NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Notes By NASCAR PR
It's Sizzler Time at Stafford
NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Makes First 2008 Stop at Stafford
The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour will make the first of four visits in 2008 to Stafford Motor Speedway this weekend as it is the featured event in the 37th Annual Tech-Net Spring Sizzler presented by Carquest in Stafford Springs, Conn.
Following a three-week layoff since the season-opener on April 6 at Thompson (Conn.) International Speedway, the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour will get back on the track with practice and qualifying at Stafford on Saturday, April 26. The Spring Sizzler is set to take the green flag on Sunday, April 27th at approximately 2:30 p.m.
The 2008 Spring Sizzler will mark the 24th time that the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour has taken part in Stafford’s opening weekend. Modified legend Richie Evans captured the first Sizzler of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour era in 1985, which was one of his 12 wins that year as he earned the inaugural series championship. Evans reached the finish line ahead of a field that included future series champions Jimmy Spencer, Mike McLaughlin, Mike Stefanik, Jeff Fuller and Rick Fuller as well as three-time NASCAR Modified champion Bugs Stevens.
Donny Lia is the defending Spring Sizzler winner as he led 27 of 200 laps to take the 2007 checkered flag, a distant 13 seconds ahead of Todd Szegedy. Like Evans, Lia used his Spring Sizzler victory to strengthen what would turn out to be a championship campaign. The Sizzler victory was the first of six for Lia as he captured his first NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour title.
Modified Pioneers to be Recognized at Spring Sizzler
As part of a season-long celebration of 60 years of Modified champions, NASCAR will honor legends Ernie Gahan and Red Byron at Stafford Motor Speedway in Stafford Springs, Conn., on April 27 prior to the Tech-Net Spring Sizzler.
NASCAR plans to honor each of its 31 all-time Modified champions throughout the season. The celebration began with the recognition of Frankie Schneider, Donny Lia and Richie Evans at the Icebreaker at Thompson International Speedway on April 6.
Gahan will be present for the pre-race festivities at Stafford and will be honored for the many accomplishments during his career, including the 1966 NASCAR Modified title. Byron, the first NASCAR champion in 1948, will be honored posthumously.
Like many drivers in his day, Gahan traversed the east coast and ran up to four races a week during his three-decade career. After getting his start in auto racing at Dover (N.H.) Speedway in 1948, Gahan compiled more than 300 feature wins on dirt and asphalt, and his career peaked in 1966 when he captured the NASCAR Modified championship. He was a 1990 inductee into the New York State Stock Car Association Hall of Fame and was a member of the inaugural induction class of the New England Auto Racers Hall of Fame in 1998.
The central figure in arguably the three most-important firsts in NASCAR history, Byron won the first NASCAR-sanctioned race on the beaches of Daytona in 1948, captured the first NASCAR title in a Modified that same year and was the first NASCAR stock car champion in 1949. Byron has been a part of NASCAR lore since he navigated the beach and road course in his Ford Modified to win the first NASCAR race on Feb. 15, 1948. A member of the National Motorsports Hall of Fame, Byron will be inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame on April 24. He was also named one of “NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers” in 1998. Byron passed away in 1960 at the age of 45.
Szegedy Looks to Build on Past Stafford Success
One of the more consistent front-runners in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour today, its no surprise that Todd Szegedy has experienced measurable success in his career at Stafford Motor Speedway.
At last year's Spring Sizzler, Donny Lia (#4) and Todd Szegedy battled for the lead. (Rick Ibsen Photo)
Szegedy, the media’s preseason pick to capture the 2008 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship, has registered a quarter of his 12 career victories at Stafford, the most he has compiled at any one track. Szegedy’s first win at the half-mile flat oval came during his 2003 championship run and he followed that with wins during the 2004 and 2006 campaigns.
During the last five seasons, Szegedy has started all 20 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour events held at Stafford. In that timeframe the Ridgefield, Conn., native has registered an average finish of seventh and compiled 10 top-fives, both of which are top marks among all active drivers.
Szegedy came close to building on his win totals in three of the four events last year at Stafford but came up short. He finished as the runner-up to Donny Lia in April, was also second to Ted Christopher in August, and in the May race he finished fifth.
Up Next: TSI Harley-Davidson 150 at Stafford
The third race on the 2008 schedule for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour will take place in familiar territory. After the second event of the season at Stafford (Conn.) Motor Speedway on April 27, the tour will have an encore at the track four weeks later with the TSI Harley-Davidson 150 on May 23.
A Friday night affair, the May 23 event will be the first of four dates for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour in 2008 that is scheduled to run under the lights.
Donny Lia won last year’s event, but will not be able to defend his title as he is now running a full schedule in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.
Seven-time NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Champion – and the tour’s winningest driver at Stafford – Mike Stefanik will be honored prior to the TSI Harley-Davidson 150 as part of the season-long celebration of 60 years of Modified champions.
Stefanik is just two years removed from his seventh title and his last trip to victory lane at Stafford came in the 2007 Fall Final, which pushed his record mark for tour wins at the track to 19.
Five Questions: Matt Hirschman
What did it mean to set the track qualifying record last year at the Spring Sizzler?
Setting fast time last year was really a good feeling. It was really exciting to be on the pole for the Spring Sizzler, and probably the only thing that would be better would be to win it.
What are your expectations for 2008?
I definitely feel like we should be a contender this year. Last year we ran second behind Donny Lia in the standings for much of the year. The end of the year it could come down to a couple of points that separate you from a championship and being all the way out of the top five.
What is it like following in the footsteps of your dad, Tony, a five-time NWMT champion?
I certainly have some big shoes to fill, but the toughest days of trying to live up to the Hirschman name and legacy are already behind me. I’ve accomplished nothing of what he has yet, but I’ve started to accomplish some things on my own.
Already a champion crew chief, do you aspire to reach that same level as a driver?
As the crew chief for my father, we had a couple of outstanding years [2004, 2005 titles], and I enjoyed it and worked really hard at it. But while we were doing that, I was always envisioning the day it would be my turn and that I would be the one in that situation. For me, that would be above-and-beyond doing it as a crew chief, because that is what I have envisioned.
You are in business with your father. What is Hirschman’s Speed?
We are a dealer for Troyer and all components that pertain to Modified racing. Our specialty is Modifieds, and a lot of our customers are people that I compete against all the time in different series and different levels.
Christopher Closes In On Century Mark In Victories
He’s already the winningest driver in track history, with victories in just about every division that has been run at Stafford Motor Speedway. But Christopher still has one more milestone left: 100 victories. The Plainville, Conn., driver, who is a championship contender in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, is coming off his sixth track championship in Stafford’s top division, the SK Modifieds.
Christopher has won 83 SK Modified races, and six Pro Stock races in the track’s weekly divisions, and seven NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour races and one NASCAR Camping World Series East race at the half-mile that puts his total at 97 track victories.
Last year, Christopher won the SK Modified track championship by 34 points over runner-up Woody Pitkat and 194 over third-place Keith Rocco. Pitkat won a division-high eight races, while Rocco won four and 2006 champion Frank Ruocco won three.
Corey Hutchings (Late Model), Sean Foster (Limited Late Model), Norman Sears (DARE Stock) and Chris Matthews (SK Light) are Stafford’s other returning champions.
In addition to hosting the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race, Stafford’s Spring Sizzler event marks the opening races for the track’s NASCAR Whelen All-American Series events.
Matt Hirschman (Jamie Williams Photo)