Drivers on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour are undisputedly the best in the business. On Friday, they proved the point once again while racing three-wide for the lead on the final lap on the New Hampshire mile in the special 40-lap All Star Shootout.
Woody Pitkat came out the winner, but so were drivers Donny Lia and Ryan Preece who gave it their all to take the victory.
Preece, looking for his first win at New Hampshire, led Pitkat to the white flag.
“I was just a sitting duck,” said Preece. “I knew Woody had a really good car and I didn’t want to give him the draft, so I held the bottom in one and two and gave him the outside. I didn’t want him to be able to duck behind and draft past me down the backstretch.”
Pitkat took the bait. He tried the outside earlier in the race and it worked and he kept that in his memory bank. He jumped to the outside and pulled even with Preece exiting the corner.
“You have to have all the confidence in the world in your race car and all the respect for who you are racing with to make that move,” said Pitkat of his outside charge.
Just a few weeks ago the two young drivers had issues with each other after a SK Modified crash at Ct.’s Stafford Motor Speedway. That, however, was not a factor on Friday.
“No matter what, we always race each other clean,” said Pitkat of Preece. “We both moved on from that and I want to thank him for racing me clean today. I knew he was doing what he had to to win the race and we both got pretty aggressive there at the end.”
Preece’s plan had worked. With Pitkat to his outside down the backstretch, he couldn’t pick up the draft and slingshot by him.
“I held him on the top,” said Preece, “but that opened such a hole for Lia to get a big run on the both of us.”
Lia went from pusher to contender. “I got a great run off the corner and they stalled out alongside of each other. Maybe I should have just pushed one of them forward, let them pile in there and pick up the pieces.”
Instead, Lia pulled out of line and made it three-wide as they entered turn three.
“Going down the back I looked and Donny was behind me,” said Pitkat. “I thought he was going to push me and I was in good shape. Then I see him peel off in the mirror and my spotter tells me I’m three wide, on the outside.”
Preece was the sandwich in the battle and he didn’t like his odds so he got out of it just enough to let Pitkat and Lia go for the win.
“I didn’t feel being three-wide in the middle was the place for our car to be today,” said Preece.
“These cars have nerf bars. You’re at the mercy of the guy on the inside of you.”
Pitkat held his ground on Lia and exited turn four with a near one car advantage. He moved to the inside to block, much like Preece had done to him the lap earlier, but Lia was still there and contact was made. Lia’s car darted towards the inside wall, but he saved it while losing second to Preece at the line.
“I’ve got to look at the video,” said Lia. “If he made a left, then we have a problem.”
The two did talk afterwards and Pitkat apologized to him, telling Lia he didn’t know he was there. He also reminded him it was the last lap, and he was doing what he had to in order to win the race.
“On the last lap it’s up to the driver,” said Pitkat. “Whatever move he makes determines if you go to victory lane or be second or third.”
Lia could have moved up the track in between turns three and four and crowded Pitkat to slow his speed. He chose not to do so.
“If we had another car that we planned on racing tomorrow,” said Lia, “the finish might have been a little different.”
Last year, driving for car owner Bob Garbarino, Lia crashed hard into the fourth turn wall in this same race and demolished the only car the team had at the track. For Saturday’s race a year ago they had to borrow a car from Ryan Newman’s Bono Manion No. 7 team, and he crashed that as well in that event.
Lia didn’t want that bad memory replaying again.
“It was a non-point race,” said Lia. “I wrecked a couple cars here last year and I didn’t want that today. This car was really good today. We have another here, but it’s not as good. I had that in the back of my mind.”
As it turned out, Lia had the best weekend of all the teams without winning. He finished third on Friday and second to Todd Szegedy on Saturday.
“We’ve struggled this year,” said Lia of his first year driving for a new team owned by Mark Sypher, “but today was a confidence builder for us. I have to thank Mark for everything. I’m sure he would love to win, but he’s here to have fun and let’s us worry about the rest.”
In just his second year driving for Buzz and Byron Chew, Pitkat has proven he’s as good a driver on the NASCAR Modified Tour as he’s been for years in SK Modified and Late Model competition.
Pitkat on the other hand, has proven how good the Chew team and crew chief Ron Ste. Marie can be, making them a winning team and title contender.
“I love to win,” said Pitkat. “That’s obvious. But I love to win for them even more. The years that they raced and the ups and downs they had, I’m happy to win for those guys. You can’t meet nicer people than Buzz, Byron and ‘Spot’ (Ste-Marie). They’ve been together so long, that’s what makes them so great. They’ve stuck together since day one.”
At New Hampshire, where drafting comes into play, the driver’s spotter is very important. While several drivers hire noted NASCAR spotters for this event, Pitkat had confidence in Cam McDermott, a friend who recently won his first ever Sunoco Modified feature event at Ct.’s Thompson Speedway.
“He was busy,” said Pitkat.
“I’m so proud of how he’s progressed as a driver and a spotter. I think I have an advantage having a driver as a spotter.”
He also thanked Billy Colton of Troyer, Billy the Kid for putting together the Spec engine and Wayne from JRI Shocks.
While Preece and Ted Christopher quickly left Loudon to race Friday night in Stafford, Pitkat stayed with his team.
“Today was a fun race,” said Pitkat. “Tomorrow is what counts for the points. We’ll cherish this for a while, have a good dinner, and then focus on tomorrow.”
Pitkat said he and SK Modified car owner Adam Skowyra had decided after several weeks of issues to take a break and regroup.
“We’ve been struggling at Stafford,” Pitkat explained. “We decided not to rush back. We’re going to get the car right before we return. It’s nothing against Stafford, I love it there. We want to go there to contend for wins, not just put laps in.”
Pitkat has also been running for Skowyra on the VMRS Modified series. They’ll continue to run those races, where they currently lead the points.
“We’ll run the VMRS race next week,” said Pitkat, “then we’re both on vacation the next week so we’ll probably be back at Stafford after that.”