Car Show Gives Modsters A Chance to Mingle by Denise DuPont
What Have Stefanik, Perry, Hardie, Dauchenhausen and Other Been Up To This Winter?
Temperatures have plummeted in New England over the past week and those Modified fans who are lucky enough to be headed to New Smyrna Speedway for Florida Speedweeks still have a few days before the cars hit the track, but there have still be things in the area to keep race fans from going completely stir crazy.
(L-R) Willie Hardie, Shelly Perry, Mike Stefanik, Ed Dauchenhausen and Mike Sweeney all appeared at the auto show.  (Jim DuPont Photos)
Frank Maratta’s Auto Show gave southern New Englanders their first taste of racing in 2007 recently. The Hartford (CT) Exposition Center was full of all kinds of cars for this year’s Auto Show. The three-day event had cars on display from old Willy cars from the 1940’s to a technology filled Hummer with more televisions then Gilly’s Pub 44 in New Smyrna has. There was the sleek and exotic movie cars and the famous GTO cars from the 1960s joining the show ranks of the 1950 classic cars. 

But what would a car show be though without representation from the NASCAR, New England Tracks and drivers. Tony Stewart’s crew chief Greg Zipadelli was the special guest on Saturday to greet fans while Stewart’s show car remained at the show all weekend to treat NASCAR Nextel Cup fans. Nine-time NASCAR Champion Mike Stefanik was Sunday’s special guest.

There was representation from Connecticut’s Stafford Motor Speedway and Thompson International Speedway along with Whip City Speedway (MA) and Twin State Speedway (NH). Several True Value Modified Racing Series and NEMA Midget teams also had cars and drivers present to promote their racing divisions.

Stefanik, the driver of the #16 Flamingo Whelen Modified Racing Series car, was at the center of all the autograph session activity.
After winning the 2006 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship, is the Flamingo team ready to go for 2007?

“We are not ready to go yet,” said Stefanik.  “Fortunately, we do not have to be ready to go at the moment, but we are hard at work. We are building a new race car with some chassis changes and a brand change under the hood with a new Ford motor. So we have a lot of things that we are in the process of getting done. We will be ready to come at Thompson.”

During the first week of January, Stefanik had the opportunity to participate in the second annual Geoff Bodine Bobsled Challenge sponsored by Whelen Engineering in Lake Placid New York.

“That was very exciting,” said Stefanik.  “I certainly would like to thank Whelen for inviting me up there. Geoff Bodine has been committed to giving our athletes American Built Sleds. Bob Cuneo from Chassis Dynamics puts an awful lot of his personal time and effort. It was just great to be around people who are so passionate about getting some results. It was very exciting being around all the athletes and interacting with the coaches. I enjoyed it tremendously.”

Settling down into the bobsled was a new experience for the veteran racer.

“It was pretty eye opening when I walked into the facility,” said Stefanik.  “It was kind of like going to Daytona for your first time when you take a look at the banks. I do not know what I was thinking. I was thinking of some little kiddy bobsled run, but when I walked in there were some fifteen to twenty foot walls at ninety degree angles. Then I was thinking, Oh my God, What did I sign up for? I watched the real McCoys come down and do it. They were traveling some 80 MPH. They were very fast. Their heads were shaking really bad, so I though that maybe vision would be an issues. It was a little bit discerning.”
“We didn’t go as fast as the athletes so it was enjoyable and a lot of fun.”

Stefanik took the Bronze in both of his races.

Ben Seitz, the 2006 champion of the NEMA Midgets Division was at the Auto Show armed with his enthusiasm, love of racing and post cards to share with fans.  Like every racer, he’s looking forward to the upcoming season.

“Hopefully we can win another championship that is always the top priority,” said Seitz.  “We will also want to win a lot of races this year too. We have the car almost all built so we are ready to go.  Winning championships keep getting tougher and tougher so we are going to have to work harder and be a lot faster this year.”

With a full schedule of racing throughout the Northeast, what is Seitz’s favorite track?

“Thompson, I like the speed and how much of it that you can carry into the corners. I like that a lot.”
Seitz plans on concentrating on his midget in 2007, but he is always willing to hop into another type of racecar if he’s given the opportunity.

