When Doug Coby joined the #52 Darling Motorsports Modified team as its wheelman for the 2011 season, both the driver and team hoped for success on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and in open shows throughout the year. It was a fair wish too, as both parties are proven winners.
But there was one race on their schedule where they just didn't hope to win…they expected…worked towards…and maybe even planned…to be in the position to contend for the victory. That race was the 2011 Modified Madness feature that took place as part of Seekonk Speedway's Open Wheel Wednesday program.
It was a race that the #52 team had won twice before with drivers Matt Hirschman and Chris Pasteryak and it is a race that takes place on hallowed ground for the team. The Darling family are business owners in the Seekonk area. Their shop is within walking distance of the racetrack and they have used the area as a base of operations through the years when drivers such as Hirschman, Pasteryak, Jerry Marquis and Dale Quarterley have driven their racecars.
This time around, they accomplished their goals and scored a run-away victory in the race. Both parties did their jobs flawlessly to get to victory lane. The team prepared a car that was just as racy on lap 100 as it was at the start of the race. The driver did his part as well - taking the lead from Les Hinckley on the fifth lap, never putting a wheel wrong, holding off the field over the course of several late race restarts and keeping a strong Matt Hirschman at bay as the laps clicked down.
“It's big for me and it's big for the team,” said Coby. “This is only our fifth or sixth race together. We could have won the World Series. We had a shot at the last Tour race at Thompson and now we're in victory lane at Seekonk. This just really goes to show that these guys can put a car together.”
Coby has driven for many teams during his Modified career. He's isn't someone who brings a large check to each operation, so job security isn't a reality for him very often in today's expensive world of short track racing. When Coby joined the John McKenna-led #52 team this year, he learned quickly that it was a different team from what he was used to. But different can prove to be good - just like it did at Seekonk on Wednesday night.
“They have a different strategy sometimes from other teams,” said Coby. “They set up their cars a little differently. John comes from a full-fendered car background with the North car and he brings a lot of knowledge from that to the Modified. I think it's weird sometimes, but he really makes it work.
“He [McKenna] has gotten to know me as a driver in just five races. Of all the drivers they've ever had, I don't like the car to be tight at all. They've made adjustments and I think that is important. We're building something good together. There is a lot of trust between what I do and what he does. It makes it a lot of fun. I'd like to win for every team that I drive for.”
Considering just how important Seekonk is to the Darling team, you might expect that Coby could be paralyzed by pressure coming into this event. However, he stayed cool throughout the 100-lap event and claims to have felt little or no pressure to bring the car home to victory lane.
“There was no pressure because Seekonk is the type of track where it is hit or miss,” said Coby. “They had another driver in this car last year and he didn't do well in it. So it all depends on the night, the set-up and the track. I watched when Chris Pasteryak won here in this car and I told Chris and (his father) Charlie after the race that it was one of the most impressive cars that I've ever seen on a short track. The car never moved….and I got to drive that car tonight. Sometimes you know there is one good car at a racetrack and everyone knows that the #52, the #12 (of Todd Annarummo) and the #5 (of Chris Pasteryak) are the good cars that get around Seekonk. So I guess there was a little bit of pressure because I didn't want to be the guy who goofed that up.”
Not goofing it up meant not running the car too fast and wearing out its tires. As quick as Coby was throughout the race, he still managed to conserve enough so that his ride was strong from start to finish.
“I had a lot of car left still,” said Coby. “On the long runs, it was really, really good. I think I could go another 50 laps if I had to. It was one of those nights when the stars were aligned for us.”
The biggest obstacle for Coby during the race was a string of restarts after various lap 80 incidents. Each time, Coby and Matt Hirschman played restart games with each other. There were jumps, false starts, stalls and even a little bit of crowding between the two drivers. But Coby still came out on top when the dust settled.
“On those lap 80 restarts, I thought the rest of the race might be like that…restarts every two lap,” said Coby. “For it to go green to the end from lap 80 was to our advantage. It gave Todd [Annarummo] less time to get to me and Matt fell back a little bit. Once I knew that I had a car length, I knew that I was good if we had no more cautions.”
Hirschman maintained second place at the race finish - a result that he wasn't exactly disappointed due to the fact that he personally knew how strong the Darling team is at Seekonk based on his 2008 victory there while driving for the team.
“I lost to a team that always has a good car here,” said Hirschman. “The car stays right across the street and they come over and test here every year for this race. They have won three of the past five years here and that is the car to beat when you come here. I knew that. They had a good starting position close to the front and when I won here, I started near the front.“
Todd Annarummo, Mike Stefanik and Chris Pasteryak rounded out the top five finishers.
Hirschman Makes Up Ground to Finish Second
After the dust settled from the heat races, Matt Hirschman found himself with a start in the feature event that was outside the top 10. He overcame that though to battle for the lead and finish the 100-lap event in the runner-up spot.
“I had a good car, but I was coming from a ways back after where we started,” said Hirschman. I got them one at a time and none of them were freebies for me. The cars that wrecked, did that long after we got past them. I had to earn every position one at a time. I never really had to force the issue. Everyone raced me clean. They gave me room. It was a fun night and a fun race.”
Up and Down Week for Mechalides
On Saturday night, Louie Mechalides took home the $12,000 winner's purse in Ricky's Race at Canaan Fair Speedway (NH). Things didn't work out so well for him a few days later at Seekonk though. Mechalides got caught in a wreck at just the 10-lap mark of Modified Madness. He pressed on for a few dozen laps after that, but ended up with a finish of 24th.
- Matt Hirschman's #50 Modified had a smaller, less powerful but lighter 355-cubic inch engine under its hood at Seekonk. It is one that is used in SK Modified competition normally.
- Seekonk Speedway (MA) wasn't a brand new track for Tim Jordan. The MRS Rookie attempted to qualify for an ACT Late Model event at the track several seasons ago, but had chassis issues that kept him out of that race. This time around, Jordan finished second in his heat race and then ran strong before getting caught up in a wreck.
- Seekonk Speedway legend Vinnie Annarummo returned to action in this year's Modified Madness race as a teammate to his son Todd Annarummo. Vinnie won his heat race and ran in the top five for much of the feature, before ending up with a finish of eighth.
- Mike Stefanik's stop at Seekonk was part of a very busy stretch of racing for the veteran driver. Stefanik raced in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour event at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Saturday, the Ricky's Race MRS show at Canaan Fair Speedway (NH) later that evening, at Seekonk on Wednesday and in the open competition Modified show at Thompson International Speedway (CT) on Thursday. Stefanik was the only driver to run all four races, while Doug Coby and Ryan Preece competed in three of the four shows. Matt Hirschman entered all three races, but did not make the feature at Canaan after having engine issues earlier in the day.
- Other winners on Open Wheel Wednesday at Seekonk Speedway were Randy Cabral (NEMA Midgets) and Phil Lausier (Pro Four Modifieds).