51 Leftovers: Thompson Icebreaker NASCAR Whelen Mods
Revisit The First Race of '09 Before Heading to the Spring Sizzler
By Mike Twist

When two racecars drivers are as on top of their game as Ted Christopher and Jimmy Blewett are, there will have plenty of chances to go wheel-to-wheel with each other.  When they are both as aggressive as those two drivers, there are bound to be a few little, or not-so-little, incidents along the way as well.

Christopher and Blewett have had their run-ins in the past, but both drivers behaved themselves when they raced for the lead in the late stages of this year's Icebreaker.  Blewett did try and aggressive move on TC heading into turn three late in the going, but Christopher just crossed him right over and retook the lead.

After the race fans heard Christopher, ever the showman, say over the PA system that he didn't know what to expect battling Blewett because he was “an interesting guy to race with”.  But those remarks were mostly for show and not because Christopher was unhappy with Blewett's moves.

“He had a good car today and I think he's probably learned a little bit,” said Christopher.  “We were okay with each other.”

Blewett wasn't offended by any of the show.  After all, he calls himself “Showtime” and isn't a stranger to getting involved in a controversy or two himself.  He welcomes the rivalry between himself and Christopher.

“Listen, if there are no rivalries, why are people going to come out and sit in the grandstands?” said Blewett.  “Nobody is going to come out and watch a bunch of nothing.  Off the track, I'd give him the shirt off my back and he'd probably do the same thing.  After the race, we talked for 20 minutes.  We talk a lot more than people think, but when we are on the track we are both out there trying to get the same thing done.”


Up until the Icebreaker, Donny Lia had not entered a race with the #4 Mystic Missile team since clinching the 2007 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship.  After a Tour of Duty in the NASCAR Truck Series, Lia returned to the ride for season and picked right back up basically where he left off with a third-place finish at Thompson.

“It feels like I never left,” said Lia.  “Everyone is doing good and it's good to be back.”
Lia won six races with the team in 2007, but a victory was not in the cards for the 2009 season opening.  Lia is okay with that though.

“We didn't have the car to win, but we had a good racecar,” said Lia.  “This is a decent start to the season.  We gave ourselves a little education with the tires today.  We have to figure these things out, but it should be good.

“We had a good race going.  It was fun.  Obviously I wanted to beat him [Ted Christopher], but it's the first race of the year so there's a whole season ahead of us.”

The Icebreaker weekend could have been a real sour one for the #4 team after they discovered a problem while rolling through the inspection line on Friday.  But the team worked hard to overcome the parts failure and didn't really skip a beat.

“They really worked hard,” said Lia of his team.  “We ended up bending a pushrod somehow in tech.  So they got another pushrod and luckily it didn't bent a valve.  They went back to the shop and worked their tails off.  They made sure that the car was perfect and that probably hurt us, but they got here and did a great job.  I can't thank them enough and I can't thank Bob Garbarino enough to give me another chance to drive this car again.”


Doug Coby will run at least the first races of the 2009 season for the #19 team on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.  Those are new surroundings for the driver who has lacked a regular ride for the past few years, but Coby didn't waste any time fitting right in.  He put the car out front right away in fact - leading early at Thompson.

“This is real comfortable,” said Coby.  “We were real strong in practice, real strong in qualifying and led the first six or seven laps of the 2009 season.  That was pretty cool.  They weren't the laps that we wanted to lead, but we'll take it.”

Coby didn't quite have the car to stay out front though - which led to some dramatic moments on the track, especially late in the race.

“The car was just really free.  I think that you'll talk to all of the other drivers and find that they'll say that they were battling the same thing.  When the tires get the long runs on them and they get heat cycled in, you'll slide around a little bit.  You'll think that you can make a move on someone, but you really can't.  That kind of tricks you into thinking that you can dive-bomb someone, but you'll find out that you really can't.  You'll just slide up the track.

“It got a little hairy out there.  When you restart the race side-by-side up until 10 laps to go, you've got guys With 20 laps left in the race, our cars aren't handling that great.  You had guys trying to stay on the bottom and trying to stay up top and at the same time trying to advance position.  Sometimes that's a bad combination.  I got together with the #59 and it happened so fast.  I don't think it was my fault or his fault.  We just touched wheels and he was in the air.  I almost lost it too.  I don't know what his perspective was, but I don't think that I went up too much or that he came down too much.  It was just how the wheels locked that screwed us up.  It sucked for them because they had a good car.  I'm sure that it will happen to me at some point this year.  But that's the way this season will go I think.  We're all going to have to battle for everything that we can get.

Even though Coby and his team are still getting to know each other, they looked like they were a well established group when the reacted to one particular problem during the race.

“We had some radio problems where the guys couldn't hear me, but I could hear them,” said Coby.  “So I was trying to tell them about changes that we could make.  They got a lot of them done anyways because they could tell what the car was doing and we did hand signals.  It was a thumbs-up, thumbs-down kind of thing going down the frontstretch under caution.  These guys know what they are doing.  They've all run the Tour before and know how to work on racecars”


Rowan Pennick tuned up for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour by finishing a strong second in the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour opener at Concord Motorsports Park (NC).  What he learned down south must have worked well, as Pennick was in the lead pack at Thompson as well and finished ninth there.

“I think that we've gotten our program stepped up for this year and I look to run up front every week,” said Pennick. “We had really good car all day.  We were a little loose in the beginning and tried to tighten it up on our pit stop there.  We were coming back through the field and just couldn't catch any breaks coming back through to get the track position that we needed.  But once we got racing, we started to get by people.  If we could have gotten a little bit better track position, I think that we could have been right there at the end.”


