A Look at the Modified Tour Class of 2007 by Mike Twist
In Depth With 20 of the Teams Who Can Win on the Modified Tour
Photos by Jamie Williams
Driver: Mike Stefanik
Car Number: 16
Car Owner: Flamingo Motorsports
2006 Record: First in points, One victory (Icebreaker at Thompson International Speedway)
What’s New: The #16 team has switched to Ford powerplants for the 2007 season and has built a new chassis.  Their championship-winning mount will see life in the True Value Modified Racing Series with its new owner - Tony Dias Jr.
Outlook: Stefanik earned a record-tying ninth NASCAR Touring championship in 2006.  You could put him in a Kia Rio and he’d probably be able to contend for another title.  So having a slightly more powerful Ford mill under the hood should help his chances even more this year.  Stefanik wasn’t happy with “only” winning one race last year, so he has dedicated himself to winning more events in 2007.  Don’t count him out from doing exactly that.

Driver: Eddie Flemke, Jr.
Car Number: 10
Car Owner: Gary Teto
2006 Record: Second in points, 12 top 10 finishes
What’s New: Not much.  This team is entering their third season together without any major changes.
Outlook: The Flemke/Teto combination is hitting their stride.  You can bet on them winning their first (and maybe second...and third…) race together this season.  Flemke’s day job is to build the cars that he races as co-owner of Raceworks, so he knows how they work and how to make them go fast.  The team and the driver have chemistry and believe in each other.  They aren’t really flashy and don’t have the biggest hauler in the pit area, but they know how to get the job done.  Don’t count this team out.

Driver: Ted Christopher
Car Number: 36
Car Owner: Eddie Whelan
2006 Record: Third in driver points for Christopher with three victories together
What’s New: Christopher and the #36 team parted ways immediately after the 2006 season, but they didn’t stay apart for too long.  They reunited later in the off-season.
Outlook: This is a hard entry to handicap.  They should be favorites to win every week.  After all, they won their first time out - when Christopher hopped into the car after his former Mystique Motorsports team shut down abruptly last season.  Then again, nobody would have predicted that Christopher would go winless at Florida Speedweeks in February.  Is that an indication of the season to come?  Doubtful – this team and driver are too good to not excel.  But TC’s win-at-all-costs style might not be title friendly.  If not for a few bumper-tag incidents with John Blewett last year, you would probably be able to introduce Christopher as the 2006 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion. 

Driver: Tony Hirschman
Car Number: 48
Car Owner: Kehley Motorsports
2006 Record: Fourth in Tour points, One victory (Holland)
What’s New: With the team, there isn’t much new.  With Tony there might be.  He has gone on record as not being a fan of the flash races that will take place at Wall, Riverhead and Twin State or the purses that NASCAR is paying out to Tour competitors.  He’s hinted that 2007 might bring only a partial schedule of Mod Tour racing.
Outlook: Our prediction is to forget the rumors.  We’re pretty sure that Hirschman will end up running the entire season and he’ll be one of the favorites for the title.  He possesses a rare combination of banzai-fast qualifying ability and cagey take-your-time patience in races.  Those two things win races and championships. 

Driver: Todd Szegedy
Car Number: 2
Car Owner: Mike Smeriglio Racing
2006 Record: Fifth in Tour points, Two victories
What’s New: Former crew chief Phil Moran has moved south to work with Bill Davis Racing.  Ryan Stone has stepped up to fill the void and Szegedy’s former team owner Don Barker has joined on as team manager.
Outlook: All of the pieces to win a championship are here.  Szegedy has won the title before.  The Chassis Dynamics cars are quick, the Ford engines are powerful and the team has a year of experience (and a pair of victories) under its belt.  They were quick in practice and qualifying for the Icebreaker.  The team is on everyone’s short list of people to beat every single week.

Driver: Jerry Marquis
Car Number: 00
Car Owner: Brady Bunch Racing
2006 Record: Driver finished sixth in points.  Team finished 39th in points after only making six starts with one top-10 finish.
What’s New: This combination is a new one.  The Brady team has had Rick Fuller, Steve Park, Mike Stefanik, John Blewett, III and others in their cars over the past few seasons.  Marquis has been winning races in the Ole’ Blue #3 and the Mystic Missile #4 during that same time frame.
Outlook: A sentimental favorite heading into the season.  Marquis and the Brady Bunch team have more than paid their dues and are a pair of old school racers.  They don’t have the biggest budget to work with, but they both know the value of hard work and talent.  So maybe the nice guys will finish first a few times this year?

