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   The Chrome Horn - NASCAR Whelen All-American Series




UNOH Battle at the Beach 150

Polly Reid

UNOH Battle at the Beach lived up to its name. Starting 30th, surviving 17 cautions that included two red flags and a last lap debatable move, it was Steve Park of East Northport, NY in the Mike Smeriglio owned, UNOH sponsored Ford claiming the coveted trophy at Daytona International Speedway in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour UNOH Battle of the Beach 150.

Eric Goodale of Riverhead, NY crossed second, Ted Christopher of Plainville, CT third, Doug Coby of Milford, CT fourth and Patrick Emerling of Orchard Park, NY fifth.

Sixteen years since Park took a turn into victory lane in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, a trophy at Daytona International Speedway is now in his possession.

“This win means a lot – I was on Sirius radio today and I said you know what, three short track people are going to come out of here with a trophy from Daytona. To win the Battle at the Beach at Daytona and put that trophy on the mantel is a credit to the team and Mike (Smeriglio), he put this deal together with UNOH, I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity – we’re in victory lane.”

Taking the white flag, Park was lined up in second behind leader Mike Stefanik when contact sent Stefanik around just as he was exiting turn two. Park inherited the lead with the field following to the checkered flag.

“Mike’s a good friend of mine and I never meant to get in the back of him,” explained Park. “But I was getting pile driven from the back and I knew the way this race was being laid out it was going to get aggressive at the end.”

“We knew when we got up into the top five and it was getting later in the race that all heck was going to break loose and that it was going to be a real battle at the beach- it lived up to its name. We were just the guy that got lucky to get through the last one and get to the win.”

At the start of the UNOH Battle at the Beach 150, Todd Szegedy in the team car to Park lined up on the pole for the green with Kyle Larson on the outside bringing the 33 car field to the start. The tightly configured turns, long stretch track became a difficult challenge for the full field of modifieds who time and time again accordion styled going in and exiting the corners resulting in a feature riddled with yellows and bursts of short green runs. Szegedy from Ridgefield, CT, stayed on task masterfully executing restart after restart warding off the constant challenges of Goodale, Stefanik and Larson. Class of the field, Szegedy never waived when with 25 to go, viewers were stunned when under caution, Szegedy retired to the pits, sparks flying from near the right front- a mechanical failure ending Szegedy’s night. “First I have to say thanks to UNOH,” said Szegedy. “They’ve been behind me huge. I can’t seem to pull it off for whatever reason, it’s just not meant to be. I’m glad Steve Park won, that’s pretty awesome. I’m really happy for my car owner because if it wasn’t for Mike Smeriglio I wouldn’t be racing a car. For some reason I’ve had a lot of disappointments but eventually it’s going to turn around and when it does, I’m going to win a lot of races.”

Stefanik, who had patiently bided his time, inherited the lead from Szegedy and the seven-time NWMT champion was set to bring it home.

The final restart, one green white checker away from victory, Stefanik led the field with Goodale on the outside, Park, Christopher and Coby the top five. The field headed for turn one and that’s when the trouble started. Before Stefanik could clear turn two, contact from Park sent the Robert B. Our Co/Canto & Sons Paving Chevrolet around towards the infield- Park took over the lead and on to collect the checkers with Goodale, Christopher, Coby, Emerling, Justin Bonsignore, Brian Loftin, Cole Powell, Ken Heagy and Dalton Baldwin the top ten.

“Mike Stefanik is a guy I raced against for years in the modified division,” Park added. “He and his wife Julie have been friends of mine, of my family for a long time- I would be mad too until I knew what the circumstances were. I almost wrecked myself trying to keep off of Mike but whoever was behind me wouldn’t let off the gas- wouldn’t let me go. I was just doing everything I could but I was the meat in the sandwich. Mike was trying to slow down for the corner, I was being pushed from behind and I was pushing Mike. When he turned around I still thought that I had to get around him, that he didn’t get into my nerf bar and get me turned around and the guy in third would win the race. I truly hate it for Mike- he had a car capable of winning the race, there’s no doubt about that. The fastest car didn’t win tonight, just the luckiest car did.”

“I did not push him into it,” said Goodale after hearing Parks comment. “He was already into him by the time I got there. Me and Steve both got back to the gas at about the same time and that’s about the time Stefanik went around, like I said, he went to the bottom so I had nowhere to go except to follow the 20 through the line.”

“I thought I had myself in the perfect position there sitting third with about 15 to go,” said Goodale. “When I saw Todd go off with that flat I knew the whole dynamic of the end of the race was going to change there. I tried to be as clean as I could. I knew there was going to be contact whether it was going to be me in second or anybody else, I knew it was going to be pretty cool at the end there. We came up a little bit short - Park got into the back of Stefanik there, I wanted to pass them both to be quite honest with you but Stefanik blocked the low line when he spun there so I had to follow Steve through the hole there and ended up second.” Consistent all weekend, Goodale followed up his practice and heat runs with a positive result. “Second is not sealing the deal but we came a long way to be here at Daytona from Long Island, I couldn’t be happier for Riverhead Building Supply, my parents, my wife, my crew chief Jason (Shephard) and my brother Kevin - we put a lot of work into this car during the off season and like I said we could not finish races and it feels good to finally finish a race. It’s Daytona, I finished 2nd, I’m happy.”

