Mechalides Wins In Wild Night at Lee by Mike Twist
Some Things Were Odd, Some weere Usual, in True Value Mod Event
Kirk Alexander hit the wall in his heat race - not a normal sight (Top), but the worst wreck of the night occured in the Small-Block Supermodified feature when the Pepsi sign and John Leonard's car were among the things that were heavily damaged. (Jamie Williams Photos
It was a strange night at Lee USA Speedway as the True Value Modified Racing Series visited the New Hampshire oval on Friday. There were plenty of unusual occurrences that led up to the 100-lap feature race.
Want a few samples to see just how wacky things were?
Two-time TVMRS champion Kirk Alexander hit the wall in his heat race, something that is very rare to see. The Late Model feature (which was flagged as complete three laps early because of time constraints) turned out to be an odd affair indeed. It started out when a car hit the frontstretch wall during the hot laps intended to put heat in the tires for that support feature. It ended up with a tangle between the first two runners that ended with the winner, Dean Webber, being chased around the track by an unhappy Jeff Labrecque on the victory lap.
Worst of all, there was also a lengthy red flag period during the Small-Block Supermodified event when John Leonard flipped his car down the backstretch. The leader of the race at that point, Jeff Locke, ended up finding the stopped car of Dan Martineau on the backstretch as the red flag came out. Unable to stop in time, Locke plowed into the rear of Martineau’s car for another hard impact.
All three cars were heavy damage, a sign got knocked down and the whole mess actually left a large divot in the racing surface. A few of the drivers involved in that incident were transported to the hospital, but all were said to be awake at the scene.
The race was red-flagged for nearly an hour to attend to the injured drivers and also to return the track to a raceable state.
So finally hit the track for the Rockingham Boat Spring Fling 100 at nearly 11pm, nobody quite knew what to expect.
It turned out that when the 100 lapper began though, not much really was out of the ordinary. Tony Ricci led the first 35 laps from the pole. The young Maine driver has won twice in Modified action before at Lee, so that wasn’t unexpected.
What was out of the ordinary was the fact that after the one-third mark of the race, Ricci’s car got inexplicably slower. Also unusual was the fact that when asked about the trip backwards through the field, Ricci was completely honest – forgoing any excuses on why it wasn’t his night and placing blame on simply missing ton he set-up that he decided to use.
‘I stepped on my [self],” said Ricci. “I really did. It was bad and there was no excuse for it. The car just fell over. I ran the same exact set-up here last year, ran it at 100% for 100 laps and it never changed. Here at lap 30, I had the anchor out and I was just going backwards.”
Ricci’s night would get worse from there. On lap 57, he got turned around in turn one after contact with Alexander and dropped to the tail of the field. Ricci would not be a factor after that point in the event.
So nobody was really surprised by the race outcome. Even this was Mechalides’ first race victory of the season, he had been running strong in the Marco Turcotte-owned #40, finishing third at Canaan just one race ago.
More importantly, Mechalides had a quick car in his heat race, and knew exactly what could be in store for the 100-lap feature.
Les Hinckley (#06) and Kirk Alexander had podium finishes, but couldn't quite catch Mechalides' #40. (Jim DuPont Photo)
Back in the non-surprise category was the identity of the driver who took over the lead
from Ricci. That was Louie Mechalides, who has raced on tracks from Maine to Florida but has always felt at home logging laps at Lee. Mechalides went from outside the top five to leading the race in a 20-lap span. He really wasn’t looking to lead so early, but when he saw Ricci sliding back, he went for the top spot.
“I was actually just trying to ride around and save the tires,” said Mechalides. “I didn’t want to wear my car out and he [Ricci] just backed up a little bit and got a little looser, so I just had to pass him to keep my rhythm going.”
Once Mechalides took the lead on lap 35, it was game over. Sure, there were another 65 laps in the race, but until the last few circuits, nobody even saw much of Mechalides’ rear panel except during caution periods.
When the caution came out with a dozen laps to go, Mechalides had checked out to a lead of over three seconds on the 3/8th mile tri-oval.
After the restart, Les Hinckley rocketed from deep in the top five to close up on Mechalides in the runner-up spot, but getting past for the lead was going to be another story. Once again, Mechalides was in conservation mode.
“I was just riding,” said Mechalides. “I was told that he was four or five car lengths behind. So I was still working on saving the car. They can get worn out in a hurry.”
“We usually run pretty good here. The car has also been good the last couple of weeks, so we just needed a few breaks [to win a race]. I knew in the heat race that I had a really good car. So we just made a couple of adjustments and then we knew what it was going be like for the feature.”
And the race’s final non-surprise? Remember that we talked about Kirk Alexander and his heat race misadventures earlier? Things eventually took a complete 180 for that driver.
The two-time champion didn’t struggle when it mattered the most Friday night. Alexander worked his way through the field to finish a strong third right behind Mechalides and Hinckley.
Jimmy Kuhn, Jr. recovered from an early race spin to finishing fourth and rookie Todd Patnode rounded out the top five finishers.
Almost appropriately, the oddness continued after each race was run. Victory lane celebrations for all winners were actually postponed until after their cars had gone through tech. It wasn’t to make sure that the cars were actually legal, but instead designed to speed up the racing program so that the track could get their full card of racing in the books. Mechalides had to wait through two weekly series feature races between the time that he crossed the finish line and when he actually got to go to victory lane.
The True Value Modified Racing Series returns to action on Saturday, June 23rd at Seekonk Speedway (MA).
Mechalides crossed the finish line with his #40 (Top), but it would be awhile before he got to go to victory lane. (Jim DuPont Photos)