RPW Exclusive: The Champ Trail; Stafford’s Fall Final, Race Of Champions & More…

Column By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour returned to the track for the annual NAPA Fall Final at Stafford Motor Speedway. Saturday morning at Stafford saw a hint of fall with highs in the 40s before the sun came up.

A banner field of open wheeled Modifieds were on hand including 34 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour cars, 34 SK Modifieds and 33 SK Lights. It was great to see the late Bob Potter remembered with his car number (51) and checkered flags painted on the infield grass. Potter’s car, the 51 that he and Jiggs Beetham built in the Freddy’s TV garage in Norwich paced the field with former SK Modified champion Jerry Pearl at the wheel. Mike Stefanik was also remembered as a throw-back X-6 driven by Timmy Solomito paced the Whelen Modified Tour field.

In somewhat of a surprise, Chris Pasteryak took the pole for the Fall Final. Pasteryak toured the half mile oval in18.515mph which equates to 97.218mph. Doug Coby was a tick off with a time of 18.548 which placed him on the outside pole. Bobby Santos III was third fastest with Justin Bonsignore and Ron Silk rounding out the top five. In other Saturday action at Stafford, feature events for its Limited Late Model, and Street Stock divisions, as well as a feature event for the Vintage All-Stars and the special Ladies Challenge feature that raised over $18,000 for various charities were run as part of the Saturday NAPA Auto Parts Fall Final Weekend festivities.  The Street Stock feature was also the third and final leg of the RSMPCO.com Street Stock Triple Crown that split $4,500 from RSMPCO.com among the top-10 finishers with Meghan Fuller taking home the winner’s share of $1,000.  Taking feature wins were Matt Clement in the Limited Late Model feature, Fuller in the Street Stock feature, Don Howe in the Vintage All-Stars Feature, and Nicole LaRose in the Ladies Challenge.  Jeremy Lavoie clinched his second consecutive Limited Late Model track championship and Zack Robinson became the 2019 Street Stock track champion.

Sunday dawned bright with mid 70-degree temps. The perfect weather led to a near capacity crowd that witnessed the inaugural win of Craig Lutz ending a long dry spell. Lutz, who was making his 66th start on the tour. Lutz who has been a contender all year, took the lead from Doug Coby on lap 118 and in the end was pulling away from Justin Bonsignore who had passed Coby who was beginning to fade, held on for third. Chuck Hossfeld, who did an all nighter after running in the Race of Champions at Erie Pa, finished fourth. Matt Swanson, in Ole Blu, rounded out the top five. Ron Silk finished sixth, followed by Bobby Santos III, Woody Pitkat, Chase Dowling and Patrick Emerling.

Lutz started ninth and rode inside the top 10 for the duration of the race but shined when it mattered most. Chris Pasteryak earned his first career Mayhew Tools Dominator Pole award in qualifying, and led the first six laps, before Coby took control. Bonsignore took the lead from Coby just before halfway and paced the field until a caution just after lap 100, when leaders pitted multiple times for tires. It would be the only caution of the day that Coby, Bonsignore and Lutz entered pit road.

Pasteryak would lead eight more laps after cycling back to the lead, but couldn’t hold the top spot, as Coby slid by, then a restart gave Lutz his opportunity. Lutz passed Coby and never looked back, minding a gap back to Bonsignore for the final 10 laps.

Twenty six of the original 34 starters were running at the end. Sixteen were on the lead lap. Five cautions for 27 laps slowed the event. The first caution came on lap 14 when JB Fortin spun on the front stretch and collected Tyler Rypkema. Fortin continued and was able to finish 17th while Rypkema retired with a broken axle. The second caution was displayed on lap 28 when Fortin spun in turn three. The third caution came on lap 41 when Sam Rameau took a hard lick in the turn 1 wall. Rameau emerged unhurt bit his car was done for the day placing him 32nd in the finish. Debris in turn three brought out the fourth caution on lap 103. The fifth and final caution was displayed on lap 111 when the track was blocked by a five car wreck. It appeared that Ron Silk hit Eric Goodale who lost control and hit the fence, breaking a spindle. Also collected were the cars of Anthony Nocella, Andrew Molleur, Silk and Timmy Catalano.

Coby now leads Bonsignore by 19 points with one championship points race remaining in search of his sixth NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship. Silk sits in third spot some 68 points back. Lutz and Swanson round out the top five

The NAPA Fall Final 150 will air on NBCSN on Friday, October 4, at 7 p.m.

The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour returns to the track for the annual Sunoco World Series at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park, the final race of the season, on Sunday, October 13.

In other Sunday action at Stafford, taking down feature wins were Todd Owen in the SK Modified® feature, Wayne Coury, Jr. in the Late Model feature, and Teddy Hodgdon in the SK Light feature.  Owen’s win meant he ended the season tied with Ronnie Williams in the points standings, but Williams had 5 wins this season to Owen’s 4 to make him the champion for the second consecutive season.  Hodgdon came into the NAPA Fall Final as the SK Light points leader and he won his first Stafford championship in grand style by winning the race.

The 69th Annual Race of Champions was contested this past weekend at Lake Erie Speedway (PA), continuing one of the most storied traditions in Modified racing. Despite a constant threat of rain that eventually temporarily delayed the Race of Champions 250, “Big Money” Matt Hirschman wouldn’t let it rain on his parade, scoring his seventh Race of Champions 250 win.

Hirschman led the field from the start, saving his tires while leading the field from the drop of the green flag. His red 60 modified would go on to lead through the fuel stop, before finally pitting for tires during a caution on lap 157. George Skora III would inherit the lead during the pit cycle, taking the lead just in time for a quick lake effect rain shower to douse the Erie, PA facility on lap 171. Despite Skora III’s prayers for the event to end, a valiant effort by track officials was able to dry the track through spitting precipitation and fog that had rolled in off the track’s namesake lake.

Skora led briefly following the rain delay, but Hirschman had no problem cutting through the field with fresh tires. Hirschman fell to tenth on the pit cycle but returned to the lead just 15 laps later. Despite late charges by Skora III and Eric Beers, Hirschman never looked back, leading the last 60 laps to score his fifth straight Race of Champions 250 win, adding to his wins at Oswego and Chemung. Eric Beers finished second with Skora, third. Scott Wylie and Austin Beers rounded out the top five. Sixth thru tenth were Chuck Hossfeld, Patrick Emerling, Daren Scherer, Mike Leaty and Randall Richard. At the conclusion of the event Hossfeld and Emerling did an all nighter as the high-tailed it to Stafford Springs Ct to compete in the NASCAR Whelan Fall Final Modified Series event.

Down on Long Island, Tom Rogers Jr. scored his 5th NASCAR Modified victory of the 2019 season Saturday night at Riverhead Raceway in a season ending 50-lap contest. The win was the 57th of Tom’s career moving him to just six wins behind all time track leader the late “Charging” Charlie Jarzombek. Rogers also won his 10th Figure Eight event of 2019 tying him with the late Joe Biondolillo Jr. for second on that all time win list with 53 tallies each. After a rough 2018 season weather wise that saw Riverhead Raceway rained out eight times the 2019 Saturday night NASCAR Whelen All American Series ran straight through from May until Saturday night without a rain out. The only blemish during the summer was two Wednesday night washouts in August. Dave Brigati was runner-up in his JDL Environmental Chevy while Chris Young  wrapped up an impressive season with a third place finish in the Riverhead Building Supply Chevy. Dylan Slepain of and John Baker completed the top five.