Mike Stefanik is the Mightiest at All-Star by Mike Twist
Seuss and Hirschman Put Up Good Fights in LATICRETE 150 Open Show
Mike Stefanik took home some serious hardware from All-Star Speedway after the LATICRETE 150. (Jim Dupont Photo)
of the race. To get the lead, Stefanik had to do battle with Matt Hirschman. To keep the lead and score the victory, he had to hold off the charges of Andy Seuss.
Earlier in the race, Rowan Pennink and Louie Mechalides both led laps. Hirschman took over on lap 49 and led at the halfway break. After the race resumed, he still stayed out front from nearly 40 more laps, but Hirschman just didn’t have quite the same car that he had earlier.
“We had a really good car in the first half, but it wasn’t even the same car the second half,” said Hirschman. “All we did was change tires and it didn’t like those as much as the first set.”
Stefanik had been stalking Hirschman for quite some time when on lap 113, he made his move. On a few occasions in laps prior to that, Hirschman forced Stefanik to the outside to try and make a pass. That is what happened on this lap too – in turns one and two at least. Coming out of turn two, Stefanik cut hard to the left and got underneath Hirschman’s #59 Modified. They raced side by side into turn three, but tried to occupy the same spot on the track in turn four. It didn’t work. Hirschman was sent spinning, while Stefanik was left with the lead.
The first leg of the WaterSnoGo All-Star Modified Showdown Series at All-Star Speedway was just like how racing used to be. A sizable purse attracted some of the biggest names in Modified racing to a tight and physical quarter-mile oval. Four different Modified tours, as well as the track’s own weekly Modified contingent, were well represented. The fans got their money’s worth too. Bumpers were used as bumpers and drivers raced to win from the heat races through the LATICRETE-sponsored 150-lap feature.
There were plenty of winning drivers who showed up for the race. They had names like Ted Christopher, Jimmy Blewett, Eric Beers, Kirk Alexander, James Civali, Ronnie Silk, Bobby Grigas, Matt Hirschman, Andy Seuss, Pete Brittain, Jimmy Kuhn, Carl Pasteryak, Chris Pasteryak, Lou Mechalides, Jon McKennedy, Tony Ricci, Tommy Cravenho, Ken Barry, Rowan Pennink and Jim Boniface. But none of those particular drivers made it to victory lane.
Instead, it was fitting that one of the best Modified drivers that the sport has ever seen, a living (and still winning) legend if you will, came away with the victory. That racer was Mike Stefanik.
Nobody just handed the keys to victory lane to Stefanik though.
“I raced hard all night,” said Stefanik. “It wasn’t easy and these guys really made me work.”
In this case, “work” meant fighting hard battles with two young talents in the second half
Matt Hirschman (#59) and Andy Seuss (#70) both challenged Mike Stefanik (#66) during the race. (Top - Rick Ibsen Photo, Bottom - Jim Dupont Photo)
“Matty was running me really hard,” said Stefanik. “I got to his outside a few times and finally I criss-crossed him and got underneath him. I was inside of him and I didn’t go up into him. I didn’t push him up the track. He chose to try and hold me down and he came out the loser. I didn’t want to see him spin because I think that we would have had a great race to the end. But at that time, my car was quicker. He tried really hard and came down. He came out on the short end of the stick and I didn’t want to see that happen. I came here to race and I’m not here to spin anybody, move anybody or wreck anybody. That’s not how I race.”
“Mike was fast and I knew that he was there,” said Hirschman. “I felt like he was going to go by. I wasn’t going to try and pinch him because he had it. I thought that I held my line and I won’t say any more than that. Without seeing what happened, I can’t say for sure and I have too much respect for Mike to say anything more without knowing anything for sure.”
While Stefanik didn’t have to worry about Hirschman anymore after that incident, he did have to worry about Andy Seuss. The young driver currently races on the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour, but only lives about 20 minutes away from All-Star Speedway. He showed up with his family’s car for the race but broke an axle in practice and wrecked hard. His team repaired the car, but missed the rest of practice, the heat races and the consi before being awarded a provisional start. Only about a dozen hot laps later in the evening were on Seuss’ set-up when he lined up for the feature in the 25th position.
“We didn’t get a ton of practice with it and the practice that we did get ended with a trip into the wall,” said Seuss.
That worked out fine though, Seuss made it to fourth by the halfway point, dropped back slightly after that with a pair of un-scuffed tires and then reeled Stefanik in. By the final lap, he was to Stefanik’s rear bumper, which didn’t surprise the nine-time NASCAR Touring Series champion.
