RPW Column: The Champ Trail; Reliving The World Series At New Smyrna, Other Racing & More…

RPW Column By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – The World Series at New Smyrna got the green on Friday, Feb 6. Tour type Modified Racing at New Smyrna began on Monday night, Feb 10. There were 32 cars on hand.

Of those, 28 took time in order to qualify for starting spots. To no ones surprise Matt Hirschman was the fastest of the fast as he toured the half milr oval in 17.257 second fastest. Patrick Emerling was second fastest at 17.278. Rounding out the top five were Anthony Nocella, Craig Lutz and Ryan Preece.

The top four were inverted for the start of the 50 lapper. Lutz led the field to the start. Nocella was at his finest as he grabbed the lead after a lap one restart and went on to lead the remainder of the event to take the win over Hirschman by less than a half car length. Emmerling finished third with Preece and Lutz rounding out the top five.

Sam Mayer won the ARCA Menards East 175. After two nights of light attendance the grandstand at New Smyrna was almost full. Dick Berggren was at Volusia’s dirt track on Sunday night where they had so many UMP cars they had to break the field in half, running each half on every other night. “The WoO outlaws feature had 27 410-engine cars and an incredible race that went to two to go before the first yellow. The grandstand capacity was significantly increased, I’d say by a factor of at least one-third and every seat was taken. Great racing, full fields, lots of passing in both divisions.”

Anthony Nocella’s car was based upon a Raceworks Chassis, a fitting tribute to Ed Flemke Jr and his dad, Steady Eddie Flemke Sr. Mike Petit provided the power. Ryan Preece used a CD chassis which is basically a 20 year old BoDyne chassis designed by Geoff Bodine and Bob Cuneo.

On Tuesday night 31 Modifieds were on hand for qualifying for the scheduled 35 lapper. Matt Hirschman was again the fastest qualifier with a time of 17.204 seconds. Second fastest was Monday night winner Anthony Nocella.Craig Lutz was third fastest with Patrick Emmerling and Ryan Preece rounding out the top five. The top two were inverted for the start.

For the second time in two nights, a first-time winner visited victory lane Tuesday night during the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing at New Smyrna Speedway. Craig Lutz of Miller Place, New York grabbed the lead from Monday night winner Anthony Nocella on a restart with 11 laps to go and held off a charge from Matt Hirschman to win the 35-lap feature.

“It’s huge. To come down to Florida, you race against the best of the best. I’m just so grateful for this opportunity,” Lutz said on the NBC Track Pass broadcast. “I have the best car owner imaginable. This one is a little extra special between me and my dad. This car was out of our garage. I’ve got an awesome team; part of my tour guys came and part of my guys are at home on the TV checking in all the time. It wasn’t pretty but we got the job done.” The turning point of the race occurred on a Lap 24 restart when Nocella, the leader at the time, elected to restart from the outside groove with Lutz to his inside. Lutz took advantage of the opportunity, rubbing nerf bars with Nocella before powering away with the lead down the backstretch.

Nocella wasn’t overly excited with the pass made by Lutz for the lead, but recognized after the race that he did what he needed to in order to win the race. When Nocella got out of shape on the restart with 11 laps to go, Matt Hirschman slipped into the second position. From there, he chased down Lutz and challenged for the lead. Like on Monday night, Hirschman came up just short when the checkered flag waved.

The 2019 Modified Racing Series champion Mike Willis, Jr. and New York racer Brad Vanhouten from Long Island completed the top five.

Without a doubt, the Wednesday night John Blewett III Memorial 76 had to be one of the best races ever witnessed. During the closing laps Anthony Nocella and Matt Hirschman ran wheel to wheel in a brilliant display of driving. The pair came across the start finish line in what appeared to be a dead heat or tie. A slo-mo finish also appeared to make it a tie. The starter broke the tie as he indicated that Noscella nipped Hirschman by inches. It was a tough call but both drivers accepted the out-come. In victory lane Hirschman stated “I felt I beat him, but don’t take anything away from that finish. That is a lesson right there for all you young racers out there. Not just Modified racers, but all racers. That’s how you race.”

