The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour is headed back to the “Magic Mile” this weekend. And that means that quite a few drivers will be making a mad dash from New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire back to Stafford Motor Speedway in Connecticut to run the SK Modified feature Friday night after NWMT qualifying.
Most of the drivers flew from NHMS to Stafford in a helicopter back in July after the inaugural Whelen All-Star Shootout ended, but Ted Christopher said he won’t be doing that this week.
“We were going to fly back in a helicopter but if you can’t make qualifying it’s not really worth spending the type of money that you get for it now,” said Christopher of the $3,500 helicopter ride’s price tag. “The problem is that qualifying is so late this time compared to July. It was worth doing in July because we made it back for the heat race.”
The Whelen All-Start Shootout ended at 2:41 p.m. on Friday afternoon in July, which gave the competitors plenty of time to get back to Stafford in time for heat races to set the feature lineup. Tour qualifying was scheduled for early Saturday morning at New Hampshire back in July, which was another factor that aided those drivers.
But qualifying isn’t scheduled to even start until 5:30 p.m. this week at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Christopher said that by the time he ran his lap and got to the helipad, he estimated that it would be close to 7:00 p.m. before he would take off. He said the trip from Loudon to Stafford is 50 minutes in a helicopter without a headwind. He feels that those factors plus the lofty price tag for the helicopter ride make driving a much better option.
“Woody (Pitkat) and I are going to drive together,” said Christopher. “He was looking to fly in the helicopter with me, too. It was going to be Woody, Rowan Pennink and I, but now it’s just too expensive.”
Ryan Preece, who enters Friday’s race at Stafford 10 points back of Christopher in the championship standings, will still be flying back on Friday night. He was surprised to hear that Christopher and Pitkat would be driving.
“Really? Are you sure?” Preece asked when told of his competitors’ plans. “I guess I’m going to beat them all back.”
Preece and Christopher are in a heated battle for the SK Modified championship at Stafford, which has just two races remaining. Preece had led the standings for most of the season, aided by his five wins which is the most of any driver. But Christopher overtook Preece in the standings last week after Preece’s motor died.
But that doesn’t have Preece nervous at all.
“We are just going to do our best to finish off these last two races strong and the points will fall where they may,” said Preece. “I plan on trying to win the next two races and doing everything I can to win this championship.”
Preece is always looking for wins, but there’s one win he really wants. He wants to say he’s a winner at Loudon. He led 30 laps in July before an incident with just a few laps remaining bent one of his wheels and relegated him to a fifth-place finish.
“I don’t even know if I can explain it,” said Preece when asked what it would mean to win at the Magic Mile. “The reason New Hampshire is one of those tracks that everybody wants to win at is it’s not only our biggest track but it’s very difficult to win. You have to be at the right place at the right time.”
If Preece wants to win at Loudon on Saturday he’ll most likely have to go through Christopher just like he will for the championship at Stafford. In July, Christopher led 28 laps in a thrilling race that set a record for lead changes at 35. He’ll be in the same car this time around as well.
Christopher has 101 career wins at Stafford, eight SK championships at the Stafford Springs, Connecticut oval, and five wins at Loudon. He knows how to get the job done at both tracks that he’ll be racing at on Friday.
So is Christopher feeling any stress?
“I’ve been doing this for a long time,” Christopher said. “The only stress I have is at work.”
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Regional Editor (CT, Long Island, NJ) – Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo Credit: Rick Ibsen/Speed51.com