51 Leftovers: NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour at Stafford by Denise DuPont
Both Blewetts, Hirschman, Lia, Grigas and More
Lia's Mystic Missile team in victory lane at Stafford. (Jim DuPont Photo)
LIA WINS AGAIN AT STAFFORD
Donny Lia waited years to win at Stafford Motor Speedway on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. He finally broke through at this year’s Spring Sizzler for victory number one. Victory number two didn’t take nearly as long. Lia won Mat’s Connecticut Classic in his first trip back to the track.
It appears that Lia has really settled in with Bob Garbarino’s Mystic Missile team at Stafford. So far, the driver and team combination have a perfect record at the track.
“We had a great car,” said Lia. “I want to thank these guys. These guys gave me an awesome piece of machinery here. I just have to do my part and not mess up and as long as I do not mess up, we go to victory lane. As long as the luck is there we go to Victory Lane. I do not know what to say. I want to thank Bob Garbarino, Bob Muller and all the guys on the crew. It is just awesome stuff here. I am having a great time and a lot of fun. The guys really work hard and I want to thank Greg back at the shop he does a great job preparing the car. He is very meticulous and nothing gets missed. And it shows tonight because we are here in Victory Lane. “
Everything seemed to go flawlessly for Lia at Stafford. From tire wear to his pit stop, all of the ingredients were in place for a winning performance.
“We were fine,” said Lia. “Maybe we were not all that dialed in after that first run, but we were dialed in perfect for the second run. I could not be any happier. These guys do a great job and what a pit stop. Awesome, awesome pit stop. We won the race tonight more in the pits then on the race track. Either way it was a great run. I am real happy to be here in victory lane. I can’t believe it. I guess we paid our dues long enough. Now we have claimed back a little bit. I real excited.”
HIRSCHY IN WRONG PLACE AT WRONG TIME
On lap 113, when leader Eric Beers lost control, five-time NASCAR Champion Tony Hirschman was caught up in the mess. The front of Hirschman’s car was severely damaged and it even had parts sheered right off, which ended a good race for Hirschman.
“Eric got a little wide going into turn one and there was a whole pack of us, four of us were there,” said Hirschman. “He got crossed up and every body bottled up there. I got clipped in the left front and it broke the spindle and that ended our day.”
Since skipping the Tour race at Wall, Hirschman is officially out of contention for title number six. Without the need to collect points, the team parked their #48 Mod and took a 24th-place finish.
“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.”
MARQUIS ALSO HAS BAD LUCK
Jerry Marquis and the Joe Brady-owned #00 car’s evening came to an abrupt finish when Reggie Ruggiero lost control of his car coming out of turn four at Stafford. Before Marquis knew what was happening, Ruggiero drove over the front of his car.
Hirschman's #48 comes into the pits. (Howie Hodge Photo)
JBIII GETS CAUGHT UP IN OTHER PEOPLE’S MESSES
Ironically, Jimmy Blewett’s brother John Blewettt, III got caught up in the Ruggiero/Marquis incident. During caution period five of the night, Ruggiero got loose and went up over the #00 car of Marquis. After the collision, Ruggiero came across the track towards the outside front stretch wall.
John Blewett, III in the #66 car who was trying to steer clear of the accident drove straight into Reggie’s car as it came up on the track.
“We were just a victim of circumstance,” said Blewett. “The guys got together in front of me. We had a clear shot on the outside and as I was coming through, Reggie spun to the right. It was just a last moment deal. There was really no place to go.”
“Reggie got loose and drove into our right side,” said Marquis. “He was trying to get around Jimmy Blewett and Jimmy was not giving him any room at all. When you do not pit when the rest of the guys pit and they have fresh tires, it is hard. You have to be patient about this or you just cause a wreck for nothing. Hey, it is part of what we are doing and we are going to have to live with it. Hopefully we will get situated and get back to Thompson and do a lot better. ”
GRIGAS GETS A ROOKIE HAZING
Rookie Bobby Grigas started the Connecticut Classic 150 race in 10th position. By lap 122, Grigas had survived all of the wrecks and had worked his way up to third place in the race. But over aggressiveness of some of the tour drivers had Bobby back peddling and he ended up finishing the race in 19th position.