Driver: James Civali
Car Number: 28
Car Owner: King Racing
2006 Record: Rookie of the Year Winner, One victory (Stafford)
What’s New: Team is unchanged from the 2006 season.
Outlook: Last year, Civali shed the label of a hotheaded kid and became a smart racecar driver.  He’s always had the talent, now he knows what to do with it.  Civali ran a clean race with Reggie Ruggiero at Stafford to score his first victory.  He was gracious in defeat when NASCAR awarded him a victory, but then took it away because of scoring confusion at New Hampshire.  Car owner Don King has always had an eye for talent behind the wheel and he picked a winner with Civali.  They will be contenders for the 2007 Tour championship.

Driver: Donny Lia
Car Number: 4
Car Owner: Mystic Missile Racing
2006 Record: Driver finished eighth in points with one victory (Waterford), Team finished fifth in owner standings.
What’s New: Everything...this is a new driver and team combination.
Outlook: With apologies to the Beatles, all they need is luck.  There have not been too many times in the past several years when Lia or the Mystic Missile team have been off the pace.  But, there have been plenty of times when driver and team have found themselves in the wrong places at the wrong times. 

If they shake the monkeys off their backs together, watch out.  Lia is used to going fast in a Troyer car and is surrounded by a great group of minds and wrenches.  We predict multiple races victories and a shot at the championship.

Driver: Zack Sylvester
Car Number: 77
Car Owner: Curt Chase
2006 Record: Driver finished ninth in Tour points, team finished 14th in owner standings with one victory (Stafford)
What’s New: Another new driver and team combination.  After running for his family’s team since being a rookie on the Mod Tour, Sylvester is joining the Curt Chase #77 team this season.  Sylvester wheeled his own #15 during Florida Speedweeks, so the Icebreaker will be the first race together for this combination.
Outlook: Sylvester hopes to follow in the footsteps of Doug Coby, Rick Fuller and John Blewett, III (among others) as drivers who have won in the #77.  He’s come agonizing close to winning races with his own team, so maybe combining resources with a proven winner will help him to get over that hump.

Driver: Eric Beers
Car Number: 94
Car Owner: Gary Gaydosh
2006 Record: Driver finished 10th in Tour points with one victory (Thompson), team only ran a partial schedule of races.
What’s New: At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this pairing is brand new as well.
Outlook: There is a truckload of chemistry between Eric Beers and his crew chief Kevin Crowley.  This team won’t be one of the flashiest ones on the Tour, but don’t make the mistake of ignoring them.  They should be well prepared to sneak right on up to the front whether you are watching them or not.

Driver: Matt Hirschman
Car Number: 59
Car Owner: Split schedule with Ed Bennett and Darling Racing
2006 Record: 11th in Tour standings.
What’s New: A lot more confidence for the driver after Hirschman won the North South Shootout and Mason-Dixon Meltdown.
Outlook: We expect Matt Hirschman to be the most improved driver on the Tour this season.  He showed the he could slay the giants with winning two major off-Tour-season races.  He’s learned all of his lessons from one of the best drivers out there – his father Tony Hirschman.  Matt has paid attention as well.  Expect a few victories for Little Hirschy in 2007.

Driver: Chuck Hossfeld
Car Number: 79
Car Owner: Hillbilly Racing
2006 Record: 12th in Tour standings
What’s New:  Coors Light has signed on as the new primary sponsor.
Outlook: This driver and team combination has been frustrated over the past few seasons.  They’re both among the best out there, but for whatever reason they just haven’t clicked into becoming the powerhouse combination that everyone has expected.  That could change this year though.  Driver and team have stuck by each other and shown a ton of loyalty in doing so.  They’re racing as much as possible – with a nearly full schedule of Southern Modified Tour races on tap as well.  But most of all, they are having fun.  Don’t count them out for any of the races on the schedule.

Driver: Dick Houlihan
Car Number: 46
Car Owner: Bob Katon, Jr.
2006 Record: 13th in Tour standings
What’s New: Same team and same veteran driver are back on the Tour again.
Outlook: After decades of short track racing in Southern New England, Houlihan knows a few things about consistency.  He proved that in 2006 by finishing ahead in the standings of a few better-known teams. 

Houlihan should continue to improve in 2007, when top-15 finishes should turn into top-10 finishes, which turn into top fives.  From there, maybe a victory or two might even follow.

