By Shawn Courchesne
LOUDON, N.H. – Last September NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour driver Woody Pitkat got his first taste of victory lane at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Friday the Stafford driver showed he doesn’t want to leave.
Pitkat held off Ryan Preece and Donny Lia in a wild final lap battle to win the 35-lap Whelen Modified Tour Whelen All-Star Shootout exhibition race Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
“It was just a lot of chaos,” Pitkat said of the final lap. “A lot of stuff going on there.”
Preece, of Berlin was second and Lia, of Jericho, N.Y., third.
Pitkat got his first career NHMS victory in the F.W. Webb 100 on Sept. 20, 2014. Friday’s non-points exhibition event was the first Whelen Modified Tour event at the track since then. Saturday the series runs the points paying Andy Blacksmith 100.
Pitkat, who goes into the Saturday race two points behind reigning series champion Doug Coby and Preece, who are tied for the lead, said Friday’s win only buoys even more his overflowing confidence at the track. He will start Saturday’s race in a different car than he ran Friday.
“We’re going to go to what we call ‘Old Faithful,’” Pitkat said. “We dusted the cobwebs off that girl and brought her to [testing on July 6] and that’s the one we’re going to use tomorrow. And we won here last September in that. I think we’re going to be really good. I can bring a little bit that I learned today. There’s a couple things that I learned that I want to keep to myself. Obviously the confidence is high.”
Pitkat started second in the 20-car field Friday and went to the lead past pole-sitter Eric Goodale at the start and then stayed at or near the front the rest of the way.
Pitkat was leading when a competition caution flew on lap 21 and the top-six were inverted at the break. On the ensuing restart Pitkat quickly moved to third and then settled in to watch Preece and Lia battle at the front.
On lap 30 Pitkat went to second past Lia and on lap 32 he moved past Preece to go back to the lead. On lap 33 Preece used a turn three pass retake the lead. The running order was Preece, Pitkat and Lia at the white flag. In turn one on the final lap Pitkat went to the high side on Preece with Lia pushing him past to the lead down the backstretch. But going into turn three Lia went to the bottom under Preece, sending the trio three-wide into the corner.
Off of turn four Pitkat swerved left, forcing Lia to take evasive action and letting Preece slide back to second at the checkered flag.
“It was pretty amazing there,” Pitkat said. “I know Ryan wanted to win pretty bad. … I got a good run off of turn [four] on [lap 30] and Donny kind of let me get in, which was cool. Then I just tried to pass Ryan. He was obviously trying to do what he could do to try to protect the lead. He went for the bottom [on the final lap] and I said ‘Alright, this is it, let’s go to the top.’ And Donny helped me down the back straightaway and made it three-wide.
“I tried to sail it in there [into turn three]. I lifted early and then tried to burp it in case they got wiggly that hopefully they wouldn’t get the left rear. I just held on. I didn’t know Donny was there at the end. I kind of got into him a little bit. It was amazing racing here. It’s awesome. This is just unbelievable.”
Lia said he walked away having learned some information he could possibly use Saturday.
“I was trying to win,” Lia said. “I went three-wide. It didn’t work. I probably could have barreled it in there a little bit further and maybe got into Woody a little bit, but after wrecking two cars here last year at this race, I figured ‘Let’s just stick to the bottom here and if we beat them back to the line we beat them and if not it will be a fun race.’ So that was that.
“It was fun. It was kind of a last second decision to go three-wide. I probably should have pushed [Preece] and he would have went up the racetrack and moved Woody and I could have went by both of them. But that’s why it’s great to run this race, things happen and you learn from them.”
Said Preece: “It was a good test for tomorrow. I feel like you get an idea of who you’re going to be racing. It was definitely exciting. When we went three-wide in there I knew it was going to be a hell of a race. I figured I’d let those two duel it out and it played out to be a good one. So I’m happy we have a car that’s in one piece for tomorrow.”
The event saw just one standard caution, when Coby got into the wall off of turn four on lap three. There were 14 official lead changes among five drivers.
NASCAR Whelen Modified – Whelen Southern Modified Tours-All-Star Shootout Results
At New Hampshire Motor Speedway
Lap length: 1.058 miles
(Start position in parentheses)
1. (0) Woody Pitkat, Stafford, Conn., Chevrolet, 35 laps, 95.288 mph.
2. (0) Ryan Preece, Berlin, Conn., Chevrolet, 35.
3. (0) Donny Lia, Jericho, N.Y., Chevrolet, 35.
4. (0) Justin Bonsignore, Holtsville, N.Y., Chevrolet, 35.
5. (0) Bobby Santos, Franklin, Mass., Chevrolet, 35.
6. (0) Ted Christopher, Plainville, Conn., Chevrolet, 35.
7. (0) Eric Goodale, Riverhead, N.Y., Chevrolet, 35.
8. (0) Ron Silk, Norwalk, Conn., Chevrolet, 35.
9. (0) Ryan Newman, South Bend, Ind., Chevrolet, 35.
10. (0) Andy Seuss, Hampstead, N.H., Chevrolet, 35.
11. (0) Todd Szegedy, Ridgefield, Conn., Chevrolet, 35.
12. (0) Keith Rocco, Wallingford, Conn., Chevrolet, 35.
13. (0) Gary Putnam, Vernon, Conn., Chevrolet, 35.
14. (0) Dave Salzarulo, Enfield, Conn., Chevrolet, 33.
15. (0) Patrick Emerling, Orchard Park, N.Y., Chevrolet, 30.
16. (0) Rowan Pennink, Huntingdon Valley, Pa., Chevrolet, 20, overheating.
17. (0) Timmy Solomito, Islip, N.Y., Ford, 14, overheating.
18. (0) Ken Heagy, Calverton, N.Y., Chevrolet, 12, electrical.
19. (0) Jamie Tomaino, Howell, N.J., Chevrolet, 5, handling.
20. (0) Doug Coby, Milford, Conn., Chevrolet, 4, accident.
Time of Race: 0 hours 23 minutes 19 seconds
Margin of Victory: 0.078 seconds
Caution Flags: 2 for 3 laps.
Lead Changes: 14 among 5 drivers.
Lap Leaders: Woody Pitkat 1-5, Eric Goodale 6, Woody Pitkat 7-14, Bobby Santos 15, Woody Pitkat 16, Bobby Santos 17-18, Woody Pitkat 19-20, Ryan Preece 21, Donny Lia 22-24, Ryan Preece 25, Donny Lia 26-27, Ryan Preece 28-31, Woody Pitkat 32, Ryan Preece 33-34, Woody Pitkat 35.