51 Leftovers: NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour at NHIS by Mike Twist, Denise DuPont, Bob Dillner and Matt Kentfield
Tough Day for Defending Winner & Series Champ & More
NO THREE-PEAT FOR JBIII
John Blewett III was the king of New Hampshire International Speedway in 2006. He won both races there last year, making him instantly the favorite when the Tour returned for its first visit of 2007.
But what was supposed to be a bid for three-straight NHIS victories for Blewett turned out to be a frustrating weekend at the track. Blewett and his team chased mechanical issues in practice and qualifying. The #66 machine started deep in the field and things didn’t get a whole lot better during the 85 laps of the feature. When all was said and done, however, Blewett salvaged a 10th place finish out of what seemed to be a lackluster performance.
“It was non-eventful for us,” said Blewett. “We started second-to-last. We had to use a new car. Our other engine, we don’t know if we had something going wrong with it or what was the case, so we just thought to play safe we used our other car with our engine that we used to win both races here last year with. We got going decent, but we didn’t get any practice. This morning we scuffed two sets of tires and we had a skip in the motor. The whole weekend’s been a disaster, but the guys did a great job. They worked their butts off.
“To come home with a top-10 is good, but we were uncompetitive at 10th. We just kind of played it right. We might have been able to squeak a seventh out of it if it wasn’t cut short, but we weren’t in contention to win.”
Not winning a third race in a row at NHIS followed a familiar theme to the way things have been going for Blewett in 2007.
“My whole season’s been this way, so it’s par for the course. But you have to take the good with the bad, especially in this sport.”
HOAG UNHAPPY WITH LIA, BLEWETT UNHAPPY WITH HOAG
Not everyone was happy with Donny Lia after his victory on the Magic Mile.
Alex Hoag, who was involved in a late race wreck, placed blame on race winner Donny Lia for several incidents deep in the field on a few of the day’s restarts.
“How do you have three different accidents on the frontstretch with the same leader each time?” asked Hoag after the race. “Maybe they should change the pace a little bit instead of brake-checking everybody on every restart. He [Lia] was playing games the whole day. He ruined about 10 racecars.”
Jimmy Blewett got caught in the same restart logjam as Hoag did, but he blamed Hoag and not Lia for what happened to take him out.
“Alex Hoag was last and Lia was leading,” said Blewett. “So whatever he [Hoag] said isn’t the case. He wouldn’t know what happened. He shouldn’t even be racing with us because he only has half the car, but whatever. We ended up in the pits because of him. He must have missed a shift or something.”
Lia didn’t think that he was playing any unusual games on any of the restarts, when told of Hoag’s accusations.
“Those were just my normal games, nothing out of the ordinary,” said Lia. “I can’t recall even seeing him [Hoag] out there today. My restarts were regular restarts. NASCAR didn’t see any problem with my restarts, so why should Alex Hoag have?”
“We are not chasing the points so we just ended up parking it. We had it fixed and we could have come out maybe a couple of laps, but it would not have done us any good. It is a shame. We were a top five car.”
"SHOWTIME'S" LONG WEEKEND
The incident with Alex Hoag was a fitting end to Jimmy Blewett’s long and frustrating weekend. The New Jersey driver was quick as soon as practice started, but broke a driveshaft on his qualifying warm-up lap. Blewett rebounded to qualify third with a repaired racecar, but then missed most of the final practice session with electrical problems. He was quick in the race, but finished 30th after the incident with Hoag.
“We had a million problems and we overcame most of them,” said Blewett. “We had one of the fastest cars all weekend, but we ended the race sitting in the pits. The car was good. We were doing so well in points, but now we must be in the back. But the year is still early, so we’ll see if we can’t make it up.”
YUHAS TURNS LUCK AROUND
Ron Yuhas has been quick at several times this season, but his luck has left something to be desired. On Saturday though, he notched an eighth-place finish at NHIS after running within the top five for part of the race.
Alex Hoag loops his #78 off the fourth turn early at NHIS. (51 Photo)
When the green flag flew though, Civali took off. He seemed to be headed for the front until the car died coming to a restart on lap 35.
