“I lost my first race when the checkered flag was waving and I got dumped,” said Barry. “I’m not going to win my first race that way.  If I was going go get him, I was going to get him clean.  I thought that I had him a couple of times on the outside, but I couldn’t muster enough horsepower to get by him.”

The victory was even more special to Szegedy because it was the final race that he would run with long-time crew chief Phil Moran before Moran heads down south to work in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Shop of Bill Davis Racing.
Mod Tour Hotshoe is at a Crossroads in Life and Racing
Todd Szegedy ran a flawless race in Sunday’s Fall Final at Stafford Motor Speedway.  In the final NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race of 2006, the young Connecticut driver led all 150 laps with his #2 Wisk Modified to score the victory.
It wasn’t the first time that Szegedy led a Tour race from wire-to-wire, but don’t call it dominance either.  Szegedy only beat Ken Barry to the finish line by .22 seconds.

“We’ve done this before.  We did it in ’03 and ’04 without pitting,” said Szegedy.  “I wouldn’t say that it was dominant.  Kenny was really good too.  At the end, he gave me a couple of taps.  It was what any driver would do.  He raced me clean and I said to myself that if he got a good run on me, I wasn’t going to fight him.  I was going to do everything that I could [cleanly] to stay in front of him, but I wasn’t going to block him.”

Barry raced Szegedy clean too.  He got to Szegedy’s rear bumper and used it up, but never attempted to turn him around or knock him out of the way.  In 2004, Barry learned that being punted out of the way on the last lap wasn’t much fun, when he lost the lead within sight of the finish line at Wall Township Speedway (NJ) in a NASCAR Modified Tour event.
Ken Barry (#21) runs close, but not too close, behind Szegedy's #2.  (Mary Hodge Photo)
Szegedy is interviewed in victory lane at Stafford.  (Jamie Williams Photo)
“I had people helping me, but I needed even more help.  I needed a full-time marketing guy pushing me all the time.  What I had just wasn’t enough.  You need a lot of help – financial help, marketing help and more.  The best thing is for a manufacturer to get behind you.  I wish that Ford could have gotten behind us when we were hot in 2003.”

In 2003, Szegedy was definitely hot.  He became the first person in Modified Tour history to back up a Rookie of the Year title with a championship in the next season.  He won four races and finished in the top five 11 times out of 18 events.  He also did it with a Ford-powered car, which at the time was unheard of on the Tour.
“I definitely believe that I have the ability and the experience to run with the top guys,” said Szegedy.  “If you put me into a top car or truck and get me used to those cars, I will be a front running driver.  I got a chance at Yates that 80% of the people in racing don’t get.  I’m not saying that I didn’t get it because I didn’t have money backing me.  I did and that was a part of it.  But I didn’t get further because I wasn’t who they were looking for.  It wasn’t me
Szegedy has spent time in the Busch Series garage - but hasn't been able to make a home there yet.  (Chicagoland Speedway Photo)
races in the world and still not get there because of sheer talent.  You need to have good marketing people back you and good money behind you.  Those are just the cold hard facts.”

Szegedy knows those facts all too well.

Around 1,000 miles to the southwest of Stafford on Sunday afternoon,  David Gilliland wheeled his #38 Robert Yates Ford to a very respectable 15th-place finish in the Bass Pro Shops 500 NASCAR Nextel Cup race.  As a rookie in the highest form of stock car racing in existence, it was an important building block for the young driver.

But that didn’t win him much attention from the manufacturer.

“I don’t even know if they knew we existed unfortunately,” said Szegedy.

And while Gilliland got a career boost from winning the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Challenge, a race designed to showcase NASCAR’s Grand National and Elite Series divisions, at Irwindale Speedway in 2005; Szegedy wouldn’t be able to make the same headlines.  NASCAR’s two Modified Tours are the only regional tours, out of a stable of eight series, that didn’t have a non-points high-profile special event this season.

So a young Modified driver like Szegedy has to blaze his own path.

“Honestly, I want to come out and say it.  I wish that we got more support from the higher-ups in this series.  You’ve got guys like [NASCAR Nextel Cup crew chief] Tommy Baldwin [Jr.] down there who promote this series, but you need more guys.  You need NASCAR to promote it directly.  I’m not saying that they don’t, but we need more help [from them].  Just because we don’t drive a full bodied car, doesn’t mean that we can’t drive a racecar.”

Szegedy feels that he proved that fact during his audition with Nemechek’s team. 
“This is awesome,” said Moran.  “As a full-time crew chief, I won my first race with Todd.  Now I’ve won my last one with Todd and that feels really good.  There are a lot of guys from up North down there, so I’ll be able to ride them about winning my last race up here as a Modified crew chief.” 

