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Saturday, March 19 - It has been exactly a month since we saw our last race (Florida at East Bay) and it was time to hit the road and witness another racing event. The ROC opener at Selinsgrove is one of those events that we have circled on our calendar and look forward to every spring. We would have a full car load as my brother, Bob, and friend, Russ Frey, would be riding along in the Eckel Sonata for the 2 1/2 hour drive to Selinsgrove. We stopped to eat along the way and arrived at the track at 1:30 and met up with our advance scout, Jeff Alhum, who had secured blankets in the covered grandstand last night as he attended the 358 modified race won by Jeff Strunk over Jimmy Horton. Some bench racing followed and we later ventured into the grandstand and met up with Joe Perrotto and his girlfriend, Cindy, and Joe’s son, Steve. More bench racing and catching up on our winter’s activities was on the agenda before settling in for warmups.
Racing got underway at 4:10 with the first of six heats for the impressive 56 car big block modified field on hand. The heats were split as far as entertainment value with three being good and three only be so-so. The track was already turning black during the heats and passing would be difficult. Even though the track crew worked on the track it never came around to some of the previous years of this event. Only three qualified from each heat so the events were hard fought. There were two controversial calls by the ROC officials regarding caution flags in the heat action, one causing Larry Soloman to lose his qualifying position on the ensuing restart and Billy Decker losing his redraw position when Brett Hearn passed him after the yellow flag restart. The heats were spun off in 55 minutes and after some track maintenance and down time for the non-qualifiers to regroup it was time for the three consies. Two qualified out of each of these events and the field was set except for the provisionals. It was announced during the course of the day that two would be added but it came as a big surprise when six cars were added to the field. I understand that you try to reward the drivers who support you but to me you should add the most impressive runners of the day that did not qualify. Just my thoughts.
Following the consies was a match race where one driver (Rob Bellinger) started out on the track and chose another driver waiting on pit road to race against. They battled for one lap with the winner earning $50 per challenge win. Bellinger defeated all challengers and walked away with the grand prize of $400 for being the overall challenge winner.
By 6:47 it was feature time and the Icebreaker 40 was waved off. I would like to tell you it was an great race but that would not be truthful. What unfolded was 40 laps with 9 cautions and one red. There was some good racing in between but any short race like this with double digit cautions can not be considered a great race. The most disturbing point in the race came on lap twenty when in my opinion Billy Pauch Sr. led his anger get the best of him after being pushed high in turns one and two and dropping four or five positions in the process. Pauch came down the homestretch and got into the right quarter panel of I believe Bobby Varin who careened into the car to the left of him driven by Willie Decker. The Decker car spun and bounced heavily off the inside metal guardrail and back out into traffic with Kevin Bates making heavy contact and flipping toward turn one. Several cars were damaged with the most severe damage happening to Decker and Bates. Things got underway after a delay with Dale Planck blasting back out front retaining the lead he had held since lap two. Lap 32 saw Stewart Friesen lose a wheel in turn two while running third and amazingly no one hit the spinning machine. Planck was on a rail and would not be touched for the remainder of the race and flashed under the checkered flag finishing ahead of Pat Ward and Danny Johnson. Victory lane ceremonies were delayed as the top five were weighed. In a real twist to the finish the top two finishers came up 15 pounds light on the scales and for the second time in three years Danny Johnson came up the luckiest man in town being awarded the $4000 first place prize. In the final finish Johnson was the winner over Billy Decker and Brett Hearn. Finishing fourth was Dan Vauder in what I think was the most impressive charge of the day advancing from 19th and at one point having passed eventual winner, Danny Johnson, on one of the restarts until another quick caution appeared. Jimmy Horton ended up fifth after pitting early in the race to replace a flat and moving back through the field to end up in the top five. Positons six through ten were filled by Rick Laubach (one of the provisionals), Wade Hendrickson, Matt Sheppard (another provisional), Bobby Varin and Billy Pauch Sr. The final checker waved at 7:33 on what I felt was a disappointing day of racing after the anticipation leading into the event.
Next week it looks to be a central Pennsylvania sprint car weekend so check back next weekend to see where we ended up and how the racing action was.
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