MODIFIED TOUR LEFTOVERS: THOMPSON WORLD SERIES by Mike Twist and Denise DuPont
Grigas, Beers, Marquis, Pasteryak, Stefanik and Many More
MORE ON THE REG’S VICTORY
The Ted Christopher/John Blewett tangle for the lead with two laps to go was a double edged sword for Reggie Ruggiero. First, it allowed him to win the race. On the other hand though, it was also the talk of the pit area after the event was over. Ruggiero did not get nearly the amount of attention that he deserved for winning his first Mod Tour race since 2004.
It was a victory that was very popular with the fans though.
“I have a good fan reaction where ever I go because I am the old guy,” said Ruggiero. “I am the oldest guy racing. I have been around for a while. I have been racing a lot of years. A lot of these young people that come to the races never really saw me race. We raced thirty to forty races a year. You feel proud. I get the boo’s, but there are a lot of cheers.”
The veteran got the victory with a combination of patience and opportunity.
“We had a good run today,” said Ruggiero. “We started
off a little bit too loose. We ran forty laps or so and then pitted. We thought we would be okay but we were still too loose. We did it again around lap 100 and the car ran pretty good after that.”
And even though The Reg had not won in two seasons, he has been in contention for several victories in that time.
The Reg (#41) races with Matt Hirschman at Thompson. (Mary Hodge Photo)
Bobby Grigas, III made his NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour debut on Sunday in the World Series at Thompson International Speedway.
It was a weekend full of twists and turns for the young Massachusetts driver. First, he qualified 17th among the 40 plus entries for the race. Then, picked up a pit crew of experienced helpers in the pit area who put forth a great effort in the event. Finally, he made it into the top 10 and was still moving forward when he got into a three-wide battle for position that went bad and dropped him out of the event with a 24th-place finish.
Lia's #18 is in the middle of this mess, but still finished fourth. (Jim DuPont Photo)
race you cannot go without making enemies. What can you do? You can’t always have friends in racing. “
…BUT DOESN’T MAKE MANY FRIENDS IN RACE #1
Grigas was right when he said that you can’t always make friends in racing. He was involved in two separate incidents during the afternoon that took him off the Christmas card lists of a pair of Tour veterans.
Was it a case of a rookie being a little too aggressive or the new guy getting made into a scapegoat? You be the judge.
“It was definitely an experience in itself,” Grigas said of the weekend. “I had awesome guys. The pit stop was unbelievable. I just wanted to get my feet wet. I got some of the best guys helping me also. So I had to really run well just because I had some of the best helping me out. The whole team is awesome. I couldn’t ask for more.”
Grigas put 100% effort into every lap of the race. That earned him both praise and a little bit of criticism from veterans after the event, but Grigas isn’t about to slow down.
“Sure I was a little aggressive for a 150-lap race but I am sure that I will learn from my errors. I just had a blast out there. I made a couple of friends letting them in front of me and I made a couple of enemies today too. In every
Grigas' 09 (Jim DuPont Photo)
Grigas' bent racecar. (Jim DuPont Photo)
First came an incident with Eric Beers before the halfway point. Grigas had raced into the top 10 and made contact with Beers’ #3 entering turn three. Beers spun around, hit the wall and dropped out of the race.
“Inexperienced drivers,” said Beers, shaking his head after the race. “You get some guys who run True Value races, do okay and then come here and drive way over their heads. He almost wrecked three laps before that and I ended up sneaking by him. I knew then that he wouldn’t wreck ahead of me.
“I went down into the corner easy. I was taking it easy going into turn three and right on someone’s back bumper. I think that it might have been [Zach Sylvester] and the #09 kid just drove into the rear corner of my car and just cleaned us out. He spun me right around. I don’t know where he was going.”
Grigas admitted that he made a mistake in that incident.
“I should not have driven in there like that,” said Grigas. “He was on old tires and I was on new ones. I slammed on the brakes to give him the spot. But he cut down right when I was backing off. I just touched him and he went around. There was nothing intentional.”
