WALL TO WALL BRAWL WITH THE
BLEWETT BROTHERS VS
This past Sunday, I along with TheChromeHorn.com’s Richie Grodski made
the venture out to Wall Township Speedway for the debut of the “flash”
events of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. The format: two 50-lap heat
events followed by a 50-lap feature. Many questions over the off-season
arose with the format when it was announced. Would it favor the veterans
or the rookies? Would the track regulars have a better shot over the
tour regulars? Would it produce good racing or a wall-to-wall brawl of
chaos? Now with the first Flash event behind us, we have some answers to
those questions along with some learnings as well.
37 Modifieds showed up to Wall Township Speedway with a 66%
capacity crowd on hand for a Sunday show. Driver that have run all
events prior to Wall this year, such as Tony Hirschman, Jr., Carl
Pasteryak, and Bobby Santos III decided to forego the event. Wall
veteran Ken Woolley, Jr. and Southern Modified Tour regular Rick Kuiken,
Jr. were the only surprise entrants of the day. I think the majority of
folks were sitting on the fence waiting to see how this event will set
The heat races saw a random draw of entrants for starting
line-ups. Dick Houlihan, a veteran of short bull-rings such as Seekonk
and Jimmy Blewett, the perennial favorite of Wall, found themselves
starting up front for the first heat. And in the second heat, the top 3
all had significant Wall experience – John Blewett III, 2006 Wall
Modified Champion; Jamie Tomaino, 1981 Turkey Derby winner; and Donny
Lia, whom started racing in Legends Cars at this historic facility.
Would the front rows of these races run away with it all? Or the better
question is, would the tour regulars who were firmly seated in points
pull-in and take a provisional? The answers would surprisingly be no.
The first heat race saw a battle between Jimmy Blewett and Reggie
Ruggiero, the last winner of a Wall Whelen Modified Tour event. Reggie
would pass Blewett mid-race and ride it to the green, followed by Wall’s
favorite son Jimmy Blewett. Seven cautions would mar the first heat,
with the longest green flag run of 10 laps. Some surprises did emerge in
the final top 5 of the heat race, although all have experience at
bullring tracks. Todd Szegedy, someone not renown for his bull-ring
prowess, does have experience at bullrings, courtesy of Riverside Park,
found himself in third. Impressive sophomore driver, Matt Hirschman, has
experience at the bullring of Mahoning Valley Speedway in the Poconos
area. And lastly, Mike Stefanik, a master of all-sorts of tracks,
including Riverside Park, found himself fifth.
The second heat saw a battle between predominantly John Blewett III and
Ted Christopher, another racer whose bullring expertise is sometimes
overlooked. Early favorites – Donny Lia and Jamie Tomaino both
experienced difficulties during this heat. This heat would be the
cleanest race of the day with only 6 cautions and a long 32-lap
green-flag run. The top five would include some notables such as Chuck
Hossfeld, a driver whose experience on bullrings is very limited. Young
gun, Billy Pauch, Jr., whose lack of experience on bullrings, led alone
asphalt, is made up with raw talent. And winding up fifth, is Donny Lia,
who overcome problems through his experience at tracks such as Wall and
Then the feature came, also 50-laps. The heats would
determine the starting line-up, with the first heat getting inside line
and the second heat getting outside. The 5 provisionals went to such
drivers as Zach Sylvester, Ron Yuhas, Jr., a driver of limited
experience at Wall and Wall-type tracks. Rob Summers and Jim Storace
both have experience at bullrings, such Riverside and Twin State
respectively. Even more surprising was Eric Beers needing a provisional,
as he’s a former Modified champion at the ¼-mile of Mahoning Valley.
The race would feature a battle for the most part between the
Blewett Brothers and Reggie Ruggiero. 15 cautions would hinder the
battle, with the longest green run being 13 laps. As one spectator
commented, “I could have stayed home and knew the outcome.” While that
is true, it was an interesting race, as some top guns kept getting swept
up in trouble and moved through the pack. Jamie Tomaino would wind up
11th, after coming from the back to the front numerous times. Although
Tomaino would have certainly wanted a better finish, 11th was quite the
feat for what he had to endure.
One surprise was Joe Hartmann. Hartmann has failed to qualify
for the first two races, but made it in via the unique format and wound
up a very respectable 12th place. Hartmann’s bullring experience at
Riverhead definitely helped him survive the chaos and wind up in a
position he can be happy with.
At the race’s conclusion, Jimmy Blewett is your new point leader, while
last week’s point leader, James Civali, is now third due to a
disappointing 20th placing. Matt Hirschman is right up there in second,
with many pundits wondering if he could become the first son of a
Modified champion to take the end-of-the-year gold.
After the new format, there are some things to think about.
Was the Wall race a wreck fest? Absolutely… The question is why? Was it
the track? Some may argue that, but I beg to differ. The Turkey Derby
has far less cautions. Why is that? That’s debatable, but I can throw
out some reasons. The first part is that it’s a longer race. A longer
race requires more patience, while 50-laps just about demands a top
runner who fell upon bad luck in the heats to make his way through the
field in a quick, but often times not so efficient matter.
The second part is points are not on the line during the
Turkey Derby. If you fall behind in the Turkey Derby, you simply call it
a day and pack up and go home. In this past Sunday’s case, if you’re
having troubles, you continue to stay out and cause more problems. While
I can’t blame the drivers who did this, it was often times the same
drivers behind the cautions.
The third part is experience. Most Turkey Derby entrants are
veterans of Wall and Wall-type bull-rings. They know how to take a hit
and give a hit. For many in this race, it was one of only a few times on
a track less than 3/8’s of a mile. It’s definitely a different style of
driving, and ones with experience often do well.
Now let me clarify one thing… Heats are a GOOD thing. It
makes qualifying far more interesting for fans, and everyone was
watching to see the action. For most time trial shows, I do not see
this. Secondly heats provide drivers with experience. Many talented
drivers fail to qualify for events due to limited seat time at tracks.
Practice only provides you with so much experience. Race experience is a
whole different story. The more drivers with experience on a track, the
better the show you will get.
Hate it or love it, the flash format is here to stay for the
remainder of the season. While change is never liked by everyone, it’s a
step in the right direction to make it more interesting for the fans,
and yes better for the drivers (especially those who barely make races).
With some tweaking I think it can work for everyone involved. We’ll see
what changes lurk about, but for the mean time, stay tuned to
TheChromeHorn.com as your
source for NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour coverage!
May 7, 2007