SMYRNA SPEEDWEEKS IS A MOD SILLY SEASON OF ITS OWN by Matt Kentfield
Drivers and Crew Chiefs Swapping Rides Just in the Florida Sun
Each February, many of the top NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour teams make the trip from the snow and cold of the Northeast to the warm Florida sunshine to participate in Speedweeks at New Smyrna Speedway. Drivers use Smyrna Speedweeks as a chance to knock the dust off their skills that have spent the winter in hibernation. Crews work on their machines to get them prepped for the season opening WMT races.
It would be fair to reason that the driver and team pairings that will participate in the Whelen Modified Tour together this season would come down to New Smyrna and get a head start on the rest of the teams that didn’t make the trip. That’s not the case in this year’s Speedweeks, however. As many as four drivers are steering cars different than the ones they will be driving at tracks on the Whelen Tour in 2006.
Chuck Hossfeld is driving the #22 at Speedweeks, but will drive for the #79 during the Mod Tour.
One of the biggest news items of the off-season was that Ransomville, New York native Chuck Hossfeld has teamed up with the #79 Hillbilly Racing team for the 2006 WMT season. Both the #79 car and Hossfeld are in New Smyrna, but it’s not Hossfeld in the seat. Zach Sylvester is wheeling the car owned by Roger and Sandra Hill, while Hossfeld is in his own #22 that he plans on racing in some special Modified races in the Northeast during off-weekends for the WMT.
It’s not that Hossfeld doesn’t want to run the Hillbilly machine during Speedweeks, it’s more a case of keeping a commitment to his friends that have been working on getting his #22 ready for the trip.
“We had this deal worked up before I got hooked up with the #79 car,” said Hossfeld. “It wouldn’t be fair to get a car built and have everything ready to come down here and then say that I’m going to go run with another team. This team that I have are pretty much all friends from home. Everybody who works on this car lives about five or ten minutes from me. We’ve run a lot together before and we’ve won a lot of races and that’s what we planned on doing while we’re down here.”
Hossfeld has run among the top-five finishers nearly every night of this year’s Speedweeks with his #22, so working with his own team has been a good strategy. Zach Sylvester has been struggling thus far at New Smyrna with the Hillbilly team. Since showing up during the middle of the week, Sylvester and the #79 have been victims of other drivers’ crashes and have struggled to get the quality finishes that both the driver and team were hoping for.
Even though he’s behind the wheel of a car that will be occupied by another driver come the season-opening Icebreaker at Thompson, Sylvester is happy to have the chance to drive for the Hills in their #79. Since both Sylvester and the Hills have been racing on the same track together for several years, it’s not taking very long for the driver and team to get acclimated to one another.
“I’ve never driven for them before. Heck, I’ve never driven a Race Works chassis before and that’s what they run,” said Sylvester. “Like I told the Hills when I first started talking to them, the car’s got four tires, four shocks, and four springs so it can’t be that different than anything else.
“The guys have all been great to work with and they’ve even been good to work with on the Tour. We’d always say hi to each other and help each other out. We had the opportunity to put something together with them on the Tour this year but we had already signed on Kevin Crowley to be our crew chief this year in our own stuff. We weren’t going to back out on our word for that deal with him.”
Hossfeld is also going to use Speedweeks to get to know the Hills and the crew of the #79 even though he’s not racing for them until Thompson.
“I’m going to hang out with them whenever I get a chance to. Everyone I’ve talked to say they’re a great bunch of people. If I could go do two things at once I would. The thing I liked about them was how they understood that I was going to come down here with my team from the first time I mentioned it to them the first time I talked to them.”
The thing that makes the Hossfeld/Sylvester situation even more intriguing is the relationship that the two young drivers have. Several on-track incidents through the years on the Whelen Tour have the two on friendly yet guarded terms.
“Chuck and I have had our run-ins in the past but there’s a time and a place for everything,” said Sylvester.
Zach Sylvester is drivng for the Hills and the #79 team, but he won't be on the Tour. He'll be with his own, family-owned team.
“Everybody’s spending the same amount of time and the same amount of money so grudges can’t be held.
“Even though we’ve had our scuffles in the past I’m still friendly with him and we get along pretty good. Two years ago at Nazareth, Chuck gave me a shot that I thought was going to land me in the parking lot. There’s been a few more incidents like at Thompson, Stafford and the North-South Shootout where we got squeezed in the wall. I know that at places like that room runs out real quick so I don’t think any of that stuff was intentional so we’ll go racing together and have some fun.”
Hossfeld also knows that there’s been some incidents in the past, but he and Sylvester are two of the young rising stars on the WMT and he’s ready to race that way.
“I did an autograph session with Zach once and I’ve come to realize that everybody likes that guy,” said Hossfeld. “I don’t know Zach that well but I know he’s a good racer. Believe me, there’s no hard feelings about him being down here and driving that car or anything that’s happened between us before. He seems like a good kid and he’s a great driver. He’s come a long way in the last few years. He’s a talented dude and I want to see that team be successful down here.”
While Sylvester prepares for the 2006 season by driving a different car during Speedweeks, his WMT crew chief is also in New Smyrna working with a different driver. In fact, the driver that Crowley will be working with this year and the driver that he worked with in 2005, Donny Lia, are in New Smyrna but he won’t be working with either one. Crowley is turning the wrenches on the #9 machine piloted by 2004 Speedweeks Champion Eric Beers.
For Crowley, it doesn’t matter what team he’s working with in New Smyrna, he just wants to be there winning races. And winning is what he’s been doing with Eric Beers.
“I’m here to race. I want to win races, that’s the bottom line for what I’m doing down here,” said Crowley. “I left Donny and next year I’m working for Zach and this week
I’m working with Eric. I don’t like to jump around but I do like to work on racecars. So I talked to Eric and he was happy to have me come down here with him.”
Crowley is also using Speedweeks to get a bit more familiar with his current WMT driver.
“I see Zach every day and talk with him while we’re down here. I was down at their shop for probably the last month and we’ve got things going pretty good there. The guys have gotten two cars pretty much completely finished, so when we get to Thompson we will hit the ground running.”
While Crowley turns the wrenches on his #9, Eric Beers is knocking the rust off in New Smyrna as well. Beers is another driver that is at New Smyrna behind the wheel of a different car than the one he’ll be racing on the WMT in 2006. Instead of the familiar Boehler #3, Beers is behind the wheel of his family-owned #9 that he’s been known to run, just like Hossfeld in the #22, in certain RoC Modified shows and other races along the East coast.
Kevin Crowley (left) is working with Eric Beers (right) at Speedweeks, but will be with Sylvester during the 2006 Mod season.
“The #3 guys have enough stuff to do to get ready for Thompson and the first couple weeks of the season to not come down here,” said Beers. “It’s tough to come down here and run for nine nights. It’s basically half a season in the span of a week and a half. Rather than take anything away from what we’ll have this year, I’d rather come down here with my own car and have the #3 car ready for the Icebreaker.”
Beers doesn’t care what car he’s running, he wants to come down to New Smyrna to get his mind back on racing before the WMT season kicks off.
“You definitely get a little rusty sitting around. You get a little bit of a leg up on the guys that don’t get to come down here. It snowed back home the other day and you can’t race in the snow so it’s a lot easier to come down here and have some fun and get back in the swing of things.”
And getting back in the swing of things is what Speedweeks is all about, even if it’s in a strange car with a strange crew.