Bobby Grigas struggled in practice and qualifying at Thompson.  He ended up starting the race back in the 32nd position with an untested set-up under his #09 Modified.  Still, the Massachusetts driver entered his third year of Modified Tour competition by finishing a fine 10th in the feature race.

“It was a crapshoot going into the race,” said Grigas.  “We didn't know for sure what the car would do, but I adapted.  I had to use a lot of patience and change my driving style a little bit.  I'm usually a pedal masher.  We were struggling with the car all weekend and changed everything around so that it would get through the center of the corners great, but I had to be very easy on the throttle.  So it took me a few laps to get used to that.

“The guys did a phenomenal job.  Last night, they stayed here late.  This morning, they got here early.  They changed the car completely around after time trials.  Their pit stop was unreal too.  We took on three tires and adjusted the wedge and we still beat six or seven cars on pit road.  I can't ask for anything more.  I really have a team now that can get me to the front. 

“Was tenth where we wanted to finish here?  No.  But from where we were starting, tenth was great.”


The start of the 2009 NASCAR Modified season has a familiar feel to it for Ted Christopher.  Four years ago he won both the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and Southern Modified Tour opening races.  This time around, he did the same thing once again.

“This is pretty neat because in '05, I won the Southern opener and the Northern opener.  This year, we won both of those again.  That year, we won seven races on the Tour and then got Donny Lia-ized in the final race [so we didn't win the championship].”


On the night before the Icebreaker at Thompson, Andy Seuss racked up a NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified victory at South Boston Speedway (VA).  Then, he came up to Connecticut, where Tommy Cravenho had practiced and qualified his car on Saturday, to run at Thompson.  The day was a long one for Seuss, as he got a lap down in the pits early on but made that up to eventually finish in the 17th position.

“Any weekend when you can race twice is already a great weekend, but to get back in victory lane with Riggs Racing made it an even better weekend.”

The finish of 17th put a little damper on the weekend, even though Seuss took comfort in the fact that he had a really good racecar under him.

“We didn't get to show what we really had.  I have to thank Tommy Cravenho for setting the car up and giving us a few pointers.  We were just a few adjustments away from being great.  We got stuck in the pits and went down a lap.  After that, the car was good.  But I really wanted to save it for when we got back on the lead lap.  It took a couple of long runs to do that.

“We've got something to build on now.  Next time, I'll be here for practice so we can dial it in a little more.”


Ronnie Silk finished sixth in the Icebreaker, but those results don't even begin to tell the story of a race where he had one of the best cars all day long.

“I wish that we could have finished up there, but we got shuffled back on one of those restarts,” said Silk.  “I think Jimmy [Blewett] thought that he was clear, but he wasn't.  I thought that I was going out of the park.  I was nervous and thought I was going over the wall.  It didn't, but I think that I bent something in the front end.  From that point on, I was just hanging on.”
Silk isn't the least bit down about his finish.

“Last year, I think that we finished 27th in this race, so things are already looking up.”

So far this season, Blewett has had something in common with Ted Christopher in the fact that everywhere he has gone, whether it be the Whelen Modified Tour, Southern Modified Tour, Florida Speedweeks or even ASA Modifieds, he has been competitive.  Does that mean that 2009 could be Silk's big year?

“I hope so,” said Silk.  “But I'm sure that Teddy will have something to say about that though.  I finished sixth and he won.  So until we start winning and he's behind us, he is still the man.  We keep trying to get better and better and better and I do think that we are going to have a good year.”


Jimmy Blewett had the settle for second place at the Icebreaker, but he will still happy with that result to start off the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season.  He was even happier about the performance of his #12 Modified.

“It was really good racing with the car that these guys gave me and the Ron Hutter motor,” said Blewett.  “Everything was just on a rail today for us.”

Blewett did have a little bit of an adjustment period though with the new tires used on the Modified Tour.

“I never drove on these tires.  The tires from last year, you could drive a little harder on for a little longer.  I ended up getting loose, but when I came in, the guys tightened the car up.  When we pitted though, we got caught behind the #8 car.  That just put me behind.”


Ryan Preece left last season's Icebreaker hanging his head.  This year, he left with a positive outlook on the 2009 racing season after a top five finish.

“That's a real good way to start out the year and a lot better than last year.  We finished 18th last year and now we got fourth with a brand new car.  That is something to work with.  I didn't create a lot of work for my team, so they can go to the Red Sox game on Wednesday.  All in all, it was a real good day.

“That car worked out really good and Performance Technologies gave us a real good Ford engine today.”

Preece's Ole' Blue #3 was all-new at Thompson.  The brand new car built by the Boehler Racing Enterprises team was such a cause for celebration that Preece showed up with an all-new racing suit to match his car.

“I even have a new blue suit, no more red suit for me.” 

Ted Christopher (#36) and Jimmy Blewett (#12) go wheel to wheel at Thompson.  (Jim Dupont Photo)
Coby's #19 at Thompson  (Rick Ibsen Photo)
Lia's #4 Modified at Thompson.  (Rick Ibsen Photo)
Rowan Pennick's #93  (Howie Hodge / NASCAR Photo)
Bobby Grigas' team was hard at work (Top - Rick Ibsen Photo), but that work paid off with a top 10 finish for the #09 Modified.  (Bottom - Jim Dupont Photo)
Andy Seuss' #70 Modified.  (Jim Dupont Photo)
Ronnie SIlk's #79 Modified.   (Jim Dupont Photo)
Jimmy Blewett's #12 Modified.  (Rick Ibsen Photo)
Ryan Preece's #3 Modified.  (Jim Dupont Photo)