“I don’t have any other plans, not right now,” said Seitz.  “I always like to pick up extra rides, but it is tough. I have no other plans right now, just the Midgets for right now. We are working on a couple of different things though. “

Guy Caron won the 2006 Pro-Late Model Championship in 2006 at Twin State Speedway in Claremont, NH and was at the show, still basking in his title.

“I was pretty excited about winning the championship,” said Caron.  “We got to go out to Las Vegas to the NASCAR banquet. We had a great time out there. Competition is pretty stiff in our division. So we are just going to go back out and try to do it again. We have two cars for Twin State. We are just going to go back in 2007, run hard and go after the championship again.”

Caron isn’t a one-track Jack either.

“We like our home track of Twin State, but we also have a Pro Stock that we go to other tracks with. I like Canaan and Monadnock Speedway for this racing.”

This year the Whelen Modified Tour after many years will return to Twin State (formerly known as Claremont Speedway) after an absence of many years.

“Modifieds have been around the area forever and they should still be racing at Twin State,” said Caron.  “They are a great thing to watch and they are fast. My father and cousin won lots of modified at the track so it will be good to see them back.”
“The PASS tour is also coming to Twin State and I will be running in it too so I am really excited about that.”

Shelly Perry had 17 top ten finishes in 17 races during the 2006 season, along with one victory.  That record allowed her to clench the SK Light Division Championship at Stafford Speedway. It was also a great year for Perry at Thompson Speedway because there she also took the Mini Stock Championship. 

“This past year is going to be tough to beat but we are going to try,” said Perry.  “We are still going to run the two tracks, but we are moving up at both tracks - to the Sunoco Modifieds at Thompson and the SK Modifieds at Stafford. So it will be a little bit easier on my brother because we will be driving the same type of car at each track as opposed to going from the Mini to the SK Light. We are going to be busy. We are also going to try to drive few of the True Value Modified races. We are going to stick to doing the Waterford, Thompson, Seekonk and maybe Monadnock. We will see how we start the season.”

Perry is the only female competitor in most of the divisions where she races, but she is not at all intimidated by that.

“No, I can’t let them do that,” said Perry.  “They are just another car out there to race.  My bumper is just like theirs.”

Perry competed in the Turkey Derby late in the 2006 season to end her year.

“The Turkey Derby was fun,” said Perry.  “That was the first time that I have driven at a track that short. So it was really exciting. The banking was pretty fast too and it took me a little bit to figure it out. So I was really glad that we had two feature races there.”
Perry has started to dip her toes into the True Value Modified Racing Series ranks and looks forward to becoming more involved with the series.

“It looks exciting,” said Perry.  “There really are working with the tracks and keeping up the relationships. The rules did not change much for this year. They are going to keep everything competitive as it is. That is really exciting. Crate motors were not even thought about.  It is good to have the rules so that you can work with what you have and be competitive as well.

Perry’s father is a racer himself, so he can really relate to her efforts.

“My Dad is proud of my brother and I. We are a family team. We all work together. It is really great!”
At Sunday’s show, the True Value Racing Series founder and  driver Jack Bateman was present to greet attendees from the familiar series booth. Driver Ed Dachenhausen was there with his car to sign autographs and answer fans questions. Dachenhausen may not have had a 2006 win to his credit, but he drove consistently near the front during the 2006 True Value Racing Series year which gave him a fourth place finish in the division. Ed will once again be driving the brightly colored pink and yellow True Value Modified Racing Series car in 2007.

“We will be going back to the True Value Series this year,” said Dachenhausen.  “We need to see if we can pick it up four more spots and take the points this year. We will see what happens. We are looking forward to most of the whole schedule. We will go from there.”

What about the series going to Oxford Plain’s Speedway, the new track added to the TVMRS schedule this year?

“For the series I am happy we are exploring new place,” said Dachenhausen.  “Personally I am not real crazy about the six and one half hour ride for me though. That is their big 250 weekend. I am not real crazy about it but we will go.”

Is the Dachenhausen Team ready for the 2007 racing year?

