Stafford Springs CT – Rowan Pennink, of New Egypt New Jersey, started 18th in a field of 26 cars, chose to hang back early on, swapped right side tires during a lap-42 caution period, then went on to win the 5th annual VMRS 80 Friday night at Stafford Motor Speedway, Stafford, CT. Pennink passed race leader Woody Pitkat on lap-78.
The win was Pennink’s third of the season in four races with the Valenti Modified Racing Series, his 14th VMRS career victory, and his third series win at Stafford.
“Another awesome car right out of the trailer. Didn’t have to do a thing to it. We stuck to the game plan and ended up in victory lane. I couldn’t be prouder of my team,” Pennink said.
Pitkat led laps 44 through 77 and finished runner-up followed by Donnie Lashua, of Canaan, NH, for his best series finish. Anthony Nocella, of Woburn, MA, and Mike Willis Jr, of Grantham, NH. rounded out the top five.
Dave Etheridge, of Portland, CT, Les Hinckley, of Windsor Locks, CT, Richard Savary, of Canton, MA, Keith Rocco of Berlin, CT,, and Jeffrey Gallup, of Feeding Hills. MA, finished sixth through tenth.
Qualifying race winners were Nocella, Willis, Jr, and Lashua. Rob Richardi Jr, of Taunton, MA, won the 12-lap consolation race.
Collects Eighth NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Win At Historic Half-Mile
STAFFORD, Conn. — There has been nobody better than Ryan Preece lately when it comes to NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour racing at Stafford Motor Speedway.
For the second straight year, Preece drove the No. 6 TS Haulers Chevrolet to Victory Lane at the track’s NAPA Auto Parts Spring Sizzler 200. It continues a hot streak for the Berlin, Connecticut, driver at the historic half-mile. He’s the first driver to win the Sizzler in back-to-back years since Bobby Santos III in 2013-14.
“Winning the Sizzler, it’s a big deal,” Preece said. “Guys 30 years from now, they are going to think of me how I think of Bugsy (Stevens), Richie (Evans) and Ted (Christopher) right now. I want to move up, but at the same time, I want to create a name for myself.”
Preece, who won his second career NASCAR Xfinity Series event at Bristol Motor Speedway on April 14, has finished inside the top two in seven of his last eight Stafford starts, and has now been victorious in six of his last 16 Whelen Modified Tour races driving for Ed Partridge.
Preece won two of three events at Stafford last year, finishing runner-up in the other.
The victory was the 21st career in Whelen Modified Tour competition for Preece, and his eighth at Stafford.
To get the latest win, Preece had to gamble a little. He stayed out on the track for the entire first half of the race, while other competitors pitted. After leading for a long stretch, he began to fall back after losing the point on Lap 115. He got caution he needed on Lap 152, and pitted for three new Hoosier tires. The 27-year-old began his drive to the front and took the lead from rising star Chase Dowling on lap 171, never looking back en route to the win.
Preece led a race-high 91 laps, including the final 29.
Dowling, who led 69 laps, finished second. It was the third straight top 10 finish for the Roxbury, Connecticut, driver to open the season and his best career finish at Stafford, where he is also a full-time SK Modified competitor as part of the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series.
“Overall, it was a pit strategy race, and we had a fast car all day,” Dowling said. “I’m just trying to soak in everything we have and I appreciate all of these good runs that we have been having.”
Rowan Pennink scored his second straight podium finish back from injury with a third. Patrick Emerling, who led 40 laps, and Craig Lutz rounded out the top five.
Jon McKennedy was sixth, followed by Matt Swanson, Justin Bonsignore, Timmy Solomito and Rob Summers.
Bonsignore holds a one-point lead over Dowling, and a five-point advantage over Lutz.
The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour returns to the track in Massachusetts at Seekonk Speedway on Saturday, June 2..
NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour-NAPA Auto Parts Spring Sizzler 200 Results
At Stafford Motor Speedway
Lap length: 0.5 miles
(Start position in parentheses)
(6) Ryan Preece, Berlin, Conn., Chevrolet, 200 laps, 60.698 mph.
Lap Leaders: C. Dowling 1-54; R. Preece 55-115; P. Emerling 116-155; C. Dowling 156-170; R. Preece 171-200.
Standings: 1. J. Bonsignore, 123; 2. C. Dowling, 122; 3. C. Lutz, 118; 4. J. McKennedy, 110; 5. R. Summers, 104; 6. T. Solomito, 102; 7. D. Coby, 93; 8. R. Preece, 88; 9. C. Pasteryak, 85; 10. R. Pennink, 83.
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.”
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.