THOMPSON, Conn. – Despite the pure melting pot of teams from all over the Eastern seaboard at the UNOH Showdown, a couple of familiar faces took pole awards at Thompson International Speedway on Saturday.
Ryan Preece set the fast time for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour's Northern Thompson 125, while New Englander Andy Seuss followed by wining the pole for the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour Southern Thompson 125.
Preece's fast lap of 18.769 seconds (119.879 mph) was only one-tenth of a second faster than Seuss' own pole-winning speed.
"I came around the first lap and looked at the scoreboard," said Preece, who has competed in roughly half the Tour's events this season in a family-owned car after leaving a full-time ride in 2010. "I didn't know if it said 40 – it could have been anybody – but I came back around and somebody said, 'You're on the board.'
"I came back around and saw it, and I thought, 'Boy, I hope it stays that way.'"
It did, and Doug Coby, who was fastest in final practice, qualified second. Erick Rudolph, Eric Goodale and series points leader Ron Silk rounded out the Top-5.
Seuss beat Bellingham, Mass., driver Steve Masse for the Southern pole. Burt Myers was third, followed by Donny Lia and L.W. Miller.
Following the two independent 125-lap races, 36 cars will compete in the 50-lap UNOH Showdown for money and bragging rights.
Perhaps the most dramatic part of qualifying on Saturday was Keith Rocco's trip into the concrete wall during his time trial attempt. Rocco's car shot straight up the banking and left the No. 79 Whelen Southern Modified Tour mangled.
The 2010 Whelen All-American Series national champion will have to start 21st in the 23-car field for the Southern Thompson 125. Rocco, who competes weekly at Thompson, is currently second in the national standings having won 23 of 46 SK Modified starts.
"It seems pretty good," Rocco said after practice. "We haven't worked on setting the time charts on fire, but we're just working on getting it to where it's comfortable and getting to the point where it can go 125 laps without burning the right rear off.
"It's definitely a way different feel than what I'm used to. We run some of the weekly (Tour-type) races with the Modified that we have, and it's just a completely different feel."
Experience at Thompson, no matter which division was on the track, played a part in finding success.
"Oh, I definitely think it helps," said Seuss, of Hempstead, N.H. "We had a good setup when we unloaded, and that made a difference for us."
"You've got guys like Teddy Christopher who can drive around here with his eyes shut," said George Brunnhoelzl III, the Whelen Southern Modified Tour points leader who ran the northern tour last year. "It's going to be tough to compete with him having never really being here – with the amount of laps anybody has among the southern cars, you can't really compete with him.
"Experience is something that can really help you here."