Undaunted by Adversity, Szegedy Racing Like a Champion
Despite having to endure the best of times and worst of times this season, Todd Szegedy continues to race with the heart of a champion. That's not surprising, because the Connecticut-born racer is exactly that: a former champion of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, as well as a driver who has shone brightly in limited NASCAR Busch Series outings.
Though he hopes one day to return to his ultimate goal -- speeding around the nation's superspeedways in NASCAR's Nextel Cup, Busch and Craftsman Truck Series competition -- Szegedy does not pass his time sitting still. He has been electrifying on this year's Whelen tour, a 16-race schedule in NASCAR's oldest division for the fast and nimble open-wheeled Modifieds. Sadly for Szegedy, Lady Luck has usually chosen other drivers to ride with in 2006.
On the bright side, Szegedy's Wisk/Snuggle #2, fielded by Mike Smeriglio Racing, has been among the pre-race favorites -- and, ultimately, among the actual contenders -- at most every NASCAR Modified event run this year. In June, Szegedy scored a wildly popular victory in front of the home folks at Connecticut's Thompson International Speedway. Unfortunately, problems beyond his control have too often left Szegedy with finishes that reflected neither his speed nor his team's tireless efforts.
Such was the case in the recent Sylvania 100 at New Hampshire International Speedway. Though fastest in the practice sessions, Szegedy was relegated to the third starting position when rain washed out qualifying and forced NASCAR to grid the cars according to the points standings. Unfazed, Szegedy took the lead by the second lap, and for the first half of the event appeared to be steering the dominant car. Even when the aerodynamic draft and "slingshot" passing that make the NHIS Modified events so unpredictable shuffled Szegedy back to second or third, he seemed able to retake the top spot at will.
But, in keeping with Szegedy's up-and-down year, things went awry at NHIS. A splendid mid-race pit stop -- in which the Smeriglio team changed four tires faster than some of its rivals took on just two -- placed Szegedy behind a small handful of cars which hadn't pitted, putting him in a seemingly perfect position to reassert his dominance. But, one of those cars in front of him bobbled just after the restart and a chain-reaction pileup collected several front-runners, Szegedy included. Damaged bodywork on both ends of his once-sleek Modified had a hurt its downforce and cooling system, yet after hasty repairs Szegedy posted lap times which were often faster than those of the leaders.
In the end, Szegedy finished fifth in the Sylvania 100, his eighth top-10 result in 13 starts. While it might have been a finish worth crowing about -- any top-five in the competitive Whelen series is something to be proud of -- this was one more day when the reward was not nearly equal to Szegedy's performance.
Still, his champion's heart was beating loudly. The Smeriglio team left New Hampshire fourth in the WMT standings. More importantly, their rocky season still had three races left. That meant three more chances for Todd Szegedy to do what he has always done best: win.