Ted Christopher (#36) leads Ruggiero's #41. (Howie Hodge Photo)
“The only way I wouldn’t win the championship is if my car owner fired me and replaced me with a different driver,” explained Stefanik, who will tie Richie Evans’ record for most NASCAR championships. Evans earned all nine of his titles in the Modified Tour while Stefanik earned two of his behind the wheel of a Busch East Series car.
But, according to NASCAR, they have to wait the two weeks to make sure Stefanik remains a Flamingo Motorsports driver before any trophies will be awarded.
“The field is set. We don’t even have to go. It’s over,” said Stefanik.
If asked half-way through the race, the Coventry, RI-driver would never have imagined clinching the title less than an
Grigas (#09) and Ferrante go three-wide, but end up running into the #48 of Tony Hirschman's, which sent Grigas into the air. (Top - Jim DuPont Photo
Bottom - Howie Hodge Photo, )
Things got even more heated though later in the race. The event was nearly 50 laps to go when Grigas, Tony Ferrante and Tony Hirschman went three-wide down the backstretch after a restart. It didn’t work and a big wreck ensued – with Grigas going over the top of Hirschman’s #48 ride.
“We had a double file restart,” said Ferrante. “I was third, Hirschy was behind me and I was under him when this guy goes three-wide under us coming out of turn two. He was driving like we weren’t even there. He drifted up and got my right front. It took a couple of cars out today.”
“I felt bad when I saw Hirschman involved but the #31 and #48 kind of got all bound up together. It was a poor move on my part, but I did not really cause the accident,” said Grigas.
Ferrante, normally one of the most laid back guys in the pit area was really hot after the incident. He ran down pit road and stuck his head into Grigas’ parked car to show his displeasure.
“Stupidity took us out today,” said Ferrante. “I don’t normally get mad, but I was a little annoyed. It was stupid. When you are side-by-side and bang a little, that happens. But to go three-wide and keep your foot in it, that was stupid.”
On the other hand, Grigas isn’t going to change his style either. He was asked if he would make the same move again and wasn’t shy about giving an honest answer.
“I am not going to lie, probably. I am a really aggressive racer. It is all in the opportunity. If I have a car that wants to go forward, I want to drive it forward. I am not going to go and say that those guys are veterans and bide my time there behind them. The #31 car was all over the track. If I was to do it again I would have gotten a little
Pastreryak's crew works on changing engines. (51 photo)
better run. I know that I had the spot but, I guess once again I will learn from my errors
“I have guys who I just met this weekend coming over to help me. They didn’t know who I was and they just helped me out. They were exceptional and I couldn’t thank them by being the guy who rides around in the back. I had my one chance and I took it. I was that I finished the race, but would I take back anything that I did except the Eric Beers incident? No. I wasn’t bumping people going down the straightaway.
“My car started coming around and if I rode behind them [Hirschman and Ferrante], all of the big guns like John Blewett and Ted Christopher after they pitted would have caught up to me. It was a chance that I took and s--t happens.”
HIRSCHMAN VISITS WALL, GOES FOR WALK, THEN GETS PENALIZED
On the final lap of the race, Matt Hirschman saw a certain top-five wall end with a trip into the first turn wall along with the #20 car of Richard Savary.
“We had a good race going,” said Hirschman. “We set ourselves up with good pit strategy, got caught behind a wreck and fell to the back, then we made it back into top the five. With two laps to go, there was a green-white-checkered situation and I started fifth in line. Jerry Marquis was ahead of me and got by the Richard Savary. After that, I made a clean pass on the #20 [Savary]. I held my line and won the drag race down the straightaway. He crossed over and going into the corner, he never lifted. It wiped me right out and ruined a top five finish for both of us.
“It was a hard hit, so it took me a few seconds to catch my breath. When I got out of the car, I wanted to tell him what I thought about the incident. I wasn’t going to start a fight. I know that wouldn’t get us anywhere or solve anything, but I wanted him to know I wasn’t happy. I walked over to his car and a NASCAR official pulled up on a golf cart and told me to stop. I continued walking, made my case and left.”
