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   The Chrome Horn - NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour



Thompson International Speedway
by Polly Reid

Rain and snow in the area delayed open practice by a day at Thompson International Speedway for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour but by Sunday at 12noon when engines fired, ten teams took advantage of the track time to shake down their rides in preparation of the season opening Icebreaker two short weeks away.

On hand to practice was Todd Szegedy, Ryan Preece, Ron Yuhas, Bryon Chew, Eric Beers, Donny Lia, Patrick Emerling, Richie Pallai, Jr, Rob Fuller and Eric Berndt.

“We re-grouped, have two new chassis’, Troyer, two brand new cars, everything’s different.” said Bryon Chew who unloaded one car for testing. “We’re just shaking some stuff down today, we’re pretty close here, when it’s cold out it’s hard to tell, but so far I like it. A couple of adjustments, but so far, it’s good.” Chew has set the bar this year for himself- “Do a lot better than last year. Top ten in points, win a race and have some fun.”

2011 Rookie of the Year, Patrick Emerling was rather stealth looking in a black unlettered car. The Orchard Park, NY driver will be back for the Icebreaker with his familiar #07. “We’re running the whole series in the Chassis Dynamics cars. We have a different team than last year- Mike Paquette is the crew chief. We’re excited, I just drove the car and it’s awesome.” Emerling didn’t hesitate adding, “I think with the team we have this year, we’re going to be a contender.”

Be on the look-out this year for Rob Fuller to run all the Thompson and NHMS events. Fuller is teamed up with NY crew chief Jeff DeMinck who is a car owner himself of a Sunoco Modified competing at Spencer Speedway with driver Mike Leaty.

2003 Champion Todd Szegedy, reunited last year with crew chief Phil Moran, collected three wins in 2011 and contended for the title finishing second for the season. The venues Szegedy won at in 2011 could not have been more diverse- Monadnock, New Hampshire and Lime Rock- a sure sign of a driver and team adaptability. “Our goal this year is top ten’s. We have to get more wins too. Our qualifying last year was phenomenal- we only qualified out of the top ten once and that was at Stafford- we were the second car out, it had rained- I’m glad it’s going to be on practice speeds, that’s the fairest way. Every race at Stafford last year I was in the top five to go out for qualifying, the track that really matters, we went out early every time.” Szegedy was busy shaking down two cars in practice. “I think the person that finishes in the top ten in every race is going to win. I would take a top ten in every race and win a championship over winning races.” Szegedy will also be running select Valenti Modified Races this year.

Two-time NWMT Champion Donny Lia returns this year in a familiar seat- the Bob Garbarino #4 Mystic Missile. “It’s a good feeling to be racing here. This place is familiar, the car is familiar, it’s comfortable so far. We’re trying different things, learning a little bit- it’s nice to be back. We’ve got a good team- I’m looking forward to it- hopefully we’ll have a good time.” A new face will be calling the shots this year as crew chief- Danny Laferriere. But no worries about team chemistry here, Laferriere has been with the Mystic Missile crew since 2007. “I have faith, I believe in this deal and when you believe in something, there is a confidence.” What else is Lia looking forward to this year? He and his wife Nancy are expecting their second child in July.

There is a new paint scheme this year for the #16 Eric Sanderson Flamingo Motorsports modified- two cars unloaded for practice, one with the familiar 2011 look and the other, dramatically different for 2012. The session today will help determine which one will be at the Icebreaker. Ryan Preece seemed pleased with both. “They are both really good, it comes down to which one Sly (Szaban) wants to run. We’re having a good time, the cars are good right off from where we started last year. I’m looking forward to it- the Icebreaker can’t come quick enough.” The Berlin, CT driver has nothing but the highest of expectations for the season. “Win some races and be in contention for the championship at the end of the year. I mean everything is here to do it so I don’t see why we shouldn’t be able to go for it.”

A full NWMT season at this point is not in the future for Richie Pallai, Jr. the Yorktown Heights, NY driver will however make the most of every lap including practice today. “Right now we’re going to run about 10 Tour races, Riverhead and a good amount of MRS- pick and choose races. Like right now, we’re not going to Monadnock for the Tour race but if we’re up in there in points, we might end up going, it all depends on that. We’re going to run the big money open shows too.” Pleased with practice, Pallai noted they have new power under the hood from Bob Bruneau. “Definitely like that, the car is very good. We found a few problems with the new car over the off season….we’re very excited. If feels really great to be back out on the track especially since hockey ended three weeks ago.” While Pallai was not sure what the track would give them today, he noted, “the best guys are here today so it’s a good gauge.”

His first Tour start came in 2004 however it was not until 2011 that Eric Berndt ran his first full NWMT season. “The plan is to run the full season this year,” said Berndt who explained it will be in two different cars, same as last year. “We’re looking to better what we did last year.” Berndt was in the hunt on several occasions and there is no reason to believe it will not be the same again this year except add a little twist- “We need a little luck.” Berndt’s best finish of the 2011 season was a top five at Thompson in June.

Ron Yuhas spent the day testing two Tour cars at Thompson, a track where he recorded his first career podium finish in 2007. “We’re not here to set any land speed record, it’s more to just take the cars out, run them, make sure we don’t have leaks, get the brakes good, shake the cars down, that was our main objective today and we accomplished that.” Looking ahead, Yuhas is realistic about the fast approaching season. “I think our goals are a little bit different depending on the race track. Here, at Thompson, it’s one of our better race tracks, we have a lot of experience here so our goal is probably a top five. The reality is, we have really great equipment, but we’re probably an underdog team. Places like Loudon, we’ve done well there, expectations there will be different than our goals at Bristol. Our Achilles heel is Stafford, to have a good run there would be an accomplishment.”

2011 was a career best for Eric Beers on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour finishing 3rd in points. The Northampton, PA driver is again behind the wheel of Dave DeLange’s #45. “We’re trying some new stuff- we’re getting better every time we go out there. We have a couple more things yet to try and see if we can get going even a little bit better.” While a win escaped Beers last season, he completed all but two laps recorded for the season, a Tour high. “Our goal is to get into victory lane, we were so close last year numerous times and something happened. I’m pretty confident we’ll be there. We’ll build on what we did last year and go a little further.”

Once the green flag drops, all the effort and work since the last checker flag flew last fall will indeed pay off. The next two weeks will fly by for some, drag for others. One thing for sure, the competition will be as strong as ever this year. See you at the Icebreaker!

  Source: Polly Reid / TheChromeHorn.com
Posted: April 2, 2012

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