With the Labor Day weekend we have gotten a little behind, so let’s try to get everyone up to date on what’s been going on and what is coming up here in the Capital District, as well as in the world of DIRT.
Lebanon Valley Speedway
Let’s start with the Mr. Dirt Track USA at Lebanon Valley Speedway, or maybe we should just call it The Brett Hearn Show.
It is hard to believe that “Brett the Jet” has not won a Super DIRTcar Series event since early August in 2015. After winning eight DIRTcar titles - the first in 1986 and last in 2013 - and an amazing 121 Career Super DIRT Series events, we knew sooner or later he was going to get back on track, and that he did, dominating the title race.
After setting a fast time with a lap of 19.474 in the second group, and then winning heat two over Eddie Marshall and Chad Jeseo with all three headed to the draw, Hearn would draw the seventh starting spot in front of the huge crowd at the Valley of Speed. Also grabbing heat wins were the Ravena Rocket Keith Flach, Jimmy Phelps, and the hottest thing on the Super DIRTcar Series with five straight wins - Matt Sheppard. The two last chance qualifiers were won by Anthony Perrego and Billy Whittaker to set the 30-car high-powered Big Block Modified starting field for the $17,500 to win pay day.
At the drop of the green it was Eddie Marshall making his way to the front from his pole starting position, with Keith Flach putting heavy pressure on the leader as Hearn picked up two quick spots from Chad Jeseo and Kenny Tremont. Then after a great battle with Jimmy Phelps in the fourth spot, he seemed to be saving his car riding behind third place runner Andy Bachetti.
Lap 14 saw the caution out as Chad Jeseo made contact with the outside retaining wall between turns 3 and 4 while running inside the top 10, ending his night early. At that point the race would take a turn as on the lap 19 restart Hearn put on a great move to get past Bachetti to take over third in turn one, then powered his way into the lead with an outstanding move to put Marshall second and Flach third.
Once out front, Brett went to the high side and was putting on a show and opening up on the field. Now it was Kenny Tremont, Bachetti and Phelps putting on a spirited battle with Stewart Friesen on the move from his 10th starting spot and starting to make his way to the front, and eventually working his way into the top three.
The drive of the night came from starting 30th Mike Mahaney, who after changing from Troyer to Bicknell chassis has turned his season around and made a late race charge and worked his way into the top 10. He was not done yet, using the bottom of the well-prepared surface and eventually placing fifth.
As the laps clicked away, Hearn continued his dominating performance to grab win No. 903 of his career over Eddie Marshall, Stewart Friesen, Kenny Tremont, Mike Mahaney, Andy Bachetti, Jimmy Phelps, current point leader Billy Decker, Matt Sheppard and J.R. Heffner, rounding out the top 10. Local racer Keith Flach would come across the line fifth, but was light at the scales giving him a 32nd place finish after a great run throughout the event in the top 5.
In the King of Dirt Sportsman event, Michael Sabia would grab the lead from Scott Duell to outdistance the field, putting down some convincing laps to pick up the win. Following Sabia at the line was Jeff Watson, current KOD Point leader Rocky Warner, John Virgilio, and Chad Edwards rounding out the top 5.
Albany Saratoga Speedway
Friday kicked off the holiday weekend and it was championship night at the Great Race Place, Albany Saratoga Speedway. Going into the night and fresh off a dominating win the week before behind the wheel of his own 21A, Peter Britten would go into the night with a 15-point lead over Keith Flach. Britten made everyone take notice early that he had one thing on his mind - his first track championship at Albany Saratoga, as well as the first here in the United States for the driver from Australia.
Right from the drop of the green of the Modified feature Britten was fast and on the move, and quickly worked his way to the front. The racing out front was wheel to wheel as Rich Ronca would lead early, then it was Donnie Mattison who would take over the lead and then Mat DeLorenzo showed the power of his Small Block as he was the new leader all within the first 18 laps of the event.
But it was Britten still on the charge, though DeLorenzo was fast. After making his way to the runner up spot on lap 20, now he started to reel in the leader. The racing mid pack had drivers Brett Hearn and Kenny Tremont working hard as behind them Keith Flach, Ronnie Johnson and Marc Johnson struggled.
With DeLorenzo out front and Britten closing, Wilder was sitting in third as Jessy Mueller, Donnie Mattison and Rich Ronca were having great runs. With 30 down and five to go, Britten was all over DeLorenzo’s rear bumper and dove to the bottom, getting the bite he needed to make the pass, and drove away for the popular win and first well-deserved championship.
