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   The Chrome Horn - NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour



by Polly Reid

The expectation was there, the guarantee was not. After earning the Coors Light Pole Award, then dominating two thirds of the race, Todd Szegedy found himself fourth on a restart after pitting. On the final restart with seven to go, Szegedy now in third, headed to turn one, first getting by Justin Bonsignore then side my side Mike Stefanik past the start finish line heading into Big Bend emerging the leader for the final time and never looked back to score the win in the NASCAR Whelen Modified 66/99 presented by Town Fair Tire at Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, CT.

Stefanik crossed for a solid second on the 1.5 mile, eight turn road course with Bonsignore third, Richie Pallai fourth and Ted Christopher fifth.

Ron Silk the point leader going into Lime Rock was caught up in a caution on a restart and suffering right front damage, was forced to make an unscheduled pit stop. The TS Haulers crew was able to get Silk back out but the Norwalk, CT driver who threatened for the lead in the early going finished his day 15th. Szegedy’s win combined with Silk’s finish launched the Wisk Detergent/A&J Romano Construction Ford into the points lead by 12 over Silk.

“I never once thought we had this in the bag,” stated Szegedy. “I know we had a superior car but I had to start fourth then start third, I knew we had to get a good restart and get past these guys because I didn’t know how good the guys were behind me. You never know what you’re going to do in that kind of a situation because you’re not used to sailing into a corner and have to downshift twice and be in control while you’re braking because that just doesn’t happen in ovals. Mike gave me plenty of room, I had my downshifting down and then just drove away. The car was awesome. We made it, it was pretty amazing.”

Szegedy was challenged early on by Silk and Erick Rudolph - the trio pulling away from the pack but as the laps ticked on, Szegedy built a comfortable lead until the competition yellow waved on lap 20. A tangle mid-pack on the restart reined in the field as the three cars involved were able to drive away. By the half, lap 33, Szegedy in command led Rudolph, Silk, Stefanik, Bonsignore and Pallai in sixth. Ted Christopher who was running fourth, had spun coming down hill just before the half, but recovered to get back into the top ten shortly after the half way point.

The game changer came when the a full course caution flew on lap 41. With 25 to go, it was wholesale pit stops. Ed Flemke and Doug Coby stayed out and led the field while Stefanik coming in third gained valuable positions coming out of the pits first after a four tire change, Szegedy and Bonsignore followed. On the restart, what started in Big Bend concluded in the Left Hander, as at least eight cars were involved in the yellow that flew including Silk who pulled away with right front damage.

The restart repeated, Coby took over the front spot on lap 52, but two circuits later, the day would end for Coby after getting into the dirt heading to the Downhill.

As Stefanik got by, Bonsignore had the front row seat to the conclusion of Coby’s day. “He crossed in front of me, it didn’t look like he hit all that hard but coming back around, he hit a lot. I guess he tried to bring it back out of the dirt too quick he probably should have rode it down the hill as much as he could - sometimes in road racing, I know I haven’t done it much, but you have to ride the dirt out until you can get the car back straight. He just didn’t have the right angle like Mike said and he didn’t have a prayer of saving it, I don’t think the best could have.”

The red flag was brought out for the clean up and when the green waved it was a seven lap dash that did not disappoint the fans. Stefanik led to the green with Bonsignore, Szegedy, Pallai and Flemke the top five. Christopher recovered from his earlier off track excursion and restarted 12th. Szegedy made his move to become the new leader on lap 61 getting by first Bonsignore then Stefanik, the Ridgefield, CT driver finishing what he started a year ago- a trip to victory lane at Lime Rock Park.

“I almost blew it today,” admitted Szegedy. “The combination of the car wouldn’t turn, driving it in hard, just as hard with the other set of tires and it just didn’t stick, it did it twice - it got dicey and at that point I said I really have to use my head here, I got a good car, I got to take it easy and just pass them when I can and that’s what I did. Trust me, even when I was leading for once I never thought I had this one in the bag- I know how it works.”

Referring to the results one year ago when Szegedy literally dominated the entire event only to be bested by Dale Quarterly with new tires in the closing circuits, Szegedy never counted out his competitors.

“I knew Silk was going to be tough- he came out of road racing go karts like I did so I knew that he was going to be good and those guys know how to set up a race car. I was also worried about Teddy of course, Stefanik and Justin- Justin came out of go karts too so I knew those were the guys I had to beat. But today, I didn’t points race, I came here to win- I came here to get the pole and win. I was going to do everything I could to get this win.”

Stefanik in the Diversified Metals/R.B. Enterprises machine simply could not hold off Szegedy as the Coventry, RI driver put it, we’re all in ‘Todd’s sandbox’. “He was just too strong on the front stretch for us - we were decent through out. Our car took a while to get going, it seemed like 8 or 10 laps the we would run our best lap - I think lap 14 was our best lap of the race today, I don’t know why and talking to Justin he said his car was sliding around, it just wouldn’t hook up, it’s not that it was ill handling it just slid a lot. I had a lot of fun today - I almost messed up down there and down shifted too early in second and almost spun the thing out that was the only real bad, bad error -I probably made another 2000 errors I could hide….somewhat. It’s just a game of mistakes here.”

