Leftovers: NASCAR WMT & SMT "Whelen All-American 300" by Matthew Dillner and Amie Campbell
Big Wrecks, Grigas Hot Doggin', Blewett's Back and More
Richie Evans (left) climbs the Martinsville wall to a victory at Martinsville over Geoff Bodine (right) back in the day.
MOD DRIVERS APPRECIATE HISTORY BEHIND MODS AT MARTINSVILLE
“Martinsville is a special place for the Modifieds,” explains legendary car owner Bob Garbarino. “I don’t know how many people are old enough to remember that, but it is. If you came here with a Modified you had to run (here) or nobody would look at you.”
Garbarino is correct. The Modifieds have a rich history at the Virginia paper-clip that has only recently been re-birthed with the Whelen 300. Many Mod greats have raced and won at Martinsville. There have been moments of tragedy, like the loss of the great Richie Evans and Charlie Jarzombek. At the same time, the track has furthered the legends of those and many others that have tasted victory there.
“I came here as a kid and watched Modified races,” explained Southern Mod veteran Frank Fleming. “Richie Evans, Jerry Cook and Charlie Jarzombek, all the big-time racers come here and I watched them as a young man. I wish I could come out here and get a win like them or a top-five.”
“For the series we run it is the Daytona of our season. It’s such a big facility and the largest crowd and Whelen does so much leading up to the event. All the competition comes here and you have all the heavy hitters from the North and South.”
“There is so much nostalgia with the Mods down here it’s not even funny,” said Long Island Mod driver Glen Tyler before making his first-career Martinsville start. “My father ran down here and he dragged us down here as kids. When we came here back then there were no big grandstands. There was just a front stretch grandstand. That was 20 years ago. To be here and be at this level is great.”
LIA NEARLY WRECKS, BUT STILL WINS POLE
It was an exciting two-lap run for Donny Lia during Whelen Made in America 300 qualifying. Lia’s car slid sideways coming out of the final turn. As on-lookers held there breath, the Long Island driver saved the car and moments later savored his second Bud Pole of the season.
“The first lap was pretty good,” said Lia. “I didn’t think I got all I could on the first one so I was trying real hard on the second lap. I almost put it into the fence in turn four. We were lucky to get away with that without a scratch. It was exciting and fun.”
JIMMY BLEWETT MAKE HIS RETURN TO RACING
A few weeks ago, Jimmy Blewett lived through a moment that will forever change his life. He was involved in an accident that tragically claimed the life of his older brother, John III. Jimmy took time off to be with family and skipped the Mansfield race. He returned behind the wheel of the Eddie Partridge owned #12 to defend his Whelen 300 title.
The comeback didn’t go as planned with Blewett dropping out of the race early with engine problems. But Jimmy admitted that being back at the track was just what he needed.
“It’s just good to be back and get my feet wet,” said Blewett with a smile. “Now we will just look forward to Thompson. It just feels great. The racetrack is home away from home. To get the hugs and get the smiles is what I really need right now. I figured being back at the track would be the best medicine for me. That one week off felt like a lifetime and I don’t want to miss another race again. I appreciate all the help and consideration from everyone.
“Friends and family are what get you by in those situations. It’s overwhelming the support from the friends and family. We really all truly appreciate it all. The donations for my nephew and his college fund have been tremendous and I can’t thank everybody enough.”
RACING WITH JESUS STILL THERE FOR MOD COMMUNITY AFTER ALL THESE YEARS
For years, Racing with Jesus Ministries have been part of the fabric of the Mod community. In times of tragedy, such as the recent passing of John Blewett III, Rev. Don Rivers and the rest of the RWJM group have been a part of the mourning and healing process for the entire Mod community.
“It’s challenging for us because you develop relationships with these guys and we get to know them sometimes better than a lot of people do,” said Rev. Don of dealing with the times of tragedy. “Our role is to help others and give them hope when they don’t have hope. A lot of times it’s to hold them, to walk with them or just simply to be there so if they do break down they have someone to lean on. God’s equipped us to do that.
