By Mark Kane
The past few weeks there has been plenty of racing action to keep fans on the edge of their seats. We have seen Stewart Friesen put on a show at Utica-Rome running down Billy Decker and the following night do the same at Fonda coming from last spot to take the lead and the win over Rocky Warner, two drivers who are neither lacking in talent or in the equipment they are running.
One week later and it was another great weekend of racing that started early on Thursday night at the Richie Evans Remembered memorial at the “Home of Heroes” Utica-Rome Speedway, and Richie Evans was surely that, a hero to his fans and, in fact, to the whole racing community.
He was dirt’s Jumpin’ Jack Johnson and Barefoot Bob McCreadie of the asphalt Modified racing world.
Over his storied career Evans picked up 30 championships in four states and 480-plus wins in 14 states and was nominated nine times for the most popular driver award.
One week after securing his ninth NASCAR championship, Evans, while practicing at the Martinsville Speedway in Martinsville, Virginia, made hard contact with the wall and was tragically killed.
The accident hit the racing community on both the asphalt and dirt side of the racing family as Richie Evans was a true champion both on and off the speedway and was adored by his many fans as well as the entire racing community. The Orange B.R. DeWitt #61 has been dearly missed.
It was the Short Track Super Series in town for the Richie Evans Remembered Memorial, a 61-lap, $6,100 to win.
A fine field of 38 STSS competitors made their way to the pits with Max McLaughlin, Jimmy Phelps, Justin Wright and Ronnie Johnson picking up the $61 heat race bonus. The two Consis were won by Billy Decker and Matt Sheppard.
At the drop of the green it was Matt Williamson grabbing the early lead with second-row starter Tim Fuller quickly moving to the new second place position.
He quickly worked his way around front-row starter Brett Haas and then worked on leader Williamson, moving into the lead position on lap 9 down the front chute as Fuller, Williamson, Stewart Friesen, Haas and Rocky Warner held down the top five.
With Fuller the new leader, Williamson had to deal with Friesen for second with Friesen making the pass on the bottom in turn 4.
Still on the charge, Friesen, using the top side, was all over the rear deck of the Fuller 19. Sheppard was on the move from the 22nd starting spot and picking his way through traffic.
With Fuller out front, Friesen closed, going Nerf bar to Nerf bar with Friesen getting a good bite out of turn 2 leading down the back stretch.
Now with Friesen out front, Sheppard was inside the top 10 and still coming.
A lap 26 caution found the 84Y of Alex Yankowski slowed. After the restart, Matt Sheppard made a great move working his way under Brett Haas, Williamson, and Jessica Friesen.
Jessica was having a great drive in the top five making it to fourth.
As the laps clicked away the top five were Friesen, Fuller, Rocky Warner – who had been holding steady in the top five since early in the going – Sheppard and early race leader Williamson who had fallen to fifth as Marc Johnson had worked his way into the top 10.
After working on Warner, Sheppard made the move to second just before lap 30 and set his sights on Fuller.
The caution came out for the 4 of Andy Bachetti with 41 down and 20 to go to tighten up the field, putting the 44 of Friesen and the 9S of Sheppard out front for the restart.
Two of the very best in dirt racing were now going head to head for $6,100 to win their share of the Short Track Super Series purse.
As the green came out the fans were on their feet as Sheppard got a great run down into turn 1 on the high side, becoming the new leader.
As good as the wheel to action had been during the feature in the top five there was some great racing going on just outside the top five with drivers swapping position in tight racing action.
Once Sheppard was out front he cruised to victory picking up win #7 at Utica-Rome Speedway and win #6 on the Short Track Super Series.
Also on the card was the STSS 602 Sportsman that found Matt Janczuk picking up win #62 at Utica-Rome and his very first STSS event win with Payton Talbot, Tyler Corcoran, Jim Nagle and Mike Richmond rounding out the top five.
Twenty-seven STSS 602s made their way to Utica-Rome Speedway for the Bob Hilbert Sportswear Short Track Super Series Fueled by Sunoco River Valley Builders North Region Round No. 7 Feature Finish (61 laps): Matt Sheppard, Stewart Friesen, Rocky Warner, Mat Williamson, Jimmy Phelps, Tim Fuller, Anthony Perrego, Marc Johnson, Ronnie Johnson, Max McLaughlin, Jessica Friesen, Erick Rudolph, Michael Trautschold, Bobby Hackel IV, Dan Creeden, Darren Smith, Mike Mahaney, Billy Decker, Brett Haas, Andy Bachetti, Dave Marcuccilli, Shaun Walker, Justin Wright, Kyle Coffey, Alex Yankowski, Pat Ward, and David Schilling.
After a great night at Utica-Rome it was off to Albany-Saratoga Speedway for a full night of weekly racing and the ESS 360 Winged Sprints.
When you talk about a track having a competitive Modified field you don’t have to look far when you live in the Capital District.
