Todd Szegedy is not a mechanic. He’s not an engineer. He doesn’t belong on a pit crew or working on cars in a race shop. Todd Szegedy is a driver. He belongs behind the wheel.
SZEGEDY RETURNS TO HIS ROOTS IN THE MODS By April Barker
Former Tour Champ Is Back North After Brief Busch Stint
After spending time down south pursuing every driver’s dream of making it big in the upper ranks of NASCAR, Szegedy is back behind the wheel of a Modified. He leans casually against the side of the familiar racecar as he talks about the path his racing career has taken since winning the Mod Tour Championship in 2003. “Trying to get a job in full-time racing is a goal that most drivers have, and the only place to do it is down south,” said Szegedy.
So that’s just what he did. Last year, Szegedy moved to North Carolina and focused on making the right connections and getting a chance to prove himself as a driver worthy of a ride in one of NASCAR’s top series.
Szegedy feels back at home in the Mod ranks.
His appetite for racing in the Busch series was first whetted in 2004 when he ran three races for Joe Nemechek’s Busch Series operation, NEMCO Motorsports. Szegedy ran at Milwaukee, Chicago and Memphis. Despite getting caught up in wrecks or suffering from tire problems, what he takes away most from the experience is qualifying 12th at Chicago in a field full of Cup drivers and Busch regulars and a 15th-place finish in Memphis.
“I know I can get the job done. I know I can drive the Busch cars, or even the Cup cars, or even the trucks,” said Szegedy, “but I’ve got to get the right chance and the opportunity.”
Szegedy thought the right opportunity had come when he got a call from Eddie D’Hondt, a former Modified driver and General Manager for Robert Yates Racing.
“I had talked to him in the past about thinking of moving down there and trying to pursue driving and he said, ‘well I can get you down here working in the shop,’ because I told him I can’t just move down there and not be working; I’ve got to be making a paycheck. He said, ‘well I can get you in the shop, helping out building shocks and learning a little bit about the cars, maybe going to some tracks, and maybe we’ll get you in the seat and do some testing,’” explained Szegedy.
He got one test.
“It was between me and five other guys. We tested at Kentucky. I was the third best guy,” said Szegedy of his efforts.
Unfortunately third-best wasn’t good enough for Yates, who chose to go with the two best drivers, leaving Todd still behind-the-scenes, working in the race shop.
Todd is open wheelin' again on the NASCAR Whelen Tour with his new #2 Wisk ride.
“Obviously I needed to pick up my speed a little bit. I hadn’t been in a car in over a year, and then I get thrown right on the track at Kentucky where you’re doing 190 MPH, so I think if I spent a day there testing and went back, I would have been right up there with the top guys, so it’s just a matter of getting the right opportunity.”
The right opportunity has been Todd Szegedy’s focus, and he isn’t giving up until he’s found it.
He got laid off at Yates in December, and while others might have given up, Michael Smeriglio had perfect timing when he approached Todd with the chance to drive his car on the Modified Tour.
“[Smeriglio] had talked to me a couple weeks prior to me getting laid off. He said, ‘you know, we might have a chance of putting together your old team,’” explains Szegedy. Smeriglio told Todd that Wisk and Snuggle would be the sponsor, and he wanted to know if Todd would be interested in driving on the Tour again if he could get his old crew chief, Phil Moran, and his old cars back.
“I said yeah, of course,” explains Szegedy. “I said, ‘well, its either stay down there and work and give up racing, or come back here and race,’ and I decided to come back and race.”
He doesn’t see it as a step backwards, and his experience down south hasn’t seemed to shake his confidence one bit.
“I consider the tour just as competitive as any other sport out there. I
Szegedy knows how to get it done on the Tour. He and Moran took home the championship hardware in 2003.
consider it just as competitive as the Cup level. A lot of people ask if it’s taking a step backwards, and its not, because it’s a competitive level.”
His demeanor on the track or in the pits isn’t that of someone who is ashamed or discouraged. He’s happy to be back and has great expectations for the Michael Smeriglio-owned #2 Wisk/Snuggle team.
“I’m very accustomed to these cars,” said Szegedy. “My crew chief, Phil Moran, is great; he and I get along very well. He knows how to set a car up…we won a championship with basically the same team.” Szegedy has hopes of repeating that success.
“We’re going to go for a championship, and our main goal is to see if we can finish the season with a top-five, win a couple races and if we win a championship, it’ll be a plus.”
He’s confident about being back behind the wheel, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that he’s comfortable or just settling. Szegedy is just as determined as ever and is already thinking about next year and actively
Todd hopes that the attention he may get winning on the Modified Tour can earn him a return shot to the big leagues of NASCAR.
looking for new opportunities in the Busch series or the Craftsman Truck Series. “It would be nice if by halfway through the season or toward the end of the season, maybe I’ll have something that I can do for next year,” he said.
Todd Szegedy’s next opportunity just might be the one that he’s been looking for to bring him to the upper ranks of NASCAR competition. He’s got the right attitude. Now all he needs is the right opportunity.