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Tough Competition Forces Les Hinckley Race Team to Take it up a Notch
by Denise DuPont

The Modified Racing Series (MRS) returned to Thompson Speedway on Thursday night for 75 laps of competition. The race started as one would expect with two modified veterans, Mike Stefanik and Charlie Pasteryak, on the front row to lead the field of cars to the green flag. There was a lot of slicing and dicing and good hard racing for the thirty-one drivers that started the race. But in the end it was veteran Modified Racing Series competitor Les Hinckley who was the victor.

Last year Hinckley’s MRS race team did not have the stellar racing season they are accustomed to. So during off-season the team regrouped and reviewed their performance. Their efforts have not gone unrewarded as the Chuck Montville owned team has two wins and is currently the series point leader. “It has been a good season to start with. We changed a lot of stuff. We revamped our program over the winter because we struggled last year. Everybody said that you have got look at your weaknesses and I think that we did a good job of assessing it and we have come back stronger. It is a long season but we will keep at it.”

Unlike the team’s last win, both driver and crew were able to proudly stand in victory lane with the pristinely prepared #06 modified. “This one here is a lot less dramatic than last time,” Hinckley commented about his MRS Thompson win. “You take them how you can get them and I won’t give it back, but you loose something when you win like that. There are a lot of hard feelings and all that kind of stuff. I walked to victory lane without a race car and had my picture taken up against the wall. That is not a normal race so this one feels good. This one (win) I am just happy to come up and smile and laugh with you guys (press) and do the same with my crew.”

With more laps on the grooves of Thompson then any other driver in the race Ted Christopher started the race ninth. He completed his familiar charge to the front, led for five laps and in the end settled for second. About midway through the race, the Brady owned #00 modified faltered somewhat. It was then apparent that the car may have reached a peak in its forward momentum.

Les Hinckley was running behind Christopher when he was able to follow Rowan Pennink’s move both passing the master of the Thompson groove. “Something was going on with Teddy,” said Hinckley. “He backed up there and we got by him pretty easy. It made it easier for me. Obviously Teddy has got a thousand laps to my one here. I knew I had to get Teddy on the restart. I have watched many a guy. And I watched Teddy and Michael when I was behind them guys racing. You try to be a student in the game watch and learning from others. I am not too proud to admit that I can learn from those guys. I knew I needed to get Teddy on the restarts. If I screwed up in the restarts and he got ahead of me that late in the race he would be a hard pass. It did look like he was struggling a little bit in the longer run.”

2009 MRS modified champion Jon McKennedy has had a challenging 2010 race season. So far this year the every race starts like last year. The team gets to the track, times are fast in practice but then when the car is dominate on the track something breaks. Be it luck or chance, Thompson was finally the turn around race for the team. “We set fast time today with a fastest lap of the day and came out of here with a third place finish. I will take especially with how our year has been going. We have had great cars all year it is just no luck. Mechanical stuff breaking that is out of our control. Coming out of here with a solid top three, I will take it.”

But getting to third was not easy. The team did have to work hard to get there. “My car got real tight half way through the race. I needed the whole race track in order to do anything. Overall it was a good day.”

Second in series’ points driver Steve Masse overcame car problems and a race incident to cross the finish line fourth. “It was a tough race. The car loosened up and we had toe problems. The toe was knocked in a little bit. I am just happy with getting a fourth place finish. It is great for me.”

Masse may have had help when he spun but his survival skills kicked in and the young driver regrouped and went forward. "It might have been a little bit of help, but as far as I am concerned it was a racing incident. It was just a matter of just rubbing tires It knocked the rear end out from underneath me and the car just went around. It was not a big deal, it happens.”

Eric Goodale rejoined the ranks of the MRS at Thompson as a move to help the team get the monkey that has been on their back this race season. The team that normally is right out in front with the leaders has just not been able find their magic this year. But at Thompson the team qualified fifth and held on to finish right where they started for a fifth place finish. “We had a good car. In the beginning we backed up a little bit. I think everyone was a little bit freer than we were in the beginning. Our tires held up. I just ran smooth and really did not push the issue until there was about thirty to go and we had a little something left at the end. We had a mechanical failure with about two to go. I do not know if it was the rear or the transmission. We should have ended up fourth but ended up fifth, but we will take it and regroup and go get them next time.”

