Leftovers: NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Icebreaker by Mike Twist
Lia, Hirschman, Blewett, Yuhas, Silk, The Reg, Grigas and More
Tony Hirschman went to the infield pits for the day after his incident with Jimmy Blewett. (Jim DuPont Photo)
A BLEWETT AND A HIRSCHMAN TANGLE
While scrambling for top five positions at the two-thirds mark of the race, the #12 of Jimmy Blewett and the #48 of Tony Hirschman made contact at the end of the long Thompson frontstretch. Hirschman ended up worse for the wear, after taking a head-first trip into the wall. He was okay, but not very happy about what occurred.
“That started in turns one and two on the restart,” said Hirschman. “I got into Jimmy Blewett a little. I bumped into the side of him a little bit. I had the spot off of turn two. I gave him the whole backstretch to get back up there. I wanted him to be able to race up there again. I wanted to race him clean for it. Well, he drove up next to me in turns three and four. He pulled up next to me on the front straightaway. I was gave it the gas and we were going to race again for the spot and the next thing, I felt my car just get turned head-on into the wall.”
Blewett chalked up the incident as just a racing deal.
“It was just unfortunate that me and Tony had a little racing incident there,” said Blewett. “I don’t know what happened – if his spotter cleared him and I was still there or what. He came up a little bit and it was unfortunate for him. He had a good car.
TWO GOOD STORIES COME TO AN END WITH SEVEN LAPS TO GO
When the Icebreaker got ready for a restart on lap 143, there were a few good stories developing within the top five runners.
Ron Yuhas was sitting in the third position. He had patiently worked his way towards the front and was poised for a career finish. After running into all kinds of bad luck during his rookie season of 2006, this was going to be a big day for him.
Lined up fifth for the restart was Reggie Ruggiero, who wrecked in opening practice for the Icebreaker when coolant poured under his tires. The his team got a provisional start and returned to start at the rear of the field with a back-up car when the race was rain-delayed by a week. A top five finish for him would have been the ending of a tale of perseverance.
But it was not to be for either man. A half-lap after the restart, both drivers found there cars parked in the backward wall. Ruggiero made a bold three-wide move to gain a few positions from Yuhas and the #79 of Chuck Hossfeld after the race went green. Then things went wrong, and both drivers had different opinions on why.
“We had a really good car,” said Yuhas. “We were a little too loose at the beginning, but we tightened it up and we good. We were just kind of riding there and holding our own. We had a third-place car. We weren’t going to pick up any more positions; we were all even and just riding.
“I figured that the #79 was going to come down and I expected that, then all of a sudden out of the grass, Reggie friggin’ comes through. I don’t know what he was thinking. He cleaned us out and ruined our day.”
Ruggiero saw things develop differently.
“Our car ran really well, but we just got caught up in a little skirmish there at the end,” said Ruggiero. “That’s racing. It was fine [with the pass], but the guy in the #6 car came off the corner squirrelly. He hit me in the right corner and that put me into the fence.”
Yuhas is now ready to put the incident behind him and continue on with the forward march that he’s been enjoying since late last season.
“I think that towards the end of last year, we turned our program around. We were going to tracks that we had never been to and we were running well. I think that carries over to this year. So that is a confidence booster.”
LIA SETTLES INTO NEW RIDE QUICKLY
In Donny Lia’s first outing as the driver of Bob Garbarino’s Mystic Missile Modified, there was a slight learning curve.
The length of that learning curve? Exactly 24 laps. That is how long that it took Lia to get out in front of the Icebreaker. He would go on to lead 73 more laps of the season-opening NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour event.
However, a broken part left with a 20th-place finish after having to go behind the wall for several laps to make needed repairs.
“We hit it right today,” said Lia. “Something on the car broke and it was something that you really can’t control. Today, we had a great car. There’s a great crew here and with all of this experience that Bob has from all of his years of racing that makes for a fast racecar.
