When the checkered flag fell after 161 grueling laps at New London Waterford Speedbowl in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Touring Series race, Preston. Ct. driver Max Zachem was in the post-race technical inspection line.
‘That’s kind of when it hit me,” Zachem, 22 said. “Here I am, in the tech area with these full time guys, champions, guys who have full time people working on their cars. I was pretty happy, I have to say,” Zachem related.
“This was like a win for us, an absolute win. In the same tech with these teams. Even our pit box was half the size of theirs.”
Zachem deserved to be proud of his effort. Not only did he mix it up with the best asphalt Modified drivers in the business but he did so the added deficit of having started the race from thirty-third and last starting spot.
“I flat out missed my time trial lap and was pretty mad at myself,” Zachem admitted. “Just went the wrong way with the set-up. This is kind of like a home race for me, family and friends in the stands, and I messed up my chances.”
What Zachem learned just before he went out for his lap is that NASCAR and New London Waterford Speedbowl had agreed to start all thirty-three entrants in the Mr. Rooter 161.
So he was in the race, with 30th fastest time, but at the back of the pack because of owner points.
“We had a game plan put together to pit as soon as was possible after lap 60,” Zachem said. “You can’t change tires in these races but tweaking the set up is important. That’s what we did, made a wedge adjustment.
“I lost a couple of spots in the pits but when I got going again, it was like a different car.”
Zachem also had to have a little luck on his side. “I missed all of the wrecks but I did get drilled once in the rear bumper when I was slowing down for something in front of me.”
Part of the credit for accident avoidance was attributable to the work of his first year spotter, Glenn Carchidi,
Carchidi has worked with many drivers, most recently with Richie Pallai, Jr. and Matt Galko.
Once Zachem advanced his way through the field, he never gave back a single spot he gained.
Zachem also had an edge over many of the NASCAR Touring Series Modified regulars in that he has years of Waterford experience.
“I grew up around here,” Zachem said. “This was my home track. As soon as I could, I had a Legends car and was racing at Waterford,” he said.
Zachem feels his Legends experience is particularly useful at smaller tracks like Waterford.
“The Legends car is a hard car to drive because of the power to weight ratio and the hard tires. You learn patience.”
Zachem and his family-owned race team decided to leave VMRS racing and tackle NASCAR for one reason: the challenge.
“I knew what we were getting into because I spent last year working with Justin Bonsignore’s team on the Tour. We thought it was a challenge we could accept. We also had a little bit of a disagreement with VMRS over a couple of things and this seemed to be the next step.
“NASCAR does its tech by the book and the same rule book is for everybody,” Zachem added.
The first year NWMT driver has on-track experience at most of the 2015 Series venues, whether in Legends racing or the VMRS Series in which he had raced for the past three years. The Loudon mile is the notable exception.
“Bob Mueller from Troyer and Kenny Barry have been a big help to me in many ways,” Zachem said.
Zachem is quick to dispel the idea that his is an unlimited budget team.
“We are a family team with one Troyer TA1 car and one eighteen degree engine. We don’t have a second car with a Spec engine. The team sponsor, Lu-Mac’s Package Store is the family business, a liquor store in Preston, Ct.
Zachem, ironcially. had to start 33rd in the Waterford race because his team was not in the top twenty-five in car owner points. By making it into the race through NASCAR’s and the Speedbowl’s good graces, and managing to advance from 25th to 16th in car owner standings, the heroics that were so unexpected last Saturday night won’t be as necessary in the foreseable future.