As the young batch of drivers begin to find their place in Northeast Modified racing, Todd Szegedy is one of the more recent veteran drivers to cycle out of the driver’s seat. After nearly two decades driving Modifieds, the Ridgefield, Connecticut native decided the time was right to hang up the helmet following the 2017 racing season.
With the majority of his time spent running on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, Szegedy collected the 2003 Tour title in just his second full-time season, eventually finishing his career with 19 wins on the NASCAR Tour.
Nowadays, life for Szegedy is about family, the day job and bicycling.
“Been doing good, when I stopped racing, I was thinking of ways to stay physically active and in shape, so I took up riding bikes a lot more,” Szegedy told Speed51. “Mountain bikes, road bikes, I do a lot of riding. A couple of years ago I got into cross-country mountain bike racing, so I’ve done a couple of those races, and I’ve had a really good time with it. I’m also focused on work a bit more, I work with heating and air conditioning, learning more about the trade which is awesome to be in. Plus, there’s more time for vacations in the summer with the family.”
After spending 2016 and 2017 running select races on both the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and Modified Racing Series, and having surpassed the age of 40 around the same time, Szegedy felt simply that the time was right. Especially after spending 85-percent of his life focused on racing.
“Sometimes I think that I’m still young, still in good shape, still healthy, and sometimes I think to myself that I hung it up too early. But, at that point in my life I had been racing for 34 years between go-karts, SCCA road racing, and Modifieds. So, it was a pretty long career, when I think about how I still got my health, and I’m at a good point in my life where we can do some traveling, learn more, and it just have a good time.”
Following his road racing upbringing in full-size cars, Szegedy found his way over to Connecticut’s most popular form of oval racing: Modifieds.
Starting in the late-90’s in the SK Modifieds at Stafford Motor Speedway, he also got some chances at some Tour starts. Then in 2002, an opportunity to take on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour fulltime came from car owner Don Barker to run his No. 50.
Starting with a memorable first career win at Richmond Raceway (VA) in 2002, Szegedy and the team upped the ante in 2003, winning four races in route to the year’s Tour title. He finished his time in the No. 50 car with three more wins in 2004, while also making select starts on the NASCAR Xfinity Series for Joe Nemechek. It was a trio of years that turned into lightning in bottle for Szegedy.
“The opportunity came at a good time in my life, a great opportunity. I believed in the crew, the timing was right, we made good decisions, I had the right people behind me that supported me, I had the right sponsors, and it made a world of difference. From all that even came an opportunity to run a couple of races on the Xfinity Series. It was a great time for sure.”
After a mostly quiet 2005 racing season, Szegedy found new footing starting in 2006, running for Mike Smeriglio III in the No. 2 car. Despite some teething problems at first, it didn’t take too long for the team, with Phil Moran as crew chief, to get to victory lane themselves. It would turn into a fantastic eight-year combination producing 10 wins, and only once finishing outside the top five in season points, with runner-up performances in 2007 and 2011.
“I had an awesome time all those years with them. Those cars at the start were ones that Mike had purchased from Don, they were the 50 cars, so I was very familiar with them,” Szegedy explained. “The first couple of years we had a lot of growing pains, a lot of power-steering issues, that cost us a couple of races, and other stupid things like that. We got it straightened out, then we started winning races, and running up front consistently. We had a lot of success, I wish we could’ve gotten a championship with them, we were close a number of times, but sometimes things go your way, and other times you miss it a little bit. So, that was a disappointment, but everything else was awesome, and he was great to me too.”
Following a select schedule in 2014, Szegedy entered 2015 on the NASCAR Tour with the opportunity to run one of the Tour’s most recognized racecars, the v4 Mystic Missile out of Bob Garbarino’s garage. In what would turn out to be his final full-time season, Szegedy felt it was quite the way to go out in style, notching his final NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in July that season.
“I’m thankful that I was able to drive for a lot of really good car owners, including Bob Garbarino. That car had a lot of history,” Szegedy said. “It was great to be able to get a win for him, especially at Loudon, and that ended up being my last win on Tour. At Loudon in the Mystic Missile, what better way to go out. Just awesome.”
Since hanging up the racing helmet after 2017, Szegedy has been to the race track only once. But, he still keeps up with all the happenings through the friends that he has made along the way.
“I’ve been to one race so far retired, which was at Stafford. I follow it, I know what everybody’s doing, I keep in touch with a lot of people that are in racing. I don’t spend my Sunday’s watching races on TV or watching online on Friday and Saturday nights. But, I still like keeping up with it, and talking with the people I got to know over the years.”
While he admits the desire to drive a race car still lingers, he is content in his decision. As for the prospect of getting back in a race car, it’s not out of the realm of possibility. But, not so much with a Modified, rather the kind of car he started out in before beginning his life as a ‘ground pounder’ pilot.
“I don’t regret it. There are times I feel like I would love to get back in a car because I love the art of driving a car. I’ve gotten some phone calls and some opportunities the last two years to get back in a Modified, and I haven’t. I’d still love to get back in a road racing car, but I haven’t pulled the trigger on anything, I talked to the owner of a Trans-Am car about possibly driving it. So, never say never.”
-Story by: Connor Sullivan, Speed51 Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Speed51