Column By: BOBBY CHALMERS / RPW – WEST LEBANON, NY – Sometimes, no matter how bad a year you may be having, getting to victory lane can help right the ship, not only with team morale but also momentum.
For two drivers in particular, Kenny Tremont in the Big Blocks and Brett Haas in the 358-Modifieds, their victories Saturday night at the Lebanon Valley Speedway were just what the doctor ordered.
After starting out strong this season, Tremont’s Big Block program hasn’t been hitting on all cylinders as of late. The ‘Sand Lake Slingshot’ has been running Troyer cars at the Valley since late in 2015 but last night, he debuted a brand-new Bicknell chassis and things clicked.
“I really feel good for the guys who worked on this car,” Tremont said in victory lane. “They’ve been trying and things just haven’t gone well. They decided to get another car and I said ‘I’m with you, whatever you want to do’ and this thing was fast.”
Tremont took the lead from early leader Paul Gilardi on the third circuit around the 5/8-mile oval and never looked back, at one point pulling out a full half-track lead over second place, at the time, Kyle Sheldon. Even after several cautions bunched up the field, Tremont was able to seal the deal for the 132 time in his career.
“Having a good starting spot helped immensely,” he said. “Once I got the lead, I knew if I kept with it and hit my marks we’d be in good shape.”
Now will come the fun part for Tremont and company as they’ll have to see how the car can do coming from the back of the pack due to the handicapping procedure.
“Next week will be the proof to see how this thing does as we’ll have to come from the back,” he said. “We’ll have to work our way to the front, but I look forward to that. This showed tonight that we’ve got a good car.”
Second on the night was Ronnie Johnson, who steadily worked his way to the front of the pack with his #2RJ machine after starting in the 12th position.
On the final restart of the race, RJ got around Sheldon and Kolby Schroder to get to second but there wasn’t any way he was catching Tremont, as at the finish, the top five were all evenly spaced out.
Third place at the checkers was the #99 of Schroder, and he’s another driver who is building some steady momentum at the Valley as the summer months roll around.
“The past few weeks, our car has been very, very good,” Schroder said. “I have to thank my crew and everybody that works on this thing. We’ve got some good momentum going right now so hopefully we can keep picking off these top five’s and keep moving up in the points and a win will eventually come.”
After the feature Saturday, Schroder moved to sixth in points, just eight points behind fourth place runner JR Heffner. It’s this type of consistency that has the team and Kolby excited for the next stretch of races.
“Absolutely, if this car keeps working the way it is, I think we can get a win soon,” he said. “I got up to second there for a second tonight and then the caution came out. Our car just wouldn’t fire on the restarts and we’ll have to work on that, but definitely, this thing could be in victory lane if it keeps running as good as it is.”
Sheldon held on for a solid fourth place finish with current point leader Brett Hearn bringing the Madsen Motorsports #20 home in fifth. For Hearn, he was lucky to get the car to the end as his machine was pushing water out of the overflow (it was overheating near the end of the race) at finish and the water temperature spiked as he sat to go over the scales after the race.
It’s luck like this that just may help the veteran secure his seventh consecutive track title when Labor Day rolls around. After the night’s races, he may have lost eight points to Ronnie Johnson, but still holds a commanding 32-point lead heading into the first week of July.
To say 358-Modified winner Brett Haas was dying for a victory at Lebanon Valley would be an understatement. Not for a lack of effort by the Pittsfield, MA driver and his crew, the last time the #55 visited victory lane was July 20, 2014. That all changed Saturday night as he “Parked It” and ended a nearly four-year winless drought.
“I don’t know what to say right now,” Haas said after collecting the win. “It’s been four years since our last one but our team busted their butts to get this car ready after the accident we had in the last race and we had to put a partial clip on the front of this thing. We were devastated and didn’t know if we were going to be able to get it fixed. Thanks to everyone who offered to help get us back, and without the support of our fans, my crew and my family, we wouldn’t be here.”
Near the one-third mark of the event, Haas wrestled the lead away from leader Chad Pierce and did everything he could to get as big a lead as possible, as he knew the heavy hitters were coming. Aided by a race that saw no yellow flags, Haas was able to build up a lead that kept him out front to the finish to get the win.
“I’m just speechless right now,” he said. “I knew we couldn’t give up. The track was a little different tonight and I saw that Rodney (Rescott, chief starter) said we had a big lead but I just couldn’t let up until the finish.”
During the off-season, Haas made a switch to Bicknell as well. It definitely took some getting use to as the former Sportsman track champion has only run Teo Pro Cars for his entire career. But after a handful of races, and now a win, it’s safe to say he likes the new car.
“I knew we had a fast car tonight, and really all season as this Bicknell has been good every week,” he said. “We knew we had speed in the car, but we just needed to catch some breaks and we did that tonight. I’m glad it went green to checkers because I didn’t know who was behind us but with a stout field each week, you know the good guys are coming.”
Now, with the monkey off his back, and the weight lifted, who knows if this is the start of a run towards Haas’ first career 358-Modified track title at the Speedway.
