Welcome to the first edition of the Short-Track Top Five. Every week NSSN will talk to a different short-track driver and get his or her thoughts and opinions on a series of five questions.
This week National Speed Sport News talks with James Civali, a regular competitor on the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour. A native of Meriden, Conn., Civali drives the No. 79 modified for car owner Roger Hill.
In 2006 he picked up his first NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour triumph as well as Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors. He has four NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour victories to his credit and earned his first NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour victory during the 2010 season at South Boston (Va.) Speedway.
Now, without further delay, the Short-Track Top Five with James Civali.
NSSN: What influenced you to become a race car driver?
CIVALI: When I was a little kid I started racing when I was six years old. My father’s family friend was racing his kids and they were just friends. My father was a mechanic and the other guy was a mechanic, so we just traded with them and [that] got us involved in quarter midgets and we’ve been kind of hooked ever since.
You know we weren’t a racing family. My father never raced or anything. I’m the first generation and it has become like a lifestyle now.
NSSN: If you had the chance to race in the Daytona 500 or the Indianapolis 500, which would it be and why?
CIVALI: Daytona 500. Right now it’s the biggest race of the year. Thirty years ago or 20 years ago the Indy 500 was the biggest race of the year worldwide. NASCAR has just grown so fast in the past 12 years that now I think the Daytona 500 is the biggest race of the year. Even though the Daytona 500 is one of those races is one of those were anybody could win because it’s a drafting race. Nobody knows who is going to win, which is what makes that race so exciting.
It’s not like you’re watching Texas and its like, oh yeah, Jimmie Johnson’s up front, he is going to win. That’s why it is such a cool race. You’re on the edge of your seat the whole time watching it. That’s why it has grown so quickly is because of that race.
NSSN: How healthy is short-track racing in the United States?
CIVALI: It’s actually pretty good. In New England it’s good. The whole Eastern coast is pretty good. We’ve traveled to a lot of tracks on the Eastern coast and it’s pretty good right now. I don’t know what the Midwest is like. The tracks are doing good. The tracks themselves are getting sponsors for the tracks. That helps out a lot. Car counts are not bad. It’s not what it was 12 years ago, but everybody is still maintaining. It’ll be alright.
NSSN: What is the wildest race you’ve ever been a part of?
CIVALI: That’s a tough question. From where we’re from up in New England there are a lot of wild races. Modified racing in general, every race is a wild race.
My first win in a tour-type modified at Stafford [Motor Speedway] was a pretty wild race. Had to hold off the legendary Reggie Ruggiero. Held him off for 40 laps to win my first race as a rookie, so that was a crazy race. If you ask people that were there, if you ask the announcers Ben Dodge or Matt Buckle, they’ll tell you that the best race in the past 10 years was probably my race with Reggie Ruggiero.
NSSN: At the end of your career, what do you hope people will remember about you?
CIVALI: I hope they just remember the type of driver I was and, you know, I’m an aggressive driver. I make things happen, which some people frown upon. You know how it is. When drivers are out there making moves trying to win the race, you’re not going to make everybody happy.
It’s one of those things like Dale Earnhardt always said, if they’re not talking about you then you’re not winning. If they’re talking about you then it don’t matter weather it’s good or bad. And that’s what I’ve done over my whole career. Everybody’s always been talking about me, weather it’s good or bad. It’s had its ups and downs.