The month of February in Florida is more than just a chance for race teams to compete for the first time in the season for days on end, it’s a great chance for them to gel together -- especially driver/team combinations coming together for the first time.
In the Tour-type Modifieds, one of the new driver-team combos heading south is that of Jimmy Blewett and the Bertuccio family-owned Gershow Motorsports, an all-veteran mix that has come together in the past weeks. The plan: run the full five nights of Modified racing at New Smyrna Speedway during the World Series (February 11-15), plus the preceding Kickoff to Speedweeks at Bronson Speedway on February 9.
Already, Blewett has taken time to drive up from New Jersey to the team shop on Long Island, instantly embracing a feeling of being at home.
“I’m very excited to drive for Joe and the guys, I went to the shop last week and got fitted in the cars, and it’s a really good group of guys. I never really knew who worked on the car, just seeing them at the track,” Blewett told Speed51.com. “It was cool to see what they had going on, they’re hard workers, a good team of guys that have knowledge and experience. It makes me feel comfortable going into it. I’m excited to go down there and drive.”
While firm plans to race together in the Sunshine State started around Thanksgiving, the notion of “Showtime” putting on a performance in the Gershow No. 21 and No. 2 cars goes much further back.
“Joe and I, every time we see each other we shoot the breeze and talk. Sometimes he’d say that someday I’d drive the car. Back at the Turkey Derby I asked him what his plans were for Florida and that’s how it got started.”
Blewett’s arrival will also pair him with one of the most noted crew chiefs in Northeast Modified racing. Stash Butova has gained a well-regarded reputation in his home state of Connecticut in the SK Modified ranks, as well as in Tour-types. After working with Ronnie Williams the past two seasons on the No. 21, Butova is sticking with Gershow Motorsports as they take a new direction in 2019.
Though Blewett and Butova have never been on the same team, the two have a relationship that Blewett believes will take no time to blossom come February.
“We’ve always talked to each other throughout the years in the pits, sometimes about things I was trying or things that he was trying," Blewett explained. "As far as crew chief and driver, we think a lot alike on a lot of levels, and I think that’s going to be a huge benefit for us. Everybody is going to be on the same page as far as getting the cars set up, that’s big. They’re basic guys, basic stuff, and the car’s fast.”
The past couple of years, Blewett has been the top dog at his home track of Wall Stadium Speedway on the Jersey Shore, while he has also thrown in appearances on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour here and there. At the same time, he has also kept up his trips to New Smyrna, jumping into different cars along the way.
This year however, “Showtime” has much higher expectations.
“Last year I went down there with John Jensen, the equipment wasn’t 100 percent for what we needed to win races. We did the best with what we had, but it wasn’t tip-top and we struggled," Blewett admitted. "The year before that we ran a backup car for the Catalanos, won a pole, and ran decent. It’s been good to go down there the last few years and get some racing in before the season, but I feel like this my best shot of going down there, winning races and maybe that championship.”
At the same time, the show that is the Tour-type Modifieds has surged to a 25-year high in the course of just two years, topping at around 30 cars s in 2018. Now in 2019, the Ground Pounders are on track to hit the same mark, with accomplished drivers from New England, Upstate New York, Long Island, New Jersey, North Carolina and even nearby in Florida all coming together.
Giving a large amount of credit to the tech staff led by the legendary Ricky Brooks, the roster has Blewett eager to test the mettle of both himself and his new team.
“That’s always good to see. You want to be the best, you got to beat the best. I’m glad they got the car count back up down there," he said. "A lot of that is due to the tech guys with Ricky Brooks there, he does a solid job with checking everything with a fine-tooth comb, and his rules are rules. There’s no getting past them, I like that, a lot of others like that, and its helped bring the Modifieds back down there. You can run any package and he makes it equal for all.”
As for whether or not the band will stick together after Speedweeks, Blewett says that they will decide that after Speedweeks.
“We’re going to get through Florida first and then see how it goes from there.”
The tradition of the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing continues with the 52nd running beginning Friday, February 8 all the way to Saturday, February 16 at New Smyrna Speedway. The Tour-type Modifieds begin their five nights of racing on Monday, February 11.
-Story by: Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com Northeast Editor - Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Speed51.com