Another Controversial NHIS Mod Race Goes to Szegedy (Maybe) by Matt Kentfield
Wrecks, Tech Issues Just the Norm for the Mods In NH
Whether it be wins given to drivers on the track, only to have the win taken away after all the victory lane photos and interviews were completed because of scoring issues, or time-shortened races because the “Mighty Modifieds” played second-fiddle to their grandiose big brothers of the NASCAR Busch Series or Craftsman Truck Series, whose races had to start on time for TV’s sake, the Modified races at NHIS have been memorable for all the wrong reasons in the last two years.

That trend could have been bucked on Saturday afternoon at NHIS, but because of some early fireworks involving drivers at both the front and the rear of the field and a post-race technical dispute, Saturday’s New Hampshire 100 is another Mod Tour race that falls into the “Here We Go Again” Category for Modified fans.

First, word came down that the race would be shortened from 100 laps to 75 after rain showers wiped out early action at NHIS on Saturday.  Todd Szegedy won the pole on Thursday, but everyone in the WMT garage area was wary of rain that was forecasted for Saturday, race day.

Fresh on the minds of the Mod Tour teams was the most recent WMT event at New Hampshire back in June, when because of a multitude of multi-car wrecks throughout the 100-lap race, the event was shortened in order to start the NASCAR Busch Series event right on time because that was on TV – the Mods were just a show for the paying public at NHIS.

Instead, the skies turned sunny this time and there was plenty of it to be had for the 75-lap Mod Tour feature.  Everything went fine after that...for a while.

Saturday should have been a memorable day for fans and unofficial winner Todd Szegedy, but it has turned into anything but.  (Jim DuPont Photo)
Ah, memories.

Race fans in the Northeast fondly look back on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour races at New Hampshire International Speedway and recall the thrilling, but clean racing and the spectacle of Modified racing in its purest form – fast and memorable.

While those days may have been only a couple of years ago, the recent influx of post-race drama and unnecessary crashes too early and too often make those clean-yet-wild Modified races of yesterday seem like they were ages ago.
Three caution flags that involved drivers in the front and the rear of the field flew in the first 25 laps of the race, never getting more than three laps under green in before the caution flew again. 

Once the WMT drivers did get some racing in, however, it was a torrid battle among four drivers; polesitter Szegedy, point leader Donny Lia, Ronnie Silk and Bobby Santos, III.  Jimmy Blewett and Ted Christopher were in the fight for a while, but the top four were the class of the field all day.

As the quartet of Szegedy, Silk, Santos and Lia battled up front, the win was up for grabs throughout the latter part of the race.  Szegedy and Silk had the best shots, as the two young drivers swapped the lead as the laps clicked away.

But Szegedy was able to get through the lapped traffic and keep his #2 machine out front at the right time as he took the first NHIS victory of his career. 

Or did he?

NASCAR Officials confiscated the intake manifold from Szegedy’s car after the race, brought it to their Research and Development Center in North Carolina, and as of press time, had not released their findings nor an official finish.  A finish was supposed to be available Tuesday, but that obviously has been pushed back.

Just another tidbit of controversy in a race that followed right in line with the trend of the last few WMT races at New Hampshire. 
A number of big, early pileups caused the first half of the race to be one to forget.  (Ken Spring Photo)
Regardless of what the findings of Szegedy’s intake may be, the top four did put on a fun show to watch, even if it took a while for them to take the stage.

“It was a long day,” said Szegedy as he celebrated his unofficial victory Saturday.  “I didn’t know if they were going to get the race in.  Then at the beginning of that race, boy, I didn’t know what was happening.  It seemed like we couldn’t get two laps in.  Finally we got a long green stretch and that’s what Modified racing is.  We race hard like this.  It’s a shame that we had all those cautions in the beginning.”

Several contenders found their races over quickly in the race.  James Civali got into Ron Yuhas and subsequently was consulted by NASCAR for the incident.  Matt Hirschman, who finished fourth at NHIS in June, was involved in a wreck too.  NASCAR NEXTEL Cup driver J.J. Yeley wasn’t immune from the carnage either, as he was caught up in a wreck early on too in a tribute car to the late Tom Baldwin. 

