GRIGAS VS. BERTUCCIO
Perhaps the wildest three minutes of Modified action during Speedweeks happened on the final night. The opening lap of the Tour-type Modified feature turned into a massive wreck. JR Bertuccio and Bobby Grigas were each looking to win the final feature event of the week. They were also each looking to get the holeshot on the first lap.
On the opening lap, Grigas banged wheels with pole-setter Matt Hirschman, the contact would eventually cut the Grigas' left front tire. As the two went down the backstretch, Grigas' tire went down at the entry of turn three. His momentum sent him down the track and into JR Bertuccio, who had just snuck in for a three-wide bid for the lead. The two hit the wall at pretty much full speed while other cars were collected in the mess, but it was Bertuccio and Grigas that everyone was keeping an eye on after the monster hit.
A small fire erupted underneath the destroyed machine of Grigas and at the same time, Bertuccio climbed from his car and immediately attacked Grigas (who was still in his car) with several punches and kicks before he walked away. Crews for both teams came running down to the aid of there drivers and there was another scuffle on pit road with a wrestling match that left some crew members on the ground.
“There is no reason for f----n’ brain-fade,” said Bertuccio. “It was lap one. We didn’t even complete one lap, it was lap zero, and I’ve got a junk racecar because of it.”
Grigas said the cut tire was the cause for the accident. He also didn’t expect a three-wide move from Bertuccio.
“I don’t know if Hirschman drove it in over his head or what,” said Grigas. “He said the car bottomed out and that’s why he slid up in turn two. I hit the brakes and I went to the bottom of him and I don’t know what JR was thinking. I was just looking to clear Matty. We rubbed a little bit. I got a flat tire and all hell broke loose after that.”
The wreck was the first part of the story. The punches were the second part.
“Nothing was said. I knew what happened,” said Bertuccio. “He turned left into my right rear and put me straight in the fence. So I threw some punches at him and then his crew members want to be a gang of tough guys. I got no problem fighting. I threw one punch and the whole crew wanted to jump me. We’ll see what happens later though.”
More worlds were exchanged later, but no more punches were thrown. Grigas wasn’t so concerned with the physical actions that took place, but more with the sportsmanship that was tossed aside when his car was on fire.
“It was very unsportsmanlike to go after a guy when their car is on fire and there is gas running down the track,” said Grigas. “It doesn’t matter what your fellow competitor did to you or what you think he did to you. You should try to help him get out of the car or wait for him to get out of the car, instead of beating up a poor person who is strapped into a car and has no way to defend himself. That’s why his family has such a bad reputation.
“I know all the bad boys in racing. Teddy (Christopher), Jimmy (Blewett), they would talk about it. They would duke it out in the pits, but they would never ever, ever put someone else in harm’s way when a car is on fire and they are trying to get out.”
A POPULAR VICTORY FOR CHRISTOPHER
After Ted Christopher won the Richie Evans Memorial 100, there were plenty of happy people in the pits and the grandstands..
Yes, you read that right.
TC, who has been one of the lightning rods for controversy throughout his career, raced Ronnie Silk hard, but clean, for the victory and was a very popular winner after a very popular race.
“I’ve never had so many people come up to me after a race and say that was the best race. It was so exceptional,” said Christopher. “I’m glad that I won, but I like the graitifcation of hearing from people that even if they don’t like me, they respect my ability behind the wheel of a racecar. “
Among the first to reach Christopher in victory lane were Canadian racer Patrick Laperle and his crew chief twin brother Eric. The Laperles had won three features that week, so victory lane was a familiar place to them, so they showing TC that he did a good job.
“Those guys are great,” said Christopher. “They are the twins and they are funny. He [Patrick] kissed me on the cheek…I was like…what? Those guys are just great those and it was too bad that they got wrecked. He was having a good week too.”
CHOQUETTE GETS TORN UP AFTER CHECKERED FALLS
You could say that Jeff Choquette had a bad night after the Pete Orr Memorial. On the track, the defending race winner and Super Late Model champion broke an A-Frame bolt and had to pit while running in the top three during the final laps of the race. Things didn’t get any better as the Chris Staggs’ Super Late Model truck and trailer made contact with Choquette’s rig when exiting the track. After some finger pointing and loud voices, the authorities were called to straighten out the situation.
“It’s ridiculous, that’s what it is,” said Choquette. “The Staggs team was pulling out and I was getting ready to leave when it happened. When you’re driving a 70 or 80 foot rig you have quite a bit of trailer swing.”
BRANNON WINS LIMITED LATE MODEL TITLE
A Speedweeks performance could be a tune-up to a break-out season – at least that is what Drew Brannon hopes.
