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Following the recent Short Track Super Natonals at Five Mile Point is a little like taking the stage at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park after Springsteen finshed his set. How are you going to top that?
I won’t say Sunday’s Southern Tier 100 was a home run like the STSN, but it was a solid double down the left field line. The modified count was 54 cars strong, including a number of drivers who had other commitments up I-81 three weeks ago. The crowd was pretty good considering the day’s postponement that put it up against Talladega and the Eagles-Giants game on the little screen. And the racing was good, reaching its most intense during the first consi that took three of 16 cars.
I watched the feature from the infield, a spot where I hadn’t ventured at the Point in 15 years or so. I was hoping the wind wouldn’t be as strong down inside the bowl. I was wrong on that score, but a chance to warm up in Jeff Gromis’ truck and the Jane Kennerup brownies dispensed by Joe Kaminski made both the chill and the constant turning in circles worth it.
See, I did say something good about the photographers after all.
Stewart Friesen had things under control after the first 25 laps, but that didn’t mean it was dull. No race with Danny Johnson in a car he never drove before can be dull. The Doctor hustled the Grammes No. 5 home second, two spots in front of teammate du jour Joey Grammes. In between was Tim McCreadie, amazingly making his first start ever at the Point. The Vinny Salerno team has recovered well from the theft of their primary car in Canada a few weeks ago.
The real stories, though, were the Race of Champions series title race between Brett Hearn and Pat Ward, the surprise showing of Bobby Puckett, and another balls-to-the-wall effort by Mike Ricci.
Ward had the point lead, but Hearn made, let’s call it a forceful pass in their heat which enabled him to redraw fourth while Ward was stuck back in 18th. Brett the Jet led for a while and stayed on Friesen’s tail at the halfway break where a few teams pitted for tires but most looked at their rubber, tried to look at everybody else’s right rear, and hoped for the best.
History shows Hearn is usually so smooth he is easy on tires, but this time he guessed wrong and first Johnson, then McCreadie, and then Grammes pased him. Who was next on Hearn’s bumper? You guessed it, Pat Ward, who was driving a Billy Decker No. 91 instead of his usual No. 42 from the same Gypsum Express garage.
Ward didn’t really have to pass Hearn to win the title, but that was surely his aim. First he had to deal with his own teammate, Larry Wight, who of course is the son of the boss. Wight faded and Ward did everything except drive through Hearn. With four laps to go he got underneath and that was all she wrote.
Congratulations to Pat Ward and the Gypsum Express team for their third straight RoC dirt crown. For those who thought it would be neat if Hearn won so he could be both Mr. DIRT and RoC champion at the same time, that’s been done already in 2006 by Alan Johnson, the year he drove for Jeff Rudalavage.
Puckett was a strong winner in his heat and smoked the outside from eighth to second in 12 laps. He showed he belonged in that company by staying in the top five until he pulled out before the halfway mark. The funny thing was that we all expected a red No. 41 to be headed to the front, but we were looking for Jeff Strunk, who was so fast at the STSN, not Puckett whose car is the same color although the graphics are quite different.
Strunk pitted several times with tire issues and never got close to the leaders. Come to think of it, STSN winner Kevin Hirthler, who had a $1,000 bonus waiting if he repeated, looked lost all day as well. Don’t blame it on the lack of sail panels. Both Strunk and Hirthler usually race in the body configuraton of the ST 100, without the extra tin.
Finally, Mike Ricci. He’d come from the back of his consi to a qualifying spot, then jumped the cushion trying to win it and settled for a provisional start in 28th. By 30 laps he was fifth, riding that same cushion all the way. With the cushion gone in the last 50 laps he looked to be hanging on, but reached back to pass Hearn at the end and grab sixth.
A good way to end the season at the Point. Flyers were handed out with news about the 60th anniversary season in 2010, including the $6,000 to win 60-lap RoC show on July 7 and the fact that classes and rules will not change.
Black Rock is my intention this Saturday if football assignments don’t interfere, and the Mike Paz benefit in Warsaw on Sunday. Think warm.
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“Famed NASCAR official, Watkins Glen and Dover Int’l announcer and Southern Tier historian”