On this Friday night the “Great Race Place” again lived up to its name as Demetrios Drellos picked up the exciting Modified feature for the ninth different winner so far in 2022. The 24 NAPA Modifieds were brought to the line by Kris Vernold and Matt Depew with Vernold grabbing the early lead as third-place starter Rich Ronca quickly moved to second and was battling Vernold for the lead, becoming the new leader on lap 4.
With Ronca out front, Vernold, Jessey Mueller, Jack Lehner and Keith Flach held down the early top five.
It was Keith Flach who was working the high side getting by both Lehner and Mueller to sit third on lap 6 as Demetrios Drellos was now just outside the top five.
Lap 8 found Drellos get a great run out of turn 4 on the high side and down the front chute running Nerf bar to Nerf bar with Lehner when the two made contact and continued on in what could have been a real mess.
Lap 9 found Flach now in second as Ronca was checking out on the field out front.
You could have thrown a blanket over the cars in positions 2 through 6 in some great racing action.
Now working his way into the battle was the 215 of Adam Pierson to make things even more interesting.
Now it was Flach and Lehner battling for second with Drellos and Pierson having a battle of their own for fifth and swapping the position.
Lap 18 found the 43 and 2 still in a battle for second.
Flach jumped the berm and dropped back to fifth as it was now Ronca still leading with Lehner, Drellos, Pierson and Flach holding down the top five.
With Marc Johnson now working his way to sixth spot, he was looking for racing room any place he could find it high or low to work his way to fifth.
With all the great racing in the front there was some great racing going on deeper in the pack on a super smooth racing surface with two and three racing grooves.
Back to the front and the battle for the lead heated up with Lehner the new leader on lap 23 as Pierson would take over second, putting Ronca back to third.
With Lehner in the lead and working lap traffic, he made contact with Brandon Daley as Daley moved up a groove. The contact would bring out the yellow and find Lehner still with the lead and a flat left front.
Back to green, Lehner would continue to lead as Drellos moved to third and went right to work on Ronca for second using a slide job in turn 2 to get the spot.
Pierson was right in the thick of the battle and would find his way to second and again Drellos would come right back for the spot as Kenny Tremont Jr. came out of nowhere now battling for fifth.
In the closing laps Lehner and Drellos would battle for the lead, but Lehner was having trouble keeping the car low and Drellos was coming fast on the top as they raced wheel to wheel with Drellos getting the spot and continuing on for the NAPA Modified win over Lehner, Pierson, Johnson and Ronca who held on for fifth.
In other action Jordan Poirier picked up the ESS Sprint car feature after taking over the lead on lap 20 from Danny Varin who had led from the drop of the green.
The fight for the lead had both drivers pulling slide jobs in turn 4, and I have no clue how they both made it out of turn 4 as they were that close to the wall.
Following the leaders in the top five finish were Davie Franek, Shawn Donath and Dylan Swiernik.
The 602 Sportsman found Jeff Washburn picking up the win as Chucky Dumblewski grabbed the Pro Stock win, Dakota Green was the Limited Sportsman winner and Dan Madigan picked up his first win in 15 years in the Street Stocks.
Saturday night at Fonda Speedway it was the popular twin 20s for the Sunoco Modifieds, and it was two first-time winners.
Getting to the front of any race is tough; try to do it in 20 laps and you best hope you are starting up front, a spot not reserved for the point leaders who had a tough road in just 20 laps.
Picking up wins were rookie Nick Heywood driving for former veteran driver and now car owner Wes Moody who has been looking for a win at Fonda for 60 years and now has it, and David Schilling who had a Wegner Spec motor under the hood and had a great run out front.
The track again was in decent shape considering the lack of rain as the track crew tried to keep up with the changing surface as did the teams.
Following Heywood to the line were Rocky Warner, Darwin Greene, David Schilling and Brian Gleason.
In the second 20-lap feature the top six were inverted. After an early race caution Schilling made a great move to go from third to be the new leader, a lead he would never give up. Following Schilling to the line were Rocky Warner, Danny Varin, Ronnie Johnson and Ryan Odaz rounding out the top five.
In other action Patton Talbot picked up the 602 Sportsman win followed by Chad Edwards, Troy Palmer, Tim Dwyer and Chip Constantino rounding out the top five in another highly competitive feature.
In the Pro Stocks it was Josh Coonradt picking up the win with Chucky Dumblewski, Beau Ballard, Nick Stone and Caden Dumblewski rounding out the top five.
In the limited Sportsman it was Connor Prokop with the win as Ken and Kerrie Hollenback picked up the 4 cyl. wins.
On a sad note, John Lutes Sr., former veteran driver from the Capital District, passed away on July 24. Our condolences to John’s family and friends. He will be missed by many.
Please continue to support the sponsors who help make racing what it is on a weekly basis. Have a great weekend.