”The old car, the car we used last year is just sitting there. We haven’t touched it yet. We have
everything sitting there waiting to put on it when we go home. The old car we are re-clipping and re-skinning and changing that around a little bit. We will have that car for Monadnock and Lee and we will run the new car every where else. We will split the motor up a little bit. I can hopefully get the year out of the two motors. We will go from there.”

Willie Hardie, Jr. with three SK Modified wins and thirteenth top ten finishes came in second in standing in the Stafford Speedway SK Modified Division.  He’s geared up for 2007.

“We just missed the Championship in 2006 by six points,” said Hardie.  “This year we are going to be once again in there for the championship. Over the last four years we have been fourth, third and second.  This year we will hopefully be first. We will see what happens. This year we may have a new car coming out. We have been doing some R&D and testing going on with it. I will still run the old car though because it ran pretty fast. The new car will actually be the backup car. Hopefully we will hit it hard and get the championship this year.

“We will be racing primarily Stafford this year. If we get some more financing backing we will spread out a little bit more. Right now we have two cars and we would be able to do that. This is the first time in years that we have had two cars and two motors. Right now we are going to concentrate on the Stafford championship, win races and see what happens.”
The black #7 Hardie Race Team is sponsored by Cliff Nelson, Arbitell Convenience Store and Personal Touch Landscaping. 

“The Landscaping sponsor provides the truck and trailer for us and that is a big help. They also have a member on our crew. We are always looking for a sponsor. Everyone that helps us out is great but we are always looking for more.”

Is the Hardie Racing Team ready to go racing?

“We just got this car ready to come to the Maratta Auto Show. We are working on the old car right now. That car will definitely be ready for the first practice. Then we will go from there. We did a lot of rework in the shop by moving things around and making more space. We are looking forward to a good year and hopefully everything will work out this year and we will win this thing! “

Mike Sweeney, Jr. was at the Maratta Auto Show with his black #5 SK Light car that he will be driving in this year at Stafford Speedway on Friday nights.

“This is a new division for us. The guys that all worked on our late model cars and the other cars that we had before to help put this together.“

Sweeney drove a Limited Late Model Division in 2006 at Stafford. He had one win during the 2006 season and fourteen top ten finishes.
“We never had a modified type car before. We put this program together kind of the last minute. We are going to try something different for a little while. See what we can do and pretty much keep the same goals that we have had in racing before. Finish every race and then see where we are at the end of the year for points.

“We will be running Stafford mainly and make a few appearances at Thompson in another car.  And maybe down at Waterford, but Stafford will be our primary focus. This will be our fourth year running and our first year in an open wheel car.  We will see what happens.”

Is the Taylor Rental Sponsored #5 SK Light team Ready to race?

“The car is all set. We have a few little things that have to be done before it can actually be race ready. The transmission has to be put in and the electrical or what not. More than anything it is pretty much race ready. It is ready to go!”

Scott Bennett, a 2006 Stafford Speedway rookie, plans to return to Stafford for racing in the SK Modified Division in 2007. Bennett finished twenty in points during his rookie year of racing in the competitive weekly Stafford SK division. 

“I am really looking forward to 2007,” said Bennett.  “Last year was our rookie year. This year we have a little experience and a little bit better parts. We might also have two cars this year with a back up car. The feeling is a little bit different for this year because it is our sophomore year so hopefully we are not jinxed.”

“The guys are tough at Stafford and they race real hard but when the race is over we had a good time. I went through last year being in the way a couple of times and I apologized. They are all a bunch of nice guys. When it comes down to racing though, we are all there for the same thing.  The SK division is a real fun class. Last year was my first year and we had a good time.”

”We are going to try to do a few races at Thompson, but we will not run there weekly. We may try the Ice Breaker like we did last year and the World Series and a big race in between. With the second car this year maybe we can be up to par at Thompson in our backup car.

“We have high expectations for this year. You are going to see a little more of us up there running in the front.”

In addition to racecars, there were some pretty nice classics at the show - like this 1967 GTO.
Ed Dauchenhausen's bright pink #48 Mod was on display on the show.
Denise DuPont interviews Willie Hardie.
Mike Sweeney, Jr.