Brunnhoelzl starts slow but finishes fast
The 2009 season in the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour was a history making event as George Brunnhoelzl III became the fourth driver to win a championship in the regional touring series for modifieds in the southeast.
Brunnhoelzl and Andy Seuss paced the field for most of the season as the young guns fought it out over 14 events before Brunnhoelzl used a little good luck and a lot of skill to secure his first NASCAR title. The third-generation driver — originally from West Babylon, N.Y. who now calls Mooresville, N.C., home — celebrated in style during the Champions Gala in Concord last month.
Here is a race-by-race review of the season and how Brunnhoelzl and the 50-plus other drivers who competed on the Tour in 2009 did over the eight-month season.
Race #1 – Capital Bank 150 (Concord Speedway, Concord, N.C.)
It was a northern invasion as the 2008 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion Ted Christopher made his way to North Carolina and won the season-opening event. After rain washed out the season opener a week before at Caraway Speedway, Christopher quickly showed everyone why he is always a contender for championships.
Christopher started the event on the outside pole and quickly took the lead on Lap 1 and never trailed again. Burt Myers won the Coors Light Pole for the race and finished in the top five.
Northern drivers Rowan Pennick and Eric Rudolph finished second and fifth, respectively, while Brunnhoelzl managed a third-place showing. Finishing third wasn’t the surprise, it was how he did it.
Earlier in practice Brunnhoelzl was one of the fastest cars in practice, but near the end of the session the motor in his No. 28 Oval Speed/Fibrwarp/PT Ford let go and suddenly Brunnhoelzl was in serious trouble before the first green flag of the season was given to the field.
Eventually he and his car owner/crew chief/father George Brunnhoelzl Jr. worked a deal with Hillbilly Racing to rent a motor and he was able to compete.
The season also had a challenging start for Andy Seuss. Seuss, driving the No. 47 Advance Auto Parts/Q Racing Oil/Stuart Automotive Dodge for veteran car owner David Riggs, suffered mechanical problems and finished a disappointing 20th, after a broken rocker arm end his day just four laps into the event.
Race #2 – Whelen Southern Modified 150 (South Boston Speedway, South Boston, Va.)
Historic South Boston Speedway hosted a NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour event for the first time and it proved to be just what Andy Seuss needed to turn his season around. After finishing last the race before at Concord Speedway, Seuss piloted his Dodge around the tight track and won the race in the home state of his car owner David Riggs.
Seuss brought himself back into the points race quickly with the win. The race was also the first top-10 finish of the season for veteran Gene Pack in a sign of things to come for the racer. The race was also the first top-five showing of the season for the 2008 NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour champion Brian Loftin. He finished a disappointing 15th in the season opening race.
Race #3 – Caraway Speedway 150 (Caraway Speedway, Asheboro, N.C.)
The first race of the season at the “home track” of the tour was next on the schedule. Christopher made it 2-for-2 in 2009 after he won the race. However, it wasn’t as easy as his first race win after having to hold off a hard-charging Seuss in the closing moments.
Veteran Frank Fleming picked up his first top-five finish of the season coming home fifth. Loftin scored another top-five finish in his No. 23 L&R Transmission/QMF Metal Solutions Chevrolet, while Brunnhoelzl III maintained his points lead over Burt Myers by just six points after finishing 11th in the race. It would prove to be the only finish out of the top-10 all season for him.
Ron Silk and Eric Rudolph also finished in the top 10, joining Christopher as northern regulars who decided to return south for the race that had been postponed by rain weeks earlier.
Race #4 – Lanier 150 (Lanier National Speedway, Gainesville, GA)
Seuss became the first driver to win two races on the season dominating the only trip to the state of Georgia for the tour.
Seuss edged Brunnhoelzl for the win and moved to within two points of him for the lead (635-633). It would be the closest Seuss would get to the lead all season.
