By Mark Kane
For Capital Region Independent Media
I would have to say that the 2022 season opener at the “Great Race Place,” Albany Saratoga Speedway, was a great success for all involved.
From the promoter side, the pits were packed, with overflow in the parking lot with over 175 cars making their way to the Malta speed plant that is celebrating its 57th year of racing. The fans were there early and they kept coming as the grandstands were filled with eager race fans that had some parking out on Route 9 and they were treated to a great night of non-stop racing action.
For the drivers it was a great payday on a really great early season racing surface that has seen its fair share of rain.
ALBANY SARATOGA SPEEDWAY
With extra money on the line, many top invaders made their way to the track and into the starting field including Larry Wight, Smith Racing Team cars of Darren Smith and Billy Decker, Danny Creeden, Mike Maresca, Jeff Taylor, Tim Fuller, Ryan McCartney and Chas Wolbert.
Wolbert made the long haul from Ohio for his maiden voyage in a Modified after moving up from Sportsman. Max McLaughlin, Kevin Root and Tim Murphy failed to make the feature.
With 43 NAPA Modifieds in the pits the draw was important and it was no easy chore for anyone to make their way into the 30-car heads-up starting field with the strong contingent of outsiders as well as the tough Albany Saratoga weekly NAPA Modified field. Heat race action found Matt DeLorenzo, Peter Britten, Anthony Perrego and Larry Wight picking up wins during the hotly contested heats that saw some big names going to the two consi’s. The consi’s were won by Ronnie Johnson after a spirited race with Matt Sheppard and James Meehan picking up consi 2 win.
It seems as if Peter Britten, the 2017 track champion, enjoys opening nights at Albany Saratoga after “Batman” picked up his third opening night win and the $6,500 that went along with it after a great battle with early race leader Matt DeLorenzo as the two veterans ran hard and clean through lap traffic.
At the drop of the green it was DeLorenzo grabbing the early lead with Britten holding down a close second, with tight racing behind the leaders inside the top 5. The caution flew on lap 3 as James Meehan slowed.
Once back to green, DeLorenzo remained the leader with Britten, Larry Wight, Anthony Perrego, and Jessey Mueller holding down the top 5. On the move was 2020 champion Mike Mahaney as he moved into the top 5.
After working their way into the feature by way of the consi, Matt Sheppard and Billy Decker were picking their way through the tough field from the 25th and 27th starting spots. There was plenty of racing action throughout the field with a smooth 2- and 3-groove racing surface.
As the laps clicked away, DeLorenzo using the high side and Britten low remained the class of the field and started to put some real estate between themselves and the field as the battle in the top 5 was tight.
Once in heavy lap traffic Wight, 2021 champion Perrego, and Mahaney started to reel back in the leaders. In traffic, DeLorenzo would move to the bottom and continued to hold off a determined Britten, who was all over the leader.
Just before the halfway mark the caution was out for Rich Ronca, who slowed and headed pit side. Once back to green DeLorenzo was on the bottom as Britten powered his way to the high side and got a great run down the back chute and would be the new leader at the flag stand. DeLorenzo fired right back but could only get to Britten’s door as they ran nerf bar to nerf bar and could not make the pass as Britten remained the leader.
Mike Maresca was making his presence felt working his way into the top 5. Back in the pack Sheppard was still on the charge as he worked his way into the top 10 and was looking for more on the top side. With less than a handful of laps left, DeLorenzo was looking to get the lead back but lap traffic came into play, taking away his line as Britten held on for the popular win with DeLorenzo holding on for a fine second as Wight, Mahaney and Maresca — who has had a very good start in the 2022 season with many solid runs — rounded out the top 5. Sheppard ended up the night with a fine 8th and Billy Decker would finish 10th, both receiving the hard-charger award.
Other racing action found Cody Ochs picking up his first ever Sportsman win and the $2,000 paycheck that went with it grabbing the early lead and never looking back with a great run.
The true veteran of the Pro Stocks across the Northeast, Rob Yetman, was the class of the field and put the $1,000 paycheck in his pocket. Once again the Rookie Sportsman came to the track strong in numbers and it was Chris Crane Jr. picking up the hard fought win with Paul Braymer holding on to win the Street Stocks.
BILLY ‘THE KID’ PAUCH
Back on April 9, Billy “The Kid” Pauch won an exciting feature at the Bridgeport Speedway, while finishing second was the “Kid’s” kid, Billy Pauch Jr.
I understand drivers want to go out on top, not just fade away into the sunset and not be competitive as many do. For men like Billy Pauch, racing is in your blood and so is winning. One thing for sure — no fan would ever think Billy was anything but a champion.
Picking up a total of over 745 wins and numerous championships along the way behind the wheel of Big Block and Small Block Modifieds on the tough Pennsylvania and New Jersey tracks, Sprints, Asphalt Modifieds, Speedsters and as a racer’s racer, I bet a few shopping carts at the store. Billy Pauch was and still is one of the very best at what he does, winning at 33 tracks in seven different states.
Here in New York we did not get to see much of the “The Kid,” but when we did, all you could see was a hard-driving, elbows-up driver with a passion to race and win. He would dominate the big races out at the Fulton Speedway for years and brought the crowd to their feet when he beat the World of Outlaws at their own game at the Syracuse mile in 1994 and set the all-time fastest lap.
Well, my friends, if you never had the chance to witness the driving talents of Mr. Pauch, you may never have that chance. At 65 years young “The Kid” will be cutting back, as he says, and climbed from his Modified for the last time. As I assume retirement is not a word in his vocabulary, keep your eyes open as he might just show up at a Speedsters race. I guess we will see.
Over my years as a race fan, I have been lucky enough to witness some of the very best to ever turn left and Billy “The Kid” is one of them. The only ones that may be happy to see him walk away from the sport are his fellow drivers, as at 65 he is still showing them the fast way around a track. Then again, as a driver you want to beat the best so they too will miss “The Kid.” There is a book that will be coming out May 15 by Buffy Swanson called “The Last Cowboy: The Life and Times of Billy Pauch.”
MORE RACING NEWS
It seems that short-track racing is going to be taking another hit, not just here but across the country. This is not just a problem for American Racer but Hoosier as well. American Racer has stopped production on their dirt tires due to the lack of nylon and other materials needed to make their tires. As of right now there is a very short supply left for teams to get.
The Fonda Speedway until now has been American Racer as their tire of choice due to the point fund. Only certain compounds are going to be allowed so teams can get more life out of their tires and Hoosiers will also be allowed to give teams that option to keep teams on the track.
You can go to the American Racer website to read the letter that went out and also the Fonda site on what they are doing to help teams make it through this tough time. It seems it is not only tires that are a problem as many parts are also in high demand and short supply, as well, leaving some teams struggling to make it to the track.
I have said it before and I will say it again, PLEASE support those who support your local dirt track and the teams that put on the show for the fans. Let them know you seen their name on a car so they know their sponsorship money they are giving to teams is helping their own business.