“We were really, really fast and coming to the front really quick. We passed a lot of cars and went to shift on a restart when it blew the tranny and broke the driveshaft. I hurt my finger on the shifter too. It really sucks because we were looking forward to coming here and doing well. But you can’t complain too much. You have to break sometime. Lia is winning every race right now, but he’ll have his bad luck too I would hope.”
FATHER-SON DRAFT INTERUPTED AT NHIS
Matt Hirschman drafted behind his father for much of the race at New Hampshire, but when his Dad Tony pitted, Matt had to stick it out alone to finish fourth.
“It looks like our luck finally turned around,” said Yuhas. “I’ve got to thank the boys. We were really tight on Thursday and even in practice. They made some changes before going out and they had it pretty close.”
Yuhas might have been a darkhorse at New Hampshire, but his good run wasn’t a total surprise either. He’s been strong in previous events at the Magic Mile last season.
“We’ve always been pretty good here. Last year, our set-up was very good and then they changed the tire a little bit, so we struggled at first this time. But it seems like we might have figured it out now.”
BUSCH EAST WINNER JUST ANOTHER MOD FAN ON SATURDAY
Ron Yuhas (#6) has impressed at NHIS in his young career. (Jim DuPont Photo)
On Friday evening, Joey Logano won the New England 125 NASCAR Busch East Series race. Unlike many of his competitors though, he stuck around an extra day to take in the Modified Tour feature on Saturday.
After the race, Speed51.com caught up with Logano, who was very glad to have stuck around.
“That was a pretty good race,” said Logano. “I was up in the spotters’ stand watching with my spotter Joey Civali. He was spotting for his brother [James]. It got exciting at the end. I wished that I was in one out there.
“Watching the Modified race is great. These are real racecars. They have a bunch of tire and a bunch of horsepower. They bump and bang. The run right into the back of each other and push each other right down the straightaway. I never watched a Modified race here and this one was pretty awesome.”
PASTERYAK MAKES FIRST START OF ’07 COUNT
Charlie Pasteryak had not started a race yet this season on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, taking the time to help out his son Chris’ True Value Modified Racing Series program and enjoy semi-retirement (from driving at least). But when he did finally run a Tour race this season, he really made it count – driving the #5 to ninth at NHIS.
Charlie Pasteryak (#5) was "back from the dead" at NHIS. (Jim DuPont Photo)
“I’m back from the dead,” said Pasteryak after the race. “It’s like riding a bicycle, you never really lose it. It did take awhile to get used to the draft again. It’s like I had a skull and crossbones on the back of my car because nobody would push me. They didn’t want to go with the old man. I must have had a handicapped parking sticker on there.
“I’ve always liked coming here. It’s a good place to race, I just wish that we could have run more green flag laps though.”
Pasteryak wasn’t surprised though when the race was flagged as complete, 15 laps prior to the advertised distance.
“We kind of knew that was going to happen because they told us in the drivers’ meeting. But they could bump up our starting time a little bit. We had 15-20 minutes there [before the race].
CHRISTOPHER’S RETURN RUNS OUT OF GAS
Another driver making his first Tour start of the season at NHIS was Mike Christopher. His day didn’t go so well though – ending on lap 57 with fuel system problems.
“The engine wasn’t getting any gas, but there is plenty of gas in the tank,” said Christopher. “I don’t know. It has a new fuel pump, so maybe either the pump went bad or the regulator is bad. It’s just not getting any gas.”
Even before his DNF, the day wasn’t a great one for Christopher, but he was happy to be back on the Tour and plans on getting better for the next time out.
“We just weren’t good enough, but we need to make a notepad. Right now, we have no notes. We need a bunch of things. We need more horsepower and we need to get the car handling better. It was way too loose.”
MC’s next race will be the September event at NHIS.
“The next time up here will be my next race,” said Christopher. “That’s it. I can’t afford anything more than that. This is my own car…my own everything except the truck and trailer.”
SILK MAKES LAST LAP COUNT, BUT COULD HAVE USED MORE
On what ended up being the final lap of the race, Ronnie Silk passed Bobby Santos, III for the sixth position. He can only wonder what would have been possible if the race had gone its full 100 laps.
“I got Santos there on the last lap and I wish that we could have had 15 more laps to go,” said Silk.
