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   The Chrome Horn - Valenti Modified Racing Series




Gary Casella Captures Owner Championship
After Ten Years

Denise DuPont/Polly Reid

In the spring of 2004, the Modified Racing Series (MRS) made its debut at Monadnock Speedway in Winchester, NH. with an inaugural 100 lap feature event. The modifieds quickly clicked off 100 laps with one caution occurring on lap 85. Drivers, crews, fans and officials were all both amazed and delighted with the results. Ten years later the series has now expanded from its New Hampshire roots to across New England and New York.

To make this year’s tenth year anniversary special, a $10,000 purse was established for the winner of the 2013 MRS championship. Rowan Pennink of New Egypt, NJ set his sights and proceeded to take the Gary Casella owned #25 modified to the top of the charts to capture this year’s championship for the Roscoe Racing team. At the series annual banquet Pennink and Casella received the Championship trophies and collected the $10,000 check from series president and founder Jack Bateman. This was Pennink’s first ever modified championship and the team had an impressive race season with two wins and thirteen top five finishes out of seventeen races.

So after ten years of competing, car owner, Gary Casella, finally received the car owner championship award for his efforts. “Gary has been with the series since it started ten years ago,” said Pennink. “Winning the championship for him on the series tenth year anniversary is first of all special for me but it is even more special for Gary since he has been involved with the series since it started. Winning the championship for him on this special anniversary year was awesome.”

This year the #25 team shook off the bad luck that seemed to overshadow them in the past and ran consistently up front. They took each race one at a time, planned, set their actions in motion and progressed forward. “I could not have accomplished two wins and thirteen top five finishes if it were not for the guys at the shop putting in long hours and making sure the car was right out of the box when they load it up in the trailer every week. I live in New Jersey and they are way up in the Boston area so I could not make it to the shop to help. So I trusted those guys to bring me a car that was both ready to go and competitive every week. I cannot thank the #25 team enough for the opportunity to pull together a championship like this.”

2013 championship car owners, Gary and Kim Casella of Saugus, MA were presented the “Chuck Montville Car Owner Championship Award”. The renaming of this award in honor of Montville was very special to the competitors after losing a fellow racer this year. “It’s pretty important, it was a goal of ours, I didn’t want to stop until we won that,” said Casella about winning the championship. “Rowan is so good, he didn’t use a bumper the second half of the year. He’s so good, that the body on our car is three years old. People don’t know that, he is really good at what he does. Rowan is the easy part- he never questions me, he’s an awesome human being.”

Keeping a team together is not easy as everyone knows. “Kim is in the shop working on the car. We don’t have a lot of help at the shop-it’s hard trying to run a business, keep a car on the track.” Casella points to the ankle that still has a brace on it, being on crutches this summer with that added to the challenge. “It’s definitely hard to keep it together, racing can be frustrating. But I’m lucky enough to have won in about every race car division I’ve been in.”

“It means a lot,” said Kim Casella about the title. “I see them work so hard, they work their tails off every night, every weekend – it means a lot to see them finally get what they’ve been working so hard for.”

“The competition has definitely gotten tougher, there are a lot of really great people that run the Series and the longer I’ve been around the more they’ve become a family. Everyone works hard, you can see that and it gets harder every year.”

VMRS rookie, Dana Smith of Sunapee, NH. moved to the VMRS series when his local track (Twin State Speedway) closed. While in his first year racing with the series he stayed ahead in the rookie point race even after bad luck started to plague him at the end of the season. He was the highest winning rookie in eight of the thirteen VMRS races he competed in which was enough to clench the rookie award. “I do not really feel that I deserve the “Rookie of the Year” Award but I will take it. I think that fellow competitor, Dylan Kopec, did a great job. Especially at the end of the year when we seemed to fall off pace.”

Leading in the rookie award points, the team took a chance and started making changes to prepare for next year. It was a risk that they took knowing that they had already sealed the rookie title. “At the end of the year we were experimenting to get ready for next year and we learned a lot about the tracks even though we did not do well. So we did our experimenting and hopefully next year we will have a better idea of what we want to do."

“I love the series and we will definitely will be back next year.” Said Smith when he was asked about his next year’s plans. “I had a blast this year. We have met a lot of good people and the officials are great. I hope most of them come back. I know a couple of the officials will be done this year and I will miss them.”

See you all next March as the VMRS race season begins with the Waterford Speedbowl Blastoff.

John Spence continued the evening with the presentation of Special Awards.

Mountainside Graphix Rookie of the Year Award - Dana Smith Sunapee, NH. Smith made 13 Series starts earning three top ten finishes. Smith was the highest finishing rookie in 8 of his 13 events.

“We started out in a crate motor modified at Twin State Speedway (Claremont, NH). And I love driving a modified and I watched these guys (VMRS) when they came to town. And you always want to get to this level. So when Twin State closed down, we thought that this was the direction that we want to go. So we thought we would give it a shot.”

