Ricky Miller was a driver well-regarded in the modified community in a number of ways. A down-to-earth, hard-nosed racer, Miller was a fan favorite on and off the track. Tragically, Miller passed in 2004, but his family has made sure his memory has lived on in the form of charitable acts and promoting an annual memorial race that has become one of the biggest Modified shows in New England.
Saturday, seven years after Miller’s passing, his memory seemed stronger than ever. The 2011 “Ricky’s Race For Kids” 112-lap event at Cannan Fair Speedway in Canaan, NH, was dedicated towards helping ill and injured children and promoted for weeks with a special Valenti Modified Racing Series points fund and race purse. Thirty-one Modifieds heeded the call, including a number of NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour stars.
In the end, though, the strongest reminder of Ricky Miller came in Victory Lane when a purple-and-yellow schemed car collected the winner’s trophy, the same colors associated most with Miller’s machines. The driver of the car this night was another popular driver in his own right, series veteran Louie Mechalides. Leading all 112 laps in the event, Mechalides pocketed a cool $12,000.
“Wow,” simply exclaimed Mechalides as he climbed from the car and shook hands with his team. “We’ve had a bunch of good runs [this year]. But tonight we finally got a win. It feels good.”
Mechalides, whose last series victory came back in 2007, had his biggest break of the night during the post-qualifying redraw. It was the first redraw in series history and Mechalides, initially slotted to roll off sixth in the field, was fortunate enough to garner the pole position. He would go onto pace all 112 laps, holding off the charge of a number of veteran drivers in a race that featured numerous cautions and restarts.
“I was pretty excited to get the pole because I didn’t want to run it that hard in the beginning. Everyone was on me though; they all wanted the lead really bad. With all those restarts, it was really tough.”
When asked what it was like to battle veterans Mike Stefanik and Kirk Alexander down the stretch, Mechalides made it clear that he had never really worried about doing anything than running his own race.
“I didn’t look outside of me [on the restarts]. I didn’t know who it was out there.”
Stefanik ultimately settled for the runner-up position, a far better result than earlier in the day when he competed at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in the Whelen Modified event. Engine issues ended Stefanik’s day there in 28th and. Despite the early exit, Stefanik got to Canaan late because it’s still a 70-minute drive from Loudon.
“I got to congratulate Louie,” said Stefanik. “He had the best car here tonight. I thought we could give him a
run for it, but got a little tight in the end. My team did a great job, with not much practice and I was pretty happy with our performance.”
Stefanik collected $6,000 for second place, something that will help his #66 team continue to be competitive.
“It’s a small operation, but they certainly race big.”
The surprise of the night went to third place Norm Wrenn. Earning his first top-five finish in his 20th-career VMRS start, Wrenn might have been wearing the biggest smile after collecting $3,000.
“I was holding on for dear life there at the end, and any time you race behind someone like Mike [Stefanik], and you’re going to love racing. To finish right behind him, you know you’re doing something right.
“We thought we were getting close [to breaking through]. Last week at Lee, I did a little bit of tire management and were one of the fast cars at the end. (I) did the same thing tonight and worked to hit our marks and at the end we had a good car.”
Kirk Alexander, the series all-time leading winner, was fourth with Chris Pasteryak finishing fifth to take sole possession of the points lead as he looks for his second championship.
FANS FILL STANDS, CHARITY COFFERS
Whether it was some curious fans trickling up from Loudon or a number of longtime fans drawn out by the heavy promotion the series did for the event, the stands were packed at Canaan Fair Speedway Saturday night. Speed51’s team spent a good fifteen minutes trying to find a clear space for a few people to sit.
It was an encouraging turnout for the series in general, but the biggest benefactors of the event were the children’s charities the profits of the race are going to. Between the admission price, a pre-race pit party, and a number of raffle prizes that included Boston Red Sox and New England Patriots tickets, race officials announced that, at first estimate, nearly $30,000 had been raised.
The primary charity benefitting from the event will be David’s House, described as “a home away from home for families with ill or injured children,” located in Lebanon, NH. For more information on the charity of choice and how you can help contribute if you were unable to attend Saturday, we encourage you to visit the Ricky’s Race for Kids website at http://www.rickysraceforkids.com/.
BIG CRASH – PLENTY OF POINTING FINGERS
A crash just past the halfway point in the race nearly collected half the field. After torn-up racecars settled into the infield, there was a lot pointing fingers as to who caused “The Big One.”
“What happened,” we asked Dwight Jarvis.
His response, “Kenny Barry.”
“But what happened to caused it,” we responded.
“He’s a friggin’ idiot,” he said simply.
So, we marched down to Barry after the race and he did not accept any of the blame.
“(Mike) Holdridge squeezed us, plain and simple,” explained Barry. “He drove us into the wall like we weren’t even there.”
