MODIFIED TOUR LEFTOVERS: SPRING SIZZLER  by Matthew Dillner and April Barker
Coby vs. Lia, Rookies Reign, Hirschy Ticked, Ol’ Blue & More

Tony Hirschman clearly had one of the fastest cars on the track at Stafford Motor Speedway’s “Spring Sizzler. The defending series champ was looking for the repeat Sizzler win and looked to have the field covered. That was until a tangle with Zach Sylvester on a late race restart.

“I had him halfway clear going into the middle of the corner and he just drove right though me so and took us right out of there of winning that race. It probably cost him a second place.  We probably were the two best cars on the track.  You can’t give races away like that. He knew we were way faster before that last restart and they had him pumped up that he was going to beat me on the restart.  Well he beat us and himself. 

I always raced good with the kid.  It comes down to a respect with something like that and he didn’t show any respect.  He didn’t learn any respect when he was growing up.  He wasn’t racing someone off the street for that win.  He was racing someone who should get a little bit more respect.

Sylvester knew that he had done wrong, and was aware of his mistake after the race.

“I’ll admit I drove it too hard,” said a disappointed Sylvester.  “I didn’t feel that the car was that tight, and I went in counting on it to turn, and she took off on me.  Hirschman’s guys can think whatever they want.  I think
Tony knows me a little bit better than that.  It was not intentional.  It was my fault and my mistake.

Hirschman recovered to finish 9th while Sylvester went home 28th.


Matt Hirschman looked a little tired after the Spring Sizzler.

”Oh yeah,” laughed Hirschman.  “It's really the first race of the year for me.  Thompson didn't even work up a sweat.”

Zach Sylvester's #15 pushed up into Hirschman's #48 and took him out of contention for the win.
(Howie Hodge Photos)
Donny Lia didn't have anything for Doug Coby in the closing laps of the Sizzler. Although surely wanted to see the two drivers do battle.  (Howie Hodge Photo)
“I was comfortable, I ran with all of the top guys, and it's only going to get better, I know it.”

And heck, Matt did beat out his old man by one-spot, finishing eighth in his first Sizzler.


When the dust settled on a few incidents that took out top contenders, some thought some more dust stirring might have been in the making. At races end Doug Coby held the lead with what some consider to be his rival, Donny Lia, in tow.

Lia couldn’t get his #18 close enough to make a serious move for the top spot and settled in for a second place finish behind Coby.

“It helped that Donny and I never really got side by side and we never really raced,” said Coby.  “He never was close enough to do anything with me. Maybe the last lap was close but I wasn’t looking in my mirror on that last lap. If it were the last lap and if my sister Kelly (spotter) had said that anyone was looking low the door would have been slammed shut. Donny and I are going to have run-ins again. I’m sure if I wreck him he’s going to think I did it on purpose and if he wrecks me I’m going to think that he did it again what a jerk, but the bottom line is that we all have to race together. I’m sure that I’m not going to get a Christmas card from Donny every year and that when he wins I am not going to call him when he wins to talk about how his win went. It’s just like that.
“I had a deal with him last year. I don’t have a special thing for him. I’m not going to target Donny or whatever. But I’m sure there are other people he’d rather see win and there are other people I would rather see win and that’s the way racing goes. It’s not like it is a big rivalry or anything like that. He tends to qualify real well and I tend to qualify for shit. That sort of separates us for a while.”

“Doug did a good job and they had a good car,” said Lia, who won the pole for the event.  “I was hoping he'd make a mistake there, and he didn’t, so good for him.  He got his first win in a big race so that's a good deal.  We would have liked to have won, but we'll have to wait for another day because we have some homework to do to come back with a better piece for the race.  We've got qualifying figured out, we just the car better for the race.
”It was never in my mind to rough him up. If he got held up by lap traffic and I got to him, I wasn't going to rough him up to get around him.  If I was going to pass him I was going to pass him because I was better than him. Unless it was like a lap car just screwed him, and the door was wide open and I just filled a hole. I wasn't going to force the issue.  He gave me a lot of room there when I was on the outside of him on one of the restarts and I thought that was pretty cool, and I was showing some courtesy back, so I gave him a little room so he could work some lap traffic.  I could have gotten into him, but I wasn't going to do it that way.  It was just some good clean racing.”
It was apparent though that remnants of the rivalry were still on the mind of Coby, even after they both displayed sportsmanship to each other on the track.