“It is difficult going to several different tracks during a race season rather than racing at your home track every week. It is more difficult than I thought getting use to all the tracks. But it is fun. There are some beautiful tracks out there. We camp out at the track every weekend and it makes it fun along with being a nice family thing. I really enjoy touring now. I cannot think about racing at a single track again.”

Sportsmanship Award - driver of the 66, Dylan Kopec of Palmer, MA- as John Spence put it, “Dylan showed respect to all drivers, teams and officials. An impressive first season, Kopec qualified in 13 of the 17 events. He had a great battle for the Rookie championship, Dana and Dylan, both, real solid efforts and real good representatives of the Valenti Modified Racing Series.

Tough Luck Award - Mike Holdridge of Madison, CT. “A bad luck situation plagued the 2013 season for this driver with all sorts of mechanical woes,” said Spence. “But they always tried their hardest to overcome adversity.” Holdridge finished the season 10th in the VMRS point standings.

Spafco Most Improved Driver Award - Anthony Nocella of Woburn, MA. “This driver earned his first career win at the DAV event at Seekonk in October. He improved from 35th in the point standings to 9th in 2013,” as Spence said, “quite an effort.”

Nocella was pleased with the 2013 effort and is looking forward to an even better 2014. “We got our own car this year, we ended up winning at Seekonk, that was cool,” said Nocella who just turned 21, “I’ve won that race a couple of times with a midget, but I always wanted to win it in a modified. If I was going to win anything in a modified, that was the track where I kind of have a lot of experience there. It was cool to win one. We ran good for the most part this year, had some bad luck but a lot of good runs.”

Nocella continued, “Usually we had a top five car, I think we had a good car, even the times we broke- I think if we get everything together, crew, resources to run full time, I think we could run with the best guys and I don’t know, we might have a shot at winning all of it. You never know- need some good luck and finish every race. It would be pretty awesome to win it.”

Most Popular Driver Award - Max Zachem of Preston, CT. “This driver amassed a total of 1115 votes tallied on the modifiedracingseries.com,” said Spence, “17% of the votes.” As if finishing the season sixth in points and being awarded the Most Popular Driver award wasn’t enough, Zachem was also celebrating his 21st birthday, enjoying the extra special big night with his racing ‘family’.

Mechanic of the Year Award - Josh Steeves from #13 Steve Masse team. “This gentleman is involved with a very small crew,” explained Spence. “Saw a series high of three wins and three second place finishes despite that. Led laps in 27% of the races they ran in 2013 for a total of 139 laps.” Chip Pettengill presented the award to Steeves. “This year was a little tough picking out one,” said Pettengill. “But we picked out the man we thought best for this award. Not only for his work with the team but for his work with other teams, he did an outstanding job. Congratulations to Josh for an outstanding job with the 13 car.”

Volunteer of the Year Award - Joe Doucette of Framingham, MA. “Simply put,” said Spence, “when we were strapped for help, he put his race car aside and pitched in to help.” Pete Newsham presented the well-earned award.

Dedicated to Racing Award - Charlie Pasteryak of Lisbon, CT. “This goes to a very special guy who has been involved in racing for a very long time,” explained Spence. “His career dates back to the mid-70’s. He always brings insight and knowledge to making this Series the best that it can be. And on more than one occasion, always willing, without being asked, to tow another car to the show to help the car count.” Pasteryak was surprised to receive the award. “This Series has the old school, like Jarvis, Goodenough, Patnode- the kids come to the track, like Monadnock and say ‘you race here?’ They figure it out, my son figured it out. To see the young kids go against the old guard, it’s really pretty cool.” Charlie’s son Chris Pasteryak was the 2008 and 2011 VMRS Champion, finishing the 2013 season 5th in points.

Annual Hoosier Jacket Presentation - Dan Anderson awarded the Hoosier jacket to the 2013 VMRS Champion, Rowan Pennink.

Above and Beyond Award  - John ‘Chip’ Pettengill of Westbrook, ME. “This goes to the Official that serves above and beyond though out the course of the season. This year, it goes to a guy that is really like our father. I could say a thousand things about this guy,” said Spence, “because I travel with him to and from the races on many occasions. I remember the day he came to me after a MRS race at Lee, several years ago. Waiting at the bottom of the tower for me, he introduced himself saying he wanted to get involved with the Series.

Well, give me your name, your telephone number and I’ll pass it along to Jack Bateman. Ten days go by and he wants to know if I contacted Bateman yet. I said no, no, it doesn’t happen that fast, we’re just done the season, give us a little time, we’ll hook you up and we did. Looking back on it now, it was probably one of the best phone calls I’ve ever made to Jack. He’s so dedicated and so hard working. He runs a tight tire corral, he has done anything and everything the Series has ever asked of him, he’s a friend to everybody, up and down pit row, they respect him and they love him and I’m very proud to announce this year’s recipient to a guy that is very special to all of us.”

