By Mark Kane
For Capital Region Independent Media
The race season has just kicked off here in the Capital District as Albany Saratoga, Fonda and Lebanon Valley Speedways now have their seasons underway.
The Capital District has long been known for its great racing and drivers who could and still can hit the road and be a threat no matter where they may show up, whether it be a STSS event or DIRTcar show. Over the years the names have changed, the cars have definitely changed, but the great competition on the track and the fan loyalty has always been second to none.
All three tracks have a long-standing reputation and each is different in size and configuration. The Fonda fans are “Track of Champion” fans and the same thing goes for the Valley fans, the “Valley of Speed” is their home track. On Friday nights the two sets of fans come together as one at Albany Saratoga.
As fans we grow up at a certain track and find it hard to head in a different direction come race day. No matter what track, as fans we call home where your race family is. Those who you hang out with in the parking lot and those who you sit with from April through October. The hard part is getting to the first race at your home track only to find out one of your racing family has passed away. I learned that the hard way this year. Rest in peace John Sr. The top row of the red section will not be the same without you. You are loved by many and you will definitely be missed.
ALBANY SARATOGA SPEEDWAY
So far the Albany Saratoga fans have been treated to great racing and plenty of cars as many tracks have still not opened, but will be soon. There is one thing for sure — even if they lose a few NAPA Modifieds, that will not take away from the great racing at the track that lives up to its nickname, the “Great Race Place,” with its highly competitive field.
On opening night there was one car that was missing and that was the “Ravena Rocket,” Keith Flach, whose family was dealing with COVID. Well, Keith was back at the track for the second race of the season and in mid-season form, winning his heat, Dash for Cash, and had a great feature run.
At the drop of the green it was Keith Flach grabbing the early lead from his front-row starting spot and quickly moved to the top side on the smooth racing surface with Matt Depew, Robert Bublak, Don Ronca and Jack Speshock rounding out the early top 5. For Ronca, his team had to work hard to get the No. 7 put back together after heavy contact sent him out on the hook after the Dash for Cash.
The caution flew early as Matt Depew got into the front stretch outside wall and Jack Speshock, with no place to go, made heavy contact with the rear of the 667, ending the day for both drivers. Once back to green it was Flach right back to the top and right back to the lead with Marc Johnson, the 2016 Modified champion, on the move from his 10th starting spot now in spot 3 and putting pressure on the 7 of Ronca and making the pass.
Also making his presence felt in the top 5 was Jack Lehner from the ninth starting spot. The caution flew for Robert Bublak again tightening up the field, putting Johnson next to Flach for the restart. Once the green was out it was “Lightning Larry,” Larry Wight, on the move from a 15th starting spot into the top 5 when the caution flew for Derrick McGrew. Back to green Flach remained the leader with Johnson, Lehner, Ronca and Wight.
Flach was pounding the cushion and Johnson down low with Wight and Ronca nerf bar to nerf bar for fourth and fifth, with Wight getting the spot on lap 7. With green flag racing Flach started to put distance between himself and the field as Wight was making his way into second, getting past Lehner and Johnson and now had his sights on the Flach 43.
Just outside the top 5 there was a battle for position with Billy Decker, Mike Mahaney, opening night winner Peter Britten, and Matt DeLorenzo.
As the laps clicked away the front runners were in heavy traffic and Wight started to reel in the leader lap after lap and was the new leader at the line on lap 26 as now the battle for third and fourth heated up between Johnson and Lehner as Mahaney and Britten were racing hard for fourth and fifth as Decker was dealing with DeLorenzo.
As they crossed the line it was Wight in for the win with Flach, Johnson, Lehner, Britten, Mahaney, DeLorenzo, Decker, Demetrios Drellos, and Ronnie Johnson rounding out the top 10 after starting 20th.Picking up heat wins were Keith Flach, Jack Speshock, and Robert Bublak, Wow that was one “HE double hockey sticks” of a feature and just think — it is only week two.
In other action, Scott Duell won the green to checker Sportsman feature. Last week Rob Yetman tied Joe Santoro for wins in the Pro Stock division and this week picked up his second win of the year and now is the all-time win leader in the tough Pro Stock class. The feature took its toll on the competitors with some heavy damage in a late race red flag going into turn 1. All drivers walked away, but that can’t be said for their cars.
In the Limited Sportsman Taylor Wason recorded the win as Jeff Meltz Sr. picked up the Street Stock win and Elmer Montville the 4-Cyl. winner.
With the forecast not looking very favorable for Saturday night, Brett Deyo pulled the plug early for the $12,000 to win 40-lap JUMPIN’ Jack Johnson Memorial for the SUNOCO Modifieds and rescheduled it for Sunday. When Sunday came around it was a picture-perfect day for race fans to be at the “Track of Champions” to honor the fans’ champion, Jack Johnson. He may be gone but every Saturday night he is still in the hearts of his many fans. The memories still exist of the orange 12A, his many wins, his many championships and the one battle he fought so hard but could not win. In typical Jack style he fought ALS as if it was a race, right up to the checker flag. His fans were as important to Jack as he was to them. Race on, my friend and my hero.