After a one-race absence from the top 10, L.W. Miller scored his best finish of the season to date coming home third. Jason Myers finished fifth for his strongest showing of the season up to that point and defending rookie of the year Buddy Emory scored his best finish so far in sixth place driving the No. 01 RCS Construction Chevrolet.
Race #5 – Firecracker 150 (Caraway Speedway, Asheboro, N.C.)
Brunnhoelzl finally picked up his second career win on the tour, winning the first race for the tour since April by winning the Firecracker 150 on July 3.
Frank Fleming picked up his best finish of the season bringing his No. 40 Jerry Hunt Auto Sales/Pro Health Centers Pontiac home second driving for a new car owner – his wife Gina. Seuss finished third to remain in the thick of the points race just 17 points behind Brunnhoelzl III.
The showing by Fleming was his best finish in a NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour event since 2008 at Lanier. Miller’s chances for a second championship took a turn back as he finished 12th, after he and Brunnhoelzl made contact racing for the lead and collected Burt Myers in the process.
Loftin finished fifth to remain in third place in the point standings, and Myers managed to rebound and finish ninth and remain in fourth place.
Race #6 – Advance Auto Parts 199 (Bowman Gray Stadium, Winston-Salem, N.C.)
In one of the most exciting races of the season several scenarios played out in front of the nearly sold out Bowman Gray Stadium. The fans were treated to a non-stop action-packed race that featured a driver make history on the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour by winning in his first career start on the tour.
Luke Fleming was a regular competitor in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series at Bowman Gray, and his father Chris decided to let him make a start in the touring event. Luke Fleming dodged multiple crashes and even made a lap up in the race to come back and score the surprise victory.
While it was a night of happiness for Luke Fleming and his family, including tour regular and Uncle Frank Fleming, it was also a night of heartache for a pair of drivers.
John Smith appeared to be on his way to his first victory on the tour as he led with 50 laps remaining in the race in his No. 25 Tutterow Surveying/Rick’s Home Improvement Chevrolet, but his car suddenly lost power and he was forced to the garage early with an apparent pick up problem.
Seuss entered Bowman Gray trailing George Brunnhoelzl by just 17 points and he was also the victim of bad luck after he was collected in an incident on track and hit the wall early in the race and was forced to the pits for repairs.
Brunnhoelzl, also was collected in an accident later in the race and suffered a bent wheel, was able to remain on the track and finished second to build his lead to 66 points heading down the stretch run for the championship. Pack finished third for his best finish of the season and best since credited with a second-place showing in 2006 at Martinsville Speedway.
Race #7 – UNOH Perfect Storm 150 (Bristol Motor Speedway, Bristol, TN)
History was made once again on the NASCAR Whelen Northern and Southern Modified Tours met at Bristol Motor Speedway as the world-famous track hosted a combination event in August.
A total of 13 southern regulars started the race, with Brunnhoelzl credited with the win as the highest finishing Whelen Southern Modified Tour car in fourth overall.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regulars Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne also started in the event with Newman involed in a Lap 1 incident and Kahne finished 28th after engine trouble ended his day prematurely.
Burt Myers finished ninth to give the southern drivers two in the overall top-10, as eventual Whelen Modified champion Donny Lia picked up the historic win.
Race #8 – Caraway 150 (Caraway Speedway, Asheboro, N.C.)
After going through an up and down season defending his 2008 NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour championship, Loftin finally got a reason to celebrate winning his first race of the year in late August.
The race also featured Smith picking up his first top-five finish since his heartbreaking setback at Bowman Gray Stadium earlier in the month. Brunnhoelzl and Seuss finished second and third, respectively, remaining within striking distance of one another.
Dean Ward picked up a top-10 finish for the first time all season at Caraway coming in sixth, while Bobby Hutchens picked up his second top-10 finish coming home in 10th place.
Race #9 – Myrtle Beach 150 (Myrtle Beach Speedway, Myrtle Beach, S.C.)
