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02/24/2013


PAVEMENT NOTES:
DAYTONA UNOH BATTLE AT THE BEACH
by Walter Stubbs

Itís been a while in more ways than one. Some of you are probably wondering where this column has been lately. Some could care less I really donít have one particular answer. Many factors had led me astray, if you will, from the smell of racing fuel and burnt rubber. As someone who has followed racing, and modified racing in particular, since the early 1970ís, much has gone on in the racing circles, many good and many bad. Some of these have factored into my ďhiatus.Ē To be honest, not one particular thing has stopped me from going to the races. Things just change in life, and with it more responsibilities. Your priorities also change. I guess the days of traveling five hours up to New Hampshire, then driving back the same day and then writing a column before heading to work are gone. While it may have worked when you were in your 20ís or 30ís, it doesnít bring the same adrenaline when you are in your mid 40ís. Of course, dealing with traffic and the ridiculous gas prices also doesnít help. Another change has been the racing, and the drivers in particular. There seems to be no respect on the track today for the drivers and equipment. While there might have been a few wrecks twenty or thirty years ago, and a few might have been intentional or payback, today it seems like there are more wrecks, and there not necessarily pay back, but unnecessary altogether.

With that said, itís also been a while since Iíve attended Speedweeks. 1998 was the last time I was in Florida and I guess I figured it couldnít get any better as I witnessed Dale Earnhardt claim his first and only Daytona 500 victory. It still seems like yesterday, standing on pit road, and being fortunate enough to get to slap the hand of Earnhardt as his car went down pit road into Victory Lane.

What then, could lead me back to sunny Florida in February and to pen this space? Thatís simple. When NASCAR announced that the modifieds would be racing at Daytona I had a flight booked faster than you can say Danica Patrick. For those old enough, the last time the modifieds raced at Daytona was in 1980 and the track used was completely different than that decided for the Inaugural UNOH Battle at the Beach. For this race, NASCAR though it best to set up a 4/10 of a mile track using part of the backstretch at Daytona. Tires would be used on the inner track to show where the turns would be located. This led to a track with long straight a ways, no embankment and tight turns. In the pits before the heats on Tuesday evening, no one driver could compare the track to any other that they raced on. One compared it to Chemung based on the turns, while another said it was a mini Martinsville. The closest comparison for most was Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Eddie Bohn called it two long straight-aways with a u-turn. Whatever the track comparison, at the end of the 150 lap modified event , many were left wondering what could be done to make it a better race. Thatís because the race was marred with caution after caution, with the longest stretch of green only being 11 laps. To put it mildly, it was ugly and frustrating from everyone to the drivers to the fans. So what exactly was the reason? Some blamed the track configuration, others blamed drivers being over aggressive while some blamed it on a combination of both. Eric Goodale, who wound up second at the end, probably had the best perspective. ď Lets be honest. There are a lot of tracks out there that arenít configured perfect and by no means is this track configured perfect but itís a race track. I went out there. I didnít have to take anybody out and I ran up front all race and I donít think my bumper got used until there was under ten laps to go. It was just drivers hyped up. You need to take it in stride. We had a tough year last year and I know when itís not your night, itís not your night so donít ruin the race for everyone else. Quite honestly, I donít think there was anything wrong with the track. I went out there and drove it with no problems. Racing a race track is supposed to be difficult.Ē Whatever the reason, suggestions were abound afterward on what NASCAR should do in the future for the race. Ideas ranged from putting the race on the front tri-oval, much like Loweís Motor Speedway does with the Legend cars to others suggesting making the straight-aways shorter. A few even suggested making a temporary track where the modified pits were located, putting some banking in and using temporary stands. The other rumor making the rounds was possibly moving the race to New Smyrna Speedway, now NASCAR sanctioned, and around twenty minutes from the big track. That idea wouldnít make sense as the modifieds already race there, and moving the Battle at the Beach would take the allure away for many who dream of racing at Daytona, be it just the back stretch, the tri oval or in the pits behind the backstretch grandstands.

If you asked Steve Park winning at Daytona, no matter what type of track, would be the preference over moving the race to another track. That was the reason he signed up to be a teammate of Todd Szegedy, to have a shot at winning at Daytona. Of course, Park never expected his first win in Daytona would be in a modified, considering he has raced Daytona in Cup, Nationwide and the Truck Series. But as Park said after winning the Inaugural Battle at the Beach, ďI never expected the modifieds to race here, let alone me win here in a modified,Ē said Park afterward. Parkís win, though, was not without controversy. Park, who started way back in the back due to an incident in his heat race, made his way through the calamity of cautions and was running second to Mike Stefanik when he made contact with Stefanik in turn two, sending Stefanik spinning and Park to Victory Lane. Park was apologetic afterward but was dead fast that he could do nothing about it. ď My strategy changed after we had to start in the back after our heat race. We wanted to survive this thing and if we had something in the last five laps and we are in a position to win, we were going to go for it. On the last restart we were in the inside and we got in to turn one and I never thought Iíd get my car stopped as the guy behind me (Goodale) was just pushing me so hard I could hear his motor not giving up. I thought he was going to push me right off the corner. I gathered up Mike (Stefanik) in the mayhem He was trying to do what he could to hold his position and it was just unfortunate that he got turned around. I hated it for Mike. Mike had a car capable of winning the race. When Mike got turned around I still thought we were going to get caught up going on the outside of him. When we cleared him, the spotter just screamed go go because we were going for the checkered flag.Ē