“It gets so frustrating when you get so close like we have been over the last few years,” he said. “When you try and just can’t get the job done, you work harder and it seems oh so much sweeter when you finally win. We’re going to party tonight and hopefully we can keep this rolling through the rest of the season.”
Kenny Tremont almost had a sweep on the night, getting to second in the 358-Mod feature, but with no cautions to aid him that was as far as he could get.
Early leader Pierce finally got the type of finish his team deserved bringing the H. Sausville Construction #83 home in third with Jason Herrington just clipping Olden Dwyer for fourth at the line.
For the second time this season, Rick Duzlak was able to bring his #29 Pro Stock home to victory lane, this time outrunning Richie Crane, Jon Routhier and the rest of the field to become the second multi-time winner at the Valley this season.
Duzlak took the lead early on in the event from the #149 of Don Collins and held off the “Cannan Contingent,” as announcer Dan Martin puts it, to grab his 12th career win in the division.
“Going slower was faster tonight for us,” Duzlak said. “The corners were different. I haven’t been on track like this in a while, but I liked it. When I finally found the high side, I liked it and got up there and was just riding and it worked out. I’m happy.”
Getting the second win is big for the second-generation driver from Massachusetts, as he can now, in his words, hopefully keep things rolling show just how good of a piece he has underneath him.
“I’ve never had the equipment and the support I’ve got this year,” he said. “It feels good and at least I know I can get it done with the right equipment. We’ve got a good car this year, but we’re still running used rubber (tires) from other teams, but we’re making it work.”
Second at the line was Crane who was extremely happy with the runner-up finish.
“We were trying so hard to get this that I was throwing everything at him,” Crane said. “I had to drive so hard to gain momentum on one corner that he would drive away from me on the next one. I’m just glad to get a good finish for my guys after the tough luck we’ve had the last few races.”
Third was Routhier with another Canaan campaigner, Jay Casey coming home fourth and Nick Hilt rounding out the top five.
The points race for the Pro Stocks got even tighter with Jason Meltz and Jason Casey (from Canaan, CT) both having off nights. Routhier is now the lead with Rick Dempsey, Meltz, Jason Casey and Rob Yetman, all separated by just nine points.
Zach Sorrentino and Al Relyea took home the two Pure Stock feature event wins.
News & Notes…
Paul Gilardi was had his HigFab Chassis in the pits this week, outfitted with the team’s primary engine after a few weeks running the Spec AFR Head powerplant in the team’s Bicknell chassis. 2018 has been a difficult season for the veteran campaigner but it’s not for a lack of effort by him and his team.
In early night warm-ups, Paul felt a vibration and pulled in. The team went to work, changing the transmission and driveshaft, and then preceded to go out and win the first Modified heat race.
Gilardi lead a good portion early in the Modified feature but the handling seemed to go away on the machine, and he backslid to 15th at the finish, but this was a big step in the right direction for the team.
Rob Pitcher had an eventful night on the high banks. In both the first warm-up session and his heat race, Pitcher’s #17 pushed water and antifreeze out of the engine. After further inspection, the main freeze plug popped out of the engine.
Rob never went out for the main event and was credited with a 24th place finish.
Olden Dwyer was back this week after a week off from Big Block competition. The engine in his machine is a piece from the Steve Hough camp until their primary engine is ready to go.
Dwyer pulled off after a handful of laps into the feature and finished 23rd.
Mike Keeler Big Block #55 was missing from the Modified field for the second-straight weekend. The team’s primary motor is getting some work done on it after things just didn’t seem right on the night of June 9th.
“It will be back next week,” Keeler said early in the evening Saturday. “It’s better to be safe than sorry with the motor. Don’t want any big-time issues.”
A tip of the cap has to go to the entire Hough Motorsports team who thrashed all night long. After a massive accident in their 358-Modified heat race which saw the #34 Teo nearly go over, the team worked to replace several pieces on the machine. Most though it was to get the car ready to load on the trailer, but not the crew.
As the feature began to roll, so did the Hough ride. With the front clip of the car pushed several inches to the left, no front bumper, several bars on the front of the chassis cut off, and no front body panels, Hough went out and completed all 24 laps of the event, bringing the car home 17th.
It was a truly amazing thing to see and Dave Main and everyone on the team should be proud of their work.
It was an all around great night for the Haas family Saturday. Not only did Brett get his first victory in nearly four years, but his financé, Abby, presented a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem before the start of the Modified feature.
Chuck Towslee made his first start of the 2018 season at the Valley, driving the Paul Halsteadt-owned #08 machine. This is the same car that Chuck ran at Glen Ridge a few weeks ago.
Saturday night marked the first time Towslee has raced on the high banks since he was disqualified for an engine infraction late in the season last year.
The Vermont campaigner has been busy so far this season, however, helping out Rick Duzlak at the Valley on Saturday’s while getting his son up to speed in his first year of competing in the Pro Stock division at Albany-Saratoga.