"Showtime" Jimmy Blewett Repeats Evans Memorial Triumphs by Matt Kentfield
A More Mature “People’s Champ” Dominates 100 Lap Thriller
In a short period of time, Jimmy Blewett has become one of the “love him or hate him” kind of drivers that have been around the Modified ranks for decades. There have been drivers who the fans can’t get enough of or can’t stand since Modified racing began. Guys like Bodine, Christopher, Spencer and Ruggiero fit that bill perfectly.
Blewett has shown that he has the talent to be a dominant driver in Modifieds. He has also shown that he is a “take no prisoners” driver behind the wheel. His gutsy moves on the track and his brazen attitude outside the car earned him the well-deserved nickname “Showtime.”
Jimmy Blewett used his new on-track driving style to win his second Evans Memorial. (Jim DuPont photo)
The bottom line is, Jimmy Blewett can win. He can also ruffle feathers. He managed to do both after winning last year’s Turkey Derby at Wall Township Speedway (NJ). Upon getting out of his car in victory lane, Blewett had some harsh words for the fans that booed his controversial move for the lead late in the race. That move earned him another, more sarcastic nickname, “The People’s Champ.”
During this year’s Speedweeks at New Smyrna Speedway, the attitude is still there. But since Blewett won the 2006 edition of the Richie Evans Memorial 100 at New Smyrna Speedway (FL), he has grown as a racecar driver. He brought home victories on the Whelen Modified Tour at Martinsville and SK Modified wins at tracks throughout the Northeast in the last year, in addition to his Turkey Derby victory.
Call him “Showtime” or “The People’s Champ,” either way Jimmy Blewett has proven that he is a legitimate threat for victory any time he sits behind the wheel of a Modified. His five SK Modified victories during Speedweeks 2007 at New Smyrna proved it and his
win Wednesday night in the Tour-Type Modified feature verified it. But Friday night’s dominating repeat victory in the Richie Evans Memorial 100 did something that is hard to do to the outspoken bulldog of a driver.
His win left him speechless.
“This means a lot to me,” said an emotional Blewett. “Coming into racing, starting out a little later than a lot of other people did, it put a lot of pressure on me to catch up that little bit of lost ground. Just to come back here and win a race that’s named after Richie Evans is just phenomenal.
“To do it two years in a row, I’m speechless. I don’t have words. I don’t even know what to say.”
Beers (#9) tried to pass Blewett (#19) on the high side late, but it wouldn't stick. (DuPont photo)
Blewett took the lead on a bottom-shot move on Eric Beers in the third turn and never looked back. Even as Beers took peeks high and low around him, Blewett was not going to be denied. Using lessons learned from his breakout Modified season in 2006, a more mature Jimmy Blewett, at least behind the wheel, looked more like a crafty veteran than an inexperienced youngster.
“At the beginning of the race, I knew my stagger would close up and I knew the car would turn good in the first 10-15 laps, so I told myself that I had to get Eric early or I would never get him at all. That would let me set the pace and let them burn their stuff up trying to get around me. I got him right away on the third lap and I just rode and conserved.”
“I had to save my tires because last year down here, as a lot of people know, I was burning my stuff up too early. I had a lot of fast racecars last year and I could’ve won more races, but due to my lack of experience, I couldn’t do it.”
But something clicked inside Jimmy Blewett. A season’s worth of learning and some good brotherly advice from older brother John helped him grow as a driver in the last 365 days since his first Evans Memorial victory.
“The year flew by last year so fast and I had so much going on, between running here and there with the SK, at Wall, and back on the Tour. I was switching crew chiefs, messing around with this, that and the other thing. I was just trying to learn everything myself, being hard headed. I wasn’t taking any advice, I was just taking half of it when I should’ve been taking all of it.
“I sat down over the winter with my brother who came over to help set my Tour car up, and he told me that if I want to win races, I have to be there at the end. You don’t win races in the first 25 laps. That was my whole game plan when I started this season. Pace at the beginning, give and take, and if you get fast, take it without pushing and messing the car up, then race the last 25 laps of the race because if you ain’t around at the end, there’s no sense.”
Nimble Jimmy Blewett does his cartwheel in victory lane. (51 Photo)
The advice worked, as Jimmy paced himself out front. Then in the late stages of Friday night’s race, it was time for Showtime to be Showtime.
