Whelen Modified Tour victory. It was also the first victory for King as a car owner, after years of giving young drivers a chance to hone their skills on the Tour.
Beating The Reg wasn’t easy.
“That guy has a lot of wins and he was coming quick too,” said Civali. “He was a lot better than I was at the end. I think that he overused his tires trying to catch me. He was running pretty hard, I was running hard. He never roughed me up though. I never tried giving him any s--t either. He was just racing as hard as I could. Holding off somebody that good and doing it at this track was just great.”
Ruggiero was not going to settle for finishing second either. He did all that he could to pass Civali, even spinning himself out coming to the white flag in the process.
CIVALI BEATS THE REG IN A CLASSIC STAFFORD BATTLE by Mike Twist
Rookie Racer Scores His First Tour Victory
In the time since NASCAR started their modern-day incarnation of the Modified Tour in 1985, there has been pretty much one constant fact year in and year out. If you want to be the best, you have to beat one tough customer simply known as “The Reg”.
Reggie Ruggiero has been a force since day one of the Tour. It hasn’t mattered if he’s been racing at Riverside Park, Stafford, Wall, Seekonk or New Hampshire. It hasn’t mattered if he’s been driving a car with the number 44, 69 or 41 on the side. It hasn’t mattered if he’s racing a full schedule or a partial one. For parts of three different decades, Ruggiero has done his talking on the racetrack and beating him hasn’t been easy.
Now there is a new name to the list of those who have battled The Reg and come through with flying colors. Now joining men with names like Stefanik, Fuller, Ewanitsko, McLaughlin, Spencer, Kent and Hirschman is a young rookie – James Civali.
Over the final 40 laps of racing of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race at the Stafford Motor Speedway on Friday night, Ruggiero threw everything that he had at Civali. They both raced high. They both raced low. They split lapped traffic. They touched. They got sideways. They went wheel-to-wheel. They went nose-to-tail.
But Civali never flinched. Ruggiero spun himself out coming around for the white flag in a last-ditch effort to take the lead and the young Connecticut driver of Don King’s #28 car motored on to his first career NASCAR
Ruggiero spun himself out coming around for the last lap as he tried to win the race.
James Civali (#28) and Reggie Ruggiero (#41) battled hard for the win at Stafford. (Jim DuPont Photos)
“There was a lot of slow lapped traffic and also a lot of decent lapped traffic,” said Civali. “What sometimes would happen is that the better lapped traffic would be trying to pass the slow lapped traffic. We were going as fast as we could, so as someone was trying to pass a slower car on the outside we would be coming on the outside. A couple of guys just didn’t know where to go. But we had to go because Reggie was coming. I just did what I had to do.”
“He was looser than I was, but I was trying to get by him,” said Ruggiero. “The lapped cars didn’t help, but what are you going to do? That’s racing.”
The racing was so good that it wasn’t just the fans in the stands who were in awe. So were some of the other drivers.
“I didn’t want to run second, I wanted to win the race,” said Ruggiero. “It was a good race. I got a little bit loose at the end and he wasn’t giving me much racetrack. We tried.”
“He was trying to get underneath me out of four and I was watching him in the mirror,” said Civali. “He got loose and spun around. I don’t know how I held him off that long. I never even saw the white flag. After Reggie spun, I was just concentrating on lapped cars. I passed a lapped car, came out of four and looked up and there the checkered flag was. I thought, ‘Is that it?’”
The lapped cars made an exciting race even more of a nail-biter. Since many of the cars running around the track were badly wounded from various incidents (we’ll talk about that later), lapped traffic was plentiful and running at many different paces on the track.
“I was running seventh or eighth and I was trying to watch it,” said Eddie Flemke, who finished seventh. “I kept trying to sit up higher and see what we going on ahead. It was good to see the two generations go for it. Reg had nothing to lose and if anyone could have gotten more out of a car than it had, it would be him. Civali knows this race track and he was due.”
Unfortunately, the great battle for the victory wasn’t the only action during the night. The race at Stafford actually had two very different faces. The first half of the event was an ugly, drawn-out affair that didn’t even start until nearly 10pm. In the first 75 laps, there were seven cautions and one red flag period. By our count, only six of the 31 starters escaped a wreck, spin or mechanical problem.
There was a full moon over Stafford Friday night - and it showed.
Civali (C) is joined on the podium after the race by runner-up Ken Barry (L) and Chris Pastreyak (R).
Tony Hirschman set fast time, drew the pole position and led the first 72 laps, but his night ended abruptly after a restart wreck that involved 12 cars. On the 72nd lap, Hirschman was turned straight into the frontstretch wall while coming to the green flag as the leader. Civali and a few other cars squeaked by, but John Blewett, III was launched over the top of Hirschman. Everyone was uninjured, but their chances of contending for a top finish were through for the night.
Neither Hirschman or Blewett were happy about the botched restart and we’ll have more on what they saw coming up later this week in our Stafford Leftovers.
Other big names who were also involved in the various first half wrecks were Donny Lia, Chuck Hossfeld, Jerry Marquis, Ted Christopher, Jamie Tomaino, Jimmy Blewett and Doug Coby.
After the field thinned out, things settled down. The second half of the race ran caution free and allowed the Civali/Ruggiero battle to take place without being influenced by a single yellow flag or restart.
Ironically, several rookies were able to avoid trouble during the evening. Finishing behind rookie winner Civali and runner-up Ken Barry (a third year Tour driver) were first year wheelmen Chris Pasteryak and Matt Hirschman. Point leader Mike Stefanik gain ground on his championship competition with a fifth-place finish. Stefanik now enjoys a 101-point margin over Ted Christopher with seven races left in the 2006 season.
The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour now will head to Thompson Speedway (CT) for a Thursday night show on August 17th.
Speed51.com will have more on the Stafford race with a fresh batch of leftovers, later this week.