“He gives us the ability to be able to stand in front of 8,000 people and remember a friend. If we were an outsider we wouldn’t be able to help them. It helps to be a part of the family. It makes a difference because we are one of them.”
ONE OF THE MANY TANGLES OF THE NIGHT, HIRSCHMAN TAKES THE BLAME
One of the largest incidents of the night came on lap 80 when about nine cars were involved in a wreck in turns one and two.
Martinsville Speedway was just where Jimmy Blewett wanted to be on Saturday. (51 Photos)
Civali went on to explain that what Stefanik perceived as excessive aggression was simply Civali’s attempts to save the car from wrecking.
“I didn’t try and go down in there and drive through him or anything,” insisted Civali. “I just got loose on entry and there’s not much you can do when you get loose in. You’ve just got to drift it up and I got into him. I got loose first and then bounced off the curb. I was doing everything I could to save it.”
“None of this stuff ever gets called,” Stefanik added. “You know who does it week in and week out. No one wants to step up and make the call and that’s what happens. He did not need to wreck me to pass me. I gave him the inside, complete the pass and move on. That’s why he got thrown out of other divisions. It’s because of stupid things like that. It’s just retarded racing. This division has gotten so rough and it’s because nobody stands up and makes a call. It just gets worse and worse and worse.”
Civali finished 4th while Stefanik finished 34th.
“All I saw was the 59 (Matt Hirschman) knock into the #10 (Eddie Flemke) and him knock into me,” said Brian Loftin about getting caught in the wreck. “We piled in from there. I don’t know why the #59 was charging the corner that hard this early this early in the race. “
“I was side by side racing with another car and Flemke was in front of me,” said Hirschman. “I was racing the guy next to me and paying attention to him and I gave him (Flemke) a tap and he did get into Reggie (Ruggiero). It’s probably something I caused. I didn’t mean to but I was racing the guy next to me.”
WINNING HAS GARBARINO FEELING LIKE A KID AGAIN
Bob Garbarino is enjoying life right now. His car and new driver, Donny Lia, have won half of the races so far during the 2007 season. When Lia pulled into victory lane, Garbarino was the first to greet his winning driver.
A big pileup early on took out several Martinsville contenders. (Rick Ibsen Photo)
“I wanted to be sure I was the first one to meet him,” said Garbarino. “A lot of people don’t realize that Donny is an emotional kid. I found that out when we won our first race together at Stafford. I know it means so much to him and it adds to making it that much to me.
“It’s all been about chemistry this year. It’s not bigger engines or smarter people. Everyone is pulling on that rope in the same direction. I would have been happy with three wins and finishing in the top-five in points. Now obviously our expectations are higher and we are going to keep them there. There are things I haven’t accomplished in this sport. I would love to accomplish them. But if I don’t it was still one hell of a ride.”
He’s just so pumped up,” said Lia about his car owner. “Like one of the guys on the crew said, it’s like he’s 18-years old again. He’s got the energy and exuberance of an 18-year old and he’s a 60-something year old guy. The success we’ve had this year has brought that out in him. The love he has for racing and the desire he has to succeed is so great. Besides the Marina the racecar is his life and he eats and breathes it.”
ROOKIE GRIGAS GETS FIRST TASTE OF THE FAMED RED DOG
It was Bobby Grigas’ first time racing at Martinsville Speedway. It was his first time braking hard on entry, his first time avoiding the dreaded curb that lines the inside of the turns. It was also his first time to have another more tasty Martinsville tradition. The Jesse Jones Hot Dog has become part of the old Speedway’s lore. Speed51.com bought Grigas his first hot dog, and ordered it all the way.
Bobby Grigas enjoys(?) his first-ever Martinsville hot dog.
“I’ve never seen one of these things before,” laughed Grigas as he peeled back its wax paper covering. “It looks like a Sloppy Joe hot dog.”
Then the first bite which revealed its trademark bright-red color.
“It looks like a red-rocket. I’ve never seen a hot dog with this much color. It’s interesting and colorful. It’s a bright red hot dog. It looks gross and it tastes like a weird hot dog with chili and mustard on it. “
At the time Bobby was unsure if he would dare have another Jesse Jones Dog, but admitted it may be a competitive advantage.
