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   The Chrome Horn - NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour



2011 Whelen Modified Tour Report:
Thompson International Speedway Icebreaker
by Polly Reid

The ability to recover was key to Ted Christopher’s storied Icebreaker win at Thompson International Speedway. The Plainville, CT driver came back from a two lap deficit, one for a spin, the other for a pit road infraction, not to mention racing with one hand that has two taped fingers, then injuring his other hand during that spin off the backstretch- Christopher pulled a late pit stop for fresh tires, hauled it to the front taking the lead with 35 to go and never looked back scoring the season opening NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour victory.

“Now I messed up the other hand,” smiled Christopher who came to the press box holding a bag of ice on his left hand. “I really have to thank my crew, I owe it all to these guys. They kept working on it, working on it, stuff fell just right for us and you know me, I love pitting late, I got tires on late, that’s fun.”

Christopher’s final pit stop on lap 95 put the Al-Lee Installations Chevrolet back in the pack but when the second red flag of the day waved just past the century mark for a nine car incident on the front stretch, Christopher lined up 8th on the lap 107 restart. It took four circuits to get to second and only four more times around the .625 mile oval to catch and pass Ryan Preece to become the final leader of the day on lap 115.

“We wanted to make sure we got the toe somewhat right, once they got the car to where it felt pretty good with the tires that were on it, we waited until the last possible point we could to put on new tires and it worked out great. I really have to thank Eddie Whelan for letting me drive this car, Tony’s Competition Engines, Troyer race cars, everybody who helps work on this thing.”

Christopher led three different times for a total of 50 laps. It was the incident on lap 51, contact with Ron Silk, the duo battling for the lead, that sent Christopher around out of turn two hitting the inside wall on the backstretch that sprung a series of runs to pit road.

“The car wasn’t right, I mean the spindle was all bent, but they got the toe back in - I’ve driven worse ‘stuff’ than that before.” Christopher has visited the Thompson winner’s circle 6 of the last 8 NWMT events, his total career NWMT victories now at 39. “Everything fell our way today, with the cautions. My first time back with Brad (Lafontaine), we had a pretty good car. I’m looking forward to Stafford, I’ve always liked the Sizzler, can’t wait for that.”

Crossing a strong was second was Rowan Pennink, third Mike Stefanik, Ryan Preece and Justin Bonsignore the top five.

Pennink started the day seventh in his Monk Mechanics Hand Cleaner machine and after two pit stops, one with the leaders at the half mark, then other for a possible heating issue on lap 94, Penninik worked his way from the back to the front for a runner up spot. “We had a great car all day long here today. I’ve got to thank Doug Chouinard (crew chief) and the whole team, the thing was awesome all day long. We just tried to stay out of those wrecks, get ourselves in a position where we could win. I think we had the best car at the end, just got a little too far behind there and couldn’t really make it up with 15 to go there. We had to pit, the car was getting a little hot and we lost some track position, but the thing drove right back to the front. The guys did an awesome job, came home second, can’t do much better than that the first race of the year.”

12 cautions and 2 red flags plagued the Icebreaker. However, one car that spun and did not bring out the caution was Mike Stefanik. Taking a hit in turns three and four, Stefanik running 6th at the time in the Eric Sanderson entry, ended up in the grass on lap 82, his track position suddenly history, but was able to continue on. Two laps later, the caution flew, a break for the Diversified Metal/R.B. Enterprises machine, the Coventry, RI driver came in for a second stop. “We came in again after the 6 car got into us. You’re last, so, we came in. They made a great adjustment and the car was the best it had been all day. Not quite as good as the two cars ahead of us were- but the car came alive and we salvaged a third out of it- we’ll take it and see if we can improve for Stafford.”

One of six drivers that led the Icebreaker, Ryan Preece brought his Mizzy Construction machine across the line 4th. “Qualifying we were good, my team did a great job, they gave me a great car, qualified fourth my first time out, finished fourth so I didn’t really loose any spots.” A new ride for Preece in the John Lukosavage modified, Preece is happy with his first race. “The crew, I worked with a lot of these guys with the SK at Stafford, we have team chemistry. Mike Paquette is setting the car up, Jimmy Fuller is calling the shots on pit road and during practice and Bob Cuneo helps out with his input. There’s just so much time put into this car. Jerry McKarski, he’s our mechanic at the shop during the week, he works his tail off, 12 hour days. I have a great group of guys (like the tire guy Mike), I’m looking forward to seeing how the rest of the year goes.” Preece adding, “I’m unbelievably psyched for Stafford, that’s my track. Hopefully we’ll be fast.”

Defending champion Bobby Santos who set a new track record the day before winning the Coors Light pole award and was fast at the green easily led the opening circuits. But Santos never had a chance to play out the day when a motor blew, his day done on lap 16. A number of solid cars ended up behind the wall including Todd Szegedy who got tangled up in the 9 car pile up on the front stretch on lap 101. Also involved was Ron Silk, Eric Goodale, James Civali, Woody Pitkat, Erick Rudolph, Glenn Tyler, Chuck Hossfeld and Ron Yuhas. Yuhas, Hossfeld and Tyler re-fired and were able to continue on to finish the full distance.

Richie Pallai Jr. started the field from the scratch position after a blown motor the day before in practice kept the Yorktown Heights, NY driver from making a qualifying attempt. Running as high as third at one point, Pallai’s day would end when he became part of the final caution with less than 25 to go, finishing 19th. “We had a good practice, but we had heating issues all the way through it,” said crew chief Denis Pruchnik. “We thought we had an air pocket in the water system so we purged it in the middle of practice. By the end of practice, the water temp just kept creeping up and creeping up so we started looking at stuff and realized we had a blown head gasket. We couldn’t fix it here so we went back to the shop. This is a brand new car, brand new motor. I had already put last years car together because we were going to go testing at Monadnock Speedway next weekend. So we had to go home, take the motor out of that, take the motor out of this car and put that motor in this car. It actually went really smooth, we were done in four hours. It was a lot of work but we have more crew guys this year than last and it’s worked out really well. It’s part of racing, it’s nobody’s fault, there’s nothing you can do about it. Everybody pitched in.”

Eric Beers of Northampton, PA has 2011off to a solid start- crossing to finish 6th, Beers was part of the front running pack, in third, when the last caution waved. The restart was not his friend, Beers slipping just out of the top five after a torrid battle with Justin Bonsignore with just under five to go. “We have a bunch of new crew guys this year including crew chief, Don Barker,” Beers spoke earlier in the day about the DeLange owned 45 sponsored by Horwith Freightliner. “Yesterday, we got off the trailer and we weren’t that good. Just working together and figuring stuff out, we went from 20th fastest car in practice to to 8th fastest in time, that’s a huge jump. Missing that practice two weeks ago hurt us a little bit. But we’re getting accustomed to each other and it’s coming along pretty quick, a lot faster than I thought.”

33 teams lined up for the start of the Icebreaker, an entire winters worth of work, of passion, taking the green flag for the Icebreaker. It’s the same thing that will carry them on to the next event, the Spring Sizzler in three weeks.

  Source: Polly Reid / TheChromeHorn.com
Posted: April 11, 2011

©2011 GeeLaw Motorsports/Wolf Pack Ventures, Inc.