”Donny and I are going to have run-ins again,” added Coby.  “I’m sure if I wreck him he’s going to think I did it on purpose and if he wrecks me I’m going to think that he did it again ‘what a jerk.’

The bottom line is that we all have to race together. I’m sure that I’m not going to get a Christmas card from Donny every year and that when he wins I am not going to call him to talk about how his win went. It’s just like that. I had a deal with him last year. I don’t have a special thing for him. I’m not going to target Donny or whatever. But I’m sure there are other people he’d rather see win and there are other people I would rather see win and that’s the way racing goes. It’s not like it is a big rivalry or anything like that. He tends to qualify real well and I tend to qualify for shit. That sort of separates us for a while.”


With the passing of Stafford Motor Speedway owner Jack Arute Sr. just weeks before the Sizzler, Billy “Bear” Calicchio wanted to do something special as a tribute for Arute. So he painted his wheels and front bumper gold and lettered the car to look like the Garute Brothers #14 that Jack Arute used to work on. The car and Jack were a major influence in Bear’s life.
Lia said Coby gave him a lot of room on a restart during the Sizzler.
Beers is one of the most likeable personalities on the Tour.
Yeah it seemed like every lane we were in on every restart was the wrong one, laughed Beers while looking at his bent up racecar.  “Somebody got jumbled up and it moved us back and we got fresh tires and hung with a couple of leaders.  We got into turn one and they got jumbled up and somebody jumped my right rear and it turned us almost into the fence.  We’re just lucky we didn’t hit it.  The whole right side was torn up but we just missed hitting the fence.  We came in to make sure everything was okay and we had an awesome racecar at the end.

You never know when you are going to win one of these. It’s a tough race to win. It’s 200 laps and the best of the best are here and to have it within a couple of car lengths is tough but it makes it promising for next time we come here.  We got a real good race car and I am excited.

Beers was very happy with the finish and said that if he had more time the #3 might have ended up in victory lane. But still, the veteran driver was happy to see Doug Coby get his first Whelen Mod Tour win.
“It’s good to see Doug win.  He was close a few times and I am happy for him. Next time we come to Stafford he is going to be staring at my back bumper instead of me looking at his.”


Things are looking up for Rob Summers. The second generation driver had a good Sizzler weekend with a 5th place finish and a Saturday night SK Mod win at Waterford Speedbowl.

“Yeah its a real good weekend,” said a happy Summers.  “It's my father's birthday so I'm glad I could do this for him.  The whole crew, all the guys just did a heck of a job, nobody gave up, and they gave me a great car for the race. 

”New team, second race out, I'm just looking forward to good things.”


Mike Stefanik knows how to win. He is arguably one of the greatest Modified drivers in the history of the division. He is known for being a patient and calculating driver who is always in a position to win at the end of the race. That was not the case at this year’s Spring Sizzler.

The "old school" paint scheme on the Bear Motorsports #14 brought back a lot of memories.
(51 Photo)
“When I was a youngster my father worked for Jack Arute at Wood Brothers Construction and he painted the cars for the Garute brothers as part of the partnership,” said Bear.  “That’s how I got my number actually. I used to hang around the race car shop and Jack used to offer me doughnuts when he would get them for the rest of the race team.  I was just a little kid hanging out there and when I grew up and got my own race car, the number-14 it was.  With the passing of Jack, Sr. I figured it would be a little tribute putting that style number on the car for him

When Mike Christopher rolled the number-14 out of the pit entrance off of turn one and onto the track for the first time, the paint scheme drew a lot of attention, brought back a lot of memories and even brought some tears.

“I had goose bumps,” said Bear about seeing the car on the track for the first time. “It was pretty cool.  After Jack, Jr saw it he made the motion like he had tears.  I did it for the family and out of respect for Jack Sr.

The second generation Modified racer followed up a disappointing run in the season opener at Thompson with a solid run in his first ever Spring Sizzler. 

“It was a good run, great run for us, I mean, we ended up real close to the front, up to second at one point.  I missed my entry getting into one, I might have had something to get the lead there, not that we would have kept it, but I might have had a shot at leading the race.  Stafford's a tough place, and the guys gave me a lot of compliments that they were really impressed with it.  I think I had a good feel for the track, just a matter of getting some experience. 
Matt Hirschman looked good in his Stafford debut.
(51 Photo)
Stefanik was tearing through the field after a pit stop and lost his patience when he was stuck behind a slower car, Jamie Tomaino’s #99. Stefanik made a three-wide move to try to get around Tomaino and Doug Coby and ended up causing a wreck in turn-one. “Mighty Mike” did rebound to finish fourth, but the incident did dash his shot for the win. Tomaino on the other hand, wound up 19th.