Stefanik, as could be expected, saw things differently and really wasnít in a talking mood afterward. It was apparent he was frustrated not just at what happened in the last lap, but the developments that took place throughout the race. ďI didnít see it. I saw it on my daughterís phone cam and I donít agree with what he (Park) said occurred,ď said Stefanik of what occurred. As for all the cautions that marred the event, Stefanik would only say, ďBugs Stevens said he couldnít race in this era because his knuckles would be too sore the next day. Itís just sad,Ē said Stefanik.

Eric Goodale, who was the driver behind Park and who finished second, gave his version of what happened on that final lap. ďI knew I was going to have to move Steve in turns one and two to have a shot at winning the race. I put the bumper on him and by no means did I get him out of shape. He didnít even wiggle when I got in to him. We got some separation and then he got into the back of Mike there and turned him around. I was really hoping they were both going to push themselves up high on the track and I would be able to tuck up underneath them but Stefanik spun. It probably would have been in my best interest if neither one of them spun so I could have dropped down low because I started to peek and when I saw Mike spin I had to push it back up top,Ē said Goodale.

While Stefanik had every right to be frustrated, there was probably no driver more frustrated than Todd Szegedy, who started from the pole, held off every challenge of Kyle Larson and Stefanik on all of the restarts yet wound up parking his UNOH #2 due to mechanical ills so close from victory. Szegedy himself couldnít exactly put into words his lack of success, not just in this race, but dating back the last year or so. ď I donít know what it is. Ever since the championship year where I had a chance at winning, nothing has gone right for whatever reason. Constant disappointments. Good runs here and there but disappointments just keep coming and Iím not sure why. For whatever reason, itís luck. I feel like Iím doing everything right. Iím putting myself in to position to win races but itís not happening. What are you going to do. When you only race 14 times a year, itís very difficult to overcome these disappointments. I believe when it turns around, and this is racing so who knows, but if it turns around we are going to win a lot of races. I just donít know what to do to make things better. Everybody says to keep your head up and be positive, which I am, but itís hard to ignore the bad luck this team is having.,Ē said Szegedy. And what was the culprit at Daytona. A spindle which fell out. And for a team that is as meticulous at preparation as Szegedyís team is, sometimes there is no explanation.

SPEEDWEEKS NOTES: A good field of modifieds were on hand for the race at Daytona, with strong representation from the Whelen Southern Series. One of the strongest runs put in by the Southern Modified Series was put in by Danny Bohn, who got his racing start at Wall Stadium, following in the footsteps of his grandfather Parker Bohn and Dad, Eddie Bohn. Bohnís strong run, though, came to a scary hault when his car got air borne near the starterís stand. Bohn was not hurt but his car had severe damageÖ Besides the action at Daytona, a few competitors saw action at New Smyrna Speedway in nearby New Smyrna. Unfortunately, the field at New Smyrna still didnít get as many cars as they hoped to get. One driver who did the opposite was Chuck Hossfeld, who passed on Daytona, but raced all the races at New Smyrna. Even Ted Christopher, who has had quite a bit of success racing at New Smyrna, was not in the field for the Blewett Memorial race held the night after Daytona or the Evans Memorial, held on Friday Night. While he didnít win and did have a controversial win the night before, Kyle Larson did turn heads in the Kevin Manion modified usually driven by Ryan Newman. The teenager ran up front but got in contact with Woody Pitkat, ending his night. As most of you know, that wasnít the hardest hit he took at Speedweeks. That was Saturday during the Nationwide race.. The Battle at the Beach was called by Ken Squier and Joe Coss to those in the grandstands. Coss, who announces at Stafford, talked up the modifieds but at times talked them up a tad much. More talk in the pits was that there might be a future Whelen Modified Series race at New Smyrna. We will wait and see if that happens. Finally, itís good to be back in these pages, and who knows, maybe you will see this space more often in 2013. And finally, this Weeks Quote of the Weeks goes to Steve Park, on what his plans are for 2013. ďWell, I hope to break 80 on the golf course.Ē

All views and news can reach me at 2 Constitution Court, Unit 501, Hoboken, N.J. 07030

  Source: Walter Stubbs
Posted: February 24, 2013

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