Competitors were told in the pre-race drivers’ meeting that the race could be shortened, but Silk said that knowing that fact alone could not really help when it came to planning a strategy.
“It’s hard to approach anything like that when they say that the race might be cut short,” said Silk. “I started to realize that it could happen when they started wrecking all of the time. After the fifth caution, I started to really think that it might get short. I don’t know. That sucks. I’d rather race on Friday if they are going to start cutting our race short on Saturday.”
James Civali's #28. (Jim DuPont Photo)
FIRST NHIS RACE IS FUN FOR PREECE
Ryan Preece ran his first race on the Magic Mile on Saturday, and finished 18th in the New England 100. The teenaged racer, who is the grandson of Legendary Modified car owner Bobby Judkins, loved his time on the track.
“It’s fun. This is a good place to pass and it definitely a track where you need some dirt track experience at. That draft loosens you up a little bit.”
Preece is already looking forward to coming back to NHIS
“I’m sure that we’ll have something to run with them then. We’ll have a better idea of what to change and what we can do to make it better.”
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN FOR CIVALI
Ever since practice started for the Modified Tour race at NHIS, there were plenty of eyes on the King Racing #28 driven by James Civali. The car was quick and consistant all weekend long, but qualifying didn’t go so well and Civali ended up starting the race in the 16th position.
“I actually think that we would have been a little bit better if I was in front of him and he pushed me,” said Matt Hirschman. “They told me that we were a tenth faster doing what we were doing, well maybe we could have been another tenth quicker the other way around. I got through the middle quicker enough for him to get a better run. But I don’t make those decisions there anymore.”
Hirschman is now ranked third in the Tour standings in his sophomore year on the Tour and he lieks the schedule no matter where it takes him.
“We’ve been running good everywhere. I want to run good everywhere too – big or small, I like ‘em all. We want to be fast here, Twin State and everywhere. It doesn’t matter.”
PITKAT GAINS EXPERIENCE IN FIRST NHIS EVENT
Woody Pitkat had crewed for teams at New Hampshire International Speedway, but had never raced there prior to this weekend. However, the short track star who is a weekly threat to win at Stafford and Thompson adapted quickly in his first event at “the Magic Mile.” Pitkat stayed out of trouble with the #79 Hillbilly Racing Modified and finished a very respectable 14th.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Pitkat of his day. “Once that I got out there and adapted, the day went really well. Just trying to find some people who would help me and draft with me was tough though.
The race at NHIS was cut short due to time restraints involving the television broadcast of the NASCAR Busch Series race there. The drivers were told that this was a possibility before the race began and keeping that in mind, Pitkat’s team had to adopt a no-pit strategy for this race.
“We didn’t pit and I wish that we could have, but we couldn’t because of the possibility of them shortening the race,” said Pitkat. “With five laps to go, anything can happen. Everyone is looking for some extra spots. I got hit pretty good down in turns one and two, but I’m not complaining. I’m glad to just have all four wheels on the car and finish in the top 15.”
And Pitkat also has something to draw on in his next race at NHIS.
“I’ve got a lot in my memory bank to use in September.”
TOP 20 SUITS SEUSS JUST FINE
A top-20 finish might not be flashy or glamorous, but it was just what the #70 team of Andy Seuss had hoped for in the New England 100. The team has made their tried and true 10-year-old Modified work great on the short tracks, but at NHIS, it does not enjoy some of the latest aerodynamic advantages that many of their competitors have on their cars.
Plus, Seuss is a young driver making only his second start at NHIS, so learning the draft and other tricks of racing on a large track was key. Staying out of trouble, finishing the race and gaining experience were the goals for the day and Seuss accomplished those by finishing 19th and on the lead lap.
“That is all that we were looking for today,” said Seuss. “We just wanted to finish on the lead lap and get experience. We had a little issue early in the race when the fittings in both pit guns failed. We lost a lap, but thanks to the lucky dog we got it back. The crew made some good calls and we had a good shot at finishing in the top 15, but late in the race was got knocked around and it pushed like a truck after that. I wasn’t expecting that and I drove in too hard to one corner. It wasn’t up and I lost a few spots.”