“It’s really important [that we won together],” said Szegedy.  “We were joking around that if we won, he would stay.  But it was kidding around because I want him to go.  He deserves to be down there.  Guys with his amount of talent deserve a shot.

“Mechanics and chassis guys can go down there with talent.  Unfortunately, as a driver you can win all of the
But if a few things could have fallen into placed slightly differently, it could have been Szegedy wheeling the Yates car at Atlanta and having a bright future ahead of him in the big leagues. 

Instead, the talented and personable driver faces an uncertain future and many questions to answer during the off-season.  Minutes after being some of the best racecar drivers in the region, and probably the country, Szegedy was wondering if he even has the desire to keep playing the racing game and come back again in 2007 – or if life outside the sport might be more appealing to him.

After winning the 2003 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour title, Szegedy made the right moves to move up in racing.  He dipped his toes in the NASCAR Busch Series waters with a couple of respectable races for Joe Nemechek’s team.  He said the right things, he looked the part and he went to work in the shop of Robert Yates Racing to build shocks and learn the inner workings how the big-time NASCAR world operates.  This earned him a short test for the Yates team and Szegedy scored high marks there.  But that didn’t get him into the driver’s seat.  After all, laps times alone don’t earn you a ride these days at the top of the sport.
Szegedy testing the NEMCO #88 Busch Car at Chicago a few years ago.  (Chicagoland Speedway Photo)
“I qualified 12th at Chicago, finished in the top 15 and then had a top 10 at Memphis.  I look now at guys who have run 10 or 15 races and a lot of guys down there haven’t done that yet [finish in the top 15].  We can get the job done, but we need help and we’re not getting that.”

So now, without a clear path to move up after mastering one level of racing, Szegedy has to wonder if his heart is in it when it comes to staying in a sport that has been both generous and cruel to him.

“I have personal things that I need to take care of,” said Szegedy.  “I’m looking at buying a house and I’m getting married [in May 2007].  It’s hard.  I have a good job, but I don’t make $100,000 a year and that’s what you need in my area to be making to even think about buying a house.  I don’t know.  I’ve got a lot of thinking to do and a lot of talking with my fiancé about what to do and where to live.” 

Szegedy has always balanced racing with the rest of his world well.  He even proposed to his future bride Alexis on stage at the 2003 NASCAR Modified championship banquet.  But while the people closest to Szegedy have encouraged him to keep going in racing, he wonders if
maybe he would rather just spend more quality time with them away from the track.

“My family and my fiancé are who have kept me racing.  They have been times that I’ve wanted to hang it up and they’ve kept me coming back. 

On the other hand, there is the allure of racing that still draws Szegedy in.
“I want to race, but I’ve been racing since 1983.  On one hand, I can’t just hang it up.”

Especially considering that at the age of 30, Szegedy still has plenty of good years ahead of him. 

“You see Mike Stefanik at 40-something years old winning the championship,” said Szegedy.  “You can be competitive and win championships at that age – Stefanik has proved it, Hirschman has proved it.  Look at Eddie Flemke.  He’s 51 years old and finished second in the points.  Teddy is 48 or 49.  Those guys kick our butts and if you gave them a shot down south, they would run well with the best of the best.  The five best guys in this series are in their upper 40’s, so there is promise that I could have another 20 years of good racing.”
But the racing in Modifieds is hard work with little payback.

“I love the Modifieds.  I wish that I could make a living racing a Modified and if I could, I wouldn’t go anywhere.  That’s not the case though”

Szegedy doesn’t know what will come next.  He might be back on the Tour next year.  He might not be.  He hasn’t given up on his dream of making it to the majors either and even wonders if getting passed up at Yates might end up being a good thing.
Szegedy races with Ted Christopher (Top - Howie Hodge Photo) and Tony Hirschman (Bottom - Jim DuPont Photo.) and respects the logivity of both men's careers.
Szegedy inin victory lane.   (Rich Ibsen Photo)
“Now they are having their own struggles and issues too.  So maybe it was a blessing in disguise.  I could have had my one shot and not have looked good.  Maybe I still have a shot.  I’d still love to get into a truck ride or a Busch ride.”

And if not, Szegedy is in the driver’s seat when it comes to making plans on the Modified Tour for 2007.

“[Team owner] Michael [Smeriglio} wants to run for sure.  If I race again, I’m definitely going to run this car.  We’re looking for a crew chief.”

A few things are for certain.  First, if Szegedy hangs it up after 2006, Stafford will be a great last hurrah for him.
Szegedy does his victory lap  (Jamie Williams Photo)
Secondly, if Szegedy doesn’t make it to Atlanta someday, it won’t be because of a lack of talent.

Speed51.com will have much more coming up from Stafford, including our leftovers from the race and a story on the 2006 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion, Mike Stefanik.  Stay tuned.