Three-Car Battle for Lead Turns Wild With Six Laps to Go

It was an emotional evening at the Stafford Motor Speedway (CT) as the teams of the NASCAR Modified Series returned to the track for the first time since Tom Baldwin’s death in a race at the Thompson Speedway (CT) last week.
When the race began, nobody could touch Nevin George’s #0 car.  George dominated the Beech Ridge Mod race earlier this season and in the early going at Stafford, he looked ready to repeat that performance.  George put the #0 solidly in front early on and lead until pitting just past the halfway mark.  On lap 86, his night would end early with clutch problems being the culprit.

A few different tire management strategy’s emerged through the night among the leaders.  A few drivers pitted early, a few drivers pitted later on, but the #50 car of Todd Szegedy did not pit at all and found himself out front as a result.
Baldwin was honored before the race with a video tribute shown on the track’s large monitor and a missing man formation during pace laps where the seventh-place starter
Donny Lia, dropped back to leave the starting position of Baldwin’s car number (the famed No. 7ny) open.

Lia earned the pole position for the race, but drew seventh when it came time to set the line-up following the series-used invert.  He was moved by pulling the number of his fallen Long Island (NY) friend.

“I was definitely thinking of Tommy for this race,” said Lia.  “I pictured his car right there.  It meant a lot.  I’m sure that I would have liked to have picked the pole, but given these circumstances, I would have picked seventh all night long. Seven was a good number.”
A few different tire management strategies emerged through the night among the leaders.  A few drivers pitted early, a few drivers pitted later on, but the #50 car of Todd Szegedy did not pit at all and found himself out front as a result.

Szegedy might not have had the fastest car, but he used track position as an advantage late in the going.  He led a three car train with Lia and series points leader Tony Hirschman behind him with a handful of laps remaining.
Later in the race, Lia would surface as a key player in a great three-car battle for the lead that went bad, but the main player out front early on was a driver who started on the front row.
Members of Ted Christopher's crew watch the jumbo screen which played a tribute to Tom Baldwin. (Howie Hodge Photos)
Nevin George keeps in front of John Blewett's #8
With six circuits to go, it looked like Lia was about to attempt a pass for the lead coming out of turn four when Hirschman also tried to advance his position at the same time.  The #48 (Hirschman) made contact with the #18 (Lia), with Lia going for a wild slide through the infield.  He recovered and kept the race from going yellow, but ended up with an eighth-place finish.

"I was just trying to see where I was better than the leader," said Lia.  "I wanted to see what would work so I really drove it in there deep.  I was trying to either get underneath Todd or set myself up for a run off of turn four.  I skated up a little bit and before I could even get a chance to do anything, I got a shot in the right rear.  There were no ifs, ands or buts about it; I definitely got hit.  I thought the I had it saved, but around it went.”

Szegedy was able to hold off the no second place Hirschman and ended up with his second victory in what has been a long and often luckless season for the defending Modified champion.
Szegedy ended the night in victory lane.
“This week, we ran a strategy race,” said Szegedy.  “We weren’t the fastest car out there, but we had the track position and I saved the tires until the end.  That’s what we had planned on doing unless the car was way off.  We planned on going the whole distance.  We took a big gamble and it played off.”

Not knowing how good his competition was behind him was a cause of concern for Szegedy.
“I really didn’t know what the guys behind me had,” said Szegedy.  “I didn’t know if they were riding there or if they really had something to get around me.  I got a little nervous, but I do very well under pressure.”

By finishing second, Hirschman extended his point lead over Eddie Flemke by 55 markers.  Flemke had a flat tire in the last few laps and finished outside of the top 10.  The other point contenders also had their share of problems, Lia spun and finished eighth while Ted Christopher and Jerry Marquis had mechanical problems that dropped them both off the pace early on.
“It was a good finish for us,” said Hirschman.  “The car was really good at the end there.  It was a pretty good race at the end, there were a couple of cars that I was really battling.  I feel bad that Donny and I got together in the corner.”

The Modifieds next visit the Thompson Speedway for the remaining 140 laps of last week’s event where Tom Baldwin was killed on lap ten.  The event is scheduled for Sunday afternoon.

The #18 of Lia pitted for tires and Szegedy didn't.