Driver: Jimmy Blewett
Car Number: 12
Car Owner: TS Haulers
2006 Record: 15th in Tour standings with one victory (Martinsville)
What’s New: A new red, white and blue paint scheme and John Blewett, III setting the cars up before they head to the track.
Outlook: Blewett broke through in 2006 by winning his first Tour race.  He did it in style by doing it at Martinsville Speedway.  In Florida Speedweeks, Blewett and his brother John were the stars of the show.  There is plenty of raw talent here to go with a very fast racecar and Jimmy Blewett can win a lot, but he needs to use his head more and his bumper a little bit less.  He showed he can win fair and square during Speedweeks, but “Showtime” is still alive and well. 

Driver: Jamie Tomaino
Car Number: 99
Car Owner: JT Motorsports
2006 Record: 16th in Tour standings
What’s New: Tomaino will be getting a little bit less financial support this season as his main sponsor cuts back a little bit.  Also, a “deal” for an apparent major sponsor fell through when the wheeler and dealer working it proved to be nothing more than a scam artist as reported in the New Jersey newspapers.
Outlook: Who wouldn’t love to see Tomaino win a race this year?  The 1990 Tour champion is well liked and his style on the track is a clean one.  But without proper funding, a victory will be hard to come by.  That won't keep him from having a big smile on his face every week at the track though.

Driver: Ron Yuhas, Jr.
Car Number: 6
Car Owner: Richard Marquardt
2006 Record: 18th in Tour points.
What’s New: Not much.
Outlook: You can’t miss Yuhas’ distinctive green #6 Modified.  At several races last season, you could find it running in the front pack – an impressive feat for a rookie.  But less impressive last season was Yuhas’ luck.  He’s hoping that changes in 2007 and those great runs can turn into great finishes.  Considering how strong he ran at New Hampshire last season, an upset at the Magic Mile could be in the cards for this team.

Driver: Reggie Ruggiero
Car Number: 14
Car Owner: Dick Barney
2006 Record: partial schedule, with one victory at Thompson.
What’s New: It’s the same team, but with a new number.  Actually it’s an old number – Dick Barney ran the #14 on his cars out of New Jersey for years and they’ll have that back for 2007 instead of the #41 that the team had been running recently.
Outlook: The team will only run a partial schedule, but they will be contenders every time that they hit the track.  The Reg hasn’t lost a step at all – as shown last season by a win at Thompson and two near misses at Stafford.

Things got off to a bad start in qualifying for the Icebreaker, as Ruggiero wrecked a car after getting coolant under his tires.  The team will be back though with the car repaired for Sunday's raindate.

Driver: John Blewett
Car Number: 66
Team: Blewett Motorsports
2006 Record: Partial schedule with three victories
What’s New: Blewett will likely run the entire Tour schedule in 2007.
Outlook: Nobody had a better batting average on the Mod Tour in 2006 than John Blewett, III.  Driving his family’s #66, JBIII won three times in 11 starts.  A pair of Thompson victories could have been his as well if not for some fireworks between himself and Ted Christopher. 

Blewett is a force to be reckoned with and should only get better in ’07.  The question here isn’t whether he’ll win, but how many times he’ll win.

Driver: Bobby Grigas, Jr.
Car Number: 09
Team: Triple G Racing
2006 Record: One NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Start at Thompson
What’s New: Driver and team make the step up from the True Value Modified Racing Series in 2007 after winning two races in their first year there.  They will run a full-season of Tour racing with their sights set on the Rookie of the Year award.
Outlook: In his Tour debut, Grigas was very fast at Thompson.  He worked his way into the top 10, but his aggressive style of driving irked a few fellow competitors after a pair of incidents.  He’ll be fast again this year and with a little experience under his belt should be a consistent threat to finish well.  In True Value Mods, Grigas didn’t have much of a learning curve – he won for the first time in his third career start.

Driver: Ryan Preece
Car Number: 40
Team: Jeff Preece
2006 Record: None
What’s New: Team and driver are stepping up to the Modified Tour in 2006 thanks to a rule that now allows 16-year-old drivers in NASCAR Touring competition.  They will be contending for the Rookie of the Year title this season.
Outlook: Things are tough on the Tour and this team might struggle first, as evidenced by their Icebreaker DNQ.  But at his age, Preece has a long time left for learning.  He’s been very smooth in the True Value Mod ranks and should eventually be just fine on the NASCAR Tour.

After all, winning is in Preece's genes.  He is the grandson of legendary Modified car owner Bobby Judkins.

Now What About Everyone Else?  With nearly 50 cars showing up for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Season Opener at Thompson, there are still plenty of more tales to tell.  Click here to read about the other contenders.

All of these photos used in this story were supplied by Jamie Williams, click here to visit his website.