RPW Column: The Champ Trail: Speedweeks ’21 In The Rear View, Stafford News & More…

Column By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – New Smyrna showcased the Modifieds, 45 on the entry list, starting on Monday, Feb 8 and finished up with the Richie Evans 100 on Friday, Feb 12. NBC Track Pass provided live nightly coverage. Just to give anyone who signed up for NBC gold last year for New Smyrna, your subscription is probably good until May 2021.

Forty Modifieds attempted to qualify for the opening night 50 lapper. Matt Hirschman was one of the last drivers to take time during Tour-type Modified qualifying Monday night at New Smyrna Speedway, but he was also the quickest. Hirschman clocked in at 17.340 seconds on opening night for the Modifieds at the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing, just three-thousandths of a second quicker than NASCAR Cup Series competitor Ryan Preece and Jon McKennedy, who tied at 17.343 seconds. Chuck Hossfeldt and Ron Silk rounded out the top five.

Lutz, from Long Island bested a strong field of 35 drivers to claim the 50-lap victory, which didn’t end until early Tuesday morning. Racing was delayed over an hour because of rain. Lutz of Miller Place, New York started from the pole after an eight-car invert following qualifying. He jumped out to the early lead over Patrick Emerling and led the first 14 laps before a red flag for a multi-car accident on the backstretch. The incident, which started when contact between Ryan Preece and Jon McKennedy, claimed a handful of competitors including Anthony Nocella, Eric Goodale, Tyler Rypkema and Tommy Catalano. McKennedy got tapped by Preece in the right rear corner of his car.

Upstate New Yorker and Race of Champions Modified Series champion Patrick Emerling jumped out to the lead for one lap on the ensuing restart before Lutz battled back on the outside to reclaim the lead on Lap 16. Lutz controlled most of the race from that point forward until defending series champion Matt Hirschman lined up to his inside for a restart with four laps to go. Hirschman jumped the restart and was put back. Ron Silk ran inside the top-five throughout the race and ended up finishing third behind Lutz and Hirschman. Six-time NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion Doug Coby charged from his 21st qualifying position to finish fourth, while 10-time Bowman Gray Stadium champion Burt Myers made a late charge into the top five.

Finishing sixth thru tenth were Anthony Nocella, Preece, Brian Robie, Chris Finocchario and Dave Sapienza. McKennedy, who was quite vocal about Preece’s driving, finished 30th.

The race, which began just after 11 p.m. on Monday, took the checkered flag just after 12:30 on Tuesday morning.

Thirty six Modifieds went post for Tuesday night’s 35 lapper at the New Smyrna. Patrick Emerling was the fastest car in time trials and stated fourth following a re-draw. He jumped to second by lap 22, then swapped the lead back and forth with Eric Goodale before taking control for the final time on lap 23. The two drivers made contact in race one of the week on Monday, with Emerling spinning and Goodale going to the rear for the contact. Matt Hirschman finished third, followed by Ryan Preece and night-one winner Craig Lutz. Ron Silk was sixth, followed by Ronnie Williams, Jimmy Blewett, Stephen Kopcik and Jeremy Gerstner finished the top-10.

With the exception of a multi-car wreck on lap 23 the competition was great. Doug Coby who seemed to be headed for a top 5 finished was knocked out of the event when his mount sustained severe front end and driver’s side damage. Running eighth, Coby was shoved into Ryan Preece and ultimately spun into the wall. Among those collected was Marcello Rufrano who sustained front end damage which ended his night. Coby ended up 29th and Rufrano, 30th.

Kyle Busch won the Busch Clash at Daytona after Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott collided on the final lap.

Among those missing on Wednesday night for the John Blewett III Memorial was Doug Coby. The damage to his car, including a front-clip that will need to be replaced, ended his World Series week early. Coby was running eighth on Tuesday night when a stack-up, chain reaction happened in front of him. He got sideways, hit from behind, tried to save the car and ended up into the wall left-front first, facing the wrong way.

In Daytona 500 qualifying Alex Bowman swapped car numbers for the 2021 season, from 88 to 48 – but has certainly retained his Daytona magic, earning the pole position for the Daytona, giving the Hendrick Motorsports driver a record fourth consecutive front row start in the NASCAR Cup Series season-opener. Bowman, 27, went out late in the qualifying order (38th of 44 drivers) Wednesday night, the first night-time pole qualifying session in race history, but his Chevrolet handily set the pace with a lap of 191.261 mph (47.056 secs.), taking the top-spot from Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron by more than a quarter-second. Ryan Preece qualified eighth fastest.

For Preece it was the first of three conquests he would encounter for the night. Still in uniform, he jumped into his car and raced to the New Smyrna hoping to make it in time for the John Blewett III Memorial 75 lapper. Preece made it with little time to spare and started the feature in scratch position. Needless to say he ended a long and stressful night in victory lane.

Tuesday night’s winner Patrick Emerling led the field to the green flag and led the opening 31 laps before Eric Goodale powered out front on lap 32. Making good on his Tuesday night promise to be in contention the rest of the week, Goodale showed the way until Preece made the race-winning pass with slight contact on lap 69. He first had to dispatch Jon McKennedy, who had expressed his displeasure with Preece for an incident a few nights prior during the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing. The two traded blows for a few laps before Preece was able to make his way past McKennedy with 17 laps left.

A caution would wave moments later, setting up another restart. Mayhem started before the field made it to turn one, with Ron Silk and Tommy Catalano coming together on the frontstretch and collecting several other cars in the process.