“Something broke. It was bracket and we had to go behind the wall to weld it up. It was a freak thing. I’ve never seen it, and none of these guys have seen one break except for a wreck. We didn’t wreck, it just broke. It’s a shame because I really thought that I’d have something for them at the end.”
Ruggiero (#14) and Yuhas (#6) were racing for third-place (Top - Jim DuPont Photo) when they got together and ended up in the backstretch wall. (Middle and Bottom - Rick Ibsen Photos)
For the Triple G Scaffold team, it was “mission accomplished” when it came to meeting their objectives for the race.
“Our whole goal here was to finish in the top 10,” said Grigas. “I’m really excited about finishing the race with the car in one piece. I just wanted to finish. You have to finish before you can win. Everyone kept preaching that to me, so that is what I wanted to accomplish today. Thanks to the hard work of my team, we were able to do that.”
The hard work of the team came into play especially when Grigas suffered mechanical woes in the beginning and then in the middle of the event. Grigas started the race at the rear of the field after pitting to replace a fuse for the cooling fan on the pace laps. Then, the power steering went out on lap seven. The team kept adding fluid, but it stopped working for good just before the halfway point. Unable to fix the problem, but determined to get to end, Grigas just kept trucking to the finish.
Lia did not pit for tires at all during the race, but he stands by that strategy. Even running in second place on old tires late in the race, he was sticking right with eventual race winner James Civali, waiting for the right time to make a move for the top spot again.
“I made some adjustments to my line and we would have been good,” said Lia. “When I shifted gears on the restart, it broke. I was just along for the ride at that point.
“For us, our strategy was the right one. I wasn’t going to get any faster if we had come in. I know that some of the guys did. John [Blewett] changed tires and he was good. Before he started leaking, he fast. Whoever had the best car would have probably been between myself, Civali and him. But we’ll never know. That’s how it goes sometimes.”
This was just the latest setback for Lia at Thompson, a track that has not been kind to him.
“This place has always had a hex on me. Very rarely have I finished on all four wheels here. We’re going to have to change that this year.”
Donny Lia sits by his new ride. (Jamie Williams Photo)
HILLBILLY HOSSFELD ON THE RIGHT TRACK
By finishing a close second in the Icebreaker, Chuck Hossfeld put the brakes on a bad luck streak that his Hillbilly Racing team has been enduring for over a season. Now he’s looking towards battling for a Tour title in 2007.
“I hope that we can carry this momentum,” said Hossfeld after the race. “I want to thank Coors Light and the Hills for having me.”
Chuck Hossfeld's #79 (Rick Ibsen Photo)
All drivers thank their teams and sponsors, but Hossfeld was especially sincere. After finishing the ’06 season outside of the top 10 in the standings, rumors flew that drivers and team might split up. Not so. They just buckled down and worked to change their luck. More misfortune followed the team when they entered several springtime NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour races, but they didn’t let that get them down either.
“We just had terrible luck last year,” said Hossfeld. “I’ve been racing a long time and I’ve never had the kind of luck that I did last year. The Hills stuck with me and I stuck with them. We didn’t let that get us down. We have great potential together.”
“We didn’t get the results down South that we wanted, but we were fast. We didn’t make all of the right decisions like we did today and we had some things happen to us. At Caraway, our air cleaner came off. What are the odds of that happening? We’ve had good cars down South, but we didn’t capitalize on that.”
Ronnie Silk's #19 (Jim DuPont Photo)
“I was happy to finish third,” said Silk. “That’s my best finish We just had a lot of laps in the tires. We pitted real early, around lap 30-something. We were lucky and avoided the wrecks, but we put ourselves into a position to hang around up there all day.”
Now Silk is looking to back up the Icebreaker finish with a few more strong ones.
“Last year, we had quite a few decent runs and had some problems. This year, we hope to have decent runs without any problems….that’s our goal anyway. We’re going to Stafford next week, where we run pretty well. So I’m excited. It’s a good start to the year.”