GRIGAS HAS A TRYING WEEKEND
Bobby Grigas, III took an instant liking to New Hampshire International Speedway in practice for the New England 100. He was near the top of the speed charts in each practice session and qualified a strong eighth for Saturday’s race there.
However on lap 34, Grigas’ day took a turn for the worse when his #09 Triple G Scaffolding Modified made heavy contact with the turn four wall. Grigas’ was not injured, but his car was finished for the race.
Pitkat had a strong showing in his first big-track Mod Tour experience. (51 Photo)
Grigas' tough weekend came to an end in the wall. (Howie Hodge Photo)
John Blewett III (51 Photo)
“The car just got aero loose,” said Grigas. “It was good when I was alone, but not so good when I was around other cars. I was racing [Tony] Hirschman down the backstretch when the whole field checked up. We both slid up the racetrack a little bit and I slide into the junk up there. I did everything that I could to control the car, but it just wouldn’t turn at that point.”
Grigas especially wanted to have a good finish for his crew chief Greg Narducci, who was seriously injured in a non-racing related incident at the track on Thursday. Narducci is currently in a New Hampshire hospital with multiple injuries. He is expected to have a long recovery period, but to also have a full and complete recovery.
The hearts of the #09 team were heavy on Saturday without their leader at the track.
“I wish that I could have had a good race for him,” said Grigas. “Our thoughts and prayers are with him right now and we’re all pulling for him to get well soon.”
COLE KEEPS DIGGING AND CLAWING ALONG
Sometimes, it is too easy to overlook Wade Cole on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. Working with a budget skinnier than a shoestring, Cole plugs along to all of the events on the schedule, hoping for the best. At New Hampshire, that meant a 27th-place finish as the last car on the lead lap.
“I’m just glad to be in the race,” said Cole. “The car was just not handling good. We have to work on it. We got off to a rough start. We only got just a few laps of practice and it just hurt us in the end. The car is in one piece so we will go off to Claremont and try to get it better.”
Next week, the Mod Tour visits Twin State Speedway in Claremont, New Hampshire. Cole has raced there before in his career, but it’s been so long that he can’t recall quite when.
“I cannot think of the last time that we have been up there but it has been a while.”
Before the track closed, Cole was known as a weekly Modified competitor at Riverside Park Speedway (MA). It was there where he was involved in a fiery incident on the front stretch during the weekly mod series racing. Years later, Cole still remembers that well.
“Actually I never dreamed that I was burned as bad as I actually was. You know I figured that I would be back in a couple of weeks. I did not realize that it was going to take almost a year.”
But Cole doesn’t think about the wreck when he’s out on the track these days.
“No, not at all. I was very lucky. People get hurt on the highway every day and at work. Things happen. You just take precautions. There is a lot of good safety equipment around now.”
BLEWETT SHOOTS FOR WHERE LIA IS AT
Jimmy Blewett won earlier this season at Wall, and had one of the quick cars at NHIS. The New Jersey driver is not winning every week yet, but he does have his eye on what the hottest driver on the Tour right now, Donny Lia, is doing.
Wade Cole kept digging at NHIS. (Him DuPont Photo)
Jimmy Blewett ready for action (51 Photo)
“First I would like to say congratulations to Donny Lia, he is having a tremendous year,” said Blewett after the NHIS race, which Lia won. “He is doing a good job.
Lia this year mentioned that he feels less pressure because he can just get to the track and drive. He does not have to work on the car all week, like he did when he owned his own team. Blewett knows that this is a big advantage.
“Donny has it made. He has the best team going. He has probably 15 guys on his crew and they all have experience. I have three guys on my crew that know what they are doing and they try to do their best. It is hard to do everything without enough people. We are growing as a team. Everybody does the best that they can.”
ROUGH DAY FOR STEFFY
When it comes to recalling the highlights of his career, Mike Stefanik will likely remember any one of his nine NASCAR Touring championships or countless victories on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour or in the NASCAR Busch East Series. What he probably won’t want to remember much is his recent race at NHIS.
Stefanik had a rough day in the New England 100, lumbering around to a 13th-place finish.
