RPW Column: The Champ Trail: Finishing Touches On Florida Speedweeks, Stafford News & More…

Column Compiled By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – The Tour type Modifieds returned to New Smyrna on Monday night, Feb 14 for a 50 lap event.

Forty cars attempted to qualify for 32 starting spots. Lutz led every lap and held off Jimmy Blewett over the final five laps to take the 50-lap feature. For the near entirety of the race, Lutz was under pressure from Ronnie Williams but the final restart saw Blewett get by Williams, who was beginning to fade.

Patrick Emerling finished third but was never a factor. Ron Silk and Teddy Hodgdone rounded out the top-five. NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race winner Matt Hirschman posted the quickest time in qualifying and raced as high as seventh but faded after restarting on the bottom with five laps to go. He had the mis-fortune of having a right rear tire losing air. He ended up 12th.

Sixth thru 10th included Ronnie Williams, Eddie McCarthy, Marcello Rufrano, Brian Robie and Chris Young. Twenty seven of the 32 starters were running at the end.

William Byron won the Clyde Hart Memorial 100 Super Late Model event. Ryan Preece, with brake problems, ended up 19th.

Tuesday night at New Smyrna Ron Silk earned his ninth Speedweeks win but first with crew chief Phil Moran. There were 40 tour type Modifieds on hand with 35 going to post on a somewhat chilly night for 35 laps. Silk started sixth and would take the lead on a third lap restart, passing Jimmy Blewett and Teddy Hodgdon. Matt Hirschman needed a fifth lap restart to move into second. For 30 laps and across two restarts, Hirschman looked for away under or over Silk for the lead and just couldn’t make it happen. At the finish Blewett followed Silk and Hirschman. Teddy Hodgdon and Craig Lutz rounded out the top five. Sixth thru tenth included Ronnie Williams, Stephen Kopcik, Michael Christopher, Jr, Joey Coulter and Marcello Rufrano. Five of the top ten were weekly competitors at Stafford.

In other Tuesday night action at New Smyrna, a late-race restart decided the ARCA Menards Series East season opener. Sammy Smith took the upper hand to score the victory. The 2021 series champion outdueled Taylor Gray to secure the win in the 200-lap event at the Florida half-mile. Jesse Love was the Super Late Model winner and Ricky Collins was the 602 Modified winner.

Wednesday night at New Smyrna started off with some good news from NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour director Jimmy Wilson who stated that the NASCAR Modifieds will be back at New Smyrna next year in 2023.

Matt Hirschman scored his 200th career win in convincing style as he gave the Modified field a lesson in tire management. Hirschman started sixth, paced himself in the early going before taking the lead following a restart on lap 27. It was a learning experience for Tom Martino Jr. who jumped out to a massive early lead with the rest of the field running in a pack and all conserving their tires. Jimmy Blewett, Tyler Rypkema and Hirschman just let him speed away and committed to their plan.

In the end Blewett finished second but wasn’t surprised when he saw Martino spin and eventually pit before the end of the race. “That kid will burn the tires off his car in five laps,” Blewett said. Craig Lutz who has been strong all week finished third. Joey Coulter and Patrick Emerling rounded out the top five. Sixth thru tenth were Spencer Davis, Tyler Rypkema, Andrew Krause, Teddy Hodgdon and J.R. Bertuccio

There were 41 cars on hand with 38 starters. Krause started dead last and made a strong run to finish 8th. It was a tough night for Ronnie Williams who started fourth. On the drop of the green Williams shot into second spot. Following a lap 19 restart a puff of smoke was emitted from his car and that was that as he ended up parking it in 35th spot.

At the Daytona Speedway on Wednesday night, defending NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Larson has started 2022 off the way he ended 2021 – out front. The 29-year-old Hendrick Motorsports driver won the pole position for Sunday’s Daytona 500 season-opener with a lap of 181.159 mph in the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Wednesday night at Daytona International Speedway.

And for a record fifth consecutive year, Larson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman has also earned a front-row starting position in the Daytona 500. He’ll start the No. 48 Chevrolet second. Forty two cars attempted to qualify.

Matt Hirschman made it two in a row, three for the week as he won the 35 lap tour type modified event at New Smyrna on Thursday night. The win was the 201st of his career. After starting on the outside pole, Hirschman slipped to third allowing Jimmy Blewett to put the pressure on early leader Andrew Krause. Following a lap two restart Blewett got shuffled to third spot as Ronnie Williams took over the runner-up spot. Krause began to fade as Williams took the lead following a restart on lap 23. Williams appeared to be heading to the win when he lost the lead to Blewett following a restart on lap 25. Blewetts run for the roses came to an end when Hirschman, who was hounding him, shot by in turn four of lap 32. Hirschman led the remaining three laps to record the win. Blewett finished second with Williams, third. Stephen Kopcik and Ron Silk rounded out the top five. Sixth thru tenth were Joey Coulter, Patrick Emerling, Dillon Steuer, Teddy Hodgdon and Spencer Davis. Early leader Krause finished 11th.

Other Thursday night winners were Sammy Smith over Ryan Preece in the Super Late Models, Brian Kruczek in the Pro Late Models and Jerry Symons in the Florida Modifieds.

