WALL TOWNSHIP, N.J. — Audio, recap and photo by Race Chaser Online Associate Editor Kyle Magda —
Eric Mauriello grew up watching modified drivers John and Jimmy Blewett race at Wall Stadium Speedway in New Jersey. Saturday, he joined them on a legendary list.
Mauriello held off Jimmy and runner-up finisher Les Hinckley to capture his first Tour Modified win in Turkey Derby XLI on Saturday. The Wall Stadium Speedway regular qualified second and inherited the lead when he passed Bowman-Gray Stadium champion Danny Bohn for the final time with 25 laps to go in the 150-lap feature.
“They come here every year,” Mauriello said of Hinckley. “They run the same thing. He ran me clean. I was real fortunate to have a good driver behind me.”
Mauriello ousted a field of 26 drivers that featured a mix of local Northeast short-track drivers, along with some of the stars on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. The Turkey Derby trophy stayed in New Jersey.
“Nobody likes South stars coming in to win,” he said. “They (Wall Stadium) got one of theirs to win, even Jimmy (Blewett) too, so they got two of their own to win this weekend.
Blewett started near the front and stayed out while many of the top cars pitted. Crew chief Gary Putnam came up with a game plan before the race to ensue the No. 7NY machine could be in victory lane at the end of the day.
Tires started to prevail and Blewett fell back before coming in to pit when Ron Silk spun out for the second time during the race. The car got bent up and threw the team out of pit sequence. Nevertheless, the 2011 Turkey Derby Tour Modified winner started to make the mad dash to the front in the final 50 laps.
“We came out later on in the race and saved the car early on,” Blewett said. “When I came out, my spotter said to me, ‘You got 30 laps to go.’ His exact words were: ‘It’s Showtime, let’s go.’ We gave it everything we had.”
The No. 7NY carries a lot of history with the late Tommy Baldwin, Sr. and Blewett got a chance to show his talents driving the iconic number. The Howell, N.J. driver recalls some of the conversations he had with Baldwin.
“I might not of known him as well as some as the veterans out here, but, I knew him enough to ask him questions and always have a bunch of good talks with him,” he added. “He and my brother (John), they both lost their lives on a Thursday night at Thompson, and I felt like today they were both looking out for me to and I got to put on a show for them.”
New Jersey drivers took three of the first five spots in the race: Mauriello (first), Blewett (third) and Anthony Sesley (fourth). 2014 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion Doug Coby rounded out the top five.
Both the Tour and SK races were action packed with many plot twists and turns. Two-time defending Tour Modified Turkey Derby Champ Matt Hirschman had an eventful day, but one to forget. Hirschman was caught up in a multi-car crash at lap 89 in the Tour Modified race and the No. 60 car was done for the day.
Last month’s Octoberfast winner at Mahoning Valley Speedway (PA) ran a different car in the SK race and led every lap until being tagged by fellow Pennsylvania driver, Zane Zeiner, on lap 89 of the 100-lap race.
“I don’t think we were going to win the (SK) race, but he didn’t really make a pass,” Hirschman said. “He kind of just drove through me. This is how sometimes it goes here.”
Hirschman drove his No. 41 car back to fourth at the finish as the race became a survival of the fastest, with cars dropping out left and right. Zeiner took the lead when officials deemed his move on Hirschman to be a “racing incident.” Once the race restarted, the Bath, Pa. driver had Blewett breathing down his bumper, until the two made contact — sending Zeiner into the guardrail.
Like the Hirschman incident, it was another racing deal and Blewett kept the lead, while Zeiner was done for the night.
From there, Blewett never looked back and drove away from Johnathan Mandato in the final laps to score the SK victory.
Former NASCAR driver Jeremy Mayfield also made the trip to Wall, but wasn’t the day he hoped for. Mayfield failed to qualify for the Tour Modified race and was the Fan’s choice to compete in the SK feature. The Kentucky driver’s night ended after the SK car started smoking, forcing Mayfield to drive his machine back to the pits.
For Mayfield, he had a positive outlook of his experience at Wall Stadium this past weekend.
“The whole weekend here has been awesome,” he said. “I had a great reception and had a lot of support. I appreciate the guys that I raced against. I didn’t run as good as I wanted to, performance-wise, but I saw a lot of great race fans that support modified racing.”
38 Tour Modifieds and 32 SK/Wall Modifieds showed up for the Turkey Derby, along with a slew of other divisions at the track.
Ricky Ross, Jr. (Dirt Modified), Matt Janisch (TQ Midgets) and Rob Ormsbee (Limited Late Models) were also winners on Saturday.
Turkey Derby XLI winner Eric Mauriello