So, we turned around and head down to Mike Holdridge and he was surprised by Barry’s allegation.
“I don’t know, I certainly didn’t get into him, but he gave me the salute (the middle finger),” said Holdridge. “Him and Stefanik were banging wheels and I got underneath him. Find a bar or a wheel on my car that is bent.”
After close evaluation of the #0 car, there were no bent bars, just a little mark on the right-front rim.
CAUTION FLAG TO THE WIND
While Louie Mechalides had a lovely evening up front, carnage ensued behind him. Three cautions dotted the first 10 laps alone and a 25-lap green run to the end turned out to be the longest stretch.
At least 15 of the 28 starters found trouble.
High attrition rate allowed some drivers written off early to fight their way back in to it. Fifth-place Chris Pasteryak was one of the very first drivers to go around. Sixth place Les Hinckley got bumped into on a number of occasions and made at least eight trips to pit lane, but clearly had one of the best cars in the waning laps.
PASTERYAK FLATTENED BY TOP-FIVE FINISH
Current VMRS point leader Christ Pasteryak had an eventful night. The second-generation driver paced himself early, but was still involved in and altercation. His immaculate #5 machine received a flat tire in that mishap and Pasteryak was forced to pit. After that, he muscled his way through the field for fifth place finish.
“We had a winning car,” said Pasteryak after the race. “We didn’t need that flat tire. We came in a changed it and put on a tire that was a couple weeks old and the car was still good. At least, with how everything played out (with other top drivers); it was a good points night.
The Whelen Modified drivers who made the trip for the primary part had a rough go of it. Stefanik finished second, but was the only one to avoid trouble. WMT points leader Rowan Pennink entered as the co-points leader in the VMRS, but tore up his suspension in an early crash. Doug Coby spun out of a top-10 position early and Eric Goodale spun out of a top-10 position late.
Ted Christopher was expected to be a heavy favorite, but never could contend. He got spun out in his qualifying heat, got into it with Jeff Malave in the consi, and then spun twice in the feature and finished well outside of the top-10. It was the first time TC and his #00 Brady team had competed on the series since they were thrown out of the race at Stafford Motor Speedway in June for engine infractions.
The worst luck went to Matt Hirschman. Right off a fourth place finish earlier in the day at NHMS, Hirschman’s team discovered a problem with the engine after the first qualifying heat. After looking at the engine for a few minutes, the Hirschman team made the tough call to it quits early.
“We thought at first it may just not have the proper coolant levels,” Hirschman said, “but we think it’s something internal. Something didn’t seem right off the start and then it pushed water in the heat.
“I raced already on Wednesday this week and now Saturday, so you can’t let it bother you. It’s disappointing and it’s a letdown, but we have to be ready for next Wednesday (for the open-comp Modified “Open Wheel Wednesday” at Seekonk (MA). Just got to go on to the next one.”
HINCKLEY FAST, BUT FAST ISN’T GOOD ENOUGH
Les Hinckley, Jr. might have had the fastest car on the racetrack at portions of the race, but due to an early race accident, the man who is second in VMRS points had to play “catch-up” all night long. In the end, the beautiful #06 machine would be scored with a sixth place finish.
“A little less eventful would have been a little better,” said Hinckley with a laugh. “We got caught up in that early incident and that bent the front-end all up, closed the nose up and we got hot. The motor was actually at 270 (degrees) at one point, but the guys did a good job getting it opened back up. I did my best to get back up to the front, but I just used it up. At the end there, the right rear had enough.”
“KING” KIRK FINISHES FOURTH
Kirk Alexander is undoubtedly one of the strongest VMRS competitors of all time, but even he couldn’t overcome adversity on Saturday night. Alexander pulled as high as second in the middle stages of the race, but he had all he could do just to keep the car on the track near the conclusion of the 112-lap race.
“The stagger just opened up way too much, it was a handful,” said Alexander, who finished fourth. “I didn’t need all those cautions.”
- There were ten cautions in the event.
- Mechalides becomes the seventh different winner in eight races this season and is now tied with Andy Seuss and Dwight Jarvis for fourth on the all-time winners list with five wins apiece.
- Ted Christopher drove the #00 Brady Bunch machine, with a new engine in the car for the VMRS. He spun in the heat race and needed to qualify out of the consi. TC was as high as 10th and one point, but the car never came to life in the feature.
-Jeff Malave missed the race after contact with Ted Christopher in the consolation feature. TC appeared to turn Malave battling for second place. Malave, none happy, drove up and spun TC under caution. Malave was black flagged and parked, the only driver to not finish the consolation and thus the only driver other than Hirschman who entered and did not make the event.
- Ken Barry, Mike Holdridge and Aaron Fellows won the qualifying heats.
- Fellows was the only driver who competed in both the VMRS race and the local Late Model feature. He finished second in his full-fendered ride before getting crashed in the Modified feature.