“I was definitely underpowered and was doing all I could to give the #77 (Doug Coby) a good run there and we were racing good,” explained Tomaino after the incident.   “I guess Stefanik had nowhere to go.  His option was to drive right over me, but instead he tried a crazy move. Believe it or not I've raced with Mike for about twenty-
Mike Stefanik was fast all weekend at Stafford and was a favorite to win. Here Stefanik's #16 gets loose in front of Rick Fuller's #00.
something years, and he's never made a crazy move like that.  So it goes to show that he probably was frustrated because he wanted to go and his car was a lot faster than maybe both our ours, but if there's nowhere to go, there's nowhere to go, and he tried to make somewhere to go, and it cost him, as well as myself.” 

“I think he's the type of guy, he'll say that for once maybe he did screw up.  He's always a gentleman to race against.”

And Tomaino was right. The veteran Stefanik stood in his trailer with his #16 crew beating himself up over the un-characteristic move.

“The driver didn’t hold up his end today,” said Stefanik.  “The car was rocket fast there for a while after the stop.  I thought we were still going to be okay, but we just got a little free there as we got nearer to the front.  It always gets tougher as you get to the front…I kind of pulled the plug on Jamie, I just couldn’t take it anymore going that slow, and I always preach patience and I blew it.  If we cleared him we would have been a hero, but instead I’m a zero.  These guys deserved a win, I just took it away from them. 

When Jerry Marquis was wrecking on lap 143 of the Spring Sizzler, he was probably thinking ‘oh no, not again.’  After totaling a new car during the season opener, Marquis had a little better result this time. The crash wasn’t hard enough to put him down, and the veteran stormed back through the field for an 11th place finish. In fact, Marquis was pretty quick after the incident.

“The car was pretty good at that point, the guys did a good job with the pit stop and stuff and we made a few more adjustments and the car got a lot better.  I just started picking them away one at a time.  I wish we'd had a couple cautions in between, but the guys up front don't want 'em, I want 'em.  It's hard to take but, you know, we had a good run today.  It's a good turnaround from Thompson, and we're looking for good things the rest of this year.”

Marquis day wasn't perfect, but he'll take it. (Jim Dupont Photo)
It was a Sizzler filled with firsts for many Mod Tour rookies including Danny Sammons. Sammons may have had a yellow stripe on the bumper of his number-zero ride, but he drove it like a veteran in his first run at Stafford.

“I like this place,” said Sammons after the race.  “I had never seen Stafford before until we came here and tested. From the first laps I ran, I liked it, and to run the Sizzler and finish in the Top-10 my first time here, I'm happy.  We pitted a little later than most people, and we were coming on there at the end, if it was a 250-lapper we would have finished in the Top-five.  We were coming on strong and it's a good run.
“It's the first time we finished a race with the team.  We got wrecked at Thompson, so for my second Modified (NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour) race and the first time at Stafford to finish in the Top-10 I'm happy.”

When walking around the pre-race Pit Party at Stafford you see fans wearing their favorite driver’s colors.  In this day and age of the NASCAR Nextel Cup boom, it is common to see many fans at Short Tracks wearing Cup clothing like a Dale, Jr. shirt. But that just wouldn’t be right for Appalacian, NY fan Gary Aldrich. Aldrich walked around at Stafford wearing his orange #61 shirt, of the late great Richie Evans. Evans, a nine-time National Modified Champ and a New York native, was also a three-time winner of the Stafford Spring Sizzler.

“Richie was a Legend and a character that made Modified racing what it is today,” said Aldrich, who has been a Modified fan for over 40-years.  “It hasn’t been the same since he left.
“I’m real proud to where his shirt. The only time I wear this shirt is at the big events like this. So many people have asked me ‘where did you get that shirt?’ They are happy to see the shirt so that is pretty cool.”


The Boehler Racing team, once led by the late Lenny Boehler, has always been known for having cars that were “all go” and “no show”. The famous “Ol’ Blue” #3 isn’t exactly the fanciest looking car in the Mod ranks, but it has brought wins and championships to drivers like Fred DeSarro, Bugsy Stevens, Mike McLaughlin, Wayne Anderson, Tony Hischman and more.

