The Chrome Horn News


by Walter Newcomb

   The final 2008 NASCAR banquet was held at the Mohegan Sun resort and casino Saturday night. It was a pleasure to be in attendance. I count myself fortunate to be able to forward a synopsis of what occurred.
   Before I go any further, I’d like to thank Rich Grodski for the opportunity to submit articles to The Chrome Horn. Thanks also to Norm and Linda from Precision Automotive for sponsoring TCH and making this all possible. It’s been a while since I’ve had an article published.
   Since the most recent post on the MSS front page; I learned how to text message. Shopgirl took me to Key West. And for the first time in over nine years I took a real job.
   Enough about me, in the mean time, gasoline rose to over four-fifty per gallon and dropped nearly three bucks per gallon since. We have a new President-elect. Our current President declared we are in a recession, about two years too late. And Ted Christopher won the 2008 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour title.
   It had been a long time since I’d taken the boat out of Orient Point. The dearth of Modified regulars aboard really saddened me. Apparently it was a misdirected harbinger of things to come.
   As I would not be staying at the venue overnight I elected to change into semi-formal attire in the parking lot. I knew it would be cold, but I wasn’t counting on the whipping winds. I won’t bore readers with the sordid details but let’s just say I was so cold that I didn’t break a sweat for the next two hours.
   The first stop at Mohegan Sun is the bar at the waterfall. That’s where members of the racing public generally hang out whenever they’re at this place. I found an assortment of happy faces and a few folks who were in late-evening form minutes before cocktail hour was scheduled to start.
   Once I got to the Uncas Ballroom area I met plenty of people I hadn’t seen since last year’s championship soirée. Signs in the lobby indicated that Martinsville Speedway would be making a special presentation prior to the banquet. As we waited for the announcement, the Carey & Coffey program was broadcasting to the side with a little help from Doug Coby and guests including Mike Stefanik and Ryan Preece.
   As it turned out, Ryan was the focus of the Martinsville announcement. Preece and car owner, Janice Bohler, were presented with the trophy for winning the 500th NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race. NASCAR's managing director of racing operations, George Silberman, Whelen Engineering Vice President of Motorsports, Phil Kurze, Clay Campbell of Martinsville Speedway and Whelen Modified Tour race director, Chad Little took part in the presentation.
   Thanks go out to Howie Hodge for getting Janice to the front of the group so she showed up in the pictures. Ryan did a great job accepting the award. He exclaimed, “where are my guys?!” And “do we have any water to spray around here?”
   The ballroom was set up differently this year with the stage at one of the side walls. The opposite wall was adorned with banners recognizing all of the past Whelen Modified Tour champions and the newest member. The NASCAR special events staff did a fantastic job of making the whole event look incredibly lavish and glamorous.
   My favorite Modified advocate, fan and as he discovered Saturday night, sponsor, Mike Joy, emceed the festivities. Joy discovered that he was a sponsor when images of the #96 that Donny Lia drove at Loudon flashed across the screen during the evening. The taillight panel was emblazoned with “M.K. Joy”.
   Joy announced that once again, of all of the award ceremonies that NASCAR holds, the Whelen Modified Tour banquet was only eclipsed in attendance by the Sprint Cup banquet at the Waldorf. Despite the fact that we didn’t have John Pinette and Matchbox Twenty there to perform for us, I feel that our crowd easily had as much fun in Connecticut as the Cup people did in New York.
   George Silberman made the opening remarks by NASCAR. He kept his comments short and sweet. This was a refreshing change from the norm and one of several themes that carried through the evening.
   A special presentation was made to Ed Cox. Fifty members of the Whelen Modified Tour got together and chipped in to get Ed a special present for his many years of service to the Tour. It is a beautiful Rolex watch and an accompanying plaque inscribed with the names of the fifty, owners, drivers, crew members and officials who contributed to the purchase.
