The sight of Tour-type Modifieds at New Hampshire Motor Speedway is not something new to the race fans of New England, but Monday brought a different face of the “Ground Pounder” fraternity to the “Magic Mile.” Monday’s open test at NHMS featured teams from the four sanctioning bodies who will compete at the inaugural New England Short Track Showdown on July 1, including the Valenti Modified Racing Series, which will make its series debut.
The majority of the ten teams in the garage had either not been to NHMS in a number of years, or not at all in their racing career. The biggest exception, 2015 VMRS champion Woody Pitkat who has both competed and won at Loudon on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. On the other hand, the Dan Stebbins owned No. 52 team and racecar will make its debut at NHMS this summer, but everyone including Pitkat, feels his experience might just give the team a bit of a leg up.
“I think that definitely gave us a little of an advantage over everyone coming here for the first time and trying to build up to it and stuff,” Pitkat told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “I think it was really good. We unloaded really well, which was nice. We unloaded out of the box with a good setup and were able to adjust on it each practice to get it better and better and better. There at the end we were pretty good and got some drafting in and stuff, which was nice because I didn’t know with this gear package how it was going to be. But, I think it’s going to be pretty good. It seems to be like it is when we’re here with the Tour car.”
Despite a wet morning, all the teams managed a full day’s testing of their machines. While most are hitting the track fresh, Pitkat is adapting to the differences between running a Modified in VMRS specifications versus NASCAR. While the engine ban of NASCAR spec motors in VMRS is the most talked about, a difference in the available tires being brought in by Hoosier is something that Pitkat was also evaluating.
“Obviously the motor with the built motor instead of the spec motor, the spec motor is 90 pounds lighter so you can put all that weight a lot lower. They do seem to handle a little better than what we have today, but we’re pretty close. The tires seem like they take a while to come in, but they seem to be good. Robbie Summers (of Hoosier) came over and asked me how they were and what I thought of them. I said, ‘I just went out there like it was regular Loudon.’ He said, ‘Yeah, I can see that.’ I probably should have used my head a little bit more on that, but everybody said they were going to be alright so I thought that was what it was going to be and just went.”
Pitkat also took some time to work with one of the series’ rising talents. 14-year-old Massachusetts native, Sam Rameau is trying to make it in Modified racing, running regularly at Claremont Speedway and making his VMRS debut last season. He got quite the education Monday afternoon. After running the early sessions by himself, he mixed it up with Pitkat with the two repeatedly passing and drafting each other in the final session.
“Woody and I had discussed a couple things before practice today,” said Rameau. “He told me that he was going to help me out on a couple things, and he’s won here a couple times so he’s a good guy to take notes from. He told me he was going to help me with lines and stuff. When he pushed me down the frontstretch it was a pretty awesome feeling.”
While Rameau took the experience with the stride of a veteran, he was humble in knowing that there are few that have a chance to do what he does at his age.
“It doesn’t really feel like you’re going all that fast, but when you look to the right and see how fast the wall and fence is going by you, it’s pretty fast; it’s pretty insane, especially when you get behind someone and you get the draft and really feel how much your speed picks up.” Rameau said excitedly.
“It’s an awesome feeling to know that as such a young person I have the ability to do this and have the opportunity to do this, to be honest.”
Rameau will continue to get opportunities to race against drivers with plenty of experience under their belts, but a number of those drivers are also getting to grips with the “Magic Mile”. Dan Meservey, Jr. is a driver with plenty of time at NHMS, but that all came more than 15 years ago. Anthony Nocella has had more recent experience, with that time coming in 2015. He has only a pair of starts at Loudon, but believes every little bit will help.
“You know how far you need to drive it down into the corner and where you’ve got to run on the track and the draft a little bit,” Nocella explained. “I haven’t run many races here, but I think just a little bit helps.”
Both Nocella and Pitkat had the most consistent fast laps on the day, with the two getting under 30 seconds on multiple laps in different sessions. For Nocella, he looks to carry over those times to the summer on a new car.
“I think we learned a lot, some with the car because this is a brand-new car for us this year. There’s some stuff that is different so we’re trying to figure that out and the track, the tires, everything,” Nocella said. “We changed quite a few things and got better than better. The gears are different than what we run with the tour, so getting used to the way the motor pulls and stuff helps. We haven’t really raced a race with this car so we’re trying to learn it as we go here.”
In the end, there’s only one real goal for everybody, and that’s to win at Loudon.
“It would mean a lot. I’ve always thought this was one of the coolest tracks to come to with (Modifieds). It would mean a lot, a real lot. It would be awesome to win a race up here. It’s great racing and one of the biggest races we go to,” Nocella declared.
The Valenti Modified Racing Series returns to New Hampshire Motor Speedway with the Granite State Pro Stock Series, Northeast Mini Stock Tour and Street Stock Showdown Series for the New England Short Track Showdown June 30 and July 1. Be sure to follow Speed51.com in the coming weeks for more.
-By Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com CT, MA & Long Island Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com