Jerry Marquis goes for a slide through the Stafford infield. (Howie Hodge Photo)
“They were just beating and banging on me,” said Grigas. “They were using me as a pin ball. And then I finally let the #77 [Zach Sylvester] go by and then I was going to just drop in line and just drive out the rest of the race. He was beating me up bad too. They have fresh motors in their car and the motor that I have has 1,500 laps on it. So it is tired.”
After Sylvester passed Grigas, he shut him out on the outside of the track. Grigas backed up several places from third place that he was running at the time.
“When I was able to drop to the bottom, they started to hammer on me and tried to get me loose. I did not spin at all. I was almost backwards half of the time. When I got the car straight, they would continue. It’s kind of bad. I am not going to get upset and stomp my feet, that’s racing, but it is discouraging. You spend all that money to come here. This is supposed to be a professional tour and then when they do things like that it just does not make you feel good about the Tour.
Bobby Grigas, III's #09 Modified. (Howie Hodge Photo)
“I kept my nose clean the whole race and I was just really looking for a top five. I was not looking to win. They were just beating me and beating me. I may just remember when they are in a position like that and I am not going to be so nice.”
Even though Grigas was victim of other driver’s aggression, he drove a good clean race. He was hit and bumped several times and his car slid sideways several times through the race. Grigas was able to save the car and prevent several accidents and damage to his and other cars. The ability to drive the car out of the spins and maintain his cool while doing it, is a sign that the rookie is maturing his skills as he learns to compete with the big guns.
“I want to get respect from the drivers and officials and I have not touched a single person or bumped or roughed anybody up. And they are just treating me as a rookie.”
Grigas has been there before though.
Jimmy Blewett's #12 Modified. (Rick Ibsen Photo)
“They did that to me in the True Value Tour and I put that to a halt and they never messed with me again, So you know what, I do not want to be like that, but this is two races in a row that they have done the same thing to me. At Wall they did the same thing to me.”
EARLY PIT STOP SETS THE TONE FOR A BLEWETT’S RACE
Jimmy Blewett’s team was one of the first cars to pit for the 150 laps race at Stafford. He came in on lap 32.
“We were just in trouble,” said Blewett. “Early on in the race the car was not handling. So that was the only real choice that we had to pit and fix it so we did not go a lap down.”
Blewett’s problems for the night compounded from there
“We could not pit again because we were out of tires. We pitted and we did not go to the tail end of the line before we pulled in the pits when it was closed. We pulled into the pits when it was closed and we put ourselves down a lap. That was our own mistake.”
But then things started to look up, and Blewett came home with a somewhat respectable finish.
“We were able to get the lucky dog and then come back and get 13th. I think that is great for all the stuff that we went through today.”
The incident that was mentioned before that involved the #14 of Reggie Ruggiero and the #00 of Jerry Marquis happened around Blewett. Was Blewett the cause of the incident? Well, that depends on who you ask.
John Blewett, III's #66. (Rick Ibsen Photo)
“I do not know what Reggie Ruggiero was talking about,” said Blewett. “I am not just going to pull down. I am not just going to take my foot off of the gas and let him go by me. This is a race. What he is talking about with me pinching him is totally ludicrous. He came down on the #00 car. Every angle that showed on the Jumbotron when we were riding around under the caution and everyone in the pit area said the same thing.
“He is one of those older guys that are never wrong and can never admit when he is wrong. I was wrong for pitting and put myself a lap down, but like I said we were able to rebound to get 13th and keep points.”
Time will tell if those points will make a difference in the long run.
“I don’t know if we will be there in the points all year round. We have to get our team together. We are struggling with help and stuff like that. I do think that we have the car and the resources. We only have a couple of good guys and we need a couple more. They cannot do it all by themselves and everything that needs to be done during the day. Hopefully if we can get the crew that we need and get the setup figured out, we will be all right.”