Mid-week, NASCAR announced that they were penalizing Hirschman for not following the orders of a NASCAR official. He has been placed on probation through the end of the year.
“I really don’t feel that I did anything wrong by going over to his car,” said Hirschman. “But I respect the officials.
Hirschman (#59) and Savary (#20) take the white flag. They would both wreck together in the next corner. (Top - Jim DuPont Photo) as seen by Hirschman's mangled #59. (Bottom - 51 Photo)
They are trying to do their job and prevent an altercation. They see that there are two cars against the wall, but they don’t necessarily understand why you are angry.”
#5 TEAM WORKS LIKE DOGS, AND ARE REWARDED WITH A TOP-10 FINISH
Among all of the carnage at Thompson was a real feel-good story. Early on Sunday, the #5 team of Chris Pasteryak discovered a problem with the engine in their machine.
“It was a little flat yesterday and I think that is why we didn’t time trial well,” said Pasteryak. “We were going to change the valve springs in it today. When we did, the valve seat popped out with the valve springs. So that was broken.”
Without a spare motor, things looked bleak. Then Dave Etheridge, who missed the show in Saturday’s time trials, came to the rescue by lending an engine to save the day. The #5 team then worked like dogs to make the change, finishing it just minutes before having to line-up for the race.
“They worked really hard,” said Pasteryak. “It was Dave Etheridge’s back-up motor and I owe him a special thank you. It wasn’t like we were putting one of our engines in.
We had to switch all of the pumps around. We had to change the front motor plate and all of the pulleys. Every motor is a little bit different. Then we had to put it in and not have any leaks. Everyone did a really good job.”
The engine change worked out well. Pasteryak not only finished the race, but he was solidly in the eighth position when the checkered flag flew.
“After we were ready to load up a go home, this feels pretty good.”
STEFANIK SEALS UP TITLE AT THOMPSON
Flamingo Motorsports’ fifth-place finish in the Whelen Modified Tour’s portion of Thompson International Speedway’s World Series weekend was enough for driver Mike Stefanik to make history – unofficially that is.
Stefanik will head into the season finale with a 148-point lead over his closest challenger Ted Christopher. And since the field was already set by qualifying on September 30th, Stefanik is guaranteed at least a 32nd place finish in the race and will earn the 2006 Championship – his seventh Whelen Modified Tour title and ninth NASCAR Championship overall - even if he doesn’t race. But there were no trophies being delved out and no champagne corks popping after the race. A minor detail prevented all that.
hour later. Christopher was leading while Stefanik struggled to stay in the top-10. An accident sent the Diversified Metals Chevrolet to the rear of the field as the race approached the lap-100 mark, and a handling problem wasn’t making it easy to return to the front.
“I had pitted and I was coming back up through. There was a restart at lap 98 or 99 and they doubled up. I think the 09 in front of me kind of made it three wide out of two. They all tangled and I got caught up in that. I don’t think I hit anybody but I spun down to the infield and there was smoke everywhere and there was just a lot going on. The steering wheel wasn’t in the same spot when I came to a stop so I must have hit something and knocked the toe out of the car,” Stefanik said.
Stefanik went back to the end of the longest line – about 20th in the running order. He was on a mission to get back up front, but the #16 tightened up.
“At one point, I remember looking at the situation and I was thinking ‘I’ve got to pass some cars here’. The car was tight, the steering was off and we were struggling,” he said.
Stefanik had just broken into the top-10 when everything took a dramatic turn at lap 148. The front-runners, Christopher and Jimmy Blewett, wrecked and took themselves out of the race.
Stefanik gained two more spots before the race conclusion when Matt Hirschman and Richard Savary got together on the final circuit.
“We sure are in the entertainment business because there wasn’t a lot of racing going on out there,” Stefanik said. “. If someone dishes out a little bit of contact, they get it back three-fold. It’s getting uglier and uglier.”
Despite the lack of celebration at Thompson International Speedway, Eric Sanderson has officially clinched the 2006 car-owner championship. It’s his first career title.
