Photo: Michael Jaworecki Myracenews
NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour News & Notes: NAPA Auto Parts Spring Sizzler 200
After two weeks off, the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour is back on track this weekend at Stafford Motor Speedway for the 47th annual running of the NAPA Spring Sizzler 200.
As the tour gets ready for the return to competition with the prestigious event at the Connecticut half-mile, the paddock area will be without one of the most successful drivers in the history of New England asphalt modified racing.
Ted Christopher, a former Whelen Modified Tour champion and multiple-time Stafford SK Modified champion, lost his life last September en route to competition at Riverhead Raceway. He won 12 times across 95 Whelen Modified Tour starts at Stafford — including five times in the Sizzler — and won a total of 131 races across multiple different Whelen All American Series classes at Stafford, which is a mark that currently is the all-time best.
Even though Christopher isn’t going to be in competition, one team in the field is honoring his legacy with Woody Pitkat — another former Stafford regular — behind the wheel.
Pitkat, of Stafford, is second on the all-time wins list at the half-mile, and scored his first career Whelen Modified Tour victory at the facility in 2014. He drives the No. 82 Horton Avenue Materials Chevrolet for Danny Watts, the same car that Christopher drove for eight races in 2017 before his tragic death.
“It definitely means a lot to drive the car, Danny could have called a lot of other drivers, but he called me,” Pitkat said. “I don’t think a lot of people know how close I was with Ted back before I got into SK Modifieds. It’s a huge honor to be able to be in the car. It hits home.”
Growing up, Pitkat found himself looking up to Christopher from the stands as he started to learn the ropes of competition. Before long, he was running side-by-side with the modified veteran on the track, learning from his each and every move.
“When I was running Late Models, I flew around on the plane with him, I flew to races with him, and I was kinda like a crew member with him, we did a lot together,” Pitkat said. “He did so much for me, even off the track and outside of racing with my truck. The stories, looking at old pictures I still have from years back, he was even the one who told me to try wearing glasses at night because he thought it would help me. He meant so much to me, and the entire racing community.
“It means the world to me to be able to ride with his name on the passenger door.”
In 37 career Whelen Modified Tour starts at Stafford, Woody Pitkat has two victories — including the 2015 NAPA Spring Sizzler. (Adam Glanzman/NASCAR)
At Stafford, Christopher was a staple in the paddock each week, and one of the most feared drivers to compete against on the track. He won nine SK Modified titles across three decades, and captured his last Stafford win just a week before his death. His number was retired from SK Modified competition as part of the NAPA Fall Final in October of 2017.
“Since Ted’s first win in 1986 to his last win on September 8, he has been a fixture at Stafford,” Stafford General Manager Mark Arute said in a statement last September. “We will miss TC, but we will never forget him.”
Pitkat’s Whelen Modified Tour career took off in 2014 when he teamed up with Buzz Chew Racing and captured his first two wins at Stafford and New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
In 2015, he went to Victory Lane one time, in the Sizzler at Stafford, and made a run at the title — finishing third in the standings. And just as it seemed he was going to make a serious run at reigning tour title holder Doug Coby, Pitkat lost his ride when Chew decided to shut down his Whelen Modified Tour operation. Since, he ran part-time for Kevin Stuart in 2016, part-time for Goodie Motorsports early in 2017, and then teamed with Watts for the final three races of last season following the death of Christopher.
Then, Watts asked him to take the wheel full-time in 2018.
“It was obviously an unfortunate circumstance when Buzz left, because I felt like each year we were building momentum, we ran strong and we contended for a title, and I felt like going into the third year we were really going to have a shot at winning the championship,” Pitkat said. “Before I got into the No. 88 (for Chew), I hadn’t really proved I could run for wins or the championship. Besides a few good runs at New Hampshire, I hadn’t proved myself. But now, I had a taste of the success, and that’s what I want to have. I know I can do it out there. The next chapter in my life is that I want to win a championship.”
For Pitkat, the first two races of the season haven’t been exactly what he was looking for on the track. He finished 27th at Myrtle Beach after being collected in a crash, and finished 12th at Thompson after qualifying outside the top 20. But, the Connecticut half-mile — where Pitkat is a former Late Model and SK Modified champion — could be exactly the place the team needs to get back on track.
“Going into Stafford, we have changed a lot of things on the car because we found a few things that weren’t to my liking, or the crew chiefs liking,” Pitkat said. “We are pretty much trying to get back what I had at the Sizzler when I won there three years ago. I know a lot of things have changed, but if we can go there with something I am comfortable with, it’s a good starting point. I always run good there, because of the fact that I have run there for so long. I think we should be in good shape.”
NEWS & NOTES:
Four Years, Four Winners: In the past four years of Spring Sizzler action, four different drivers have carried the checkered flag. Ryan Preece won last year’s event, while Doug Coby dominated to win the 2016 running. In 2015, it was Pitkat capturing the checkered flag driving for Buzz Chew Racing, while Bobby Santos III scored victory in his Tinio Motorsports entry in 2015. Looking for a new name to add to the list of Sizzler winners? Look no further than Kenneth Massa Motorsports driver Justin Bonsignore. Off a victory in the Icebreaker at Thompson, the Holtsville, New York, driver has plenty of momentum on his side as he looks for his first career Stafford win.
Harvey & Blewett Team Up: Three races, and three different rides for Jimmy Blewett so far in 2018. He started the year with a second-place finish at Myrtle Beach driving for Ed Partridge while subbing for Ryan Preece, then rolled into Thompson with his family-owned ride and found himself on his roof in a crash and ended with a 28th-place finish. Entering the Sizzler, Blewett teams up with Eddie Harvey, a former multiple-time car owner champion on the Whelen Southern Modified Tour with Andy Seuss. Harvey has been to the first two races with Burt Myers, where the No. 1 Citrusafe/Dunleavy Truck and Trailer Repair Chevrolet finished 13th and 16th. Blewett’s last tour victory came at Stafford in August of 2016 while he was driving for Bob Garbarino.
Home-Track Advantage: Three of the youngest drivers on the track for Sunday’s Spring Sizzler 200 are very familiar with the track. Chase Dowling, who finished second in last year’s SK Modified point standings at Stafford, opened the season with two top-10 finishes and was in position to win the Thompson Icebreaker before a restart violation. Ronnie Williams, who will compete full-time in the SK Modifieds again this season, won the pole at Thompson and was running second on the final lap before a crash. And Matt Swanson, a graduate of the SK Light Modified class at Stafford, left the Icebreaker with a top-five finish in his first start of the year. All three have been close to Whelen Modified Tour Victory Lane before, and Stafford could provide them the opportunity to breakthrough.
Back In Action: For the first time in nearly eight years, Chris Pasteryak heads to Stafford set for Whelen Modified Tour competition. In his 10 career starts at the half-mile, Pasteryak has a record of success — with four finishes inside the top five including a best of third in 2006. Although his Whelen Modified Tour competition hasn’t happened of late, the Lisbon, Connecticut, driver has been to Stafford in a Tour-Type Modified.
Whelen All American Series: Even though the Whelen Modified Tour headlines the NAPA Spring Sizzler weekend, it also serves as the kick-off for the Whelen All American Series divisions at Stafford. The Limited Late Models, Street Stocks, Late Models, SK Light Modifieds and the SK Modifieds will all compete over the course of two days. In a change from the past few years, the SK Light Modifieds will run their 20-lap feature on Sunday afternoon.
Up Next: Following the NAPA Spring Sizzler, NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour teams will be off for nearly one month before the series returns to action on Saturday, June 2, at Seekonk Speedway in Massachusetts.