Two Drivers Ditch Rides, Lia and Hirschman Tangle and Much More

Last week, Sean Caisse scored his first career pole position in the NASCAR Modified Series at the Thompson Speedway (CT).  This week at the Stafford Motor Speedway, he was absent from competition.
“We got run into by a guy who knows what he was doing,” said Lia.  “He’s not a rookie - he’s a three time champion.  He knows what he is doing a lot more than I do, so I guess he makes his moves when the time is right and does what he has to do.”

Hirschman said that the contact was a racing incident and not at all intentional.

“I got together with him,” said Hirschman.  “He sort of opened the bottom up and he did that a few laps before as well.  I figured that if he did that again, I was going to try and fill the hole on the bottom.  He went up high and I went for the bottom.  I was on the bottom and he was coming down.  We just barely got together.  I feel bad, but what are you going to do? That’s racing I guess.”

The #21 Art Barry team that Caisse drove for signed into the pits at Stafford but never got the chance to practice.  Their driver was nowhere to be found.  Word in the garage area is that Caisse made the decision to leave the seat of the #21 before he arrived at the track and notified the team of his decision after they had arrived and unloaded. 

The Caisse camp put out a press release on Wednesday afternoon saying that the young New Hampshire driver was pursuing other opportunities in the sport and did not want to be unfair to the #21 team by focusing his attention

The #21 was at Stafford, but where was their driver?  (51 Photo)
elsewhere.  The release also announced the Caisse is now being represented by a North Carolina based sports management firm in hopes of furthering his racing career.

It wasn’t an isolated event - a similar situation unfolded with the TS Haulers #12 team.  Driver Tommy Cravenho parted ways with the team before qualifying took place and left the track.  The team put Eric Beers into their car to try a set-up during practice and then packed up their belongings and left soon after.  Cravenho had been ninth in series points entering the Stafford event.


There was a little bit of controversy at Stafford after a late race tangle between Donny Lia and Tony Hirschman.  Both drivers were chasing down leader Todd Sezegedy when they made contact and Lia went spinning through the infield.
Bierce.  Basically, we started the season with my own car as the #02.  We ran the first four races and got torn up and each one.  We lost the motor at Nazareth and I couldn’t afford to run my own car anymore.  George had a car that was 95% complete at the time.  At Riverhead, we got the car done and ran well before it started overheating.  Things are really starting to come together.  The last three races, we were in the top ten.  We ran out of gas at Loudon and at Beech Ridge we would have finished in the top five easily if we hadn’t broken a torque arm.  We’ve turned the corner and now we’re starting to see the results.  We just doubled our top five record from last year.  We got one last year and now, we’re at two.  We’re coming.”


The last time that a complete race was held in the NASCAR Modified Series, John Blewett, III was not in the field.  Blewett and the team that he was with, the #77 Curt Chase operation, parted ways abruptly after practice for the event at the Riverhead Speedway (NY).  Last week at Thompson, Blewett resurfaced behind the wheel of the Scott Banzul’s Sheba Racing #8 car and the duo was back again at Stafford.  Blewett sat down with Speed 51 with an update of his situation.
The final laps of the race were not kind to Donny Lia.  (51 Photo)
Hirschman currently leads the standings, but Lia has been on a charge through the points over the past half dozen races.  He has moved from outside the top 15 to the top five.  He is now gunning for Hirschman’s spot.

“He’s racing for a championship and maybe he saw an opportunity to gain some points tonight,” said Lia.  “I don’t know. I couldn’t tell you what he was thinking.  Right now, we’ll take what ever we can get.  We’re in the top five right now.  Hirschman will have some trouble and it will all tighten up here in the end.”


Finishing third for the first time in his career was Eric Beers.  The Pennsylvania drivers has been running well lately and was excited by his run at Stafford.
“The circumstances with Curt and I weren’t good,” said Blewett.  “We didn’t end on the best of terms.  Quite frankly,  I didn‘t handle the situation as good as I should of.  By the same token, that it the only way that I know how the handle things like that.  I haven‘t talked to Curt and when the dust settled, I hope that we can talk about it.  You don‘t drive for somebody for four and a half years and then just walk away.  As It turned out, that‘s what happened.  We had some issues on both of our ends and when the time comes, we‘ll work those out.  Maybe this all worked out for the best for both of us.  Sometimes when you stay with someone for a long time, it gets stale.”
“This feels awesome,” said Beers.  “We had a good car and pitted early.  We saved the caution for a late caution that never came.  We started charging at the end and finished third.”

The #19 team that Beers drives for is a young one and they have been on a roll lately.

“This team is really starting to come around,” said Beers.  “It’s based in Prospect, Connecticut and owned by George
The #77 team has taken a few races off, but Blewett expects when they come back to the track they will be tough to race against.

“I’m quite sure that when Curt decides to come back racing again, he’ll have things 100% like he always does,” said Blewett.  “They won’t be lacking anything.”

The current arrangement between Blewett and Banzul is to race on a per event basis.  However, it has the possibility of turning into a full-time gig.

