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    Getting oneself established on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour is a career accomplishment for many Modified drivers. On this ultra-competitive Tour, which routinely draws full fields of 40 or more cars, just qualifying for the races can be a daunting task.
    At Riverhead (N.Y.) Raceway, the site of Saturday’s Miller Lite 200, the level of competition can be even tougher.
    Riverhead, a longtime participant in the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series and a charter member of the Whelen Modified Tour, features “Tour-Type” NASCAR Modifieds as its premier Saturday night racing division. When the Whelen Modified Tour comes to town, the locals can get into the field, using their same Saturday night cars, on their home turf. The traveling Whelen Modified Tour regulars must fight even harder to stay in the starting lineup.
    “It definitely makes everybody step up,” said Eddie Flemke, who won the 2002 Miller Lite 200 at Riverhead. “I like it because it makes you a little better; it makes you step up [as well].
    “I’m all [in favor of] the locals trying to get into our show because it stimulates local interest and brings local fans. That’s what it’s all about.”
    Flemke, of Southington, Conn., said he welcomes the Riverhead racers into the field because he was once in their shoes. As a local driver trying to make his way on to the Whelen Modified Tour in the mid-1980s, Flemke recalls a trip to Riverhead that forced him to re-think his approach to the Tour.
    “I remember [NASCAR Competition Administrator and six-time Modified champion] Jerry Cook telling me, ‘if you want to be successful on this Tour, you need to learn to qualify.’ I remember going to Riverhead and we went home every race, because I couldn’t qualify that well. The last time I qualified poorly there, I was the slowest car in the field. We came back the following spring and I won the pole. We had definitely gone to work and said ‘If you’re going to be successful here, you’re going to have to learn to qualify.’ Since then, we’ve been able to qualify well there.”
    The experience has given Flemke an appreciation for the competition level on the Whelen Modified Tour – and the new drivers who come in to enhance it.
    “I think it’s a good thing that the locals can compete with us and maybe it gives them the appetite to do it a little more,” said Flemke. “I’d like to see that.”
    In last year’s Miller Lite 200, nine drivers failed to qualify, including veteran Jamie Tomaino, who has missed just four of the 464 Whelen Modified Tour races ever held.
    Based on the entries which have already been filed for the Miller Lite 200, at least five drivers will be sent home from Riverhead: 33 cars have pre-entered the race which has just 28 starting positions available.
    Among the Riverhead regulars scheduled to challenge the Tour’s top talent this weekend are Howie Brody, of East Islip, N.Y., Ken Heagy, of Calverton, N.Y., and Bill Park, of Manorville, N.Y. Brode has spent time on the Whelen Modified Tour, including five starts last year with a season-best finish of 12th at Riverhead. Park is ranked third in the Riverhead track point standings and has scored three top-five finishes in 10 starts in local competition there. Heagy has made seven starts at Riverhead with four top-10 finishes.
    A former champion is also waiting to take on the Tour when it returns to Riverhead. Wayne Anderson, the 1994 Whelen Modified Tour champion from Yaphank, N.Y., has spent the past several seasons at Riverhead and is currently ranked fourth in the track point standings with two top-five finishes. Anderson is remembered for delivering his former car owner, the late Len Boehler, his first Whelen Modified Tour championship.
    In the midst of fending off the Riverhead challengers, the Whelen Modified Tour’s championship contenders have a close race on their hands. The top three points leaders, Mike Stefanik, Tony Hirschman and Ted Christopher, are separated by just 63 points. Stefanik, of Coventry, R.I., holds a 21-point advantage (1,095-1,074) over Hirschman in the standings. Stefanik and Hirschman are both seeking to add to their title collections, while Christopher, a two-time championship runner-up, is seeking his first.


• With qualifying at such a premium, some of the most dramatic driving may take place well before the green flag waves. Bud Pole Qualifying is scheduled for 5:45 p.m. on Saturday. The fastest 23 cars will earn a starting position.

• Five provisional starting positions (two based on 2006 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour owner points, two on driver points and one past champion) will bring the starting field to 28 cars.

• The Miller Lite 200 is scheduled to start at approximately 8:30 p.m. Posted Awards are $74,993.

• The Whelen Modified Tour qualifying record at Riverhead is 11.562 seconds (77.949 mph) set by Chuck Steuer in 2000.

• The following current Whelen Modified Tour drivers have wins at Riverhead: John Blewett III (1), Ted Christopher (2), Tommy Cravenho (1), Eddie Flemke (1), Rick Fuller (2), Donny Lia (3) Jerry Marquis (2), Reggie Ruggiero (2) and Mike Stefanik (6).

• Donny Lia, a former Riverhead competitor and 2003 Whelen Modified Tour Rookie of the Year from Jericho, N.Y., has won the last three editions of the Miller Lite 200 at Riverhead.

• The first Whelen Modified Tour race at Riverhead was held on July 10, 1985. Current drivers Jamie Tomaino and Tony Ferrante Jr. were in the field. Pennsylvania’s Jimmy Spencer, now a veteran of over 470 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series races, won the Whelen Modified Tour’s inaugural visit to Riverhead en route to an eighth-place showing in the Whelen Modified Tour standings that year.

• Ed Brunnhoelzl, Don Howe, Dan Jivanelli, Donny Lia and Bob Park all scored their first Whelen Modified Tour victories at Riverhead.

• Riverhead Raceway is one of only two tracks to have hosted at least one Whelen Modified Tour race annually since 1985.

• Up Next: After Riverhead, the Whelen Modified Tour returns to Connecticut for the 16th Annual New England Dodge Dealers 150, on Fri., Aug. 11 at Stafford Motor Speedway in Stafford Springs, Conn.

Source:  NASCARTouring.com/WMT PR
Posted:  August 4, 2006




















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