Civali Takes Big T By Storm in the Icebreaker by Mike Twist
Sophomore Driver Starts Mod Tour Season Off Right, While Others Don’t
On Sunday afternoon, one driver got started at the Little T managed to enjoy the biggest accomplishment possible without leaving the track grounds. James Civali, who got started at the small track, won a NASCAR Touring feature at the “Big T”. It wasn’t just any NASCAR Touring feature either (like there is such a thing), it was the Icebreaker, the season-opening race for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.
After taking the checkered flag, after posing for victory lane photos and after rolling through tech with flying colors, Civali stopped to think about just how far he had come. When he did, he was nearly speechless.
“When I was younger, I raced over at the Little T,” said Civali. “I won a lot of races over there and always dreamt of driving at the big track.”
For a child racing in the shadows of Thompson, just making it to the big track was enough. The thought of winning there someday seemed impossible.
“I really didn’t [dream of winning at the big track],” said Civali. “I guess that I wasn’t expecting too much when I was younger.”
James Civali (C), Chuck Hossfeld (R) and Ronnie Silk (L) all stood on the podium at the Icebreaker and each racer earned his chance to be there after a tough event. (Jim DuPont Photo)
Behind turns three and four of Thompson International Speedway (CT) sits another stretch of asphalt. Like the 5/8th-mile not-so-short track, this patch of pavement is shaped in the oval form. It is known as the “Little T” and thanks to its racing format of Quarter Midgets and Karts, it has started careers for many drivers who have raced at the larger facility that is a stone’s throw away.
While Civali enjoyed accomplishments beyond his wildest dreams on Sunday, other competitors found that this year’s version of the Icebreaker was the stuff that nightmares were made of.
Not one driver who finished in the top six of last year’s point standings finished in the top six of the race. Or even the top 10…or even the top 15. The causes of that ranged from crashes to broken parts to cars that didn’t fire when they should have. For many, whatever could have gone wrong did go wrong. It was that kind of day.
Eddie Flemke got things started on that note when his car coasting into the pits on the pace laps. His team got their #10 running, but the race was 19 laps old by the time that Flemke rejoined it. He was as fast as the leaders at that point, but way too far behind to make up lost ground.
Donny Lia led the most laps of the day in his maiden voyage riding the Mystic Missile. Lia adopted a no-tire-change policy and even on old rubber, appeared to be ready to contend with Civali until a part broke on his #4 car.
John Blewett, III was running second with a handful of laps to go when he pulled off the track with overheating problems.
Last year’s Icebreaker winner and Mod Tour champion Mike Stefanik got bounced around and dropped out with crash damage.
Ted Christopher lost a lap in the pits under one of the early cautions. He made it up with the lucky dog pass, but his day ended when two cars tangled in front of him and TC had no place to go.
Richard Savary was sitting in second place with less than 10 laps to go when he had a flat tire. Todd Szegedy had a rear end on his pole-winning Mod go south. Tony Hirschman took a head-first trip into the fronstretch wall after contact with Jimmy Blewett [we’ll have more on that incident in Leftovers]. Bobby Santos lost fluid while running in the top five and spun along with Danny Sammons in the ensuing mess.
Even drivers who finished well had a mountain to climb to get there. Chuck Hossfeld finished a close second to Civali, but didn’t have an easy time doing that.
“We qualified poorly...we had a bad tire,” said Hossfeld. “[In the race] we got running and something happened with John Blewett. I don’t know what happened, but he got a little sideways and ended up bumping me, it wasn’t intentional or anything, and we ended up spinning.
“We had a championship-type day. If we could run like that every week, we’ll be good. It was like a Stefanik-type day. We climbed up out of a hole after spinning. They made the right calls in the pits and made the car even better than on the first run and we were this close to winning. I’m happy with that.”
Hossfeld did come close to winning. On the final lap, he thumped Civali in turn two. They got side-by-side briefly, but Civali kept the top spot and went on to the victory.
Bobby Santos stands by the #3 BRE ride.
Could that mean a championship is in the cards as his next step? Civali isn’t worrying about that yet, but considering that the Tour’s next stop is at his hometrack of Stafford, where he won his first Tour race last season, you can expect that another strong finish might be in the cards.
“We had a cool season last year,” said Civali. “Now we are starting this one off even better. It gives you a lot of confidence going into the next week. It was running really well here and hopefully it will run just as well as Stafford.”
The Spring Sizzler at Stafford is scheduled for this coming weekend. Qualifying will take place on Saturday, with a 150-lap feature event set for Sunday afternoon.
“It was a green-white-checker finish,” said Civali. “The tires got a little bit cold on the yellow. So on the restart, the tires were spinning, the car was pushing in the middle of the turn and loose up off. I was just trying to hold on. Hossfeld was real good. I was just trying to hold him off enough.”
“It was a green-white-checkered and I knew that on the first lap, I could size him up,” said Hossfeld. “I knew that I would be better because I had fresher tires. I was going to make the move on the white [flag] lap and I had a good run on him coming out of turn two. He just came to the bottom and blocked me…a lot. But I’ve been on the other side of the fence where I had to block someone and it is what it is. It’s racing for the win on the last lap. I think that there are no rules there, so I don’t fault him. But I think if he didn’t throw that block, we would have won the race that’s for sure.”
Will Civali's #28 be out front at Stafford too? Maybe. (Jim DuPont Photo)
The green-white-checkered finish came about after a pair of competitors who were battling for third tangled on the backstretch. Ron Yuhas was having a career day sitting in third with his green #6 Mod. Reggie Ruggiero was a man on a mission after starting near the rear with a back-up car after a crash in last weekend’s practice session. Ruggiero was fast…maybe too fast.
Ruggiero made a bold move down the backstretch to move from fifth to third. However at the end of the straightaway, he made contact with Yuhas and they both hit the outside wall hard. Both drivers walked away, but their days were ruined.
We’ll have more on that in Leftovers as well.
Third-place was then inherited by Ronnie Silk, who earned his prize money by keeping Jimmy Blewett at bay by a few inches at the finish.
“We ran each other real clean,” said Silk. “I had my foot to the floor and was just hoping
that I pulled a little better than he did. I was real close. I think that I only beat him by a bumper or so.”
“I did the best that I could,” said Blewett. “Ronnie always runs me clean, so I wanted to run him clean. I was just trying to get one more position.” Civali was the driver who didn’t need one more position at the end though. Last season, he started off his eventual Rookie of the Year winning campaign with a top 10 at the Icebreaker. This year, he won.
Jimmy Blewett (#12) and Ronnie Silk (#19) race side-by-side out of turn four on the last lap. (Rick Ibsen Photo)
John Blewett (Top - Rick Ibsen Photo), Mike Stefanik (Middle - Jim DuPont Photo) and Ted Christopher (Bottom - Jim DuPont Photo) all had bad days at the Icebreaker.