Monday, September 11, 2006

Beers captures checkers

Early pit stop proves crucial

By Brendan A. McGrail TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF

bmcgrail@telegram.com

THOMPSON— With only three top-10 finishes in the first 11 races of the season, Eric Beers was less than satisfied with his performance. But after holding off a hard-charging Reggie Ruggiero for more than 30 laps, the No. 3 Roby’s Propane Chevy team can breathe a sigh of relief. While the pit crew masterfully scheduled an early stop, Beers skillfully toured the 1/2-mile oval at Thompson International Speedway, taking the checkered flag in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour’s 150-lap feature at Modified Mania

“After the last couple of months we deserved a win,” said Beers, who hadn’t finished better than 27th in the last four races. “These guys worked their tails off.”

Beers’ team decided to bring him into the pits under caution on Lap 48 — along with half the field. The pit crew worked so quickly the No. 3 was the first car out of the pits, putting Beers in position to head toward the front on the pack.

The pit stop worked well not only for its speed, but also for its timing. The remainder of the field pitted under caution on Lap 74, which allowed Beers to move into the top five. On Lap 100, Beers made a terrific move underneath Eddie Flemke going into Turn 1 and came out of Turn 2 with the lead.

It seemed like a comfortable position with just 50 laps remaining, but a mirror full of Ruggiero from Lap 118 on kept Beers on the gas

“I got worried with Reg behind me,” he said. “Reg is fast, but I figured if I could stay a car length ahead I’d be OK.”He was. For as much as Ruggiero was able to pull close on the straightaways, he couldn’t hold the turns well enough to overtake the lead.

“The car was really super this weekend,” Ruggiero said. “I could catch the 3 going in, but I couldn’t get around him in the middle.”John Blewett had the same problem with Ruggiero’s No. 41 Atlantic Sprinkler Chevrolet. After starting 23rd, Blewett flew past the field as though he had another gear, and he sat in second by Lap 52. The No. 66 Blewett Motorsports Chevy finished third, but Blewett found it bittersweet.“I really thought we could’ve won last time (at Thompson),” he said. “I got to third there and I had to settle. I have to race this car at Loudon so I couldn’t chance wrecking it.”Not all the drivers were so concerned about that. The race finished with eight cautions and 31 laps run under yellow.Ted Christopher got the worst of it. Though he wasn’t directly involved in a wreck, race officials black-flagged him for causing one coming out of Turn 2. T.C.’s No. 36 Chevy had to sit in the pits for three laps before he was allowed to continue.What made the penalty even worse was that Christopher was trailing Mike Stefanik by just 35 points coming into the race.Christopher was in third at the time of infraction, and Stefanik finished ninth — his 11th top-10 finish of the season and ninth in a row.

Fuller makes his return

Perhaps the best sight yesterday, at least for Central Mass. fans, was the return of the No. 00 car. Auburn’s Rick Fuller was back on the track and driving like he hadn’t missed a lap all season, finishing 10th in the Whelen Modified Tour 150 — his first race since July 15.

There may have been a new paint job and a new name on the fender, but it was most certainly the same driver in the seat.

“Al Sweet Trucking is sponsoring us for the last four races of the season,” said Fuller, who was obviously ecstatic to be back on the racetrack. “I think this is most well prepared race car I’ve ever driven. The guys approach it with just the right attitude; they just love to race.”

Fuller explained that when Al Sweet trucking came on board, the team was thinking of just the last three races — but then car owner Joe Brady decided they should head to Modified Mania as well.

“Joe’s a racing nut,” Fuller said with a grin. But why shouldn’t he be? Brady’s got a great car, a new sponsor and the second-winningest Whelen modified driver in TIS history.

Alexander wins under caution

The True Value Modifieds made their first trip to the Big T yesterday, running a 75-lap feature.

Kirk Alexander was able to manipulate his No. 43 through all the wreckage and take the checkered flag under caution.

Beers finally gets off the losing side with victory

By PETER

VANDER VEER

For the Norwich Bulletin

THOMPSON -- Eric Beers erased a series of bad memories Sunday afternoon at Thompson International Speedway.

Beers won the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour 150-lap portion of Modified Mania, driving by Ed Flemke with 50 laps remaining and then keeping his cool as well as a precise driving line to defeat Reggie Ruggiero

John Blewett came from a 23rd starting position to take third, followed by Flemke and Tony Ferrante Jr., making only his second start of the 2006 season.

One year ago, Beers hit turn four so hard during the running of the Icebreaker that he separated his shoulder, missing more than a month of the season. He also crashed hard at Thompson back in August during the running of the Budweiser 150.

"After the last couple of months and all the problems we've had, we really deserved to win here," Beers said. "I wouldn't say that there's a jinx here, but it's been tough."

Beers replaced Jerry Marquis in the Boehler Racing Enterprises car before the start of the 2005 season and his inauspicious Thompson start.

