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NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour

Silk Scores Saturday In NASCAR Modifieds’ Maine Return

The 2011 Whelen Modified Tour champ scored his 16th career victory in the series’ first visit to Maine since 2005.

Ron Silk and his Kevin Stuart-led team celebrate their first NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour win of 2021. (Tom Morris photo)

Ron Silk arrived at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway this weekend with as little experience as everyone else. But after 192 laps, he had it figured out.

Silk battled past Matt Hirschman with eight laps remaining to win Saturday night’s Rumble at the Ridge 200, claiming his first NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour win of the season.

Silk only led eight laps of Saturday’s Rumble at the Ridge 200, but they were the most crucial eight laps. (Tom Morris photo)

For the first time since 2005, Beech Ridge played host to NASCAR’s only open-wheeled division. Only a select few among the field had any level of experience at the flat Scarborough, Me. third-mile.

Silk, having never turned a lap at Beech Ridge, was one of the many. The 2011 Whelen Modified Tour champion qualified seventh and paced himself in the early laps, waiting for tire strategy to unfold.

Instead, Hirschman set the early pace, winning the pole and led the opening green-flag stint. A winner in his only other Tour start in 2021, “Big Money Matt” was gunning for another checkered flag as he pitted from the lead under the evening’s first caution flag.

Doug Coby assumed the lead under yellow, but Anthony Nocella outdueled the six-time champion for the top spot on the restart, with Coby sinking through the field. A four-time Modified Racing Series feature winner at Beech Ridge and one of few in the field with track experience, Nocella held the point for nine laps before Woody Pitkat set off in search of his first Tour win since 2019.

Silk’s win was his sixth for car owner Kevin Stuart, who has fielded cars for the veteran driver since 2017. (Jeff Brown photo)

Coby’s issues culminated in a lap-104 spin that trapped the veteran a lap down while bunching the field up. Pitkat left the field behind on the restart, but Hirschman slowly reeled him in, taking the lead back on lap 125.

A top-five evening for Tommy Catalano ended with a backstretch collision on lap 133 that shuffled the deck once again. Coby regained his lap under caution, while title challenger Patrick Emerling was trapped a lap down after a pit miscue.

But as Hirschman continued to lead, Silk carved through traffic. A restart with 26 laps remaining put Silk to Hirschman’s outside, and while the Pennsylvanian was able to drive away, Silk closed the gap within a few laps.

At last, Silk found his opening, diving to the inside and getting past Hirschman for good with eight laps on the scoreboard. Hirschman gave chase, but had nothing to threaten Silk in the final circuits.

Emerling recovered from his pit stop error to finish third. Matt Swanson, who finished third in June’s Modified Racing Series feature at Beech Ridge, was fourth. Coby drove back from his mid-race spin to round out the top five.

Justin Bonsignore, the Tour points leader, pitted late for a tire but was unable to capitalize on his fresh rubber. Bonsignore finished eighth and lost ground to Emerling in the championship hunt with four races remaining.

Silk, a distant third in the standings, reinforced his presence in the points race with his 16th Tour victory. After scoring only two top-ten finishes in the first five races, Silk and the Kevin Stuart-owned team have rebounded with four top-five results in their last five starts, including Saturday’s win. Silk and Stuart teamed up in late 2017, with the Norwalk, Conn. wheelman collecting six wins so far for the Massachusetts car owner. Silk has also competed this year for Haydt Yannone Racing, winning April’s Icebreaker at Thompson (Conn.) Speedway and running second in points to Hirschman in the Tri-Track Open Modified Series.

Matt Hirschman led the most laps but settled for second at the finish. Hirschman’s father, five-time Tour champ Tony, finished second in the previous Tour race at Beech Ridge in 2005. (Jeff Brown photo)

Saturday night’s race was particularly special for local fans. For the first time since 2005, NASCAR-sanctioned touring racing returned not only to Beech Ridge, but to the Pine Tree State.

The choice of Beech Ridge was especially significant. Not only is Beech Ridge the only NASCAR-sanctioned track in Maine, but the track has a rich history of Modified racing prior to the 1990s. NASCAR’s regional touring series debuted at Beech Ridge in 1995, with both the Busch North Series and Modified Tour joining the track’s schedule. Future NASCAR Cup Series winner Steve Park captured the first Modified Tour event that July.

However, the Modifieds did not return to Beech Ridge until 2002. Dave Berghman, son of the legendary Carl “Bugsy Stevens” Berghman, earned his second career Tour victory in the 2002 race. Three more races followed, with Jerry Marquis winning the 2005 edition in Bob Garbarino’s storied “Mystic Missile.” Tony Hirschman, Jr., father of driver Matt and spotter Tony III, finished second en route to his fifth and final Tour championship.

By then, the Busch North Series had already dropped from the Beech Ridge schedule, running its last races at the track in 2003. The series made one more trip to Maine, a one-off event at Oxford Plains Speedway in 2005 won by veteran Dave Dion. But with the Busch North Series transitioning to a rung of NASCAR’s driver-development ladder, Oxford was not part of the organization’s long-term plan.

Dion’s win at Oxford, then, marked the last NASCAR touring event held in Maine until Saturday’s Rumble at the Ridge.

Bringing NASCAR touring racing back to Maine was the result of a joint venture between Beech Ridge and promoter JDV Productions. JDV, headed by former Thompson Speedway general manager Josh Vanada, promoted three events on this year’s Modified Tour calendar. Races at Jennerstown Speedway Complex in Pennsylvania and Oswego Speedway in central New York preceded Saturday night’s event.

Beech Ridge’s six-division weekly card opened the evening, with the Modifieds taking center stage after the final weekly feature. From the first heats to the 200-lap Modified showdown, the program was run with Beech Ridge’s trademark efficiency, wrapping up in just over four and a half hours.

The big winner on the night, at least as presented on the frontstretch, was Ron Silk.

But if Saturday night’s successes translate to future editions of the Rumble at the Ridge, Maine’s racing fans will be the bigger winners in the long term.

Official Results, NWMT Rumble at the Ridge 200 at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway:
1. (85) Ron Silk
2. (60) Matt Hirschman
3. (07) Patrick Emerling
4. (3) Matt Swanson
5. (10) Doug Coby
6. (82) Anthony Nocella
7. (22) Kyle Bonsignore
8. (51) Justin Bonsignore
9. (5) Kyle Ebersole
10. (34) J.B. Fortin
11. (58) Eric Goodale
12. (1) Woody Pitkat
13. (32) Tyler Rypkema
14. (14) Bobby Measmer, Jr.
15. (78) Walter Sutcliffe
16. (7) Jon McKennedy
17. (20) Tony Ricci
18. (54) Tommy Catalano
19. (01) Melissa Fifield

Jeff Brown is a contributor to Short Track Scene. A native of New Hampshire and a long-time fan of New England racing, Brown provides a fan's perspective as he follows New England's regional Late Model touring series.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. ModFan1

    August 23, 2021 at 10:36 am

    So, how was the crowd? Did the event draw many fans? More than regular racing at the Ridge?

  2. Jeff Brown

    August 26, 2021 at 11:30 pm

    Speaking without the benefit of gate receipts, it was definitely a stronger crowd than the GSPSS show the week before. It felt like a bigger crowd than the last PASS race there in 2018. I wouldn’t call it overcrowded, but at 4pm the frontstretch lot was pretty full, back to the track offices. It seemed like an encouraging turnout to me.

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