But once the fireworks ended, the four top contenders flexed their muscle under green.  Szegedy and Silk found themselves up front the most, but on lap with 13 laps to go, Szegedy made the final pass for the lead, used lapped traffic as picks in the closing laps, and held off Silk at the checkers.

“I don’t know if just for some reason, but these cars get so tight when they’re out in the lead,” said Szegedy.  “When anybody got a good run on me, I let them go and saw what I had behind them.  When I got behind Ronnie, he had the wheel cranked so hard, I don’t know he kept it out of the wall.  I would turn perfect behind him. 

I knew with 10 laps to go, if I just stayed in on the outside, maybe I could hold the guys back because it was so hard to pass down low.  Once you got down
low, it just took off.  I used the lapped cars to my advantage a little bit, which in the past, the lapped cars have gotten in my way and I’ve lost races because of it.  I think the lapped cars actually helped me out tonight.  I used their draft a little bit.  I went easy around them, took up a lot of track, but I don’t know any other way.  I was lucky because there were three cars behind me that could’ve won that race too.  I had to do a little defense at the end.”

Silk, who was in search of his first-ever Whelen Mod Tour win, was pedaling all he could, but it wasn’t enough to overpower a defense-minded Szegedy.

“I probably had one of the best runs I had all day off of two on the last lap,” said Silk.  “I got down under Todd and he came down a little bit and I hit him with the right-front and it just killed my run.  The lapped cars probably helped me too because I don’t think anyone was going to pull out of line to go by me for second at that point.  That gave me a shot to try and win it on the last lap.”

Once the field got some green flag laps in, Ronnie Silk (#19) and Todd Szegedy (#2) put on a torrid battle up front.  (DuPont Photo)
“I did some blocking, we got into each other a little bit, but that’s what you do at New Hampshire when it’s coming down to the last lap,” said Szegedy.  “None of us wrecked, I had great guys behind me and I had a lot of helping.  Ronnie helped me a lot, so did Bobby and Donny was right there with us too. 

“We all raced each other clean, but we’re professionals; that’s what we do.  It’s just, I wish we could’ve run green from start to finish and didn’t have any cautions.  Maybe next time we come back here that’s the kind of race we’ll have.”

Even though he had yet to find out the fate of his intake manifold from post-race tech, the thrill of winning at Modified racing’s Daytona, New Hampshire International Speedway, was a feeling Szegedy had been anticipating for a long time.

“It really hasn’t sunk in,” said Szegedy.  “When I crossed that line, it was such a relief.  I’ve been second in this race a lot of times.  I’ve been airborne before.  I’ve screwed up last lap.  I said earlier that half our accomplishment was over when we qualified on the pole here.  The other half was to win.  You can’t ever say that you’re going to go out here and win because you saw what happened there those last few laps.  It was anybody’s race.  Those guys were just as fast as we were behind us.  It’s not sinking in now, but I’m sure it will.”

Perhaps it will sink in for Szegedy once NASCAR releases a final decision on his intake and on the official finish of the race.  Perhaps Ronnie Silk will be celebrating his first-ever win.

Either way, it was a race that most in the race and in the stands at NHIS won’t forget for a long time, for reasons both good and not-so-good.

UPDATE - Late Thursday afternoon, NASCAR issued the following statement, confirming that Szegedy won at NHIS.

“Following a thorough examination this week at the NASCAR R&D Center, the intake manifold from the #2 car that won last Saturday’s NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race at New Hampshire International Speedway has passed inspection.  The race results are now official.  The R&D Center is a great resource for NASCAR to study potential issues that may arise on any given race weekend, and this was certainly the case in this particular situation.”

Szegedy, as well as Silk (19), Lia (yellow car) and Bobby Santos III (#3) battled for the victory all the way up to the checkered flag.  (Spring Photo)