“We were pretty decent early. We made a bunch of adjustments during our pit stop and we got caught in our pit stall and just could not get out, which got us behind. It is very frustrating because the guys just cannot settle down and race. It seems like every time we are doubled up on restarts, everyone is crashing. At this rate it is like a Street Stock race. It is worst then an SK race. These guys need to go home and look in the mirror and say why are we having all these accidents and why are we crashing and what is the issue.”
McKENNEDY TAKES A HARD HIT
On Lap #122 of the Modified Tour Connecticut Classic 150 at Stafford, NASCAR Modified driver Jon McKennedy’s car spun as he got high up in the marbles on the track. His car hit the pit wall entrance flush hard on the driver’s side bringing his car to an abrupt stop.
As NASCAR officials inspected the car after the race, we spoke to some of McKennedy’s crew.
“He hit a ton. He broke everything in the car. The brake calibers, the routers are all sheared, Some of the driver’s compartment is all bent up a little bit. That is why they took him to the hospital to give him a CAT scan. The steering shaft is bent at a 45 degree angle. The steering wheel is straight but the shaft is bent.”
“He just got high up into the marbles and lost the car. I was behind the pit wall and what I saw was that he got stuck up high.
After the accident Jon’s pit crew maintained communication with him. McKennedy was able to get out of the car under his own power before being taken to Johnson Memorial Hospital.
“I talked to him on the radio before he got out of the car and he said that he was fine,” said a crew member. “He had just lost it gong into the corner. The car is destroyed. We have fixed some nasty wrecks with this very same chassis that has been hit a couple of time good. But this one takes the cake I think.”
Jon competed in the TVMRS prior to moving up to the Whelen Modified Tour Division, but this was the hardest hit of his career to date.
“With the True Value Series we kept the car in one piece but with the Mod Tour, we hit pretty good last year here. Then also at Thompson we hit the wall going with a full throttle.”
WRITER BECOMES A RACER AT STAFFORD
Speed51’s own Matt Kentfield got behind the wheel of the #36 Fast Track Medical Response car for team owners Bob Stirk and Tony Bartley to live out a life long, home town dream. Matt returned from Concord, NC, where he is a writer for this very website to attend Stafford Speedway’s May 25th Memorial Day race activity. But Kentfield was not content with just sitting in the bleachers and watching the race events. He wanted to be a part of them.
Kentfield teamed up with the Fast Track team to fulfill a lifelong dream of getting to
race at the track that he grew up at.
“This was awesome and I owe it all to the Fast Track guys,” said Kentfield. “I remember
spending every Friday night here watching my racing heroes – guys like Tommy Bolles,
Corky Cookman, Charles Lewandoski and Dean Casagrande – in the grandstands with
my dad. Tonight, my dad was there helping me strap into the car and it was just a
great feeling to turn laps out there.”
Kentfield didn’t just “turn laps,” however. He was competitive out there for his first time
at the Stafford half-mile. He had run in Street Stock races at tracks throughout the
Carolinas and his experience showed as he was able to finish 16th after starting last
in the feature that was shortened to just 12 laps.
“The guys put together what I would say was probably a fifth-place race car and they had a 16th-place driver today. It just took me a few laps to get used to the car because I only got about five practice laps and went right into the feature. But I have to thank the guys from BDI Racing for giving me a weekend to come up here and have some fun at the track.”
As Matt had a smile on his face from ear to ear he expressed his thoughts after finishing his first race at his hometown track in front of hometown fans.
“I had a real blast tonight. I even passed a couple cars on the outside. I now know that I can pass a car on the outside here. But just when I was getting into a rhythm, they red-checkered the race because of a big wreck. I was already planning on jumping the restart and passing everyone on the outside, but I never got the chance. What were they going to do, DQ me?”
McKennedy's mangled #73. (Rick Ibsen Photo)
Kentfield's ride for the night. (Jim DuPont Photo)