At the Daytona Speedway on Thursday night, Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher won the 150-mile qualifying races to put them side-by-side starting from the second row in NASCAR’s sold-out, season-opening Daytona 500 spectacular.

Back in the 1950’s a driver by the name of Joseph “Moe” Gherzi drove for the Garutti Brothers. Gherzi would show up at the big money Modified events that were run in and around New England and he was given the nickname of “Moneybags Moe. His modern-day counterpart has to be Matt Hirshman who has the nickname of “Big Money Matt”. Hirschman lived up to his name and reputation as he won the Richie Evans 100 at the New Smyrna Speedway in dominating fashion last Saturday night, This is the fourth time Hirschman has won the Richie Evans Memorial 100 and it’s his sixth overall win in nine starts at the World Series main event. It snapped a tie with the late Teddy Christopher for all-time wins in the event. It was also a personal milestone as it was the Pennsylvania driver’s 202nd career win.

Starting fourth in the RE 100, Hirschman took the lead from Bryan Narducci on the third lap after and went unchallenged the rest of the way. Blewett immediately followed him into second and spent the remaining 97 laps looking for a way around. For Blewett finishing second allowed him to wrap up the series championship. This is actually the sixth time Blewett has won a championship at New Smyrna during Speedweeks as he also claimed four SK Modified championships when that division was run over the previous decade. Blewett claimed this crown driving the No. 7NY for Tommy Baldwin.

Patrick Emerling ended up third in the final rundown with Teddy Hodgdon and Craig Lutz rounding out the top five. Rounding out the top 15 were Stephen Kopcik, Andrew Krause, Ron Silk, Joey Coulter, Bryan Narducci, Cam McDermott, Marcello Rufrano, Spencer Davis, Ronnie Williams and Tyler Rypkema.

At the Daytona Speedway on Friday night, a 19-vehicle wreck as the field approached the white flag signaling one lap to go instead sent Friday night’s NextEra Energy 250 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season-opener into overtime where 22-year old Californian Zane Smith won under caution over defending series champion Ben Rhodes.

Saturday at Daytona, Austin Hill nosed ahead of AJ Allmendinger moments before an incident on the backstretch at Daytona International Speedway ripped the engine and rear end out of Myatt Snider’s car. The caution froze the field with Hill the winner of Saturday’s Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner. 300 in his first NASCAR Xfinity Series start with Richard Childress Racing.

The World Series at New Smyrna came to a close on Saturday night. The Orange Blossom 100 ran green-to-checkered without a caution. William Byron took the win with Ryan Preece, second and Sammy Smith, third.

On the 85th birthday of his car owner, Roger Penske, 23-year-old NASCAR Cup Series rookie Austin Cindric beat Bubba Wallace to the finish line by .036 seconds in overtime to win Sunday’s 64th running of the Daytona 500. In a thrilling run to the finish in NASCAR’s new Next Gen race car at Daytona International Speedway, Cindric held off Wallace and Chase Briscoe (.091 seconds behind) to notch his first Cup victory in his eighth start in the series.

Stafford Speedway is proud to announce a new multi-year partnership with Monaco Ford beginning with the 2022 race season. Monaco Ford will serve as official sponsor of the Monaco Ford Safety Team supplying two Ford Trucks to the team. In addition, the Glastonbury CT based Monaco Ford will join the weekly contingency program with a $125 weekly bonus awarded to the winner of the SK Light Modified feature.

Congratulations to Bill Long who was named Northwood University 2022 Outstanding Business Leader. Long, who has more than 40 years of experience in all sectors of the automotive industry, came to Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association (MEMA) at a critical time. Vehicle suppliers were witnessing some of the greatest technological innovations in history while navigating significant regulatory mandates, workforce shortages, tariffs and border adjustment taxes, and a new North American trade agreement. Through Long’s leadership, vehicle suppliers were deemed essential during the pandemic and MEMA gained a vital seat at the table with government policymakers and has emerged as a powerful voice in the national conversation on the issues affecting its 1,000 member companies.

On a sad note, auto racing lost one of its true pioneers last Thursday, 2/17/22 when Dan Meservey passed away. Meservey is responsible for the formation and popularity of the Pro-Four Modified division. Starting on the sand dunes of Cape Cod Meservey brought the division to prominence. He adored his wife Sharon, loved his family deeply, and enjoyed spending time with his friends. He was a veteran race car driver, strong competitor, successful businessman, passionate in his opinions, deeply honest, loyal, and witty. Dan was truly the patriarch of the Meservey family, providing help when needed, sharing wisdom, inspiring and encouraging them to always do their best.

Al Robinson, former PR person at Dover Downs also passed away last week. Robinson, a respected and admired figure in American motorsport for his exploits as a journalist, PR specialist, and what for all practical purposes was his status as a full-time professional race fan, passed away in his hometown of Waverly, New York.

Carl “Bugsy” Stevens is the All Time full blown Modified winner at Stafford. From 6/23/67 to 5/23/86, he recorded 72 wins. He is the all-time Most Popular driver at the track.

Read all about it in the all-new book, The Modified Years At Stafford, by the Grace of God and 600 hp, which is gaining interest and has become a must have in race fans and competitors library. The book documents Modified Racing at the Stafford Motor Speedway from 1967 to 1986. 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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