Up until last week, Peter Britten was behind the wheel of veteran car owner and former driver Andy Romano 97 machine, a number Roman and son Mike had used throughout their careers. After hooking up for the 2017 season the team has been super consistent until late in the season when the 97 just did not seem to have the power it had throughout the championship drive and the decision was made to bring the 21A to the track. It proved to be the right decision, picking up wins the last two weeks.
Following Britten to the line was DeLorenzo, Wilder, Mueller and Rich Ronca. A huge congrats goes out to Britten and car owner Andy Romano on both a fine season and a great championship.
With his 12th place finish, Keith Flach will finish second in points after he had a very consistent season. Any championship has to feel good, but to win your first at a track with the caliber of the talent Albany Saratoga has in its weekly Modified field has to make it that much sweeter knowing you have just proved yourself against some of the best behind the wheel.
In the Sportsman, going into the event Rocky Warner only had to start the feature and that was a good thing as he got snarled in a multi-car tangle on lap one and was done for the night as he had heavy damage to the 1J Championship ride.
After the track had been cleared the racing went back to green and it was a great race for the right to the checker flag as Jamike Sowle took home some of his dad’s race sponsor money as he beat Jeremy Pitts, Connor Cleveland, Tim Hartman and David Shilling, who rounded out the top five in another very exciting Sportsman win.
The Pro Stocks found Luke Horning, who has been fast all year but has not been there at the end due to mechanical breakage or crashes, finally got the win over Kim Duell, Josh Coonradt, Jeff Washburn and Nick Arnold.
With his ninth place finish, Crazy Kenny Martin is your 2017 Pro Stock champion, one who seemed very popular with the fans.
Wow, this was a hard-fought championship and became very wide open after Robbie Speed was disqualified for the season for an illegal motor.
Congratulations to all champions on their fine season - it truly was a Great Race Place in 2017.
It was not only a night to honor the track champions but a night to honor our veterans and those who gave the ultimate sacrifice to the country with a very emotional salute.
Lebanon Valley Speedway
On Saturday night at the Lebanon Valley Speedway, 74 years young driver Denny Soltis grabbed his first win since 2002 in a former Keith Flach ride that was run last at the Oswego Speedway where the frame was broken from the rough track conditions, taking away a possible win in the event.
If you put seven guys in a lineup and asked who you thought was in their 70s, Soltis would surely get no votes and I can imagine he was a kid at heart after his win. Many of the drivers came to the speedway to give their congratulations on a job well done.
With all the great young talent in the Modified ranks, as well as the high dollar teams, it is great to see one of our true veterans of dirt track racing get a win. Way to go Denny - winning races in five different decades is something to be proud of.
With his third in the feature, Brett Hearn fresh -off his Mr. Dirt Track USA - was crowned the 2017 track champion, his 12th, and sixth in a row, which is a new record to just add to the rest he has broken over his career.
This weekend at Albany Saratoga Speedway
That brings us to this past weekend, and Friday night at The Great Race Place, Albany Saratoga Speedway. I have said it before the Malta speed plant is as good as it gets and for those who did not make the show Friday night, you may have just missed the night of the year, or as far as that goes in some time at not just Albany Saratoga but anywhere.
With no Modifieds on the card, the 358 Modifieds, Pro Stocks and Sportsman features came right down to the end with more passing in one event than some tracks have for the season.
There were two, three and even four cars wide racing nerf bar to nerf bar or fender to fender in the Pro Stocks. From the drop of that first heat race to the checker on the final lap of the night, they put a show on for the fans that had the crowd buzzing on a great racing surface. There could have been a top three one lap, and the following lap there could have been three different drivers fighting for the lead. Yes, folks, the racing was that good and the fans in the stands were the big winners of the night.
Pro Stock at The Great Race Place
The 50-lap Pro Stock event was the first feature to come to the line. In the early going it was Chuck Dumblewski and Dan Madigan swapping the lead as Nick Stone had the best seat in the house watching the war up front as he ran third.
Soon it was Stone now holding down second behind Dumblewski as the racing in the top five was heating up as Luke Horning and Norm Loubier were in an all-out battle for fifth, racing hard and clean. It was then Kim Duell making his presence felt and Loubier was on the move as he sat now in the top three and was putting the pressure on the leaders.
As good as the racing was up front, the racing throughout the field was just as good, with plenty of hard racing. Then it was time for Loubier and Stone to put on a show as they ran side by side, lap after lap, for the lead, neither giving an inch nor taking an inch, including in heavy lap traffic as Duell fell back outside the top 5.
