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Tom Herzig's Trackside: Valenti Modified race was top shelf

April 23. 2014 11:18PM

FANS AT Monadnock’s season opener were treated to a top-shelf Valenti Modified race Saturday night, which was eventually won by defending series champion Rowan Pennink.

Pennink had looked strong in his heat in Gary Casella’s new No. 25 and when he drew the pole, a possible 100-lap rout loomed, but instead things started out racy and stayed that way with little separation down through the top 12 cars.

NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Thompson Icebreaker winner Justin Bonsignore of West Islip, N.Y., driving Art Barry’s No. 21, made an early rush up the outside to take the lead five laps in while Todd Szegedy, Max Zachem and rookie Mike Willis Jr. of Grantham were hot on Pennink’s tail for second.

There were eight cautions in the race, but they didn’t involve the leaders and thankfully, didn’t distract too much from the action at the front — unlike the Sportsman Modified feature which went on forever before Adam Norton managed to win it.

Pennink took the lead on lap 51, by which time Steve Masse in the El Gee Products No. 13, Chris Pasteryak and Dwight Jarvis had also arrived on the scene.

Bonsignore and Pennink swapped the lead twice more with occasional surges into second by Masse before Pennink regained command over the final 10 laps. Bonsignore edged Masse for second with Pasteryak fourth and Szegedy, who’s filling in for the injured Louie Mechalides in Kevin Stuart’s No. 85, held Jarvis off for fifth.

Masse liked the way the new Hoosier M35 right rear tire held up even as he wore it out by working the outside to press Pennink and Bonsignore. “I wanted to bide my time for the first caution or two and they were two wide in front of me, but when things opened up on the outside I turned the wick up,” he said. “Then I didn’t save much because I was having too much fun. Rowan and Justin were good to race with. I think that was a good one for the fans.”

Willis Jr. wound up 10th. “The car loosened up,” Willis Jr. said. “We get advice from Ken Berry and the No. 21 team, but we’re still learning how to set up for the 100-lap races.”

The next Valenti Modified event is at Seekonk on Sunday, May 4.

The second American Canadian Tour event of the season opens Thunder Road Sunday. Tour races at the Road are usually a dogfight as touring teams go up against the weekly regulars. As a case in point, consider 22-year-olds Jimmy Hebert and Cody Blake from the Barre, Vt., area. These two have been racing one another around Thunder Road since their go-kart days. Hebert, who came from 30th to place sixth at the Governor’s Cup at Lee earlier this month, is pursuing the ACT championship. Blake, whose uncle Dick is the best wrecker man in the business, is shooting for King of the Road honors. At last year’s Merchants Bank 150, Brian Hoar held off local favorite Dave Pembroke to win.

Granite State star DJ Shaw of Center Conway took the gloves off to win the Southern PASS Tour Easter Bunny 150 at Hickory (NC) Speedway Sunday. Shaw, by rule, had to start on the inside on a late restart even though the high line was working better. He lost the lead to local favorite Tyler Church as a result and then elbowed his way to the front through the final turns. Shaw was quoted as follows afterwards. “I just did what I had to do to win. He jumped the restart and I couldn’t lose. It’s big. It’s an honor to be on the winner list at Hickory in itself. To finally get a PASS South win. I’m proud of my team for giving me the car they did.”Shaw will be in action at the Star Speedway opener when PASS comes to Epping May 10 for a 150-lapper.Eddie MacDonald races this Friday in a NASCAR K&N Pro Series event at Richmond International Speedway.

Stafford hosts the 43rd annual Spring Sizzler for Whelen Tour Modifieds Sunday. Twenty years ago, Mike Ewanitsko, in Art Barry’s No. 21, bested western New York driver Jan Leaty, Reggie Ruggiero and the late Tom Baldwin to give the popular car owner his first Spring Sizzler win.

Tom Herzig’s column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Union Leader. Email him at