“You can’t win the race on lap one!”
That was what one of Jon McKennedy’s crew members yelled to his driver shortly after their No. 73 Modified was parked in victory lane at Star Speedway (NH) at the conclusion of the SBM 125. While it is somewhat of a cliché along the lines of “biding my time” or “to finish first you must first finish”, it was also the philosophy that McKennedy used to notch his second career victory in the event.
While other drivers used up their tires, got drawn into wrecks or found some other type of trouble, McKennedy laid in wait throughout most of the event. He started ninth and just hung around the middle portion of the top-10 for much of the race.
If the event ended at lap 100, he wouldn’t have even gotten a podium finish. Yet McKennedy knew exactly when to get going as he took the lead with less than ten laps to go and trucked on to a victory over Les Hinckley, Richard Savary, Steven Masse and Anthony Nocella.
“It all worked out for us,” said McKennedy. “We stayed out of trouble and knew it was our race to win. We didn’t have to lead much, we just had to go for the win (at the right time).”
The Star race was the second in the Tri-Track Open Modified Series. While the script played out in similar fashion to last month’s Bullring Bash 100 at nearby Lee USA Speedway (NH), there were a few plot twists involving the actors this time around.
At the Lee race, Hirschman took biding his time to the extreme. He came close to getting lapped on multiple occasions and, like McKennedy at Star, waited until the extreme end to make his move. At Star, Hirschman was the rabbit. He started on the outside of the front row and led early and often. He was nearly untouchable before halfway in the race as he looked for his third straight SBM 125 victory.
“We were starting second and we won this race two years in a row by leading a lot of laps,” said Hirschman. “So we figured, ‘Why not try that again?’ But the third time was not the charm for us. Up until our pit stop, everything went according to plan. After the stop, we just lacked grip with our new tires. It surprised us and things didn’t work out.”
Hirschman stayed on the lead lap, but finished 13th. Hirschman did get a consolation prize though – he earned a payout of $4,141 thanks to a generous lap leader bonus that was possible due to the financial support of many businesses and fans who stepped up and put money into the pot of bonuses for the race.
In fact, the event was the richest race ever in the history of the track. McKennedy earned over $6,000 for his victory in what has quickly become one of the most prestigious Modified races of the year thanks to organizers Kevin Rice, James Schaefer and the Webber family.
“This is a tougher race than when I first won in (in 2011),” said McKennedy. “We had 30 of the toughest cars in the Northeast here. To come out on top of them all is something.”
The final leg of the Tri-Track Modified Open Series is set for Seekonk Speedway (MA) on July 23rd with the tenth annual running of the Modified Madness show.
Will to Win Almost Overcomes Older Tires for Hinckley
Les Hinckley had no business contending for the victory in the closing laps of the SBM 125.
He was making his first start of the year and he was on much older tires than his competition. Yet Hinckley’s desire to win almost overcame that harder rubber as Hinckley almost pulled off the big victory by going side by side with winner Jon McKennedy in the final laps of the race.
Hinckley has had plenty of setbacks in his personal life over the past few years. His car owner and longtime, Chuck Montville, passed away. Hinckley bought the remains of Montville’s No. 06 team but has not raced much at all. That limited schedule got even smaller a few months ago when Hinckley’s eight year old son Allen fell ill. Various tests and hospital visits brought a diagnosis of a congenial arachnoid cyst with subdural hematoma. Allen has undergone three brain surgeries in recent months and racing has taken a very distant second place on the elder Hinckley’s list of priorities.
It wasn’t until less than 24 hours before the start of the SBM 125 that Hinckley decided to enter the race.
“Last night, we decided to race,” said Hinckley. “The car was sitting in the garage ready to go and I had been watching how my son has been doing. If he had a decent day Friday, we would go racing. He’s had a decent few weeks and he wanted me to race. He even helped me load up the car and was mad that he couldn’t come to the track.
“I can’t thank the race fans enough for the support that they have given our family. It’s been tough and that has helped.”
Hinckley started deep in the field and pitted early for tires. Just past the halfway point, he was contending for the lead.
“We pitted early because he didn’t qualify well and we had to try something,” said Hinckley. “It was our only chance to give us a shot at winning and it almost worked. We just didn’t need the last restart. The longer we went, the better that the car was, but on the restarts it took a little time to get going.”
Hinckley finished second.
Ramstrom’s Modified Debut is a Success
Most people know Derek Ramstrom as a winner on the PASS North Super Late Model tour. Others may know him as a former Super Late Model champion at Thompson Speedway (CT) or a former competitor in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East.
If the SBM 125 is any indication of things to come though, race fans are going to start knowing Ramstrom as a top-notch Modified driver. Ramstrom ran strong and stayed out of trouble at Star. He finished 10th in his first ever Modified start.
“I love racing the Modified,” said Ramstrom. “It’s a blast and it’s a lot of fun to drive. It’s a lot different from the Super Late Model. I ran quarter midgets for years and I want to say that helped a little. We only got about 50 laps of practice on Wednesday night before this race and that’s my time in a Modified so far.”
Savary Saves the Best for Last
Richard Savary stayed under the radar for most of the SBM 125, but came through late to finish in the third position.
“My hat is off to my crew,” said Savary. “They gave me a great car and a great pit stop. We paced ourselves. If you go too hard too early with these tires, you have nothing at the end. So we kept moving up and after every restart, we would gain two or three positions. We stayed on the outside after the restarts and I knew that would work because I raced here for a few years and I know that the outside can work.”
Seuss Homecoming Runs Into Late Race Trouble
The SBM 125 is a home race for Andy Seuss. He is from Hampstead, New Hampshire – just 20 minutes away. Last year though, Seuss moved to North Carolina where he is the current point leader on the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour. He still occasionally heads back home though to race the #70 Modified that his family owns. For Star, they had a new chassis under the tried and true bolt-on parts of the #70. Seuss started outside the top 10 at Star and moved up as high as third during the race. A good finish was not to be though as Seuss first got caught up on restarts and then had a flat tire late in the race. He ended up finishing 14th.
“One of these days, this race will be good to us,” said Seuss. “We just got in some of the wrong lanes for the restarts and traffic messed us up. The guys who finished up front were the guys we were racing with all day. We raced with the #73 (of race winner Jon McKennedy) for a while and were pretty close. But in the end it wasn’t our day. It was still good to be together with the old team for this year and although they worked hard, we still had a lot of fun.”
Pitkat Adapts Quickly to Star
Woody Pitkat had never raced before at Star Speedway and he didn’t get to take advantage of any practice time either. Pitkat got the last minute nod to drive the #6MA Modified, but had to attend a charity bowling tournament on Saturday afternoon. He got to Star too late to get any practice laps in and ended up having to run the consi just to get into the race. Still, Pitkat learned quickly. He ended up finishing seventh.
-By Mike Twist, Speed51.com Correspondent. Photo Credit: Rick Ibsen/Speed51.com Photo