   One of the most important awards of the evening was presented early in the festivities. The Len Bohler Award is presented by the Bohler family to car owners in recognition of excellence, dedication and generosity. Michael Bohler presented the award to Roger Hill. Roger’s son David accepted it on his behalf.
   Some of the awards were surprises and some were not. Ronnie Silk earned the Featherlite “Most Improved” award. Eric Beers sped to the Coors Light Pole award. Mike Stefanik was presented with the POWERade “Power Move of the Race” award. I think Mike had second thoughts on improving his qualifying efforts when he realized what the award actually paid.
   Reverend Dan Petfield gave the Invocation prior to the main course being served at the banquet. It was great to see the recognition that Racing with Jesus Ministries received throughout the evening. Somewhere, Reverend Pat is smiling.
   Glen Reen was recognized as the 2008 Sunoco “Rookie of the Year” award winner. He was presented with a beautiful piece of framed racing artwork that depicted the season. Reen earned the award by the slimmest of margins over Tom Abele, Jr.
   So where were the surprises? How about Ted Christopher earning the Most Popular Driver award? Over ten thousand votes were on the NASCAR Home Tracks website. Mike Joy commented, “He was stunned…who wasn’t?” Ted also earned the Most Popular driver award at Stafford Motor Speedway this year to which he commented, “You gotta have a recount. There is no way [that I won this].”
   Ken Heagy was caught off-guard when he was presented with the NASCAR “Driver Achievement” award. The Modified Series Auxiliary presented the Smiley Waterman and Donna Parks awards to Jamie and Cheryl Tomaino. This recognition was a long time coming. The Tomainos have supported every single race that has ever been a part of the Whelen Modified Tour. It is great to recognize them as our Man and Woman of the year.
   Mike Smeriglio was presented with the NASCAR “Sportsmanship Award” by six-time Modified champion and 2009 inductee into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, Jerry Cook. Let it be known that not only did Mike lend out backup cars at both races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, he also kept a car at the track so that Jimmy Spencer could be recognized in front of a Modified as a part of the “60 Years of Champions” on SPEED, a day after the Modified race ran.
   Each season, Whelen Engineering has presented the top-ten finishers in the Tour standings with a special gift. This year, Phil Kurze presented each of the top-ten drivers with a pair of Puma racing gloves specially embroidered in recognition of the accomplishment. “Glove side out boys.”
   Phil Kurze had another surprise. He unveiled the Tour decal for 2009. In honor of the Modified Tour’s twenty-fifth season, the decals will be appropriately silver. The decals are actually chrome Mylar and graphic representations of said decals do not do them justice. They are gorgeous. A big 25 splits “Seasons Running” on the header and the lower extension displays “1985-2009”.
   When it came to recognizing the champion, a single common thread was woven into heavy cable by the end of the evening. “Ted Christopher is a racer’s racer” was the refrain. George Silberman related a story about Ted in his opening remarks.
   He told of an occurrence at the Rolex 24 where the driver’s meeting is held in Victory Lane due to the sheer mass of competitors. Tony Stewart arrived to the meeting after all of the seats had been taken. He stood for the meeting at the exit to Victory Lane and greeted the other competitors as they exited. Silberman found it remarkable that out of all of the racing champions from various disciplines of motorsports, Tony Stewart reached out to trade information about what his car was doing with Christopher. Two racer’s racers bench racing at Daytona.
   Brad LaFontaine was recognized with the “Champion Crew Chief” award. He opened by saying, “Jeez Teddy, just when we thought it couldn’t be done.” One of the first things he did was to invite the ever-popular, Rico Mariani up to the stage to be at his side. “Rico, he’s the backbone of our team…hopefully we’ll recognize everyone on our team but if I miss anyone it’s Rico’s fault.”
   Ed Whelan received the “Champion Car Owner” award from Jerry Cook. Cook commented, “You can call it divine intervention or just plain dumb luck, but two events that took place in 2006 season that seemed to be setbacks at the time, for both the car owner and the driver have actually brought us together here tonight.”