And in typical Boehler style, the transporter the team uses to get the famous racecar to and from the track is equally as common. Current Boehler driver Eric Beers thinks the old-school rig is a pretty cool way to get the car down the road.
Aldrich (left) was proud to sport his Richie Evans shirt at his very first Spring Sizzler. 
Sammon's had a good time in Connecticut. (51 Photo)
“We go to the races in the old blue truck. It’s been around a long time and they basically built it themselves and put everything in it. Everything’s got its own place because there isn’t an inch to spare in there. The pit car is wedged in the corner and the car fits in their perfect.  If you have one thing an inch or two wrong nothing is going to fit in there.

“It just shows you that you don’t have to have a big expensive trailer to go back and forth to the tracks and run up front, these guys do it right

“That would be his (Lenny Boehler’s) style.  I couldn’t see him showing up in anything but this truck or
The Boehler racing trailer isn't pretty, but it gets the job done.  Here is tows "Ol' Blue" back home from Sizzler Sunday.
something equivalent to it. I mean you always hear the stories about the #3 car and how people go walking around the pits and are picking out cars you can beat, and if you didn’t know the car you would say ‘oh I think I can beat him.’  Just because of the truck and little things like that.  Then the car goes out there and runs right by you and you are like what the hell just happened.

“It’s great to be affiliated with that team and just to be able to go out there and not spend a ton of money, have fun and run up front.  It’s a great feeling. Old school racing, there ya go.”


Chuck Hossfeld had a good day at Stafford go bad. When Mike Stefanik made a three-wide move that resulted in a wreck, the Roger Hill owned #79 got caught up in the mess.

“I had picked the right lane,” explained Hossfeld who finished 15th.  “I went low where he was going because I saw what was going to happen, but I got run over from behind.  It really wasn't anyone’s fault.  It didn't really look like a six-time champion type of move, but that kind of put us, that's where it went downhill.
We were then in the back and the #28 (James Civali), I don't know if he checked up or what, but I hit him with my right front on the way back through. That knocked the tow way out. So we fixed the tow but the problem was it pulled the end out of the rack, and so as we were driving the tire would move just about a quarter inch, maybe even more than that.   That was about the end of it then, and I couldn’t really go anywhere else. I was just floating around.”

“I was happy with the weekend, I mean, we had some pit problems that really could have...we could have looked like rookies, but we kept our heads on straight and I was really happy with what the pit crew did and I was real happy with the way the car ran, I'm just not real happy with the result, that's all.”

Chuck Hossfeld may not have been facing the right way on the track, but he believes his team is heading in the right direction. (Jim Dupont Photo)

James Civali is a rookie on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour but he is no rookie at Stafford. The young driver had an eventful day during his first Spring Sizzler coming back from adversity a few times resulting in a real strong 7th place run.

“We were running there in the top 10 and the car was real good and I was getting by (Tony) Hirschman and I must have got in the gas too hard and it just washed up on me. I spun it out all by myself and came out of the dirt a lap down. I actually came out in the same exact spot I was in, so I ran there for a while. When the yellow came out I got the lucky dog, so I got to come around. 

The car was good after our pit stop and we stayed out of the wrecks. I mean there was a lot of beatin' and bangin' going on out there. Then one of the times, I saw a couple cars scramble and I lifted coming off of four and I think Tony ran into the back of me and spun me out again. So yeah, we had a rough day and observed a lot, but we rallied back pretty good.” 


Eddie Flemke had a famous racing father. His dad, Ed Flemke, Sr. was one of the all-time Modified greats. Eddie lost his dad early in his budding racing career. Now, some 22-years later, standing in the paddock area after the Spring Sizzler, Flemke admitted that losing Stafford Motor Speedway’s Jack Arute, Sr, a man whom he viewed as a father-figure, was much like losing a dad for a second time.
“I guess the best way to put it into words is it’s hard to find the right word,” said an emotional Flemke after the Spring Sizzler.  “Jack was larger than life in a lot of ways and he was like having my dad around…He taught us so much and he’s done so much for all of us…it’s hard…what do you say when you lose a hero?

He was great, we helped him be who he was and he helped us be who we are.  He was a great mentor. He was a great example to follow.  He was a great leader.  Just look what he’s done here (at Stafford).  He’d be the first one to kick your ass if you messed up, the first one to put his arm around you when you did a good job.  He’s made some mistakes too, but he was human.  He was human enough to take you aside and say ‘hey I messed up, I’m sorry." 

Drivers weren't the only ones who paid tribute to Jack Arute, Sr. Just before the start of the Spring Sizzler fans gave a thumbs up in his memory.