“If I don’t have to go to the bathroom before the race it won’t be worth anything but if I have to go to the bathroom at some point during the race it will be worth about a half a second.”
Foley (#57) and Myers (#41) had a hard-fought battle that ended in disaster for both.
“It was one of those things where it’s probably just a racing deal,” said Myers. “When one side says it’s the others fault and the other side says it was the other guys fault, it’s probably just racing. I got a good run on Foley and I shoved it down in the corner pretty good. The whole field had caught us and he was holding me up. It was time to go. Foley just didn’t give us any room.”
Myers wasn’t too fired up over the contact between the two drivers as he was about where he was placed in the field when the cars went to green.
“I was more disgusted with NASCAR with not taking time to line up the cars after that. They tell us lead lap cars to the front. NASCAR makes us watch a 40-minute video on race procedures before the race and they can’t even follow them? I hate to badmouth NASCAR like I did after the (Bowman Gray) Stadium, but I am badmouthing NASCAR. To come from 24th and get up to pass Foley for fifth, we should have been in the top-five.”
FOLEY AND MYERS… JUST A RACIN’ DEAL
You always here drivers say, ‘it’s just one of those racin’ deals.’ Although to some on-lookers the contact between Jason Myers and Jay Foley in the closing laps didn’t look as if it were a racing deal.
The two drivers, battling for fourth, tangled and spun.
“He just wasn’t up quite far enough to get up there and pass me,” said Foley. “I guess he burned his brakes up and couldn’t stay off of me. It knocked me out of a few spots but we still got a top-ten out of it. I told them if we come out here if we qualify top-20 and finish top-15 I’d be tickled.”
Mike Stefanik (left) watches as his crew repairs the damaged #16 machine.
DRAMATIC CRASH CAUSES LENGTHY DELAY
Glen Tyler and Zach Brewer’s early race crash caused track officials to throw the red flag to make repairs to the SAFER barrier. The crash itself was pretty spectacular…so spectacular that Glen Tyler’s wife approached Zach Brewer and gave him a hug. She explained to Brewer that her husband’s throttle stuck and the contact between the two cars lessened Tyler’s contact with the wall and helped keep her husband safe.
Tyler’s car was hurt pretty bad. Brewer’s was mostly cosmetic, but it caused he and the #18 team to miss the Ace Speedway Southern Modified Tour event two days later.
THE SOUTH RISES AGAIN
Back in 2005 when NASCAR ran the first combination race between the two Whelen Modified Tours, the highest a Southern Tour driver finished was 12th (Brian Loftin). The next season, a Southern Tour driver cracked the top ten when Tim Brown finished 9th.
This year’s race found two Southern Tour drivers in the top 5 (L.W. Miller and Tim Brown), and another 2 in the remainder of the top ten (Brian King and Jay Foley).
L.W. Miller, who raced on the Northern Tour until moving to Mooresville, NC in 2003, offered his insight into the increased level of competition in the South.
“Since 2003, these Southern boys have picked it up,” said Miller. “We’ve improved our program but they’ve all stepped their program up tremendously. When the Northern drivers come to the South and race a Southern race, they don’t mop us up anymore. They may come and run in the top-five, but Tim Brown, Junior Miller, Burt Myers, Jason Myers, Jay Foley…those guys are all getting hard to beat. I’m real proud of all of the southern drivers for running as well as they did.”
“We were running seventh at one point and I am thinking, ‘man we are running real good with these Northern cars,’” said a happy Jason Myers. “Then I look up and there is Tim Brown, Jay Foley, Brian King and LW. Guys, we have five cars in the top-ten. When a man goes up there and runs with what we are going with we’ve done a good job. Somebody told me the motor in the car that finished second was 80-grand. We run all season for that.”
Glenn Tyler's #8 winds up on top of Zach Brewer's #18 in a hard crash at Martinsville. (Eric Hylton Photo)
CIVALI REGRETS CONTACT WITH STEFANIK
Mike Stefanik was not a happy camper when he left the infield-care center at Martinsville Speedway. He was upset that his #16 was tore up but especially with how it happened.