“I just saved and conserved, and then my spotter and crew chief came on the radio with 20 to go and said, ‘Showtime, time to go. Turn the wick up and make this the fastest 20 laps you’ve ever run.’ So I did. I can do that pretty good.”
Aside from his brashness behind the wheel, Jimmy Blewett’s fun-loving attitude adds to the “Showtime” mystique. Racing is fun for Blewett, and winning is pretty fun too. He might not have the build of a gymnast, but the burly Blewett decided to act like one to celebrate his win.
“I’m pretty agile. I’m no Carl Edwards, you’ll never see me do a back flip. I was joking around with the guys and they said I should do a back flip. I told them that if I did a back flip, I’d probably break my neck. I could do them a cartwheel, though. That’s about as good as I can do for a fat guy.”
MOD NOTES: RICHIE EVANS MEMORIAL 100
Beers Comes Up Short to Blewett Again
In the last two Tour-Type Modified races, Eric Beers has seen plenty of Jimmy Blewett’s #19 car in his windshield. Beers tried every move in his repertoire to get by Blewett Wednesday night for the win, but Blewett held him off.
Again Friday night, Beers gave it everything he had, but his motor and timing just did not work in his favor.
“Jimmy did a great job,” said Beers. “They’ve got way more power than we’ve got, but our car was so superior though the turns. I could lose three car lengths going into the corner and then gain them right back through the center.
“My hat’s off to Kevin (Crowley, Beers’ crew chief) and the crew to make it this fast. Our motor’s not the fastest thing in the world, but we make up for it in what we’ve got, especially getting through the corner. We just got out-horsepowered tonight.”
Late in Saturday night’s race, Beers’ superiority to Blewett in the corners made it difficult for the veteran not to rough up the leader. His patience ended up costing him spots in the final laps.
“It was real tough to keep from running into the back of him. You get to the end and I’ve got Ted (Christopher) right on the back of me and I’m just trying to go as hard as I can.”
Zach Sylvester (15) races with Donny Lia's #18
Sylvester raced among the top-five throughout the feature and eventually finished fifth.
“It’s an excellent run for the team. They’ve worked real hard all week. We’ve been getting much better every night. In the 50-lapper, something happened and I made a bad call, but we were able to recover and learn what we needed to do tonight.”
Sylvester battled with fellow Whelen Modified Tour regulars Jimmy Blewett, Eric Beers and Ted Christopher at the front of the field, so he knew the type of talent he was up against.
“They’re an awesome bunch of guys. There was a talented bunch of drivers up there tonight. Everybody kind of knows when it’s time to ride and everybody knows when it’s time to pull the pin and let it loose. Everybody did a great job of just keeping it together. There was a lot of beating and banging, but everybody kept it clean and we put on a good show.”
“He was bogging me down in the turns and Ted got a good run on me and got by me. It’s just one of the things that happens.”
Beers showed the way early, but Blewett’s power move on the third lap wound up being the move of the race. Beers knows, however, if he could’ve kept Blewett behind him early, the race could have played out differently.
“If he would’ve never gotten by me at the beginning, we would’ve been fine. We would’ve just driven away and hid and no one would’ve seen us until the end.
“We’re not wrecked, and the main thing is we had a good run.”
Consistency the Key for Sylvester
Zach Sylvester has not had a dominant Speedweeks 2007. He has not had a disappointing one, either. Sylvester has been uniquely consistent and that has put him in contention for the Speedweeks championship. That consistency also kept him in the running for Friday night’s victory.
Sylvester enters Saturday night’s Speedweeks finale fourth in points, but just 37 points behind points leader Eric Beers. Whether he wins the title or not, Sylvester will not leave New Smyrna disappointed.
“I’ve been coming down here for I think five years and this is, by far, the best Speedweeks I’ve ever had. No blown motors, no big wrecks. Just a bunch of little things have kept us out of victory lane, but the guys have done a great job.”
Two Straight Good Runs For TC's Backup
Ted Christopher wishes he could go back in time one week. After struggling in the first nights of Speedweeks with what his team deemed their primary #36 car, the Ed Whelan-owned crew pulled their backup off the trailer and the results have been impressive.