Ted Christopher took the green mid-pack at 17th and brought the Jan Boehler owned, Cape Cod Copper/Silver Dollar Construction modified home for a solid third. “It was pretty good from where we started then I got hooked on somebody’s bumper, we went further back but I was pretty happy with it – all and all, not a bad day.” Christopher was involved in a caution early on and on the lap 25 restart was at the tail end of the field. It took until about 25 to go before the 3 car cracked the top ten, from there it was a sprint to the checkers. “Every time you go to a race track for the first time, it’s an unknown for everyone so guys that are off are off, so now everyone will make their cars different and you would hope it would be a better race next time. “

There was no question the win was historic and the finish controversial. But for the Mike Smeriglio Racing team they had the absolute best and worse that lady luck could possibly dish out.

“You know what?” said Smeriglio, “Steve is a professional. He grew up racing modifieds, he knows ’20 to go’. I don’t know if you were able to listen to him on the radio but he was just driving, hanging around – he just couldn’t get out of 9th, 10th or 11th but once he cleared that and they had that bad wreck, thank goodness everyone was ok, then he saw ‘showtime.’

“It’s a huge deal (to bring two cars),” added Smeriglio. “It’s a great opportunity to showcase the entire talent of this team. From Phil (Moran) to Bob (Tulipani) to ‘Hoppy’ (Harold Peterson) you know it’s all about what they do at the shop. We had a real good season last year it’s just lady luck wasn’t there. I couldn’t be more proud of the team, both the 2 and the 20.”

Crew chief for the Park machine was Ron Ste-Marie from the Old Forge, NY area who makes the calls for the Buzz Chew racing team. “I had the easy job, Phil, Bob and Hoppy they did all the work. Phil has a great bunch of guys, they had the car ready to go. “We knew we had a good car. We let Steve get some extra laps in the practice this morning- he needed to log laps and the longer he went, the faster he got and the more comfortable he got. We made a bunch of changes and picked up like half a second- got Steve where he was pretty comfortable and between Phil and I being able to talk about what the car was going to do, we just had to convince Steve of that and we just kept plugging away. Usually we don’t get this lucky and dodge all the bullets but tonight we did.”

“The guys in the shop, between Hoppy and Bob, helping out the deal came together,” said Phil Moran, Szegedy’s crew chief who also prepared the Park ride. We didn’t know until December that we were going racing so it put us behind the gun a little bit to get ready for this. We busted our backside to get it done. Thanks to UNOH for helping with this- it was a lot of hard work to get down here. To have Steve drive for us is an awesome opportunity. “

Having two competitive cars in the same event is no easy task. Moran and the crew that included the likes of Max Zachem making the trip south to lend a hand was key. “It’s pretty cool,” said Moran. “Yesterday we had two cars in the top ten in practice, today in the early practice Todd was real good and Steve was comfortable. He wasn’t real fast but he was comfortable and that’s what we were looking for him and it showed in the heat race, he went from his starting position all the way up to third and then got tangled up. That got us behind- Ron had to get that car ready, I had to get Todd’s car ready- Ron did a great job. Without this team, without Ron, I would have never, ever been able to do what we did this week- the guys that took the time off to come down, Ron had a guy from his team come down- Jeff Williams who lives here in FL called me up so he came over to spot for Steve, it all came together. Todd, he’s my driver, I’m heartbroken for him. To run that good and to not have the finish- my sadness is my car was sitting in here at the end.”

There was a truly frightful moment in the race when right after a restart on lap 117, Danny Bohn of Freehold, NJ bounced off the turn four wall making sudden contact with Ryan Preece in the low groove. Bohn rode the safer-barrier wall before the car flipped on its roof and caught on fire. Thankfully Bohn somehow walked away from the incident after a tense few minutes trying to get out of the upside down car.
Matt Hirschman’s day ended with a caution and a trip to the infield car center. NASCAR released a statement at the conclusion of the event in the media center that Hirschman was treated and released from the infield care center with a broken left wrist and will be treated at home.

The UNOH Battle of the Beach, a year in the making, is now in the record books. It took a great sponsor, UNOH, a lot of people, money and tons of effort to bring the Modified Tour to Daytona International Speedway for this event. It goes without saying that a time to shine for the modifieds fell short of expectations. What did not fall short was the unprecedented exposure the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour gained in all forms of media- social, television and print that can only happen at a place like Daytona.

Source: Polly Reid / TheChromeHorn.com
Posted: February 20, 2013

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