BLEWETT BATTLES BACK
Within 50 laps, Jimmy Blewett was able to battle back from the above-mentioned incident involved Tony Hirschman to post a fourth-place finish.
TWO VICTORY LANES, ONE WEEKEND
The Icebreaker was not the first time that Joey Civali, brother and spotter for James Civali, visited victory lane in a NASCAR Touring event this past weekend.
“He was at Phoenix Thursday night, spotting for Joey Logano when he won out [in the NASCAR West Series] there,” said James Civali. “He came home Friday and is spotting for me today. He’s two for two now this weekend.”
SILK HAS A SMOOTH DAY
The Icebreaker brought a career-best third place finish for Ronnie Silk.
Grigas' #09. (Jim DuPont Photo)
FERRANTE HAS A FUN DAY
A sixth-place finish was enough to make Tony Ferrante happy at Thompson. It wasn’t the best possible finish for the personable Long Islander, but it was a good result to start out the lead.
“It could have been better,” said Ferrante. “I missed a few, good caught up in a few, picked the wrong lane a few times and got spun around once unintentionally. But I’m pretty happy.”
Last year, it was said that Tony Ferrante might be retiring. Instead, he’s decided to stick with a limited schedule, proving that he’s not ready to hang it up yet.
“No, of course not. I don’t think that any of us would want to. There’s just a lot of work that this entails. I didn’t cut back because I don’t like doing this. I cut back because it is so much work. Now, I can come to three or four races and come
“The power steering went out – so that is why I kept pitting and pitting,” said Grigas. “I’m usually a one-hand driver, so I just grabbed on tight with two hands and held on today. I was just trying to be smooth with it and the next thing that I knew, I was in the top 10.”
If not for the power steering failure, an even better result could have been possible for the team.
“The way that the car was handling, it was easily a top five car,” said Grigas. “But I just couldn’t get the wheel turned. I couldn’t get under anybody. It just wouldn’t turn that far. I could drive the outside better.”
WEEKEND HALF GOOD, HALF BAD FOR SUMMERS
Rob Summers came out on top when he raced at Waterford Speedbowl on Saturday and won the True Value Modified Racing Series feature there. He didn’t have as good of a day on Sunday, when he finished
“Yesterday was a good day, but today with pounded the fence with about eight laps to go,” said Summers of his Icebreaker finish. “We were running decent. We struggled, but it looked like we might be able to get a top 10.”
Ferrante's #31 (jim DuPont Photo)
“We had a good car and that set us back, track position-wise,” said Blewett. “We came in, we pitted and we capitalize from our losses. We only had a left front flat, but the track position is what hurt us.”
Blewett was generous in handing out praise for the finish after the race.
“The car was awesome. My hat’s off to my brother, my hat’s off to my crew, my hat’s off to my engine builder, my car owner and everybody. We did an awesome day. They were in and out of the pits and everything went well.”
A top five finish is a good way to start out the season and Blewett is happy about that. He’s even starting to think about points.
“Points are points. We would have liked to get the points for one more position. We’re going to try to run for points and for wins this year. We’ll see what happens.”
GRIGAS GETS ROOKIE SEASON STARTED OFF RIGHT
Bobby Grigas, III started his rookie season on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour off right. The young Massachusetts driver finished a solid ninth in the season opening Icebreaker at and captured the Sunoco Rookie of the Race award.
prepared. I go to the places that I want to go to and have a good time. If we can keep doing what e are doing and be competitive, I can really appreciate this.”
Having a strong finish to recall makes working on the racecars a lot easier.
“When you work on the car dafter a good week, you don’t mind it. When you have to put the car back together after a bad week ‘you ask why am I doing this?’ We’ll have fun this week getting ready for Wall in two weeks. I grew up racing at Wall Stadium, so I like going there.”