The race though did not roll out without any of controversy and penalties that has plagued the racing series so far this season. On Lap 56, NASCAR Champion Mike Stefanik led the race in the #66 Eddy Marceau owned car. Fellow competitor Rowan Pennink had charged up through the field and was ready to make the move to take the lead. During the move in turn two, Pennink passed the leader but it did not occur without incident. Stefanik and Pennink’s cars made contact and the leader spun. Pennink got the lead but it was a short reign. Officials charged Pennink with rough riding and put him to the back of the pack. “We had a really good car. I got up to second behind Stefanik and I got a good run underneath him on the front stretch. I really did not think that we were going to make contact and it seemed like he was running up a little higher. Then I got underneath him and it seemed like he ran that lap lower. Whether he just did not know I was there, or he was trying a different line but I did not expect him to be that low when we got into the corner and we made contact and he ended up spinning out so I had to go to the back.”

So the bad luck continues for Pennink with 2010 being a very frustrating year for the hard charger. From the back Pennink had less than 20 laps to race and recover. But officials enforced strict racing protocol and Pennink had to settle for a disappointing seventeenth place finish.

The MRS teams will enjoy Father’s Day, a week off and then will celebrate Fourth of July with a race at Monadnock Speedway when the series returns there on July 3rd for The Firecracker 100.

Thompson Speedway MRS Race Notes:

What did the racers see when Mike Stefanik spun as Rowan Pennink made the move for the lead?

Les Hinckley
“It was a good race. I had a good seat there when Michael and Teddy were racing real hard. Then Michael and Rowan got together. Before they got together we were equivalent to them. I do not think that we were any better than them. We have been on the other end of that stick .It was a good run.”

“I do not know if Michael came down blocking, I think that Michael came down because that was his lane and Rowan had committed to it. Sometimes there is just enough room. I do not think Rowan drove in there to turn him around. It was just a racing deal.”

“I kind of saw it starting. I was behind Rowan and I could see Michael’s left rear. Looking at his left rear right on the outside his right front, dead straight. Obviously the outside was the place to go. You are just fortunate sometimes. Last year we could be a straight away and you were in a wreck. Sometime lines open up for you and sometimes they don’t.”

Steve Masse
“I did not see anything. I just saw Mike go around. My spotter told me there was contact.”

Thompson Speedway is a larger track and the race was 75 versus 100 laps Did less laps make a difference?

Les Hinckley
“We were in good shape. The car was really good. I do not have any ambitions to go out and run another 25 more. I was happy to stop it there. If we had to go 25 more I am confident the car would have been still good it did everything I asked it right up from the first lap to the last lap.”

Steve Masse
“The tires held up good. I think 75 laps were fine. We probably could have done 100 (laps) to be honest but I am happy with 75.”

Thanks to Thompson Speedway owner, Don Hoenig, the MRS started all thirty-one that qualifying cars. Was it tough with seven more cars there at the start of the race?

Les Hinckley
“You do not notice it here much at all. I think sometimes because on restarts you are on double file you are so far back and you are going so fast sometimes that creates cautions from the mid-pack on back. So maybe you might see some of that. But here with 31 versus 24 starting – that is something that the Hoenig family needs to be padded on the back for. They probably do not get enough of that. They really could have turned cars away for the starting count and they didn’t. They put the money into the back of the purse so the guys could start the race so they need to be congratulated for that.”

Jon McKennedy
“From where I was most of the race in a top five or top ten, it seemed pretty good. Everyone was giving and taking, although there at the beginning it was a little bit rough. Once everyone got sorted things were pretty smooth. I think every thing went well.”

2010 MRS race season has brought with it the introduction of a new tire compound. 75 laps at Thompson Speedway is definitely a pounding on them. Did the tires hold up?

Les Hinckley
“I did not have any problems with car. My car was good from start to finish. I have heard some guys griping. I really did not have a problem with the old tire and I have had really no problems with this tire here at all. I am an advocate of you go what you got. Make you car handle. I do not really believe that all those late race cautions can be contributed to the tire last year as the cause. I do not really buy into that. Never the less they made a change and we made some slight adjustments for the longer run. Actually we made fewer adjustments for the longer run. We use to have to tighten the car up more for the longer run than we do now for this compound. Aside form that we are not doing much different here. I bought 100 here and 75 else where and on both compounds and they seem to hold up well. So I do not see the issue. I did not have a complaint about the old stuff and I am not complaining about this stuff either.”

