Groton’s Ron Yuhas Jr. won Sunday’s Budweiser Modified Nationals at the Waterford Speedbowl, earning $5,000 for the victory. Yuhas led the final 10 laps, capitalizing on a late race caution to assert himself in the middle of an exciting battle for the lead between Ted Christopher of Plainville and Keith Rocco of Wallingford. Yuhas withstood two restarts in the final two laps of the race to hold on to the victory, his second consecutive in the Modified Nationals event.
After his win, Yuhas was quick to praise his crew following a lap-85 pit stop that included a tire change and adjustment. “The car was off early. It wasn’t going to be a winning car. We gambled on the setup and ended up with too much stagger and were too loose.” He surrendered his third place position on the track at the time to make the changes. The pit stop, which included right side tires and stagger change, netted results. “The car got better and better as the race went on and at the end, we had the fresher tires.”
The 150-lap race got underway with Shawn Solomito and Keith Rocco leading the field to green. Saturday’s top six time trialers redrew for starting position prior to the race putting Christopher, the $500 Bud Pole winner, in starting position number five.
Solomito jumped to the race lead at the drop of the green flag. Jeff Rocco failed to come up to speed from fourth position, jostling the outside lane. Everyone was able to scoot by the ailing Rocco as he dropped to the rear of the field and retired to the infield on lap-1.
Keith Rocco took the lead inside Solomito in turn one of lap-6. Christopher raced his way to second by lap-10 with his sights on Rocco. He made the move on Rocco down the back chute of lap-12, taking over on the inside in turn three. Rocco tried to duplicate the move the next lap but Christopher held on. The two went on to put on a great battle for the top spot through much of the race.
On lap-29 Rocco pulled even with Christopher for the lead, however the 2010 Thompson Speedway champion raced back ahead in the outside lane. Christopher could never shake the 2010 Stafford and Waterford champion from his rear bumper. Rocco continued to pester Christopher, able to pull under and nudge ahead on lap-55. That was short-lived as Christopher dived underneath in turn three of lap-62 to take back over. Rocco tried to get back under Christopher out of turn four to no avail and two of the best short track racers put on a show as they battled back and forth.
At halfway the running order still had Christopher in front with no breathing room over Rocco. Yuhas was riding a few cars back in third. Matt Gallo and Todd Ceravolo methodically picked their way through the field to hold down the fourth and fifth positions. Behind them Diego Monahan, Jeff Pearl, Rob Janovic, Tyler Chadwick and Jim Larsen Jr. rounded out the top ten.
The complexion of the race behind the lead two changed when an incident on lap-85 brought out the caution and red flags. Ceravolo got into the backstretch wall after racing around Gallo for fourth. Several others piled in behind including Kyle James, Solomito and Dennis Charette.
The lap-85 clean-up was “time” according to Yuhas, and he ducked in the pits to make the critical adjustments. Several joined Yuhas in the pits including Pearl and Monahan among others. Gallo and Janovic moved up to third and fourth for the restart but those two got together in turn two to bring out caution before another lap could be completed. Both went to the pits for repairs, eliminating them from contention.
Rocco raced inside Christopher to take command on lap-92. He was able to keep a hold of the top spot, although he could not shake Christopher from his back bumper during the run. By the time caution waved on lap-115, Yuhas and Monahan were back up to third and fourth.
Yuhas got by the inside of Christopher on the restart, but “TC” refused to give in. He powered his way back into second on the inside two laps later intent on tracking down Rocco. He did just that, able get a wheel outside Rocco numerous times but couldn’t pull alongside.
Christopher dogged Rocco until lap-133 when a lapped car approached. He went from the top of the track to the bottom through turns three and four, narrowly squeezing his way between Rocco and the lapped car of Victoria Bergenty in turn one. He’d momentarily snatch the lead away in what appeared to be the move of the race. Caution waved for a spin further behind before a full lap could be completed however, keeping Rocco scored as the leader of the last completed lap.
Rocco held on the restart, however Yuhas was able to get by Christopher to second before another caution on lap-140 gave Yuhas his winning opportunity. He restarted outside Rocco, able to keep pace down the front stretch and take over by the time the pair reached lap-141.
Yuhas survived one green-white-checkered restart over Rocco. Christopher took back second when Mark Bakaj spun in turn three coming to the white flag to bring out a caution and give Christopher a final shot at Yuhas.
Yuhas got a great start while Christopher struggled. Yuhas went on to the win over Rocco. Monahan and Pearl also got by Christopher on the restart and battled to the checkered for third. Monahan took the spot over Pearl while Christopher finished his great run in fifth.
After taking his second consecutive win in the race, Yuhas was riding the high. “You’re going against two of the best drivers in the Northeast and maybe the country. To come out on top and keep this (win) at home…there’s nothing better.”
The strategy for the Yuhas-piloted, Murphy owned #4 prevailed in the end. “I kind of sat back once we got back up to third. Keith and Teddy were going back and forth, so I just saved my stuff to put myself in contention for the end.”
Rocco had winning on his agenda headed into the event, so second was a little bittersweet for the national champion. “Yuhas came in for tires. If we were all on the same playing field, we would have been the car to beat. But that’s the risk you take when you’re up front and don’t come in.”
The second generation racer enjoyed his run with Christopher. “That was fun. I was just having fun there trying not to use up all my car battling, but it was a good show for the fans”.
Budweiser Modified Nationals Results (150-laps): 1. Ron Yuhas Jr., Groton; 2. Keith Rocco, Wallingford; 3. Diego Monahan, Quaker Hill; 4. Jeff Pearl, Salem; 5. Ted Christopher, Plainville; 6. Joe Gada, Salem; 7. Tyler Chadwick, Ledyard; 8. Jim Larsen Jr., East Hartland; 9. Tucker Reynolds Jr., Westbrook; 10. Joe Perry, Ashaway, RI; 11. Mark Bakaj, Lebanon; 12. Adam Gada, Bozrah; 13. Nichole Morgillo, Yalesville; 14. Victoria Bergenty, Plainville; 15. David Sazarulo, Monson, MA; 16. Frank Mucciacciaro Jr., Milford; 17. Rob Janovic Jr., Waterford; 18. Jeffrey Gallup, Agawam, MA; 19. Matt Gallo, Kensington; 20. Todd Ceravolo, Gales Ferry; 21. Shawn Solomito, Islip, NY; 22. Dennis Charette, Southington; 23. Kyle James, Ashaway, RI; 24. Jason Palmer, Berlin; 25. Justin Gaydosh, Newton; 26. Dennis Gada, Salem; 27. Jeff Rocco, Wallingford