“I’m ecstatic. To win a title is just unbelievable. To have a guy like Mike driving for me and the crew that we have is unbelievable,” said Sanderson. “We ran consistently and we avoided all of the bad luck that can be a championship-killer.
The Flamingo Motorsports team is on a one-week break before the season-ending Fall Finale at Stafford Motor Speedway on October 28th, but the team is doing anything best resting.
“We’re going to go test at Stafford on Friday. We’re going to be very aggressive with our chassis set-ups and aggressive with our race strategy. I won’t have to turn the other cheek anymore. Now that the point situation is behind me, I don’t have to do that anymore,” Stefanik said. “We’re going to go and try to win it.” (Penny Aicardi)
TOUR vs. TRUE VALUE TURF WAR
Stefanik's #16 (Jim DuPont Photo)
Bobby Grigas, III and Richard Savary both took advantage of an off-weekend for the True Value Modified Racing Series to compete in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race at Thompson. We’ve already talked about the incidents that they were both involved in. Those situations didn’t do much for the reputation of TVMRS drivers in the Tour pit area.
There were plenty of jabs exchanged after the race.
“Eric and I both got True-Valued out there” said Matt Hirschman. “Savary took me out and the #09 [Grigas] just drove in over his head and crashed Eric out of the race [Hirschman was running behind the incident at the time].”
“Hopefully, he’ll be smart enough not to run our series because he’s not ready,” said Beers about Grigas.
But Grigas was also quick to point out that he earned some respect during his Tour debut weekend.
“Those guys came over and told me to stay in the True Value Series,” said Grigas. “They gave me hell. But I also had the guys from the #79 [Chuck Hossfeld] and the #36 [Ted Christopher] cars come over and tell me that I did good out there. You know what? Eric Beers is on about his eighth ride, but everyone was a rookie once.
A TC DOUBLE STANDARD?
Another driver who wasn’t immune to criticism was Ted Christopher, who feels that there is a double standard when it comes to judging his driving against the antics of other competitors.
“Anyone can just dive-bomb me and take me out, but I have to be so cautious to race anyone else.”
Christopher was eliminated with two laps to go in an incident with John Blewett, III.
GOOD LUCK FOR LIA (FOR A CHANGE)
The 2006 year has been a season filled with bad luck for Donny Lia and his #18 Lia Motorsports, Inc. team. Preparation and skill have been no match for being in the wrong place at the wrong time or having parts break unexpectedly throughout most of the year.
Mike Stefanik (Jim DuPont Photo)
Eric Beers wasn't happy after he wrecked in the #3 car. (Jim DuPont photo)
“The car was really good in the beginning,” said Sylvester. “We stayed in the draft with the front runners and tried to find a spot to just run for a while until we could come in and make some adjustments. Then, we got caught speeding on pit road then. That set us back a little bit.
“I had a feeling I might have done it. I almost stalled the car coming out of the pits. I revved it too high and dropped (the clutch) and I just let it get to high (on RPMs). The spotter came over the radio and said we got a penalty for speeding on pit road. Whatever the case maybe, we had to use our stuff up to get back to the front.
Early in the World Series, it looked like the same story would be retold. Lia was stuck right in the middle of a 17-car wreck and involved in a few other incidents right after making a routine pit stop. In the end though, he rebounded to a solid fourth-place finish.
“We had some good luck today,” said Lia. “We had a lot of ups and downs. I thought that after we pitted, we tightened the car up too much. That hurt us a little bit, but not as much as all of the wrecks out there. When there was a wreck, I was either in it or just barely missing it. I had to make some evasive maneuvers and lost some spots every time that there was a wreck in front of me.
“We lost a bunch of spots for being in the wrong places at the wrong times, but at the end of the day we were really lucky. Any of those wrecks could have ended our day and they didn’t. The first wreck hurt the car a little bit. We lost the alternator belt there and that robbed us of some power for the rest of the race.”
But even with the chips stacked against him, Lia made the right moves on the track to bring home the best finish possible under his circumstances.
“I’m real happy to come out of here in fourth. It’s my first top-five finish at Thompson. We have just had so much bad luck here and we never have been able to get the car right. There’s something about this place. It’s a tough race track.”