Preece, somehow, dove to the bottom and missed everything and emerged from turn two in third position behind leaders Eric Goodale and Tyler Rypkema. With 14 to go Preece took advantage of contact between the leaders to slip by Rypkema for second. That just left Goodale ahead of Preece and in turn three with seven laps left Preece made his move, diving deep into the turn to steal the lead away from Goodale. The caution flag would wave several more times the race was complete, with veteran modified ace Matt Hirschman using the cautions to make a late run at Preece. Despite one final caution and subsequent restart with two laps left that gave Hirschman a shot at Preece, Hirschman had nothing for the 2013 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion as he held on to top the 76-lap main event.

Emerling finished third with McKennedy and Silk rounding out the top five. Matt Galko survived the carnage to finish sixth and was followed by Chuck Hossfeld, Eddie McCarthy, Bobby Measmer and Dave Sapienza.

A bonehead move by Tom Martino Jr eliminated Marcello Rufrano from a top finish. Rufrano’s car received severe damage on Tuesday night and after an all day thrashing his crew had his car race ready for the Blewett Memorial. Rufrano qualified ninth out of 37 starters. After avoiding numerous wrecks he was headed to a possible top five finish when Martino spun with 24 laps to go. With the field under caution Martino restarted from high on the track and without looking, dove for the pit entrance where he slammed into the right front of Rufrano’s vehicle, inflicting race ending damage.

On Thursday night, Hirschman used an exciting last-lap pass on Jon McKennedy to break through and score his first victory of the week at New Smyrna Speedway. Jon McKennedy, who has battled bad luck throughout the week, charged to the front and moved under Ronnie Williams for the lead on lap 16. McKennedy led until the final lap, when Hirschman powered to his inside in turn three and made slight contact battling for the win. As McKennedy drifted high, Hirschman powered off of turn four to the checkered flag and his ninth career World Series victory.

Former Tri-Track Open Modified Series champion Ronnie Williams set fast time in qualifying at the half-mile oval and started on the outside of the front row after an invert of two. Williams jumped out to the early lead, showing the way for the opening 15 laps.

McKennedy recorded his best finish of the week with a runner-up performance. Ron Silk finished third, while Patrick Emerling and Ronnie Williams rounded out the top five. Sixth thru tenth were Craig Lutz, Eric Goodale, JR Bertuccio, Anthony Nocella and Tyler Rypkema.

Among the missing at New Smyrna on Thursday night was Ryan Preece who recorded a solid fifth in the first of two dual qualifying races held at the Daytona International Speedway. Aric Almirola held off a hard charge from Joey Logano coming to the checkered flag to win Thursday night’s Bluegreen Vacations Duel 1. Almirola, driver of the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, led 52 of the 60-lap qualifying race for Sunday’s Daytona 500. Austin Dillon edged out Bubba Wallace coming to the finish line to win the second Bluegreen Vacations Duel race in overtime late Thursday night, into Friday morning.

Matt Hirschman won the Series ending Richie Evans 100 on Friday night. Hirschman’s victory was his third straight in the prestigious race, a feat accomplished by no other driver. The win also helped him clinch his third career Tour-type Modified championship at the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing. Starting from the pole after an invert of 10, Monday night’s winner Craig Lutz dominated the first 75 laps of Friday night’s race before engine issues sidelined him with 25 laps remaining. Hirschman inherited the lead and began to pull away from Ryan Preece before a caution with two laps to go set up a green-white-checkered finish. On the initial attempt at a restart, Preece had the advantage and cleared Hirschman off of turn two. However, the restart would be for naught as the caution flag waved prior to the completion of a lap. That allowed Hirschman to have another attempt as the leader, and he took full advantage of it by pulling away from Preece over the final two laps. Jon McKennedy claimed his second consecutive runner-up finish. Anthony Nocella, Preece and Eric Goodale completed the top five. Hirschman wished Preece good luck at Daytona. “He’s a great talent and I hope he wins the Daytona 500 on Sunday.”

Sixth thru tenth included Eddie McCarthy, Ronnie Williams, Chuck Hossfeld, JR Bertuccio and Dave Sapienza.

Congratulations to the management of the Stafford Speedway who recently announced that GAF Roofing and Riverhead Building Supply as the newest Stafford Speedway corporate partner with a multi-year agreement. The GAF Roofing 150 presented by Riverhead Building Supply scheduled for Friday, August 6th will feature the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour along with all 5 of Stafford’s weekly racing divisions.

Both GAF Roofing and Riverhead Building Supply are long-time supporters of Modified racing. Eric Goodale and Craig Lutz have both carried Riverhead Building Supply to Stafford Speedway victory lane, while GAF Roofing was also on board the Goodale machine for both of his 2 career Stafford victories.

Anyone who lives in New England knows that green moss build-up is common on the north side of structures. When re-roofing one needs to use zinc impregnated shingles which eliminate the moss problem.

“GAF Roofing and Riverhead Building Supply have been well-known supporters of short track racing over the years,” explained Stafford Speedway CEO Mark Arute. “We are looking forward to featuring both brands at our annual August Modified Tour event as well as throughout the race season through other initiatives that will be announced in the coming weeks.”

In 1967 the Stafford Motor Speedway was paved. The NASCAR Modifieds were the headline division. For 20 years thru 1986 Stafford would host and provide competition from the best in the business from throughout New England, New York State, Long Island and from the south.

The all new book, The Modified Years At Stafford, by the Grace of God and 600 hp, is gaining interest and has become a must have in race fans and competitors library. Race by Race, Year by Year, it’s all there. Read all about it! Books are now available on Amazon.com and Coastal 181 (877-907-8181 toll free) and are available thru Stafford’s web site in their store. Order yours now. Makes a great gift!

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