Although Christopher has not yet visited Speedweeks victory lane, which is a surprise for the usually-strong Connecticut driver, he has been inching closer with his backup car in the last two features. Christopher finished second Friday night and hopes Saturday’s finale will be his ticket to victory.
TC (#36) made a late pass of Eric Beers (#9) for second. (DuPont photo)
“It’s a shame our car went away there at the end,” said Christopher. But all we needed was a good finish after the week we’ve been having. We would’ve liked to win, but we’ve still got a good run and another race tomorrow. We’ve got this car going and it’s got some power.”
That’s Brad (LaFontaine) and the guys that have made this car so good. That’s why we come down here to Florida, to win and have some fun. If we can get an up-front starting spot tomorrow night, we can have some real fun.”
Lia Recovers From Spin for Third
Friday night’s persistence award could have gone to Donny Lia and his LMI #18 team. Lia started up front with his brand new Troyer racecar, but spun early in the race while trying to pass John Blewett III. Lia came to pit road for four fresh tires after the spin and worked his way back up to the runner-up position at the checkered flag.
“In a way, I’m kind of mad at myself,” said Lia. “We had a car that could’ve won the race. You just try to make the most of it. I spun myself out and I made a couple mistakes tonight.
“I’ve got to hand it to my crew. They gave me a great pit stop and they’ve given me a great car all week long. They’ve worked their tails off. I know what I’m saying when I say that I’ve got the best bunch of guys out there. Tonight I messed up and I couldn’t bring it home for them and I’m disappointed.”
Even with the disappointment for not winning, Lia could still hold his head high after passing all those cars through the 100-lap feature.
“In the long run I guess it wasn’t too bad of a run for us tonight. We came home with a third-place finish. Down here in New Smyrna, I guess it could’ve been a lot worse. When you could’ve won the race, it kind of leaves a damper on things.”
McKennedy Playing the "Little Guy" Role This Year
The teams that have been consistently finishing up front so far during Speedweeks 2007 are veteran teams with experienced crew chiefs and a stable of multiple cars and motors. But it’s not always the big-buck teams that turn the most heads during Speedweeks, as Andy Seuss’ family-run team that won last year’s Speedweeks Tour-Type Modified Championship can attest.
Jon McKennedy's #73 gets ready to roll in Friday's feature. (51 Photo)
This year, Jon McKennedy’s low-budget effort has been coming up with some big results. McKennedy has had top-10 runs all week long and was right there with the “big guns” as he finished sixth Friday night.
“We had a pretty good run tonight,” said McKennedy. “We came home sixth, so we’re happy with it. Considering we had the whole drivetrain out of the car earlier today, it’s pretty good. We came out of here in one piece and we were right there with everyone else, so we’re happy.
A lot of the teams here have a couple cars and a couple motors. That makes it tough for us because we’ve only got one car and one motor. We just do the best we can. We’ve been running pretty good with those guys all week and hopefully we can get them tomorrow night.”
Civali Taking In Smyrna Experiences
New Smyrna Speedway is a tricky racetrack. Even the drivers that have been racing there for years will admit that. But for a Smyrna rookie like James Civali, it takes a couple of nights during Speedweeks to get the hang of the fast half-mile.
Civali has been a top-10 contender all week long, but for the driver that has been winning or contending for wins on the Whelen Tour week in and week out in 2006, Civali is itching to get into victory lane with Joe Brady’s #80.
“You always want to win a race, but when you come down to Florida, you never know what you’re going to get,” said Civali. “I’m down here not knowing if I’ll ever to come back down here and race again, so I want to win. .
“It’s been a learning experience all week. It’s an oddball track, plus I’ve never been in a Troyer (chassis) car before. I’ve never been in any Modified that wasn’t a RaceWorks car. That was a lot of what we were doing early in the week was just trying to get a handle on the setup. The track’s a little weird. You kind of drive it like Concord, you drive it in hard and you come off the corner hard. The track’s got good rubber on it now and it’s getting fast.”
Civali finished Friday’s Evans Memorial eighth.
“Tonight the car was the best it’s been all week. It handled really, really well. We’ve just been struggling with this motor a little bit. We can’t get off the corner as well as some of the other guys. If we had a better motor tonight, we would’ve felt a lot better, but we did what we could do.”