RICK FULLER MAKES THE ROUNDS
Rick Fuller wasn’t in a racecar at Thompson. The #00 Joe Brady-owned entry that he normally wheels just doesn’t have the sponsor-backing to race much any more.
But Fuller was at the track in a slightly different role. He donned a headset and joined track announcer Russ Dowd in the booth and over the PA system before the race.
“”It’s kind of strange being here,” said Fuller. “[Not driving a racecar] is like going to your ex-wife’s engagement party.”
THE PITS ARE A POPULAR PLACE
There were also several other drivers at the track who weren’t racing. Mike Christopher was spotted in the stands with his family enjoying the race. Andy Seuss and his team made an all-night tow from Motor Mile Speedway in Virginia, where they finished fourth in Saturday night’s NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour race, to take in the World Series. Mike Andrews was on hand to help out the #36 team of Ted Christopher and former Tour driver Mike Molleur was seen walking through the pit area and talking to friends.
MARQUIS SURVIVES WILD NIGHT TO FINISH THIRD
Jerry Marquis finished third in the World Series and was very aware of all the trouble that was going on around him.
Donny Lia (51 photo)
Marquis' #4 (Jim DuPont Photo)
“Blewett was up under Teddy from what I could see coming up out of turn two. When they got into turn three, I was kind of was getting block up by the #20 and #18 car so I did not see. All I saw was that Blewett was on the bottom and Teddy was on the outside and all of a sudden when we got down we saw everybody going up high and they were screaming on the radio to go down and we were able to get down and actually gain a couple of positions at the same time. Guys were sliding up into the wreck and stuff.”
Marquis was also just barely ahead of the Savary-Matt Hirschman wreck.
“I was ahead of the #20 car [Savary] so I did not see the incident in turn three. The 20 car was really loose when I went by him. I mean really wicked loose. I do not even know how he kept the car straight. I was able to get by him and then from there on I do not know what happened. I do not know if he was still real loose and the #59 car [Hirschman] tried to get up underneath him or what the deal was there.
“It was hard to pass tonight all together. As a track, the outside groove is the groove that everybody wants to run in. It is the groove that is the fast groove. You can’t seem to get a good run up under anybody and when you do you loose your momentum going down the straight away. It just kills you. We got some more work to do. We have to get the car to roll through the center better and we are trying. “
NO WINNING CAR OWNER CELEBRATION (AT THE TRACK)
As Reggie Ruggiero pulled into victory lane, there was one key member of his #41 team that wasn’t there – car owner Dick Barney was not even at the track.
“I have not forgotten how to race,” said Ruggiero. “I have been racing since 1969. To win on the tour there are not too many guys that do. There are only run about 14 races a year and there may be a repeat winner so out of the eight or ten or six guys that win. You have to be proud to win a race.”
Like Blewett, Ruggiero even got into it a little bit with Ted Christopher during the 150 lap feature race.
“I got up high one time, well Teddy pushed me up a little bit. He did bang me hard and I had to get out of it. I backed off. You got to try to be safe rather then to wreck the car. A lot of people wrecked their cars today.”
GRIGAS IS FAST IN MOD TOUR DEBUT…
“He does not like traveling up to CT so he was not there,” said Ruggiero. “I talked to him on the cell phone right after the race. He was very happy. He said that he might even come to Stafford. I am glad for Dick Barney. He lives and sleeps race cars. That is all that he does. He has his business and when he gets out of work he is at his shop and works on the race cars until midnight every night. Then he goes home, goes to sleep and then goes back to work. That is all that he does.”
Barney is no Johnny-come-lately. His pristine cars have been hitting the short tracks for decades.
“He has been successful in New Jersey - at Flemington
and Wall Stadium for years and years. He has been on the tour a little bit. I am just glad that I could win for him. I won at Wall and here at Thompson. Hopefully we can win at Stafford.”
PAUCH MAKES THE CUT
Billy Pauch, Jr. qualified for his second NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour event this weekend at Thompson. His debut at Waterford was cut short by an engine problem that kept him from making a single lap.