Horning’s fine run would come to an end as he spun in turn 4 with a little help and went to the pits after showing his displeasure with a fellow competitor, Dave DePaulo. Once back to green, Horning was on the move and was making quick work of the field, driving hard and taking no prisoners – well, maybe a few in the Horning driving sort of way.
Once back to racing the race for the lead continued to heat up as Kim Duell was now moving forward and quickly was sitting in third. Now it was Jason Casey and Jay Corbin who were adding their names to the war, sitting just outside the top 5 but charging. A late race caution gave Stone his chance and he jumped on it as he grabbed the lead as Loubier fired right back but could not make the pass.
As for Horning, well he was still on a charge but after trying to move the front straight wall and continuing on, settled into the top 10. As the race drew to a close it was Nick Stone in for the win over Loubier, Duell, Dumblewski, Casey, Corbin, Jason Meltz, Ivan Joslin, and Horning, who would hold on for ninth with a pretty damaged racer, and Byron Westcot, would round out the top 10 in the very competitive Sowle Trailer Repair Pro Stock Show down.
King of Dirt Northeast Crate Nationals
Next up was the100-lap King of Dirt Northeast Crate Nationals. In all, 63 Sportsmen made their way into the pits and 30 cars started the feature.
During the time trial session Connor Cleveland would set fast time, setting up the three heat races. With that many cars in the pits, the 15lap heats were full of action with Tim Hartman, Adam Pierson in the Greg’s Towing 173 for the second time after Cody Bleau has stepped up to the Modifieds, and Chad Edwards grabbing heat 3. The two consolation events were won by Rob Maxon and Jeff Watson.
At the conclusion of the heats and consi events, 32 cars went home without making the show and among that 32 were some pretty heavy hitters in the Sportsman ranks.
Once again Rocky Warner was the class of the field in the 100-lap grind after starting eighth and grabbing the lead on lap 12. Lap after lap, Warner pounded the cushion on the high side of the speedway.
Once again the racing behind the leaders was nerf bar to nerf bar on a track with three smooth groves and at times four for those who dared to take it there. And yes, fans, there were many who did.
There is no possible way to give a blow by blow of the race it was just that good as throughout the event. Except for Warner out front, the positions seemed to change lap after lap even in heavy traffic as those in the back were racing just as those up front in the highly competitive 602 machines. A late race caution tightened up the field and gave Chad Edwards his shot at Warner and the win, and he quickly grabbed the lead, but Warner fired right back and the race was on with Warner still pounding the high side and Edwards the bottom. The two raced side by side as Dave Marcucilli was on the move making his way to third.
As the final laps clicked away, Warner worked his way past Edwards as Edwards started to drift to fifth and Marcucilli worked his way to second, but his fine drive was not enough as Warner cruised to win number 22 on the year and may go down in the record books as one of the best drivers to ever sit behind the wheel of a Sportsman. No matter where the Sportsman race, Rocky Warner is the class of the field and yes, he has been torn down his share of times and has never yet to be found to be illegal. He is that good. Jake Spraker puts him into the best equipment possible and it has made for a winning combination.
The race as of this writing is not official as once again the motor in the 1J was protested and removed. Unofficially, Warner was followed by Marcucilli, Jeremy Pits, David Schilling, and Edwards rounded out the top 5.
In the 358 Modifieds it was Ronnie Johnson coming from deep in the starting grid to lead one lap, the last to claim the win. For Johnson it has been a tough week as he and car owner Jake Spraker have parted ways for the remainder of the season and as well as next year.
The win for Johnson was the same 2RJ he used last year for the win in this event and has not been on the track since, I believe, Oswego.
Again the racing was fast and furious on a very dry slick black race track that again had three wide racing. The race came down to a caution with Jeremy Wilder the leader, as Wilder and Ronnie Johnson battled as they went into turn one with Wilder on the top and Johnson hitting the bottom as Marc Johnson sat third.
The leaders touched down the back stretch, giving Johnson a slim lead as they dove into three and came out of four with the lead and the popular win with Wilder, Marc Johnson, and Kenny Tremont - from as far back as you could get, putting on a great drive to show why he has claimed so many wins and championships - was fourth, with Demetrois Drellos rounding out the top 5.
As in the other two features it was racing at its finest as the warriors fought hard and raced clean lap after lap throughout the field.
Well, fans like I said if you were not there you missed something special. What a great night of racing at The Great Race Place.