   “The #36 team had Mike Ewanitsko in the seat, when health issues forced him to the sidelines. Meanwhile, unforeseen circumstances found Ted Christopher without a ride. Eddie Whelan, owner of the #36 car, placed a call to Christopher with an open seat for the race at Jennerstown. Christopher promptly piloted Whelan’s car to Victory Lane and a winning combination was born.”
   Ed Whelan seemed incredibly professional and thorough in his remarks. His thoughts were heartfelt and rang of sincerity. Despite all of that, he miraculously kept his comments to less than three minutes. The kudos goes to you Ed.
   In introducing the champion driver, Mike Joy commented, “This is killing me! I have so many great Ted Christopher stories. Because we’re in polite company I can tell very few of them.”
   The championship video that was produced by NASCAR for Christopher’s recognition was one of the best I have ever seen. I thought the team commentary was appropriate and well chosen. These people make us look good.
   Prior to his crowning comments, Christopher received several special awards. Phil Kurze presented Ted the Whelen “Winner of the Race” award. Dan Anderson tried to make a funny. “I’m glad you didn’t step on it” didn’t quite make the highlight reel but I’m sure the Hoosier jacket will.
   George Silberman presented Ted with his championship ring. I didn’t look at it up close, but it is big. It felt like Ted was wearing a gold walnut when I shook his hand later.
   Christopher had a lot of people to thank and he did a tremendous job doing so. His thanks were humorously punctuated by quick swigs from a small bottle of water he had stowed in the podium earlier. He thanked Joe Brady, the car owner he first went to a Modified Tour Victory Lane with in 1999 at Richmond.
   He thanked other past owners Curt Chase, Gary Cretty and Jim Galante. Ted Said, “One common denominator was that he always loved to drive a Modified. While most people always focused on why I hadn’t won a Modified Tour championship, I always focused on the race at hand. Many people said I drove differently this year…I did focus more on the big picture for 2008…I guess I did something right because I’m the last one speaking.”
   Although the following comments have been edited, as in previous years, I tried to include much of the champion’s speech. “My car owner Eddie Whelan has been in and out of the Modified Tour for many years. He is someone I have great respect for and someone I especially appreciate as I accept this award. Eddie came to my rescue after the loss of the Mystique team in early ’06.”
   “Although we won some races and finished third in points, I ended up getting fired at the end of that year. Go figure that one. I’d never been fired from anything in my life before. That’s water over the dam. So then ’07 comes along and I get hired again. And we brought Brad LaFontaine along as our crew chief.”
   “2007 turned out to be the sophomore jinx year. What could go wrong did. We managed to win a race and finish fifth in points but it just wasn’t meant to be that year.”
   “For ’08 we changed a few things around on the team, started out running race-to-race and waited to see what happens. Eddie would never commit to running the whole year so it was always race-to-race. Eddie, I sure am glad you decided to run the whole year.”
   Ted thanked Brad LaFontaine. “Sometimes we fool around and call him the Pope. “The Pope?” I bet he didn’t make it past his first communion. His strength is in the knowledge of the racecar and his focus and determination are second to none. Winning that final race and the championship at the same time was great and I knew he wanted it that way.”
   Ted echoed comments that had been made previously by LaFontaine and Whelan. “I also have to thank our interim car owner Jimmy [and Sally] Paige. He came on board to help us with a car for two races at Thompson and Chemung when we borrowed his car due to circumstances with our car.”
   “I can’t forget little Tony or “Shorty” as I call him, our motor man. For such a small guy you sure do produce some big power. From our early Mystique Fords to Fords you produce today for our team, I can’t explain how much I appreciate what you have done for our team and me.”
   “Then there is Gary Cretty. Gary and I have had a long racing relationship. I drove for him. Won with him, and have received support from him throughout my racing career. His behind the scenes help are another piece of the puzzle that most people don’t see.”
   “One of the biggest shout-outs is to my crew. From preparation during the week, to the race-day work, to pit-stops on race-day, they are truly the unsung heroes who do it for the pit passes. Which is food, sometimes good or bad and hopefully a trip to Victory Lane.”
