Brunnhoelzl captures second Whelen Southern Modified title
On the surface, they are two seasons appearing to be virtual carbon copies of one another.
George Brunnhoelzl III won five races in 2011, finished in the Top-5 in 12 of 14 races and never finished outside the Top-10 en route to the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour championship. Two seasons prior, Brunnhoelzl also won five races with 13 Top-5 finishes in 14 starts en route to his first career Whelen Southern Modified Tour crown.
But as comparable as the two championship seasons appear to be on paper, they were wrought with different challenges. Namely among them: the broken sternum Brunnhoelzl suffered in a 2010 crash at New Hampshire Motor Speedway – an injury that sidelined him for a race and broke the momentum he was slowly building competing on the northern-based NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.
“I’ve raced basically my whole life, since I was 16 years old,” said Brunnhoelzl, 29, a native of West Babylon, N.Y. “That was the first race I’ve ever had to skip because of injury – it makes you realize how anything can and will happen.
“It was tough to overcome missing my first race. Mentally, it puts you in a frame of mind where you want to maybe race more aggressively to make sure it doesn’t happen again while you’re running around other people on the track.
“Running this year like we did, you don’t have to worry about accidents or anything.”
He certainly didn’t. Brunnhoelzl stormed out of the gate this season, winning the first two races of the year and never surrendering the top spot in the standings.
He said there’s no magic formula for the success – and having his father, George Brunnhoelzl Jr., turning the wrenches on the car is the biggest reason for his results.
“There’s no secret,” Brunnhoelzl III said. “It’s just a good combination with me and my dad communicating and having a great team behind me to put the car together so you never have to worry about things falling off the car or going wrong. Its an awesome owner like Howard (Harvey). It’s just the whole team.
“You couldn’t take any one piece out of the puzzle and have the same outcome.”
There were a couple of hiccups on the road the the championship. A crash at Bristol Motor Speedway in August was the first, and a disappointing seventh-place finish at Langley Speedway over Labor Day weekend was the second. In both cases, Brunnhoelzl did what championship drivers do – he rebounded.
He finished second at Caraway Speedway following the Bristol wreck – while his teammate Andy Seuss won the event – and he bounced back from Langley with a win in a 125-lap event at historic Thompson International Speedway in Connecticut.
“As far as getting our act together – Langley would fall into that category,” Brunnhoelzl said. “Everybody was pretty disheartened after Langley. We just totally missed it on the setup and weren’t very good at all in the race. I’d much rather be running up front and have something happen then run 150 laps and finish seventh or eighth. It was a turning point for us. We said we were going to figure out why it happened and make sure it never happened again – and then the next time out, we won again.
“The win at Thompson was one of the biggest highlights of my career. My family has raced up there for three generations. It’s really cool to be able to say I’ve won at a track like Thompson. It’s a place that carries a lot of prestige to win there.”
Brunnhoelzl plans to be back to defend his NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour championship in 2012 and continue carrying the Modified racing banner in the southeastern part of the country.
“It’s great to be involved in Modified racing to begin with,” Brunnhoelzl said. “A championship in the south is great. I think it’s growing. I hope it’s growing. We all agree we’d like to see Modified racing in the south start to get closer to where it is in the north. That’s where Modifieds were born and bred, and hopefully we can get the south built up and be that much more competitive.
“I don’t see why it can’t.”
Here is a look back at some of the highlights of Brunnhoelzl’s championship campaign:
Sources: Travis Barrett, Special to NASCAR Home Tracks