“He put all the pressure on me that I could stand,” said Stefanik. “We were slipping around and I got loose. He had a good car and he knows this place well. I watched him race this race last year and he was impressive. He had a fast car and it was no surprise when I found him behind me. So those last 15 laps, I was just trying to keep him there.”
The fact that Stefanik thought so highly of him was quite a honor for 21-year-old Seuss.
“To hear that or get any kind of a compliment from Mike Stefanik is huge,” said Seuss. “That was the first time that I ever got to race hard up front with him and I really got to see what a class act that he is and that team is. I enjoyed it. I grew up a big Mike Stefanik fan and I’m still a big Mike Stefanik fan today. He’s the best. He was doing what he had to do to stay in the lead and the team was telling me to try a few things to get him. But it wasn’t like I wasn’t trying. He’s just the best, so everything I tried he was expecting and knew how to counter it. So I got a lesson today from him.
“He was doing what he needed to do to block me and I was doing what I needed to do to get him, but we kept it clean. When I did try to get him once, he got sideways so I backed off. If he went up a lane, that would have been good, but I didn’t want to loop him. You’re not going to be very popular if you turn Mike Stefanik while racing for the lead.”
Stefanik’s biggest advantage came on restarts and with 18 caution periods, he had plenty of chances to get a jump on the competition every time one of those came around. Three late-race restarts in particular kept Seuss in his mirror.
“I enjoyed tonight. The car was racy. We started deep in the field. We had a bad draw and started deep in our heat race. It was a tough heat too. We had Jimmy Blewett, James Civali and a bunch of guys with good cars in my heat race. They were racing hard.
“[A race like this] takes the pressure off. When you run the Tour, it is all about the points. It is so important to do well in the points. If you have a problem, it kills you. But here, if something goes wrong you can just say “oh well”. You wasted the time to come, but you get to hang out and I enjoy staying to watch the race anyways if I have a problem.”
Stefanik, Seuss and Hirschman might have gathered most of the headlines, but there were also a few other stars at All-Star as well.
“The #72 [Jimmy Kuhn] raced me pretty hard too,” said Stefanik. “He got inside me and we had a good race. They all raced me hard.”
Ronnie Silk finished third. Tommy Cravenho finished fourth.
And then there was Jon McKennedy, who seemed to pass every car on the track at least once…and some twice, three times or more.
“I got spun out about three times,” said McKennedy. “We had an awesome car. It started in the heat when we got spun and started in the back. Then we got up to fourth or fifth. Right before the halfway point, we got spun out again and had to pass the whole field again. We got back to fifth and definitely had top three car, but unfortunately things happen. That’s racing.”
Mike Stefanik (#66) and Jimmy Kuhn (#72) both had a rough time in their heat race, but came back to run strong in the feature. (Rick Ibsen Photo)
“I tried to mix it up on the restarts,” said Stefanik. “I didn’t want to show him [Seuss] anything. I tried taking off at different spots each time. The outside was a little tricky on the restarts and it was a little hard out there for a few laps.”
“The restarts hurt us a little bit,” admitted Seuss.
Stefanik raced in this same event one year ago [retiring with mechanical problems early on], but before that it had been nearly a decade since he had raced at the track formerly known as Star Speedway. He was more than happy to return.
“This is a racy little joint here,” said Stefanik. “You have two grooves and it’s always fun to go to the outside and make something happen. We were able to pass some cars on the outside. I did some criss-crossing and had a lot of fun out there. I enjoy coming here. I ran here a little bit in the Busch [North] cars and ran my own Modified here years ago. I wrecked really bad here in the late 90’s with a Busch car and that was one of the hardest hits that I ever took in my life. So it was nice to come back today and win.”
Most of all, Stefanik had fun.
McKennedy ended up finishing fifth.
Finally, while talent and preparation were needed for a good run at All-Star, having the latest and greatest equipment wasn’t quite so important. Both the first and second place finishing machines had plenty of gray around their muzzles. Seuss’ 1997 Troyer has actually been rebuilt from scrap at least twice in its history. Stefanik’s winning machine had quite a history behind it as well.
“This isn’t a high-dollar team by any means,” said Stefanik. “That’s an old Sheba [Racing] car that Rick Fuller and Steve Park both drove. It has nostalgic value to it. But it went well.”
Finally, at the end of the night after everyone cleared tech inspection and the haulers were loaded up and leaving, Andy Seuss said something that could have just as easily come from many of the other competitors or any of the fans at the track.
Lou Mechalides goes for a spin after leading early. (Rick Ibsen Photo)
“I can’t wait to come back for the next Star race,” said Seuss with a big smile on his face.
That event will come on June 7th, it will be the second leg of the four-race WaterSnoGo All-Star Modified Showdown Series.