Drivers, Fans Both Thrilled To Return To Waterford After Absence
WATERFORD, Conn. – The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour's highly-anticipated return to Waterford Speedbowl could only be categorized as a smashing success.
Hours before the start of Saturday night's Mr. Rooter 161 – the first Whelen Modified Tour race at the track in six years – town officials forced the Speedbowl to close its parking lot for being over capacity. With no seats available in the grandstands, fans were standing three- and four-deep along the turns on the .333-mile oval. Autograph session lines were long, concession lines were longer and the interaction between drivers and fans along the track's frontstretch during driver introductions varied from boisterous to comical.
The Whelen Modified Tour was back at a Connecticut short-track racing staple, in the hub of Modified racing in the Northeast, and it was back in a big way.
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“You've got to give it to the Waterford promoters and everybody involved in putting on this race. It takes a lot to get a race going,” said Ryan Preece, who finished third and hails from nearby Berlin, Conn. “I know how hard people work to promote these. I was amazed with the crowd and how they filled the parking long and had to shut the place down. That's unbelievable, and it's great for short-track racing.
“You can't even describe the feeling when you pull out on the frontstretch, get out of your car and you see this place packed. That was just awesome.”
In Victory Lane, Doug Coby thanked the fans for supporting the event – the first Tour race at the track since October of 2006 – turning to address those in attendance personally.
“I really appreciate all you fans coming out,” Coby said. “Short tracks need people like you to come to races like this. I wish you would come on Saturday nights, too, when the Tour's not here because they put on a great show in the weekly divisions. Support your local short tracks. Thank you guys very much for coming out. We really appreciate it.”
Ron Yuhas Jr. won the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series track championship in 2009 in the track's SK Modified division. He, too, noticed the atmosphere and could help but notice how involved everybody was in the process on a night that honored late NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Richie Evans – a New York native and the first Modified driver elected into the Hall.
“It was good to actually finally look up here and see that there were so many people in the stands,” Yuhas said. “I know (track owner Terry Eames) has been trying to get the people here, and it's a hard deal with the economic times. To come here when we were running regularly, you'd go up and see more wood than people, and it's kind of disheartening.
“Then tonight to look up, it looked like there were quite a few people in the house. That's good. I hope that carries over.”
HOME COOKING: Yuhas has 24 career SK Modified victories at Waterford in addition to his 2009 track championship. It was no surprise, then, to see Yuhas have his best run of the season with a fourth-place finish in the Mr. Rooter 161.
It was Yuhas' first Top-5 finish on the Tour since 2007, when he finished third at Thompson International Speedway.
“This is our home track,” said Yuhas, of Groton, Conn. “This is where I grew up racing, and where we started with the SK stuff. The shop is just up the road, and this is still our home track even though we don't run here regularly. We had high hopes of having a good run.”
Yuhas qualified 11th in the 24-car field, but he was confident that he had a car that would race well over the long runs. That's what happened, as he worked his way into the Top-5 just past the halfway mark.
“I think we definitely had a better car (than fourth), but we got about halfway through the race and got up on the outside of Justin (Bonsignore),” Yuhas said. “Then trying to work on (Ron) Silk and get around him, and we caught his right rear with the left front. We might have bent something there, and we might have used a little too much of the right rear at that midpoint in the race. At the end, we really didn't have a right rear left. We were just kind of riding at that point.”
For a small team, Yuhas feels like the No. 64 DreamRide.org Chevrolet is inching closer to being competitive each and every week on the Tour.
“It's a bunch of volunteers that come down. There's nobody on payroll,” Yuhas said. “We do it because we love doing it, and we're just gradually trying to learn and just improve. We don't really have goals per se – obviously it's just to run better and try and improve on your last time out.”
TURNING CORNER: Justin Bonsignore, who destroyed his primary car the last time out in a practice crash at Stafford Motor Speedway, finally had some good luck on his side Saturday night.
Even with a car that was rapidly going away from him over the final quarter of the Mr. Rooter 161, Bonsignore still capitalized on a green-white-checkered restart to finish second for his best finish of the season.
“We started off a little tight, and we were just waiting, waiting, waiting – and we started to pick them off one by one and the car kind of took off for a while,” Bonsignore said. “Then we had a red flag, and I actually had some fans screaming at me, 'You've got this! This is yours!' We got by Donny on the outside, went to get by Ryan on the outside and I showed him my nose and the right front just completely gave out.
“The car was terrible the last 30 laps, and I was shocked we were able to hold onto third. Luckily, that last green-white-checkered we were able to squeeze second out of there. But Doug's on some roll right now, and hopefully we can get on that kind of stretch here when it matters in the second half of the season.”
Bonsignore now sits fourth in the standings, just 35 points behind the leader Coby. Prior to Saturday, Bonsignore had never been on the track at Waterford Speedbowl.
“Never, I've been here to watch to (Modified Racing Series) shows from the stands and enjoy some good times, but it was awesome to see the place packed like it was… I was hoping they would pack it out, because I want to keep coming back. It's a blast to race here. It always helps when you run good, but I really love the place. It was pretty racy tonight.”
Sources: Travis Barrett, Special To NASCAR Home Tracks