“I think that these guys want to see what I’m capable of,” said Blewett.  “I know what they are capable of.  Whether we can work together to get back to that is a different story.  I think that after a two year hiatus they are excited to be back racing.  They know what they are capable of and I think that I can get to that level.  Whether they want to upgrade some of the equipment to get back to that level, only time will tell.  We’ll take this one race at a time and see what happens.  We don’t expect to unload for the first time and go out and win, but we do expect to be in the top five.  We’ll see how it goes.”


Before the race even began, Todd Szegedy and his team planned to go the distance of the 150-lapper on one set of tires unless the car handled poorly early on.
It didn’t and Szegedy was able to nurse his rubber and maintain track position for the entire race.  It paid off in the end with his second win of the season.

The defending champion told Speed 51 that there were a few things that he could do as a driver to make his tires last the length of the race.

“You can drive it in easy and go in easy,” said Szegedy.  “You also need to come off the corner easy and be light on
the throttle.  If you go into a corner get halfway in the corner and nail it, you’ll spin the tires and get nowhere - it pitches the car sideways.  You got to go in and get on the throttle really easy.  That will save the tires for the end.”


A feel good story of the night was a sixth place run by Tom Bolles.  The local driver was happy with his result and where it came.

“We grew up fifteen minutes down the road and I cut my teeth racing here,” said Bolles.  “We came back tonight to get a sixth.  We didn’t nail the set-up 100% tonight, but overall we made gains. “

Bolles doesn’t think that he has much, if any, of a hometrack advantage anymore at the track where he learned to race.

“A lot of guys have been running here for years.,” said Bolles.  “They kept racing here when I went off to chase the Busch North Series.  They still kept racing week in and week out.  The guys on the Tour race here four times a year.  We’re getting closer and closer to them and I think that pretty soon we could knock off a win at here or at Thompson.”


Point leader Tony Hirschman finished second and stretched his lead to 55 points over Eddie Flemke.  When coupled with the fact that Ted Christopher and Jerry Marquis had early problems and Donny Lia finished eighth after spinning late in the event, it was a good points night for the #48 driver.

“It wasn’t a win, but it’s better than third,” said Hirschman.  “We gained a few points.  We changed two tires and tightened the car up around lap 50.  It still wasn’t perfect, we were a little off.  There were a lot of guys struggling tonight and this was the best that we could do.”


Championship contender Eddie Flemke appeared to be doomed at the start of the Stafford race.  He pulled down pit road on the pace laps for his team to check things over under the hood and started at the rear of the field.  Within ten laps, he was within a straightaway of being lapped.  Things did not start out good for Flemke.
But then the #79 came alive and Flemke marched towards the front.  He was in the top 15 by the 35th lap.  Using a strategy of pitting early, he made his way up to fifth by the 70th lap.  Ten laps later, he was third.

The night took another turn for the worse when inside of five laps to go, Flemke had a flat tire and spun.  He finished on the lead lap in the 13th position.

All in all, it was a long night for Flemke’s team.  However, he did not hang his head after the race was over.
“It is what it is,” said Flemke.  “We were going to switch cars, they weren’t going to let us.  Then they were going to let us.  We decided that we would try it.  In practice, the motor would get better the longer that we went.  We were banking on that happening and it didn’t.  It skipped the whole race, so we had a really good car all things considered.”

The flat tire did not come without any warning.

“The right rear started going flat with about 60 laps to go,” said Flemke.  “That really hurt us.  The car got tight for awhile and then the tire finally went flat.  But I’m thrilled.  It looked really bad, but it was a great day for the team.  We lost some points to Tony (Hirschman), but it’s still close and it’s going to come down to who has the least bad days before the end of the year.”


Mike Stefanik had a solid fourth place run with the #16 car despite not showing much strength through most of the event.

“We were fortunate to pick up a few spots near the end there,” said Stefanik.  “A few of the other guys had problems.  We had a good pit stop and the car was OK.  We’ll be happy with a fourth place finish, we didn’t expect that tonight.  We’ve had the car a lot better at some of the other tracks. 

Stefanik got the chance to race with a few young drivers through the night.  He was impressed with what he saw.

“I raced everyone clean and in turn they raced me clean,”  said Stefanik.  “I had a good race with Doug Coby and the #00 (Bobby Santos, III).  A bunch of the young guys really race hard, but race clean.  That’s good racing.  I had fun out there.”


The Stafford event was the last race before qualifying procedure changes for the Modified Series.  Starting with the September 4th event at the Waterford Speedbowl, teams will be allowed to make changes to their cars after qualifying takes place.  The current rule was to qualify the cars in race trim and only allow a few minor adjustments before the feature would begin.


There was a little bit of big track flavor to pre-race ceremonies at Stafford.  Drivers were loaded into pick-up trucks for driver introductions and paraded around the track at a snail’s pace two at a time.  Although it allowed fans a chance to see their drivers out in the open, some questioned the idea of taking the extra time to do so at 9:30pm on a weeknight when the 150-lap feature was left to still run.

Beers (#19) chase Ken Barry (#20) at Stafford.  (Howie Hodge Photo)
John Blewett is happy with his new car.  (51 Photo)
Szegedy wins. (Hodge Photo)
The #79 team of Eddie Flemke goes to work. (Hodge Photo)