“Civali got underneath me and my wife told me he was under me,” said a heated Stefanik. “I saw who it was so I gave him plenty of room because he always needs it. He drove right in there and hit me so hard the left front he broke my tire-rod. I had no steering and didn’t know until I got to the middle of the corner and it took a left. I ended up wrecking four or five other cars.”
While Stefanik was incensed over the accident that ended his night, James Civali was contrite about the part he played in it.
“It was my fault. I got loose on entry and just got into him [Stefanik],” explained Civali. “It was a mistake. Not his fault by any means. Not anything intentional by any means.”
BROWN WISHES HE WON, BUT HAPPY WITH TOP-FIVE
A big aspect of doing well at Martinsville is surviving the attrition. Tim Brown managed to survive getting damage in an early wreck to still finish with a top-five overall.
“I checked up, thought I had it missed, and got run over,” said Brown of the early accident. “It bent some stuff on the car but my guys didn’t give up. They kept adjusting on it. It bent the track bar mount pretty bad and got the rear end way out.”
Brown is a racer and wanted to win, but still after what his team had gone through, he was happy to be able to say he finished fifth at Martinsville.
“We got us a top-five here, and we finished second on our side of it,” said Brown. “That’s a good deal. I’d liked to have won it, but these double-file restarts give those guys who are coming up through there an advantage when you get stuck to the outside here. I hate that we didn’t win the Southern side of it. We had a good run. I can say that I ran in the top-five at Martinsville now at a Modified race. I’m pleased with our performance after wrecking and coming back.”
WHERE WAS THE CLOCK AND WHO GETS IT ANYWAY?
In a surprise, the famous Martinsville grandfather clock, awarded to a winner at the Speedway was not present in victory lane. The coveted trophy has long been a tradition and a significant part of the victory lane celebration with the Modifieds, Late Models and even the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series.
Tim Brown's #83 (Rick Ibsen Photo)
NASCAR officials told Speed51.com that the clock was in a box somewhere and would be shipped to the winner. Some at the track were disappointed that the tradition was glazed over.
So where does the clock go? Race winner Donny Lia was quick to say he wanted it. Car owner Bob Garbarino, who had formerly won a clock with driver Satch Worley but didn’t get to keep it, said he wanted it as well. Lia agreed to give Garbarino the clock but admitted he was interested in trying to get a duplicate clock made or a similar one to display in his new house on Long Island.
SZEGEDY FRUSTRATED OVER NASCAR FLAG FOLLY
Todd Szegedy will tell you himself that he didn’t have the car to win at Martinsville. What he did have, however. was a car fully capable of coming home in the top-three, and that’s where his Wisk/Snuggle Ford ran for much of the early part of the race.
Szegedy’s problems began with a caution just after the halfway break, with the timing of the pits opening.
“We didn’t miss the pits; it [the pit road flag] was red,” explained Szegedy. “Apparently when Teddy [Christopher] went past the flagman, it was red, and then he threw the green. I don’t even think Lia saw it. I think his spotter saw it and told him to duck in. So that was a surprise for us. It was red. It was for sure red. I was watching him wave that red flag, so I don’t know what happened.”
Szegedy elected to pit the next lap, which put him further back in traffic, and from there his day continued to go downhill. Caught up in a wreck that damaged his car, Szegedy would spend several laps off the track while his team made repairs. Sitting second in the Northern Tour points, the team wanted to maintain that position.
“I didn’t want to go back out, but we had to do it for the points,” said Szegedy. “I had to go back out because [Matt] Hirschman was 50 something or 60 something laps down, so at least I finished in front of him.”
Szegedy's crew goes to work on the #2
Szegedy is also well aware that at this point in the season, the Championship is Donny Lia’s to lose.
“We got no shot whatsoever at catching Lia unless he has some bad luck,” Szegedy bluntly explained. “He’s got the best car every week, pretty much. When you’ve got the best car, you create your own luck. It’s clear sailing for him unless he has some bad luck.”