OLD GUARD TAKES CENTER STAGE IN WORLD SERIES by Mike Twist
Hirschman a Champ and Stefanik a Winner at Thompson
The NASCAR Modified Series portion of the World Series at Thompson Speedway (CT) might have taken place past the bedtimes for some of the young drivers on the tour since the headlines of the event were largely made by tour veterans.
At Thompson, there was plenty of hot action on a cold New England Sunday night. Rain throughout the weekend left a schedule of 13 feature events on the docket for Sunday, with the Modifieds running last.
The good times were not to last very long for Flemke though. On a lap 57 restart, the front of the field got stacked up entering the backstretch, with a few cars spinning and Flemke going for a long slide through the infield grass.
“Teddy (Christopher) just didn’t getting going on the restart like he had been,” said Flemke. “It wasn’t his fault. I usually have a hard time going on the restarts too. (It turned out that Christopher was having tire problems.) He checked up in between turn one and two. The #48 (Hirschman) wanted to go up and the #50 (Todd Szegedy) was down low
The main attraction of the night promised to be a tight championship battle between Tony Hirschman and Eddie Flemke. Hirschman, a three-time champion going into the evening, started the race in the first position with a 30-point lead over longtime series regular Flemke, who lined up 24th for the event.
The bad starting position didn’t hold Flemke down very long. He moved up 10 positions in the first 17 laps and soon afterwards, was up to the top five.
Hirschman was very aware of how good Flemke was.
“He was coming and he was up there in fifth place,” said Hirschman. “I knew that even if he won we just needed to
and I was in the middle. I started to go, but the #48 started to come down and if I stayed there, I was going to turn him around. I didn’t want to do that because it would have been really ugly. It would have gotten the #50 and probably all of us would have wrecked. I tried to give him room, but everyone was there and I think that the #4 (Chuck Hossfeld) might have got me. Nobody did anything wrong, it was just how things happened.”
Flemke lost three laps while his crew attended to a broken steering rack. Now all Hirschman needed to do to clinch the title was to finish the race without trouble.
Hirschman was very aware of everything going on around him.
finish sixth or better. I was going to let him go by me. I had to do what I had to do and finish.”
Flemke also knew what needed to be done and driving conservatively was not in his game plan.
“I knew that my guys gave me 100% this week and gave me the best car,” said Flemke. “So I knew that I needed to give them 100%. Usually, you just wait a little bit and pick your line. But I knew today that we had to get to the front, so if we pitted we would be with the front guys and if we didn’t pit, then we’d be right up there.”
Stefanik couldn't win the championship this year, he was busy with his full-time job of driving in the NASCAR Busch North Series, but he was thrilled win the victory. (Mary Hodge Photo)
On lap 45, several cars tangled in turn four. Greg Shivers and Tony Papale both drove away, but there was a lengthy caution for Donny Lia’s car to be removed. He ended up needing two wreckers to get his wounded car off the track.
A few laps after the next restart, Kevin Goodale got turned sideways and hit the inside wall on the frontstretch head-on. He was able to drive away, but had heavy damage to his #58 car.
Meanwhile, very few eyes were fixed on the #16 of Mike Stefanik, who started at the rear of the field and made several early pit stops. Stefanik stayed out of trouble and slowly worked through the pack. With just over 40 laps remaining, he was sitting in fourth when Christopher had a tire go flat right in front of Hossfeld. When those two cars tangled, Stefanik crept low and into second.
Hirschman's team looks on as Flemke's team fixed their #79 car. (Howie Hodge Photo)
“Matt (Hirschman’s son and spotter) was keeping me informed on what was going on,” said Hirschman. “I knew when Flemke broke and went a few laps down. I knew what I had to do then.”
That pile-up wasn’t the only trouble in the race. There were a few nasty crashes in the first half of the race. The first came on the 18th lap and involved Alex Hoag, Tom Bolles, Eric Beers and Charlie Pasteryak.
Bolles had another car go over his roof and was led away in an ambulance complaining of chest pain from where the belts held him in, but after an examination he was OK.
Flemke's race in the #79 took a turn for the worse when he went sliding through the backstretch grass. (Howie Hodge Photo)
The #48 team and Tony Hirschman celebrate their championship. (Mary Hodge Photo)
This set up a classic battle between two former champions. Stefanik closed up to the rear of defending series titlist Todd Szegedy and the two ran side by side for several laps. Stefanik took the lead, but lost it once and then regained it. Finally, he put his car commandingly out front and cruised to the checked flag over Hossfeld and Hirschman.
“We really had a great race with Todd Szegedy,” said Stefanik. “We battled hard on several occasions and finally got by him. Each of us were battling with all that we had and I just had a little fresher tires. We had a great battle. There was a lot of casual contact, but nothing excessive. I tried him two or three times before I was finally able to make it stick.”
Hirschman watched the race longingly from a distance.
“Mike and Todd had a great battle going and Chuck was right there too,” said Hirschman. “I would have loved to have diced it up with those guys a little bit more, but I couldn’t do it.”
Stefanik was joined in victory lane by the newly crown champion, Hirschman. It seemed fitting that the real estate was shared by two drivers who largely defined Modified racing in the 1990’s.
Hirschman’s championship meant more to him this time around because of the roles that he had to play in earning it.
“It’s sunk in and I knew what this was going to mean,” said Hirschman after the celebrations died down. “I’m with a great group of people and I had a lot going on this year, not only as a driver, but as a mechanic and whatever. I needed to make sure that the car was ready every time that we went to the racetrack. I had to play both parts here this year and I’m so glad that I had my other three championships under me to help me through that or else I would have been a nervous wreck getting through that.”
There were plenty of other stories at Thompson as well with news of driver and ride changes for next season, the story of a low buck racer getting in the show and much, much more. Keep tuned to Speed 51 this week for our World Series Leftovers for the entire story.
Two former champs put on a whale of a show as Todd Sezegedy (#50) and Mike Stefanik )#16) battle for the lead. (Howie Hodge Photo)