Thompson WMT Victory Lane a Welcome Sight for “Ole Blue”
All season long, not too many drivers would’ve wanted to swap places with Eric Beers. Although any driver would be lucky to get to drive the Boehler Racing #3 machine that had been piloted by some of the legendary drivers in the history of Modified racing, 2006 had not been a year that the “Ole’ Blue” team was used to. Crashes and mechanical failures forced Beers out of a number of races and kept him out of victory lane all season.
Sunday afternoon, however, the entire Whelen Modified Tour field wanted to be in Beers’ shoes. Color them not green, but “Ole’ Blue”, with envy at Thompson International Speedway.
Beers held off a hard-charging Reggie Ruggiero, who himself was eager for his first victory of 2006 after a frustrating season, over the final laps to win the 150-lap Modified Mania event at Thompson. As if Beers’ hard-earned victory wasn’t enough, he followed it up with a championship effort in the RoC Modified race later Sunday afternoon, making Sunday a pretty good day in the life of Eric Beers.
“This whole team has stuck with me and has done a great job of getting us through this tough couple of months we’ve had here,” said Beers. “They’ve worked their balls off every night in the shop to get this thing ready. I’ve got my own cars, so I know what they go through. It’s a lot of dedication and they’ve been doing it for years and I wouldn’t be standing here in the winner’s circle if it wasn’t for those guys.”
Beers had not even finished a Whelen Tour event since late July at Holland. Crashes last weekend at Martinsville and in last month’s Thompson race, as well as mechanical failure at Stafford and Riverhead had made it a forgettable summer for the Modified veteran and his Michael Boehler-led crew. On Sunday, Beers knew that he had a good car, but when he took the lead from Eddie Flemke on lap 101, he was waiting for the other shoe to drop. Ruggiero looked to be the spoiler, charging up through the field after a slow pit stop to close to Beers’ bumper over the final laps. Going into each corner, Ruggiero would make a run and close right up to the rear of Beers’ #3, but off the corners was where Beers was better.
“The guys convinced me that I had a better car than him but I wasn’t sure,” said Beers. “They tried to pump me up and stuff, but Reggie’s like the winningest active driver on the tour or something, so that was in the back of my mind. I knew that if I could stay a carlengths or two ahead of him and not give him an opportunity to get next to me, I could beat him.“Those last 30 laps I went as hard as I did in time trials to make sure he didn’t get close.”But as Beers was fully aware of, Ruggiero wanted to win. Ruggiero is number-two on the all-time Tour win list, but was desperate to get one more to add to his total at Thompson. Over the final 10 laps, Ruggiero gave Beers all that he could handle and did everything short of getting Beers sideways with a tap of the bumper to take career win number-44. “I could get in the corner real good but we couldn’t get off,” said Ruggiero. “We were just a little too tight off. The front wheels wouldn’t turn and while I had to wait for them, he would just drive off. We just needed a slip by him. If I could’ve gotten to the side of him I could’ve held him. We were just way too tight after we changed tires. We were loose in the beginning and we made a drastic change in the pits. We had problems with the rear tires, so we came in second and came out in about 20th. That really hurt me because we had to fight all the way back, but it worked out alright.”
Early in the race though, Ruggiero and Beers each had good cars, but it seemed as if John Blewett, III was going to be the man to beat. On a day when most drivers complained of ill-handling cars, Blewett was right-on with his setup. He started deep in the field, but in the opening stages of the race, Blewett was the only driver making a steady charge to the front. Late in the race, Blewett had made it all the way up to third, but his charge was halted - not by a suddenly ill-handling car or bad luck, but by his own better judgement.
“I just ran out of a lot of stuff at the end of the race,” said
Blewett. “I ran out of tires and ran out of ambition.
Sometimes you have to settle. I told the guys on the radio on that last caution that I was sorry but I was settling because we have to race this car next week. I have two cars ready but I would like to race two at Loudon. I have a second car ready for Tommy Cravenho and I just didn’t want to put myself in a hole.
“I felt like at that point I would’ve really had to throw it in there and killed myself. I just faded back to a point where I knew that if something happened I would have enough of a cushion to get around it. I knew I had to be smart with a quick turnaround and just get to the end of the race. Those guys did it too. I know Reg wants to win one, but I don’t think at that point in the race he was going to make it look ugly up there.”
While Blewett was thinking ahead to Loudon, Beers needed a victory in the
here and now to get his WMT season back on track in the stretch run. He wasn’t
going to take it easy and see what happens. He was going to make things happen,
“You may think that if you’re running seventh or eighth. You may think, what’s one more position, who cares? But if you’re in the top three and you can see the checkered flag, there’s blood in your eyes. You’ve got to go. That’s how I am. When I’m near the front, I get hungrier and hungrier the more spots I get. I’m sure Reggie was trying his hardest to catch me, but I was trying my hardest not to get caught.“
Of course, if this had been a 300 lap race, as this date had traditionally
been in the annuls of the Whelen Modified Tour, the race outcome may have
been different in the eyes of Ruggiero, who had raced in his fair share of
the Thompson 300’s.
“I would’ve loved it if it was a 300 lap race. That would’ve separated the men from the boys. It was just a 150 lap race. We’re only halfway, I’m ready to go another 150,” said Ruggiero after the race.
Instead, at the end of lap-150, it was Beers standing in victory lane with
his family close by his side. As a full-time competitor in both the Whelen
Modified Tour and the RoC Modifieds, as well as the occasional drop-in appearances
in other Modified series around the Northeast, Beers still never lets his
home-life take a back seat to racing. His children, Kailyn and Austin and
his wife Cherie are frequent visitors to the track to support their dad and
husband and they were the first ones to welcome Beers to Thompson’s
victory lane on Sunday.
“It’s hard on me and my family because I’ll go from one track to the next track without going home sometimes. My Dad lets me get out of work a lot. It’s a lot of dedication for me and the crew too. They go to one track, drive all night to the next track and they don’t get a whole lot of sleep. That’s what we have to do to be competitive and it has worked out for us.
“My wife, my kids and my dog are first in my life. My little guy Austin
came up to me in victory lane and said, ‘Dad, did we win?’ I said,
‘Yeah buddy, we won.’ My daughter and wife were just so excited.
Just to win here and wrap up the championship in the RoC car and get a good
boost for the rest of the season means a whole lot.”
Eric Beers had plenty of reasons to smile at Thompson. (51 Photo)
Beers’ win was the second of his Whelen Modified Tour career. Ruggiero followed about a carlength behind Beers at the checkered flag, followed by Blewett, Flemke, and the semi-retired Tony Ferrante, who had an impressive run in his traditional #31 machine.
It is a short week for the Whelen Modified drivers, as they will be in Loudon, NH starting on Thursday for practice and qualifying for Friday afternoon’s New Hampshire 100 at New Hampshire International Speedway.