At Thompson, he was involved in a few skirmishes (just like most of his competitors) and finished 21st. It was still a good time for the young driver go gain some more experience on asphalt.
“This is a tough series,” said Pauch. “This is as hard as it gets. We got in the show, now we’re just out to get some more experience. It’s pretty neat to be racing on the Tour We have to do better in time trials, that is what’s getting me right now.”
BAD LUCK CONTINUES FOR BEERS
We already saw what took Eric Beers out of the race at Thompson. The wreck continued a streak of bad luck that has plagued Beers all season long seemingly.
“This year, we haven’t had luck anywhere,” said Beers. “We always have a halfway decent car. It’s just a shame. Some of those cars that finished in the top five we were faster than. “We got up to eighth after starting 25th. We had a good car.
JIMMY BLEWETT SURVIVES CLOSE CALLS FOR STRONG FINISH
Jimmy Blewett finished in the runner-up position after surviving several close calls during the day.
Blewett's #12 (Howie Hodge Photo)
“Bobby Grigas went down and went three wide when he came off of turn two,” said Blewett. “The lane closed up and there was not anywhere for everybody to go. Everybody started wrecking. My spotter kept me out of it. And we made it through.
“The team is starting to come around. It is tough for us. We have people coming and going over the year. We have not built a foundation with our team yet. We have now been racing with the same people and we have been able to find a setup. Today has probably been one of the best that the car has ever been here. Luck played a big factor but at least we have some type of baseline setup
to work from. Next time we come back here we will have something to race with. We tried to get (engine builder) Billy the Kid his first win here tonight. We couldn’t quite do it, but I am sure that we will get one soon. “
NEW CHAMP PITKAT BORROWS A SUNOCO MOD
Thompson track champion Woody Pitkat drove Kerry Malone’s number 79 car in the Sunoco Modified race because he is saving his #99 Sunoco Modified car that he won the Thompson Championship in for the North South Shootout at Concord, NC in November. He finished sixth with the ride.
They know that I don’t like to go to the track and not drive anything,” said Pitkat. “Kerry gave me the opportunity to drive it, so we did. It was a little bit of a hand full. We changed the carburetor this morning because we had problems and then we had more problems. That did not help obviously, it made it worst. I tried pretty much just tried to run around and salvage a finish in the top ten or a top five. Pretty much we are is what we did. Luck was on our side out there because we missed two really big wrecks. Unfortunately I did not run as good as I would have planned. We put this deal together Thursday night at eleven o’clock. So, it is what it is. It was fun.”
Pitkat raced his car owner in the feature event and it was a strange experience.
“I was actually surprised because Kerry was slamming me. I thought that he was trying to wreck me at one time. I am sure that he was doing it all in fun. So there at the end when he was pushing like a truck, I did not say anything back to him. It was cool. He came up on the side and waved to me. It was fun. I do not think that he was trying to wreck me. I think that may have had too much rear brake in it. I know he was helping me but
after that I just tried to put some front brake to get into the turn without the car spinning out.”
“If I had a better car, I would have hoped to think that he would have been behind me and I could have done better. I would have hoped for a car to win. I thought that I was going to do better. I thought that the car handled better and rotated better in the center of the turn then my regular car that I run here. Maybe it was just because it was slow. Maybe it handled better because the motor was not where it needed to be. It was fun. It was another learning experience. Just to get some more seat time.”
The Thompson season might now be over, but Pitkat isn’t slowing down any.
“Next week will be Lee for the True Value Modified race. I do not know if I will get to Lee for practice. There is practice at Stafford on Friday. I am going to try to do both. I know that Lee is about three hours away. So if I can practice from one to three at Stafford and then try to get to Lee to practice even if it is only once or twice because their practice is from three in the afternoon until seven. Maybe we will be able to do that. If not, maybe we will have to go on Saturday and get as much practice as we can.”
Ruggiero pulls into victory lane - where his car owner was not. (Jim DuPont Photo)
Pitkat (L) talks with James Civali (R) at Thompson. (51 Photo)