On Sunday, a fine field of 130 cars made their way to the historic track that sits along the Mohawk River, Fonda Speedway. The SUNOCO Modifieds with sail panels came to the track 40-plus strong, all looking for their share of the money and hoping they were the first to cross the line after 40 laps and pocket the $12,000 to win.
The night started with Matt DeLorenzo, David Schilling, Matt Sheppard, Rocky Warner, and Stewart Friesen picking up heat wins and the $112 bonus that went along with it. Two consi events were needed that were won by Tim Fuller and Danny Varin.
There was a scary moment in his heat when Andy Bachetti, who was fresh off his opening night win at the Lebanon Valley Speedway, had an oil line break as the car erupted into flames coming out of turn 4, with Andy finally bringing the car to a stop at the end of the back stretch on the top side of turn 3. The fine Fonda safety crew was right there when the car stopped to put out the fire that was engulfing his 4 machine. Andy climbed from the car unharmed, but the charred car has seen better days.
When the SUNOCO Modifieds came to the track for the 40-lap feature, two former track champions led the way with multi-time champion Stewart Friesen, 44, and 2007 vhamp Matt DeLorenzo, 3D.
At the drop of the green it was Friesen leading the way as the echo of the SUNOCO ground-pounding Modifieds could be heard in the old, covered grandstand. DeLorenzo right was on his rear deck looking for racing room and found it on the high side. Racing nerf bar to nerf bar down the back chute, DeLorenzo used the high side with perfection and would be the new leader on lap 2.
Behind the leaders the racing was tight on a very smooth early season racing surface that only a few weeks ago was part of the river. The 1Z of Jessica Friesen and Mike Maresca 7MM were racing side by side with Maresca taking over the third spot as DeLorenzo was starting to pull away from the field. On the move early was Rocky Warner moving into the top 5 after starting eighth on the grid, with Matt Sheppard following in his tracks.
With DeLorenzo out front, Friesen moved to the top and quickly started to reel in DeLorenzo as they again were side by side on lap 6, with Friesen getting the lead just before the caution was out for Adam McAuliffe, who was on the infield at the exit of turn 4. Without the lap being complete it would be DeLorenzo going back to the lead.
On the restart the two leaders were again side by side and Warner continued his march to the front, moving to third as Friesen was the new leader. The racing behind the top 3 found Maresca, Jessica Friesen and Sheppard racing hard as Warner aboard the 98 was fast and worked his way around DeLorenzo for second and quickly started to reel in the 44.
Lap 14 found Sheppard working his way around Maresca for fourth, but the caution was out for the 18 of seven-time track champion Bobby Varin, who slowed on the front stretch, bringing the field back to the 44 of Friesen. Back to green Friesen continued to lead as Sheppard was now third, working his way around DeLorenzo and Maresca.
After starting 14th, veteran Alan Johnson was making his way to just outside the top 5, battling with Mat Williamson. Up front Sheppard raced his way around DeLorenzo as Friesen was working his way around lap traffic. The caution was out as Rocky Warner’s fine ride came to an end in the turn one wall after contact with a lap car.
Now it was a 10-lap shoot out for the $12,000 paycheck with two of the best in dirt modified racing today going head to head, with Friesen remaining the leader at a track he has become very hard to beat at. With five to go it was Friesen, Sheppard, Maresca, the 1Z Jessica Friesen who had worked her way around DeLorenzo and was now looking for more as she battled Maresca for fourth, with Maresca holding the spot.
Out front it was all Friesen as he picked up his sixth opening night win and 80th of his career at the “Track of Champions.” Following Friesen to the line was Sheppard, Maresca, Jessica Friesen, and DeLorenzo rounding out the top 5.
In other action, 2021 Pro Stock champion Nick Stone picked up his 60th Pro Stock win. The 2021 Sportsman champion Chad Edwards also was able to pick up where he left off last year with a dominating run for the win. Lap 2 of the feature found the red flag out as Jeremiah Munson, who took a hard ride into the wall between turns 1 and 2, then started a series of rolls. Munson was unhurt.
Picking up the win in the Limited Sportsman was Kyle Dingman, with John Napoli picking up the 4-Cyl. win.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to Terri Mohrman after recent surgery. A member of the Fonda Speedway Hall of Fame, Terri for good reason is the leader of the speedway safety crew and will be missed by everyone at the track. Get well soon, Terri.
At the “Valley of Speed,” Lebanon Valley, it was Andy Bachetti in for the 70th opening night win in the Modifieds. Eddie Marshall, Kyle Armstrong, Brett Haas and Marc Johnson rounded out the top 5.
The Sportsman found Whitey Slavin with the win and Rob Yetman picked up the Pro Stock win.
The Short Track Super Series found Stewart Friesen picking up the win in the Diamond State 50 at Delaware International Speedway over Mike Maresca, Jordan Watson, Matt Sheppard and Ryan Godown.
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