   “Rico, “Mr. Smiles” Mariani, he is always smiling. No matter what, even if there’s no oil in the rear end; he’s always smiling. He’s Brad’s second-hand man, our truck driver and definitely Mr. All-Around.”
   “Glen Dixon our tire guy. Everybody needs a tire guy, right? No matter how much I asked him about the stagger he’d always say “three and a quarter”. So I stopped asking him. It was useless.”
   “Rocky my spotter, thanks for looking out for me. It’s been good to have a second set of reliable eyes like yours. You are the Rock.”
   “Brian McCarthy, Squid, Goober, Butch and I am sure that there are a few that I forgot. Thanks to every one of you.”
   “Last, but certainly not least, Tony and Jessie Mattola, Eugene Sena and Michael Sullivan for the last nine years, no matter where I went or who I was driving for they always followed me. Thank you for your undeniable loyalty and support. We finally did it.”
   “And then there is my family to whom I also owe many thanks. My lovely wife Quinn, although she might not get to many of my races, I think this year she went to about ten, which is on the high side for her, her support has been there in a different way. Racing sixty to seventy times per year we are apart more than we are together during the summer months. The equation must work because whether I win or lose at the track it doesn’t matter to her. Coming home to her always makes me happy.”
   “Another person I’d like to mention is my brother Mike.” He always calls me after each race to see how I did. The conversation never started with hello. Instead, it was like if I didn’t win, he would always ask, “…so what happened?” Like who did I wreck or who wrecked me. But then, if I won he would say “you effing won again?” In the beginning of the year he said this was the year that I was going to win the championship.”
   “Then there are people in the business that make racing technically possible. They have been very supportive of my efforts. VP Racing Fuels, who have been a part of my racing career for over thirty years. From go carting, to SK championships, to a national championship, to my first Modified Tour championship they’ve always been there for me.”
   “Hoosier Tires, Irish, Bobby, Robby, Dan and everyone at Hoosier Tire, thanks for a great tire and for your support of the Whelen Modified Tour. The following companies have also supported our race team in one way or another. Troyer Race Cars, Quarter Master Industries, Sweet Manufacturing, Hawk Industries, Pro Shocks, Northeast Race Cars and Parts, Bassett Wheels, FK Rod Ends, Fragola Systems and Racing Electronics, thank you for all of your help.”
   “I also want to thank Chad Little and all of the NASCAR officials who made this season a memorable and more enjoyable one. I also can’t forget Whelen Engineering, Sonny Whelen, John Olson, Phil Kurze and everyone at Whelen. Thank you for the support of this series and for helping me throughout the years. I’m glad that I was able to become a Whelen Modified Tour champion during my career.”
   “Finally, I would like to recognize every car owner in this room for the dedication and support of this series. Without you, the drivers in this room wouldn’t be to do what we love. Drive Modifieds. It takes a special person to be a Modified car owner. Because even if you won every race and the championship, you probably still wouldn’t break even and people say I’m crazy. Thanks to each and every one of you and have a happy holiday.”
   It was all over too soon. Everyone seemed to have had a really good time. Shawn Courchesne showed up as the ceremonies concluded. I had been calling and texting him during the program. At least he got there. I flushed a yard down the slots and I was on my way home.
   One of the fringe benefits to winning the Whelen Modified Tour title is an invitation to the Geoff Bodine Bobsled Challenge. I look forward to bringing stories back from Lake Placid in three short weeks. Whelen Southern Modified Tour champion, Brian Loftin and Whelen All-American Series champion, Philip Morris will join Ted Christopher on Mt. Van Hoevenberg as a part of the festivities.
   Those of you who have satellite radio can tune into MRN on Sirius NASCAR 128 and XM 104 for live audio coverage from the event. We will try to keep everyone abreast of results and news on TCH’s Message Board.


Source: Walter Newcomb / The Chrome Horn
Posted:  December 14, 2008

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