Whelen Modified star Ted Christopher is often called simply by his initials – “TC.” Finding great success early in 2011 racing with a broken hand, however, “TC” might best stand for “Tough Customer.”
Christopher claimed his sixth career Whelen Southern Modified Tour Saturday night at Caraway Speedway, holding off a remarkable late race charge by Thomas Stinson and John Smith. For Christopher, it was his third NASCAR Modified victory in as many weeks, capping a run that has seen him win the Thompson Icebreaker and last week’s WSMT South Boston 150 despite driving with a broken hand. Ironically, it was Christopher’s first start at Caraway since incurring the hand injury there March 13th.
George Brunnhoelzl, III and Andy Seuss led the 20-car field to the green and while Brunnhoelzl would pace the first few circuits, Christopher quickly charged from fourth place on the grid to the lead on lap six. A series of cautions would keep the field bunched up from that point forward, but overall, Christopher would not be seriously challenged until late in the event.
While Christopher set sail, most of the Whelen Southern Modified Tour regulars had adventuresome nights. Andy Seuss qualified well but spun early and could never recover, finishing 13th. Zach Brewer then had mechanical issues on a mid-race restart and lengthy repair left him 15th. Next to go was L.W. Miller, who entered the event looking for his record seventh Caraway victory. Suspension issues ultimately left Miller 18th. Finally, James Civali, running third most of the race, was involved in a late tangle in turn four and finished 10th.
Stinson appeared as though he would join the ranks of Tour regulars suffering a poor finish for much of the race. He fell a lap down early, had his clutch fall to the floor on several occasions, and even had an electrical fire spark inside his racecar. But a Lucky Dog put Stinson back on the lead lap and, much like he had done in the Tour season opener at Caraway in March, made a late-race charge that rocketed him into contention.
Stinson tracked down the dominant duo of Christopher and Brunnhoelzl, sliding in front of Brunnhoelzl to take the runner-up position with just fifteen laps to go. Stinson had then run down Christopher when on lap 137 Gary Fountain’s wild ride changed the complexion of the race.
Fountain, making his first Whelen Southern Modified Tour start, had had trouble for much of the evening, running several laps down and having already been involved in several solo spins when the incident occurred. Coming out of turn four, Fountain drifted up with another lapped car on his outside. The two hooked, sending Fountain’s car shooting right into the frontstretch wall. In a shower of sparks, Fountain’s car’s right-front climbed nearly the entire height of the concrete barrier before landing back on all four wheels.
Fountain was uninjured.
The ensuing restart ultimately seemed to hurt Stinson, trapped in the outside line, as did Civali’s spin that brought out yet another caution to make the race end under a green-white-checkered. Christopher and Stinson ran side-by-side for an entire lap after taking the green, but Christopher pulled in front for good as he took the white and Stinson couldn’t quite make a move on TC before the checkers fell.
In Victory Lane, Christopher revealed that a lot more than Stinson stood between him and the trophy.
“The last 13 laps, I think, the power steering let go,” said Christopher, “and that was a pretty dangerous thing with my hand.” Christopher admitted his hand hurt for most of the latter stages of the race, something he attributed to the typical lack of forward grip at Caraway that required a little more tug on the wheel.
Stinson, while a little dejected after coming so close to his first series victory, seemed to relish his ability to come through as a late-race charger.
“There’s a rumor going around that they’re starting to call us ‘The Sleeper’,” Stinson boasted, “because we start at the rear and come to the front.”
John Smith continued a solid start to his season, also making a late-race charge to the front that left him third.
“We tried to ride the first 75 laps,” said Smith. “My car was good on the long run.”
Brunnhoelzl, for his part, looked to be in good shape when he rolled to his first pole of the year, turning in a 15.944 second lap in qualifying to edge Andy Seuss by fourteen-hundredths of a second. Dogging Christopher for most of the race, Brunnhoelzl ultimately couldn’t hold off the hard-charging duo of Stinson and Smith in the waning laps. His fourt- place finish, coupled with five bonus points for leading the race early, allowed his points lead over Smith to remain steady at 75 markers.
Burt Myers did not compete in the series for the second straight week while recovering from injuries incurred in a Supermodified crash at Ace Speedway earlier this month. Myers, however, is still aiming to compete in the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown at Richmond this Thursday. Myers’ fill-in, Lee Jeffreys, finished a respectable ninth.
Before the Whelen Southern Modified Tour feature, Caraway’s local divisions entertained the fans. The Limited Late Model Division ran a thirty-lap feature won by Junior Kendrick and the Late Model Division ran a fifty-lap feature by B.J. Mackey.
The Whelen Southern Modified Tour now begins a long hiatus after a busy spring. The Tour doesn’t return to action until coming back to Caraway on July 1st. Most of the tour’s regulars will instead focus their attention towards Bowman Gray Stadium’s Modified Division title. That wildly popular North Carolina facility drops the green flag on their season this Saturday.