“My day was horrible,” said Stefanik. “Our season has been frustrating to stay the least. We’re the champions and we’re supposed to look like it and act like it, but I don’t feel like it and we certainly don’t look like it on the racetrack. It’s not from a lack of effort or equipment or anything, it’s just the new tires and we were just horrible. Everything we do just doesn’t seem to help. We just suffer from a bad lack of grip. I can’t even remember how long its been since we struggled this bad with this type of equipment. I don’t think ever.”
Stefanik’s struggles to figure out the new tires aren’t the sole culprit of the defending champion’s problems.
“It’s easy to go blame the tires, but when you’ve got guys that are beating you on the same tires, I don’t look to the tires. Obviously whatever they’re doing, it’s working for them. I’ve been there and I know what it feels like and it’s a wonderful feeling to just go out there and know you’re going to get a top-five even if your car’s not handling that good. We can’t get a top-10. John Blewett won how many races last year? I thought he’d be the guy to beat for the points and he’s worse or at least as bad as we are. There’s way too much talent out here to be bombing like this.”
SYLVESTER SLIPS TO 15th
Zach Sylvester was another driver who had a fast car all weekend, but did not leave Loudon with the finish that he wanted. Sylvester finished 15th after an eventful afternoon of racing.
“Jeff Malave was spun in middle in turn one and two and I was trying to decide to go high or low,” said Sylvester. “Guys were scattering and I decided to go low. Somebody was there obviously still on the gas. The car will just need a little body work and nerf bar. It did not hurt us at all. It is just a shame that we came in early on just to make adjustments and not take tires. The car was great. We picked up Ronnie Silk and Christopher as drafting buddies. We were catching the lead pack. We forgot all about the time limit and came in to take fuel because we were worried about that. We put on tires. We just ran out of time. We had a really good car at the end.”
Sylvester has been running good in the Whelen Tour and the team does not seem to be faltering like some competitors are at this point in the season.
“Even at Thompson we were not that great but it ended up being only a 100 lap race. We did not start that well. We were just waiting for a caution to come in and make some adjustments to at least get a half-way decent finish out of it to keep us in the points. I ended up breaking the rear end. We are consistent every where we go. Thursday we went to Thompson and the practice went well, time trials did not go as well and then the track just changed. There was nothing we could do on that.”
“We did not start the race here near tight enough. We came in and made adjustments and had the car much better. Even if we do not start all that well, we always head in the right direction. It is always something a time limit or something breaking that happens and then we cannot capitalize. It is parts. It was only the third race with that rear end and it broke. It is nobody’s fault. Stuff just happens.”
Are Zach and team ready to go to the next race at Twin State Speedway?
“I have never been to Twin State. I have talked to a few drivers though and it seems that every body that has been there feels that it is a fun place. You can pass there. It is not like Wall where everybody seems to feel that it is not a place to pass. It is another new track on my list. I am looking forward to it.”
Sylvester (#77) gets sideways racing Mike Stefanik. (Jim DuPont Photo)
Billy Pauch's #06 (51 Photo)
PAUCH PLUGS ALONG
The current leader in the rookie points in the Whelen Modified Tour standings is Billy Pauch, Jr., who finished 20th at New Hampshire.
“I struggled a little bit here getting use to this place and I finally got the hang of it in the morning practice we were pretty good. We were coming through and got up to about twelfth or so and then got caught up in a pileup in the back stretch. The car got bent up a little bit. We came in and pitted for tires. We should have probably stayed out then we would have not got in that wreck. We ended up seventeenth or eighteenth, which is not too bad. But for a rookie’s day I guess that it was alright.”
This was rookie Pauch’s first time at NHIS.
“The track is actually neat. That is one of the most intense tracks that I have ever done in my life. The last ten lap shootout was wild. I thought they said on the radio that we were still going 100 laps. I did not know we were only going to go eighty-five. That kids of hurt us too because we pitted when we should have stayed out like everyone else.”
What are the plans for the next week of racing for Pauch’s Greenfield Dodge team?
“We will see how next weeks racing goes. We are going back to a 3/8ths mile track in New Hampshire [Twin State Speedway] and then we are actually going to run Pocono with our ARCA car so that will be interesting. The team is getting strong and we will have a good year.”