Hard Charger Award- presented by New England Race Fuels - Charlie Holland presented the honor to Matt Mead.
Bob Polverari 711 Award - Louis Mechalides of Tynesboro, MA. “This award was conceived a few years ago by New England Hall of Famer Bob Polverari who was an active competitor in this Series in the early years. Bob wanted to do something for the Series and came up with the 711 Award,” explained Spence. “This award is presented annually to the competitor that represents the Series compassionately on and off the race track.”

“This award is a complete surprise,” said Mechalides. “I am honored that Bob recognized what I do as a racer as well as someone who loves this sport. I never got to race against Bob, our paths didn’t cross back then, but I certainly know what he contributed to modified racing. This really is pretty cool.” Mechalides finished the season fourth in points, including a win at Seekonk Speedway in June.
The award ceremonies concluded with Race Director Scott Tapley at the podium presenting a special acknowledgement of the three people who have been with the Series from the beginning- Jack Bateman, Chris Grey and John Spence.
Wrap-up Notes from The Valenti Modifed Racing Series 2013 Year:

Why did you decide to run in the VMRS series?

Rowan Pennink

“The MRS series is a racer friendly series. You go to the track it is more relaxed with a fun atmosphere every week. We go to a bunch of different tracks and it has developed into a good series and hopefully they have some good stuff in store for next season. I am excited we are going back to Airborne. That is an awesome track that is very racy and I cannot wait to get back to race there.”

Where did you get your start in racing?

Gary Casella

“Thirty years in racing, from a start in 1983 in Colorado in dirt, Casella learned racing by doing, by building his own cars. It was Wayne Helliwell who helped step up the learning curve. “Wayne Helliwell, Sr. is the only person who ever helped me in my career and it was awesome. For whatever reason, he needed a car and he asked to borrow the car, I had a pro stock at the time, we took it to his shop, he helped me with the set up and taught me there was more than just putting a car together, there was technology involved.”

Was there any major different between your championship season this year and last year?

Rowan Pennink

“We did not have any DNS this year. We had one DNF (did not finish) but were able to bounce back and back that up with the thirteen top fives. Also last year we had a few DNFs which hurt us in the points last year.”

“The competition in the MRS series has been brought up a notch with new teams competing. There is a lot of good cars every week and for most races they are sending cars home. It has become a very tough series. The competition has stepped up a lot and a lot of teams have upped their game and it is a tough series. We won two races two races this year but I would have thought we would have won more. The competition is tough and it is real tough to get a win. It is really cool to see this series grow. It has come a long way and I am excited for next year.”

From “The Mountain Series” to a “New England Modified Series”

John Spence, Sr., has grown to be known as the voice of the MRS. We took some time at the end of the season to ask him some questions on his opinion of the series most notable points and key history. Here are a few of his thoughts:

“The first race at Monadnock Speedway occurred after a meeting that Jack Bateman had in the winter of 2003 with some hopeful competitors in the series. Nineteen race teams showed up and then he had twenty-two teams’ show up for the opener. The fact that the opening night race went 85 laps before the first caution came out was amazing. These guys had never raced long distance races. They had only ran Saturday night 30-35 lap feature events. The fact that they went out there and cranked off 85 fast laps in front of a huge crowd at Monadnock with only one caution thrown got me right from the get-go and stood out as a notable point for me.”

“The fact that we got into Connecticut is huge. I know when we first started we were considered the “Mountain Modifieds” because we were principally running in New Hampshire. And we ended up getting that first call from Waterford. There was a lot of curiosity with that race. A lot of people turned out and a lot of people were kind of standing back taking a look at what this is all about. And that turned out well. We ended up with a good relationship with Waterford Speedbowl. Then Don Hoenig of Thompson Speedway came on board and has been so supportive of the series. Then Mark Arute jumped on the wagon at Stafford Speedway and we are delighted to be there”.
“Just the fact that Connecticut is so well known as a Modified state and we were right in the heart bed of Modified racing. To think that that would have ever happened was hard to think that it would have ever happened. Some would say it is supposed to be a New England series and it really is. That is what Jack wanted to do from the beginning.”

“But all and all being added to the World Series at Thompson Speedway. That is huge for this series. And I think that bodes well that the two years that we have been a part of that weekend show to see how well the race drew.It drew very well and we saw two very competitive races. I know when I came from the tower this past fall at Thompson Speedway that Saturday night I was quite proud of the series. I thought we hit a home run for Don Hoenig again.”

Source: Denise DuPont/Polly Reid / TheChromeHorn.com
Posted: November 27, 2013

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