue of a good racecar and a lot of luck all weekend.
”It was exciting. We came in and practiced on Friday and we fought the same thing that we did in the race. The car was tight and then loose off. We got the car where it was better but it still wasn’t good. With this being our first time here, we were fighting the track. We were just figuring out where to run. For all the guys that had been here it was easier.
We timed 11th and that was pretty cool because we just kinda guessed on a setup for the cold weather coming in. I screwed up both laps…one corner one lap and the other corner the next lap. Then we pretty much ran up front all day, it was pretty cool.”
COBY GETS BACK TO WHERE HE BELONGS
Over the summer, the #77 of driver Doug Coby and car owner Curt Chase has been plagued with bad luck. Coby has run strong, but just hasn’t been around at the finish for several races.
“I told him that I got rid of him on purpose,” said Coby. “He was holding me up. To be honest with you, we thought that he was laps down. I knew that he was penalized for what happened with Stefanik. I don’t know how you can stay on the lead lap when you get penalized. Then I saw the passing flag from the flagger and I thought it was for Ted. He actually moved down when I gave him a shot in the bumper. When I got to his outside, he stayed on the bottom and kept running my up and using up my tires.
“I had brand new tires, so you know what? I got rid of him. I told him that. I didn’t think that he was on the lead lap, so it was my mistake.”
“Two years in a row, we finished fifth here. Last year we started third, this year we started 25th. We definitely deserved it after this weekend. They rebuilt the fuel cell area and the right front suspension. I got a speeding ticket in Martinsville. Those were my three bouts of bad luck this weekend.
“The guys worked hard and did a good job this weekend. They kept us positive and even though we weren’t the fastest car here, we had a good car and it was turning good.”
Coby had a little bit of a good luck charm as well. His sister brought a Good Luck Care Bear to the track and sat him on the car before the race. Could the little stuffed bear have helped?
“I don’t care what helped us, but something did,” said Coby. “We were in the middle of two wrecks and were near five or six other ones. The tires are on for the first time in two months, so we’re happy.”
MARQUIS FAST (AGAIN), BUT LUCKLESS (AGAIN)
Early on, Jerry Marquis had one of the fastest cars in the race at Martinsville. But his bad luck streak of late continued Saturday night.
James Civali had a good racecar, so when he was spun early in Saturday’s race at Martinsville, he did not give up. Last month’s winner at Stafford ran up front early, got spun out, and had to work his way through the field to come home an impressive third in his first race at Martinsville.
After he was spun, only one thing allowed Civali back up to the front of the field – patience.
“With this kind of a race, you’re like, okay, we just got spun out,” said Civali. “It’s a quarter of the way through the race. There’s still 200 laps to go. You just start over
and make it a 200 lap race. I had a very stable, raceable car and a lot of guys didn’t. It was just one of those things. I could race anywhere and worked my way up there.”
While many eyes were fixed on the front of the field during the Whelen Made in America 300, Civali was putting on a passing clinic mid-pack as he was methodically getting up to the head of the field. Sometimes Civali’s King Racing #28 would pass two or three cars per corner. If Martinsville is a tough track to pass on, James Civali made it look easy on Saturday night.
“You get a run on somebody, you get under them, you look and you see that two cars in front of them there’s a hole. You think, ‘if I could just go there, I’d pass five cars. I saw there was a hole, jumped to it, and did that a couple times. The key was just to outbrake some of the guys.
“You just really have to focus on who is around you. Who do I have to deal with now? What’s their situation? Is he any good? Then you just do what you can to get by the guys in front of you. Sometimes you have to take your time around the guys that are so loose that they’re going to wreck something. You just regroup and keep going on.”
BROWN REPRESENTS THE SOUTH SIDE
The final results from Martinsville will show Tim Brown’s #83 in the ninth position. A top-10 run at Martinsville is a solid result for the Cana, Virginia-native, but it is not every race where a ninth-place finish is also a win. The Whelen Made in America 300 is a combination race for both the Whelen Modified Tour in the Northeast and the Whelen Southern Modifieds. The race awarded each series points depending on where their drivers finished.
Civali's #28 (51 Photo)
“It hasn’t stopped for us. We got hit in the left rear and the car wasn’t right after that. I think that we twisted an axle. Every time that I got on it hard off the corner, it was there, but she was slipping. Finally, it snapped going down the backstretch. I was like ‘man, you have got to be kidding me’. I couldn’t even touch the throttle.
“We had a good car tonight, but you have to have a good car at the end too and not just the beginning.”
The incident happened early in the race when Marquis was battling for the lead with Mike Stefanik and the #2 car of Todd Szegedy.
“It was early when me, Stefanik and the Deuce were running together. I don’t know who caught me. My spotter told me that he was there at the last second and I was already coming down. It’s a tight racetrack and was hard to get around.”
Marquis finished 16th in the final rundown.
MOTOR GOES SOUTH FOR LIA
Donny Lia looked good at Martinsville Speedway. His Huntington Honda #18 machine was one of the fastest machines at the historic half-mile all weekend long at the Whelen Made in America 300. Fast laps in practice and a third-quick qualifying effort made Lia one of the favorites for victory in the 250-lap feature at Martinsville on Saturday night.
In the race, Lia reinforced his title as a formidable threat to bring home the coveted grandfather clock that Martinsville winners received. Racing inside the top-five for much of the race, Lia was well on his way to a strong finish.
That is, had his motor lasted through the whole night. The motor in his #18 machine went sour with just a few laps remaining in the rain-shortened event. His 17th-place finish was not nearly indicative of the solid performance Lia was putting on at Martinsville.
“We had a good car all race long," said a dejected Lia. "After we pitted, we were back up to fifth and we had more bad luck. That's it. It's frustrating to have the luck that we've been having and hopefully we can turn it around at Thompson."
HIRSCHMAN WOULD HAVE LIKED MORE LAPS
One driver who wished that it hadn’t rained, and the full 250 laps had been run, at Martinsville was Matt Hirschman. The rookie driver finished a strong seventh in the Whelen Made in America 300, but he would have liked the chance to do just a little bit better.
“I would have liked to have seen it go longer,” said Hirschman. “We just got caught up. We lost a lap early and it was a rough race. We had a lot of close calls and one of them was too close. A guy spun and backed up the track. He clipped the left side and flattened the left rear tire. I was driving around on the rim and lost a lap putting a new tire on.
“We just waited and waited to get the lucky dog. Once we got that, we were moving forward at the end. I think that we would have moved further forward if the race went the distance. I think that we could have been looking at a top five, but seventh isn’t bad. This was our first time here, so we’ll take it.”
Matt Hirschman's #59 (51 Photo)
Marquis pits during halfway with his #4 Mystic Missile Modified. (51 Photo)