Twenty nine Modifieds went to post. Tuesday night’s winner Craig Lutz jumped out to the early lead and led the field for the first 16 circuits of the 76-lap race. Eric Goodale, who had not been having a good week, put that all behind him as he took the top spot on lap 17. Jimmy Blewett took the lead for the first time on lap 20 before Goodale took it back one lap later on Lap 21. On lap 28, Blewett regained the lead and remained in control throughout the middle portion of the race.

Hirschman, who started second and Nocella, who started third, both saved their equipment during the first two-thirds of the race before beginning their charge to the front. Nocella followed Hirschman back through the field with less than 25 laps to go and took advantage of a late restart to get by Hirschman for second. From there, Nocella and Hirschman both worked their way by early leader Jimmy Blewett, setting up a thrilling battle to the finish. Hirschman’s young son joined Noscella in victory lane holding the checkered flag.

Behind the photo finish, Blewett ended up third in the race that honored his brother, the late John Blewett III. NASCAR Cup Series driver Ryan Preece charged through the field to finish fourth after pulling his car out of impound and starting at the rear of the field. Long Island native Dave Sapienza had his strongest run of the week and completed the top five.

A new winner emerged in the 35 lap Tour type Modified event at New Smyrna on Thursday night. Patrick Emerling, the 2019 Race of Champions (RoC) Asphalt Modified Series champion, led 30 of the 35 laps run to break the ice on his 2020 season. A late-race caution added some drama for a three-lap shootout with Jimmy Blewett and Matt Hirschman.

Emerling elected to restart from the inside lane with Blewett to his outside and used a good restart to clear him as they exited turn two. That set up a great battle between Blewett and Matt Hirschman, a battle that Blewett ultimately won to earn his best finish of the week thus far.

Twenty six cars attempted to qualify. Anthony Nocella was the top qualifier with Eric Goodale and Hirschman following. The top eight were inverted for the start with Blewett and Kyle Ebersol making up the front row. Blewett jumped out to the early lead before Ebersole made a move to his inside on lap 5. After crossing the line as the leader of the lap, Ebersole made contact with the left front of Blewett’s car, sending Ebersole hard into the turn one wall. It appeared that Ebersol’s spotter did not tell his driver that he had not cleared Blewett, Blewett avoided major contact and held the lead on the ensuing lap 5 restart. One lap later, Emerling made his move for the lead on the inside and completed the pass on lap 6. From there, the 2019 RoC Modified Series champion kept the field in his rearview mirror until a late-race caution stacked the field back up for a three-lap shootout.

Emerling elected to restart from the inside lane with Blewett to his outside and used a good restart to clear Blewett off of turn two. That set up a great battle between Blewett and Hirschman, which Blewett ultimately won. Craig Lutz and Eric Goodale rounded out the top five.

At the Daytona International Speedway Joey Logano grabbed the lead on the final lap of the first Bluegreen Vacations Duel 150-mile qualifying race Thursday night and held on for the win, but a wreck at the halfway point dashed Daniel Suarez’s prospects of competing in his first Daytona 500 with his new team Gaunt Brothers Racing.

In the second Duel, William Byron made a late charge to edge Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson for the victory by .117 seconds

The victory in the qualifier was Byron’s first win of any kind in the NASCAR Cup Series and his first after teaming with seven-time champion crew chief Chad Knaus last year.

Matt Hirschman saved the best for last as he dominated the most prestigious race, the Richie Evans Memorial 100, of the five-day Modified Tour type portion of the World Series and captured the 2020 Tour-type Modified championship.

There were 19 cars that attempted to qualify. Anthony Nocella was the quickest with a time of 17.228 sec. Second fasted was Hirschman with a time of 17.245 sec. The top two were inverted while rain fell upon the speedway.

Hirschman started from the pole position and led the first 54 laps of the 100-lap race before a caution mixed things up with 46 laps remaining. While most of the field elected to visit pit road, Jimmy Blewett remained on the track and inherited the lead for the ensuing restart. Blewett jumped out in front and led six laps before Hirschman raced back to the front to reclaim the lead. From there, Hirschman pulled away from the rest of the field to score his fourth career Richie Evans Memorial victory.