Stefanik continued, “The guys did a great job on the pit stop, I have to thank our team again for the outstanding pit work that they do - it’s a little tougher on the guys here because of the wheel spaces we have to run to get our cars prepared for the road course so it makes it a little more tricky but they did an outstanding job.”

In the hunt all weekend from opening practice to the checkers, Bonsignore from Holtsville, NY in the M3 Technology modified summed up his day. “After pitting, we kind of got jammed up in the short chute after Big Ben and I already have a broken thumb and I jammed it again, I got into Mike a little bit and re-injured that - once the adrenaline kicked back in it didn’t hurt and we got the restart, got a couple of free spots, Teddy drove off, Doug wrecked- Todd, I don’t know where Todd was going into one he messed up off of the last corner, we went down the front stretch and he drove it probably three markers deeper than I would of and I said I’m not going to make I don’t know how he’s going to make the corner, then we got to second and I’m feeling good ready to go thought we had a good chance at Mike and the red flag killed it. Just like Mike’s car we just took too long to get going, we needed 10 to 12 laps -right there at the end we were clicking off some low 54’s - I thought we had a chance. All in all, it was just a great day.”

“When I was younger, this was all I raced was road courses,” said Bonsignore about his kart days. “Never in anything I had to shift or anything with this much horse power but driving these kind of tracks, staying smooth you have to have a lot of finesse - the more you can minimize the mistakes - that’s all it is, just stay on the track. I mean Teddy probably had one of the better cars but if you don’t stay on the track it’s tough. That’s the name of the game like Mike said you can hide a lot of your mistakes but sometimes you mess up bad. It’s all abut minimizing your mistakes as much as you can and just staying on the course.”

Three wins for Szegedy this season, car owner Mike Smeriglio has witnessed his team grow and gel as the season continues. “I’m happy for the guys, Szegedy earned this one the hard way. He kept his cool, he had a better car, the team did an awesome pit stop - you know we have a bunch of guys that are newbie’s going over the wall - I couldn‘t be more proud of them.”

The new points leader, Smeriglio did not hesitate to explain their strategy, “It’s pretty simple, just keep digging, run well, go for wins and the points will come around. We’re disappointed the 6 car couldn’t race us in the end today but there’s three races to go, I know they’re going to be right there with us all the way to the end.”

A road course it particularly stressful on a team, squeezing in the extra preparation needed in the midst of a diverse schedule that is also the busiest part of the season- Lime Rock marking the fourth of six consecutive events. Crew chief Phil Moran reunited with Szegedy this year knew what was at stake.

“Todd’s so good here as a road racer and after last year, loosing the race, he got beat by strategy and tires, we weren’t going to let that happen to us this year. I wanted to give him a good car. I know he had one last year so we worked out butt off to get it that way this time.”
From his perspective, Moran continued. “When we did the fuel stop, I talked to Todd about how the car felt and he said the car was awesome. That was about 15 to 20 laps away from our pitting for tires. It did enter my mind about not pitting but it would have ticked him off so much if I didn’t pit because that’s all we talked about in the shop all week, we had to do it, we had no choice. I knew everybody else was on the same page, in the same strategy zone that we were in because they saw what it did for Quarterly last year, we had to do it.”
But it didn’t make for an easy watch in the final going. “The biggest thing that I did with the car this week” explained Moran, “was to make sure nothing broke on it because road courses are 80 percent driver and the rest is car preparation as far as anything breaking, nothing falling off the car so that’s what we had to do. Todd’s so good here- he knows where to pass and how to pass, that’s what did it for us.”
“The team that we have is incredible, the guys come to the shop all the time, I’ve got a great group of guys and I couldn’t ask for a better car owner. Mike gives me everything that I need and then some- including moral support which is a big thing at this level of racing- you don’t see that much anymore.”

Informed he was the new points leader in the post race interview, Szegedy was surprised. “That’s a big deal but they’re hot on our heals- we have three to go and I said two races to ago, we’re right there, but we have four left, I can get into the points lead in one race but I can loose it back in one race too. We can’t change anything we’re doing, I just have to continue to keep going. The way I look at it is if we win the championship that’s a pretty awesome thing especially coming from the back the way we did, starting off real bad getting wrecked in the first two races like we did. If we finish second it’s still a great year because we put a new team together, reunited with my crew chief, we did a lot, built two race cars, we have a third one we’re building, we have a group of dedicated guys - almost all new guys on the team so it’s pretty amazing for us to be running the way we are.”

Szegedy at 2,004 points, Silk with 1,992 and Rowan Pennink still in it with 1,911- the season maybe winding down but it is far from over. The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour heads to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the third and final visit of the year for the New Hampshire 100 on Saturday September 24th.

  Source: Polly Reid / TheChromeHorn.com
Posted: September 18, 2011

©2011 GeeLaw Motorsports/Wolf Pack Ventures, Inc.