Column By: LAURIE FALLIS / RPW – MALTA, NY – It was Tuesday night racing at the ‘Great Race Place,’ the Albany-Saratoga Speedway and the perfect night to recognize two greats of our sport, Jumpin’ Jack Johnson and Super CD Coville. However, in the end, another “Super” driver took the spotlight as Matt Sheppard walked away with the top prize.
As you walked into the speedway, you could feel the excitement that something special was going on at the track.
Looking around, there were different vintage cars of Jack’s and CD’s on display, and boy, did that bring back memories.
Walking further through the midway, I noticed CD himself signing autographs and taking pictures with fans. He was truly enjoying himself. I was able to ask him if he ever thought he would be this famous.
“I’m not famous,” he said with a laugh. “They just don’t know any better.”
I told him he was to many, and that he needed to look at the people that were waiting in line to see him. Heck, I even asked the legend if I could get a picture with him, and he graciously obliged. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I actually rooted for Jack Johnson when the two battled all those years, although, being a racing fan, I respected him.
I then made my way up to the stands to see if my connection came threw on our seats, and honestly, I couldn’t have had a better one for the night.
Veterans Jack Cottrell and Billy Pauch Sr. came out for the special event to talk about there memories of these great guys. Some good…some not so good, but still great to hear the stories.
Modified driver Keith Flach gave the invocation and sky divers came down from the sky as anthem was played.
The entire event put on by the Lakota boys and gang from Johnstown was spectacular. Hats off to them for a great experience, start to finish. They should be commended.
Now, on to the action. The heat races were run and the qualified drivers came to the front of the grandstands to draw their starting positions for the main event. Ronnie Johnson drew the pole.
“Yea, this is my home track, but the wolf pack will be breathing down my neck,” he said.
As Brett Hearn went to draw, Ronnie was asked of his memories of our tribute drivers.
“My dad had a special way about him that’s for sure,” he said.
Brett said that they are certainly opposite drivers. He shared a special CD story. One night at Devil’s Bowl when he was 24 or 25 years old, CD hopped his wheel and ended up in the corn feild. Coville wasn’t happy and he chased the young Hearn all the way down the highway.
After that, it was time to go racing.
During the 61-lap Modified feature’s pace laps, RJ fell back into the third position in honor of Bryon Goewey, a long time Modified driver and sponsor who was once his car owner, as well as Jack’s. Goewey unfortunately passed away last week.
As the starting line-up was read, you could feel the excitement rumbling through the entire track as the 31 Modifieds took the green.
The polesitter Johnson took the lead at the drop of the green flag and held it in the early stage of the race. Matt Sheppard would soon roll on the inside of Johnson from his fourth starting spot and take over the lead.
Coming from his 11th starting spot, Stewart Friesen, driving a special #61 paint scheme in honor of the evnet, soon cracked the top 5 we well.
At the halfway mark, “Super Matt” was well in command. Hearn was steam rolling to the front, but fell back towards the end of the feature go. Kenny Tremont got to the runner-up and was challenging Sheppard for the lead as, on lap 58, smoke began to come from the #9s machine.
Sheppard was able to hold on for the last few circuits and went on to win the Tribute Race. Tremont finished second followed by the Friesen with Danny Varin and Eric Rudolph rounding out the top 5.
In victory lane, Sheppard was thankful to even get to the finish.
” I wasn’t sure I was going to finish the race,” he said. “I believe it was the oil line that let go. I took to the high side here because that’s how I got beat by Tim McCreadie the last time I was at this track.”
Hard charger of the race was Marc Johnson. Marc started 29th and finished 8th in the #97 normally piloted by Peter Britten who is still nursing a back injury.
The 25-lap Pro Stock feature was unfortunately plagued with plenty of cautions.
It was a night of thrills and spills as the 8e of Ivan Joslin tumbled down the frontstrech before a single lap was completed. He was okay, but the same could not be said for the car.
Someone who been on a roll as of late, Josh Coonradt was your leader early on, but he was spun out of the top spot and took the top three cars with him.
Stalking his way to the front, however, was Kim Duell. Thanks to a late race restart, Duell was able to power his way to the front which would give him his 50th career victory. Second was Norm Loubier followed by Dan Older, Matt Roberts and Bryon Wescott.
On a side note…
One thing that I found amazing and very nice was the fact that CD stated he wished very much that Jack Johnson could have been at the event in person to share the special night with him.
“Prayers for our troops and see you all at the races.”