The Accomplished 17-year-old Late Model driver captured the Limited Late Model Series Championship during Smyrna Speedweeks after taking three wins. After losing the title on a tie breaker last year, it was more like relief.
“The third time is a charm,” said Brannon. “We had our own stuff this year. The racing Gods were with us. We stayed out of wrecks and dodged all of the bullets. I just really have to thank all of my guys; Mike, Tom, Dad and everybody for taking this week off from work, from school and just fighting through everything.”
Brannon will shift gears to run both the ASA Challenge Series and the ASA Late Model South Series. He will drive for Green Light Racing this season with legendary driver Butch Miller serving as crew chief and driver coach.
“This championship is going to be a good confidence booster for me with Butch this year,” said Brannon. “I think this coming season is going to be awesome between Butch and I. I think we are going to do great with the south and I think we are going to do fairly well with the challenge.”
SEUSS ENDS A SHORT SPEEDWEEKS ON A GOOD NOTE
On the final night of Smyrna Speedweeks, it appeared that quite a battle could be shaping up for the victory in the Tour-type Modified feature. Ted Christopher was leading the race with Andy Seuss hot on his tail. There have been fireworks between these two drivers in the past, so a great battle could come next.
But then Seuss faded back slightly and eventually finished third. The reason? Tire troubles.
“We were right up there and the car was flawless,” said Seuss. “I was just trying to figure out how I was going to set him up and then the car got real tight. We had picked up some debris on the right rear and it was shrinking. By the time we came in, there was only about seven pounds of air in it. We only had an inch of stagger where we usually run four, so it tightened up pretty good. Fortunately, it wasn’t a 50 or 100 lap race because it would have been off the rim in a couple of laps.
“You can’t give Teddy and inch and he won’t give you an inch. You’ve got to race him hard. One of the nice things about racing down here is that you can race hard like that and most of the time, you’ll come out pointed in the right direction.”
Eventually, a great finish did take place with Seuss losing out to Eric Goodale by inches for the second position. Still, Seuss was happy with a podium finish on the final night of Speedweeks, as it gives his team momentum heading into the season.
“That was big. Last year, we had a really good run in the last race of the week and plowed into the wall pretty good. We had to basically scrap the whole car. So to come out of here this year and only have to tinker with a few things is big. We can get it ready for Thompson now.”
OH TO BE 13...
Last year it was 13-year-old Logan Ruffin who shocked the Late Model world by winning several races and the championship in the Crate Late Model class at New Smyrna Speedweeks. This year, another 13-year-old showed he has a promising future in racing. Stephan Nasse scored his first career Late Model win on, what else, Friday the 13th.
“I couldn’t ask for anything better,” said Nasse. “The race was going good. I was planning on bringing home a second-place finish, but the leader had trouble. It’s pretty cool to be the first guy from Florida to win a Crate Late Model race during Speedweeks. It’s also my first Late Model win, so it’s extra special.”
Nasse will be running in Florida as well as some selected events on the ASA Late Model South schedule.
ROGERS SCORES POPULAR WIN IN PETE ORR MEMORIAL 100
When the checkered flag came out on the Pete Orr Memorial 100, the fans were overwhelmed with excitement after seeing David Rogers win the race and the championship. Rogers has been a part of racing in Florida for many years. Walking through the pit area, it was hard to find someone who had anything but nice things to say about Rogers. His week-long drive was very popular with the fans who have been watching him race for over 30 years.
“To win the 100 lapper, obviously that means a lot to me,” said Rogers. “It’s a good deal for me because I have won a lot of stuff over the years, but I haven’t won a Pete Orr race. Pete and I were friends and it kind of bothers me and I get a little emotional about it because Pete could still be doing it.”
Orr and Rogers were competitors on the track and friends off the track. It really hurt the racing community and Rogers when Orr lost his battle with cancer back in 2002.
“Pete and I were not that much different in age,” said Rogers. “Of course that happens to a lot of people, life ends early. This win means a lot. The only thing that would mean more would be the Snowball Derby.”
ONE FOR THE AGES
Not many people would argue about Richie Evans being the best driver to ever strap in to a Modified, so it only seams fitting the best race of the week bares his name. Fans, drivers, teams, and anyone who watched the 24th Annual Richie Evans Memorial 100 saw the best race of the weekend. Some might think that it was the best Modified race in recent memory. No matter where it ranks, it was truly unreal, incredible and just down right awesome.