Tyler Rypkema ended a week full of mechanical issues by running a strong second to Hirschman in the biggest race of the week. He had an engine failure, a rear end failure and then we got run over on lap one on Thursday night. Craig Lutz finished third and was followed by Eric Goodale, Eddie McCarthy, Brett Meservy, Mike Willis and Jimmie Blewett

Hirschman came into Friday’s finale with six-point lead over Nocella in the standings. Nocella had mechanical issues in Friday’s feature and ended up retiring from the event in the closing laps. Nocella ended up scored 16th in the 20-car field Friday. In the end, Hirschman was the series champion of the Tour type Modified portion of the World Series by 32 points over Craig Lutz, Nocella, Mike Willis and Tyler Rypkema. Thirty seven drivers in 33 cars were in competition.

Internet racing news site Speed51 reported that Tyler Rypkema of Owego, New York, a frequent competitor on the Race of Champions (RoC) Modified Series in recent years, has made his intentions to purchase equipment from Mike Smeriglio Racing and plans to chase Rookie of the Year honors this coming season. Rypkema confirmed exclusively to Speed51 on Sunday that his family-owned team has made intention to purchase two of the Modifieds previously driven by defending NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion Doug Coby.

“It basically just came down to us knowing that it was really good equipment,” Rypkema told Speed51. “We didn’t think that they were asking an astronomical amount of money for it, and then we had a good week in Florida as far as racing smart and stuff like that. My father was talking to Mike (Smeriglio) and they were able to come to an agreement that they were both happy with. That’s how that all really came about. We didn’t buy everything. We intend to buy a couple cars and a couple other miscellaneous parts.”

While Rypkema has not competed full-time on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour in the past, he’s not a complete stranger to the series. He has six career starts on the tour, including five last season at tracks like Stafford Motor Speedway (CT), New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Oswego Speedway (NY) and Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park.

Away from the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, Rypkema is a former winner on the RoC Asphalt Modified Series, as well as a winner during the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing at New Smyrna Speedway. He’s coming off of a second-place finish in the 2020 Richie Evans Memorial at New Smyrna.

No word as to the key man, namely Phil Moran or the driver of the #2, Doug Coby.

If anyone is on the fence on buying Trackpass, It is highly recommend it based on the New Smyrna coverage. They showed all the divisions running, no commercials. The coverage is a definite upgrade from Fan’s Choice’s coverage. They have also been quick making the races available on-demand. Not bad for $20/year. New Smyrna’s website also does a really good job posting the results. Other tracks could learn something from them. Now if the track could speed up the show a bit.

NASCAR and NASCAR Cup Series team owners announced the extension of the Charter agreement through 2024. “The Charter agreement is delivering stability and long-term value to existing team owners while providing a clear path for ownership in the NASCAR Cup Series,” said Steve Phelps, NASCAR President. “We are pleased to have reached an agreement with the team owners that extends the length of the Charter system until 2024. A healthy ownership structure ensures strong, competitive racing for our fans, which is a goal the industry collectively shares.”

NASCAR announced that to honor the legacy of the sport’s founding family, NASCAR has created the Bill France Cup which will be awarded to the champion of the NASCAR Cup Series, beginning in 2020.

The renamed trophy pays tribute to Bill France Sr., who founded NASCAR in 1947, as well as his son, Bill France Jr., who elevated the sport to a national phenomenon as the sanctioning body’s chief executive from 1972 to 2003. “As the sport ushers in a new era, it’s fitting that my father’s name is associated with the highest mark of excellence in our sport,” said Jim France, NASCAR Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. “My father and brother’s vision for NASCAR has been realized, many times over, as millions of fans follow and engage each week with the best racing in the world.”

The Bill France Cup, created by Jostens, will maintain the size and shape of last year’s championship trophy and will feature outlines of the 24 NASCAR Cup Series racetracks that comprise the 2020 season schedule. The trophy design will be updated as the race schedule evolves, and new tracks are introduced to NASCAR Cup Series competition.

On a sad note, long time New England Modified car owner Billy Simons passed away. His Excavator Specials carried many drivers to the winners circle for over forty years.