Jon McKennedy
“I do not think the new tire has affected our racing at all. The tires are definitely an improvement. They last longer then the other ones. Think we had a few races this year where we had a chance to win but mechanical issues have taken us out. We have been running a lot better and this finish will show it.”

Steve Masse
“It worked well but I am not a big fan of it. It kind of changes the way these races are run. I believe that might be one of the problems with the cautions coming out so often recently. It has just been tough racing every lap and these tires do not follow up as much.”

Eric Goodale
“I did not run any races last year, but I will say that the tire wear this year for our one race has been very good. However you have to use your tires the next week in practice and it really gives you a false reading in practice. You just got to be ready for it and luckily my crew chief Jason has really been on top of it. He just keeps calm and knows what to do to make it good when you put the stickers on there. As far as I am concerned the tire wear has been good for us this year.”

This year has been a challenging race year for regular NWMT competitor Eric Goodale His thoughts on his 2010 race season.

Eric Goodale
“I wish that we could get some luck. I do not know what we did to make somebody mad but we sure as heck do not have any luck this year. My brother has been doing absolutely better than I have. He just does not have the finishes. We have had more mechanical failures this year than we have had in the last two years combined. So I think at the end of this year if we could get our luck to turn around I am very hopeful that at least one of us will be sitting in victory lane. I have a feeling that we are very strong in this series here and it is a good confidence builder going into the tour so if we get a win on the Bob Valenti MRS tour that would be awesome. I will take it.”

MRS Point Leader Les Hinckley has had a different 2010 race season.
His thoughts from Thompson Speedway:

Les drove the #06 car across the finish line but who helped him to get there?

“I have to thank so many people. My car owner’s Chuck and Debbie and all the guys on the crew. This thing (#06) car was torn up. A week ago we put a clip on it. We just worked and worked and spent money that we do not have. “

“Kenny Barry from SPAFCO, I cannot say enough about that guy. He started off as our chassis builder and he has become one of my closest friends. I go to him if I have a problem. I cannot say enough about him. My dad has street cars sitting outside so this thing can go into the garage and we can work on it. The sacrifices that are made for this thing (car) sometimes go unrecognized sometimes. I really appreciate this. You do not know how long I have wanted to win a race at Thompson.”

2009 was a bitter sweet year with many ups and downs for the #06 team. Did the team do any thing to turn around their efforts for 2010?

“Our basic approach is probably the same. At the end of last year, Chuck and I sat down, nothing formal, and we starting talking. From my end of it Chuck is very open and receptive to anything that I bring up to him and I said to him that I think that things that we needed to address. We took a pretty good hard look at our motor program and made a few changes there. Not with engine builders but with the stuff that we were doing. Good handling race cars win races but the motor bails you out of trouble. You get into trouble with out good power. We made a few changes here and there and I am happy with the power. A couple other things we did here and there but you have to have the best equipment out here and if you do not have luck and momentum that is not going to help you either. It has to be the whole package.”

Stepping motor program up, changes a few things on it. It that a bi-product of as the series has grown and gone to new race tracks? It is no longer just small tracks. Is it now tracks that require more horse power?

“I do not think that it is necessarily the length of the track, all though you need it here for sure. But it is the level of competition that has made you step it up. You use to be able to get away with an adequate motor because that was what you were racing against. That is not the case any more. Your top eight to ten cars here have motors that are equivalent to the best of any modifieds in the country. So if yours isn’t, you will run with them but you do not have an edge. You have to at least be on an even playing field. You do not necessarily have the best car, but you cannot be under powered either. You have to be at least equal. “

Does driving in the series require more patience that now it is more competitive?

“This place (Thompson Speedway) and our series has been filled with a lot of cautions. We were fortunate enough to start relatively close to the front. Sixth I think. I kind of got into a comfortable spot, fourth I believe, for a while. And I kind of shuffled back and forth a few spots here and there until it shook out in the end. It worked out well.”

Source: Denise DuPont /
Posted: June 20 2010

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