The Myrtle Beach 150 was held at the third and final new facility in 2009 at Myrtle Beach Speedway. Although Seuss won the race in making his final charge to challenge Brunnhoelzl for the title, it was a cagey veteran who had everyone standing on their feet early in the race.
Pack brought his No. 31 Comtech Solutions/Wings-n-Things Chevrolet to the front and set a blistering pace in front of family and friends. Pack, who was born in Washington, D.C. but raised his entire young life in the Grand Strand region of South Carolina, led by as much as one-half a lap through the first third of the race.
Pack proved it wasn’t a fluke coming home fifth for his second top-five finish of the season. Another new name in the top five was that of Emory, who picked up a podium finish coming home third. Emory enjoyed driving on the challenging surface known to chew up tires and stated after the race he wished the Tour raced there four or five times a year as his driving style worked well at the track.
Race #10 – Caraway 150 (Caraway Speedway, Asheboro, N.C.)
Any momentum Seuss might have picked up winning at Myrtle Beach over Labor Day weekend was quickly dashed when he suffered mechanical problems at the Caraway 150 and Brunnhoelzl built his lead to a comfortable 135 points with his second win at Caraway since July.
Frank Fleming rebounded from a pair of last-place finishes out of the previous four races to finish third for his second podium finish at the speedway driving for his wife who assumed car owner duties midway through the season.
Miller’s chances for a top-three finish in the final season standings were dealt a damaging blow when he finished 16th after having to end the night early after getting involved in an accident midway through the race. Loftin was also collected in the accident to also dampen his efforts to become the first repeat champion on the Tour since Junior Miller won the first two titles in 2005 and 2006.
Thomas Stinson, Josh Nichols and Jim Willis all picked up their first top-10 finishes of the season coming home seventh, ninth and 10th, respectively.
Race #11 – Caraway 150 (Caraway Speedway, Asheboro, N.C.)
The Tour returned to Caraway just one week later to make up the season-opener that was rained out in March.
Seuss picked up his fourth win of the season but gained little ground on Brunnhoelzl, as the points leader finished a close second.
The race also marked the return of Jonathan Brown to the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour as he took over the seat in the No. 44 car previously occupied by Rich Kuiken Jr. J. R. Bertuccio also returned to the Tour after a four-race break and finished in the top 10.
Race #12 Made in America Whelen 300 (Martinsville Speedway, Martinsville, Va.)
Burt Myers ended a winless streak to pick up his first win of the season as the highest finishing Whelen Southern Modified Tour driver in the combination event at the paper-clip oval located in southern Virginia. Myers finished fifth overall to claim the honor.
Brunnhoelzl finished second and Frank Fleming picked up his third podium finish of the season. A total of 20 southern division cars made up nearly half of the 43-car field. NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour veteran Mike Stefanik picked up the win.
Race #13 – Lightning Fast 150 (Ace Speedway, Altamahaw, N.C.)
Brunnhoelzl all but secured his first championship with his fourth win of the season at Ace. Seuss finished second again to Brunnhoelzl to hold on to a slight chance of winning. The race marked the return of two-time NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour champion Junior Miller, but the veteran would not be a factor in the race after suffering mechanical problems and having to pit for repairs early in the race.
Mike Norman, who started driving a car owned by Gary Myers midway through the season, picked up his only top-10 finish of the season in this event.
Race #14 – Fall Classic 150 (Caraway Speedway, Asheboro, N.C.)
After rain delayed the race two weeks until Oct. 24, Brunnhoelzl only needed to take the green flag to secure his first NASCAR title.
Notables making starts in the season-ending race included Jay Hedgecock, who won during the inaugural season of the tour in 2005 at Ace Speedway, and New York native Thomas McCann Jr.
Frank Fleming used a fourth-place finish to hold on to fifth place in the year-end point standings with his fourth top-five finish in the second half of the season.
Sources: Tim Southers/NASCAR WSMT PR