Like Beers, Ruggiero pitted on lap 79"We tightened the car up just a little too much," Ruggiero said. "But we'll take a second (Sunday) after what happened to us last week at Martinsville.Ruggiero was involved in a lap 15 accident at Martinsville, which relegated him to a 38th-place finish

Blewett felt his pro qualifying effort made his efforts Sunday all that more difficult.

"We just never got the car right for time trials," he said. "Track position means everything here. After our pit stop (also on lap 79), I pushed the car as hard as I could without burning up the tires."

Blewett led late in the August race at Thompson before an altercation involving himself and eventual winner Ted Christopher ended his night.

"When we've finished, we've been very good," he saidBlewett has two wins and now a third in those races when he's made it to the end.Whelen series points leader Mike Stefanik improved his points lead from 35 to 94 over Ted Christopher with a ninth-place finish. Christopher was black-flagged for a lap 83 incident in which he was accused of purposely braking, causing a crash in turn two which eliminated Tony Hirschman.Christopher was held for three laps in the pits and wound up 28thKirk Alexander survived 13 cautions and an hour and 19 minutes of racing to take the 75-lap True Value Modified Series feature.There were two red flag situations in the event as Alexander passed Les Hinckley on lap 60.Sunoco Modified division points leader Woody Pitkat took over the lead on lap 33 when race leader Jimmy Blewett was forced to pit with a broken rear.He made it hold up over the final 17 laps, finishing ahead of Jeff Malave, Tommy Cravenho, Todd Ceravolo and Pennsylvanian Earl Paules.It was Pitkat's fourth win of the 2006 season.He also improved his points lead over Malave to six (636-630).Pitkat is also in contention to win the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series Division IV title.Leo (Bim) Adams of Woodstock won Sunday's 25-lap Thompson Modified feature in only his fifth start in the division.Adams raced late models for many seasons at the track before taking some time off."It took us a few weeks to get this car figured out," Adams said. "It's nice to be back in racing and this division is really neat. There's a good group of people to race against out there."Former Sunoco Modified racer Adam Norton of North Brookfield, Mass., took the 25-lap Pro-Four Modified feature, his first victory ever at Thompson.

Reach Peter Vander Veer at sports@norwichbulletin.com

Beers Wins; Focus Is On Penalty

September 11, 2006

By SHAWN COURCHESNE, Courant Staff Writer THOMPSON -- Mike Stefanik and Ted Christopher arrived at Thompson International Speedway this weekend locked in what looked to be a classic battle between two enormously accomplished veterans for the championship on the Whelen Modified Tour.

When the dust settled at the conclusion of the Modified Mania 150 on Sunday, many were left scratching their heads as to just how that battle got swept away by one wreck and one decision by NASCAR officials.

Eric Beers of Northampton, Pa., won the race, but the talk in the paddock area afterward centered on NASCAR's decision to penalize Christopher for an incident in which it seemed he was the victim.

Christopher was running second behind Matt Hirschman on the lap 76 restart with Ed Flemke third and Zach Sylvester fourth.

When the green flag flew, Hirschman got the jump on Christopher and Flemke got under Christopher into turn 1, with Sylvester staying on Christopher's bumper.

As the cars came out of turn 2 Christopher and Flemke made contact. Christopher slowed, allowing Flemke to get in front, but that set off a chain reaction behind him which eventually put five-time tour champion Tony Hirschman, who was running eighth, into the wall.

NASCAR officials black-flagged Christopher, bringing him into the pits for three laps under caution, essentially taking away any chance he had of contending for the win.

Whelen Modified Tour director Ed Cox said Christopher was penalized for standing on the brakes to hold up Sylvester, which is known as a brake check. Cox said Christopher's brake check caused the wreck.

Christopher said Flemke got into him and he had to slow to avoid crashing.

"I backed off the throttle after Ed bounced off of me," Christopher said. "I guess Ed Cox must be getting paid off by Mike Stefanik so he can win the championship. That was the biggest [bull] call I've ever heard in my life."

Christopher, who finished 28th, fell from 35 points behind points leader Stefanik, who finished ninth, to 94 points behind.

Reggie Ruggiero of Rocky Hill finished second, John Blewett III third.

Flemke said he got into the side of Christopher's car. Tony Hirschman saw the incident developing and said Flemke caused it. Sylvester said Christopher never brake-checked him.

Tony Hirschman, who finished 33rd, fell from third to sixth in the standings.

Cox wouldn't explain the severity of the penalty and said it didn't matter that most on the track who saw the incident said Christopher didn't cause the wreck.

"I call what I see," Cox said. "I saw it. The penalty is up to the discretion of [me]."

Flemke thought the penalty was payback for previous transgressions by Christopher.

"It wasa harsh penalty, but they see things the way they want to see them," said Flemke, who finished fourth to move from fourth to third in the standings. "If you live by the sword sooner or later you're going to get cut. This time he got cut. Was it deserving? I don't think so."

With four races left, Christopher isn't giving up his hopes for a title.

"It's going to be tough, but it ain't over yet," Christopher said.

Contact Shawn Courchesne at scourchesne@courant.com.