Ted Christopher and Ronnie Silk went back and fourth, and no, that’s not a figure of speech. The two changed the lead a dozen times in the final 50 laps by our count. At some points, one would make a pass on the frontstretch and the other would re-take the lead in turn one. When the dust settled, Christopher had won the biggest race of the week and he celebrated like a mad man in victory lane.
“It was a pretty wild race,” said Christopher. “It’s also a great race when it is fun and you really have to get up on the wheel. That was getting up on the wheel.”
Silk decided to hang back in the final few laps as he looked to make the final pass. In the end, the strategy backfired, but he still blazed across the line to finish second.
“You’re trying to make a move and you know there is going to be a counter move,” said Silk. “I was just so tight there was no way I could stop the counter. I tried to wait for something on the last lap down the backstretch and just I slid the nose in one too much. “
CAR COUNT STUNNING AT NEW SMYRNA SPEEDWAY
Economically, we have been told we are in a recession, but you wouldn’t know that from the car count that fans saw over the course of the nine nights of action at New Smyrna Speedway. In the eight feature divisions (Crate Late Models, Super Late Models, Limited Late Model, SK Mods, Tour Mods, Florida Mods, Winged Sprints and Pro Trucks) there were a total of 234 cars that took the green flag during feature events. Drivers towed in from Ohio, Arizona, Iowa, all parts of the Carolinas, all across the Northeast and even Canada.
ANOTHER CHAMPIONSHIP FOR TC
Ted Christopher is the 2008 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion. He is also the 2009 Modified champion at New Smyrna’s 43rd Annual World Series of Short Track Racing.
The title helps Christopher’s #00 Joe Brady-owned race team and its bottom line. It also helps build more momentum for the short track ace.
“You get some extra money for this and that helps out,” said Christopher. “This is an expensive week for the teams. People don’t realize that it costs a lot of money to come down here. So this will help out.
“Another thing…when you win the championship last year, then you start out and win the TQ race and then come down here to win some races and the championship. That starts out the season pretty good.
SOAK 'EM IF YOU GOT 'EM
It’s a question that can only be answered with a nod of the head or a goofy smile. It’s a question that many teams didn’t want to admit, but New Smyrna Speedway is one of the few places in the asphalt short track world where soaking tires is the norm. Speed51.com spoke with several teams who used the juice during the weekend.
“Ninety percent of the Modified field here is soaking,” said SK Modified Champion Jimmy Blewett. “This is no-holds-barred racing down here; anybody that says that it isn’t is out of their mind.”
Not every driver who started with tire softener stayed with it. Jeff Choquette said the change from Goodyear tires to Hoosiers has made it almost unnecessary to soak tires.
“It’s a different type of deal. With the Goodyears last year that was the thing to do,” said Choquette. “Everybody soaked their tires and you’re only running short races. Everybody knew what to do with them because that’s what we were running down here and now that they have switched over to Hoosiers. I tried it one of the first couple of nights. I tried it when I tested out here. I haven’t really seen a big advantage. Yeah, you can get out there and you can go fast for a couple laps, big whoop.”
Some teams were priding themselves on not soaking tires. Jeremy Colangelo spent all week searching for speed while others used the tire softener.
“I’m not saying it’s wrong, I’m not saying it’s right,” said Colangelo. “It’s just something that we don’t do. We go out straight up on stickers. We’ve talked about scuffing them, maybe that will help get some of that new off of there. It’s nothing we’ve looked into doing. It’s just not what we want to do.”
Track officials have a tire durometer rule and as long as your tires were punching at the set number or higher, you’re good to go.
“I think five gallons is around $150 to $200, somewhere in that range for the tire softener material,” said Choquette. “It doesn’t matter if it was $5,000 dollars. If that is what you have to do to win then that’s what people would do.”
CHOQUETTE COMES UP SHORT
Looking back on the 2009 edition of Speedweeks, many will forget that Jeff Choquette won four feature events. The Florida native was looking to wrap up his second consecutive Super Late Model Speedweeks title. Choquette entered the final night tied with David Rogers for the points lead. For 90 plus laps in the Pete Orr Memorial 100, Choquette ran in the one spot the he didn’t need to be in, behind Rogers. In the closing laps, a broken A-frame bolt ended their weekend.
"I’ve had a couple of lucky breaks,” joked Choquette. “I’m lucky I didn’t wad my car up this week with everything that has been going on. The left front A-frame bolt sheered off and that is the second time it has happened to me, so it hasn’t surprised me. Rogers won the championship, so congratulations to him. I think if you walk around the pits and ask who the dominant car was you will get the right answer.”
Choquette will be running the full schedule on the ASA Southeast Asphalt Tour in 2009. Their season gets underway on March 27th at Five Flag Speedway (FL).