RPW Exclusive: Lombardo Makes Daring Pass On Ruchel On Last Lap For Big Victory At Lebanon Valley

Column By: BOBBY CHALMERS / RPW – WEST LEBANON, NY – Twenty Nine and three quarter laps. That is how many circuits journeyman driver John Ruchel led on Saturday at Lebanon Valley.

That was, until, LJ Lombardo pulled one of the slickest moves ever performed on the high banks and stole Ruchel’s first career Modified win from his fingers.

Ruchel had a commanding lead and looked to be on his way to the victory when the caution came out on the 28th lap for a Kolby Schroder flat tire. That bunched up the field, putting Lombardo right on Ruchel’s back bumper, and giving the Connecticut driver one last shot at the $5,000 top prize.

However, when the green flew, Ruchel got the restart of his life and he pulled away. That was until the field headed into turn three on the white flag lap. Ruchel ran the middle of the track and Lombardo pulled a massive slide job on the leader, and cleared him.

Then it was a drag race to the line with the Paul Wehnau Snap-On #35 beating Ruchel but a car length in one of the best finishes in the 60-plus year history of racing at the Valley.

“This was John Ruchel’s race,” Lombardo said. “If that caution didn’t come out he had this race won. He had an awesome car. I saw him entering three a little low and sliding up. I knew that was my only opportunity I had.”

Lombardo, who hurt his primary car last week at the Valley, ran the team’s back-up PMC on Saturday, and the car was fast right from the drop of the original green.

“We toasted a car here last week,” he said. “This is actually our back-up car we brought here tonight. All my guys busted their butts in the shop this week. They transferred the motor, rear end, tranny…this was basically a new car, so to come here and do this, these guys deserve this win more than anything.”

While Lombardo was sitting in victory lane, celebrating the $5,000 victory, a dejected John Ruchel was sitting in his pit stall, head back in his seat after pounding his steering wheel several times. He felt like he had this race won. He had his first victory in his reach, but it was not to be.

“This one’s going to sting for a while, that’s for sure,” Ruchel said. “It’s been some thirty years without winning any type of main event for me. I was pretty darn close tonight. It’s going to burn for a while.”

Ruchel, who has been a full-time regular on the high banks for the first time in his career, has had a solid season to date. Normally, the Niverville, NY driver only runs a handful of races, but he and his team have concentrated on making a solid effort to make every race at the Valley this year, and the results are showing.

“Being here every week has been everything for us,” he said. “Running seven or ten races compared to the full amount of 18 to 20 these guys are running gives you confidence and time to figure things out. It’s a tall task to come out here and run a full season against these guys but I’ve had a lot of help from my crew, my family, my wife. I appreciate them all very, very much.”

Keith Flach was almost in the catbird’s seat with the move Lombardo put on Ruchel, as the three came to the line nose-to tail. Flach was credited with third with point leader Kenny Tremont coming from 15th to grab the fourth place spot and add six points to his edge over Peter Britten with just one point race left. JR Heffner finished fifth.

Britten came home in seventh so Tremont now leads the Australian racer by 30. Flach moved into third, 38 markers back. Andy Bachetti, who went into the night tied for second just 24 back, was the big loser in the point battle.

Bachetti debuted a new Bicknell race car Saturday. While he didn’t qualify through his heat race, he did report that he likes the car, just needed some fine-tuning.

The ‘Wild Child’ never really got going in the feature, however, and brought the new piece home in 13th and now sits 42 points out of the lead.

While one feel good story didn’t pan out in the Big Blocks, it sure did in the Small Block Modified feature as Brian Peterson FINALLY shook the bad luck monkey from his back and scored his first career win in the division after years of trying.

“This is unbelievable,” Peterson said. “I’ve had a couple wins in Sportsman, but it’s nothing like this. The track was beautiful. That definitely helps but this DKM Cyclone was on a rail tonight.”

To say this was meant to be for Peterson may be an understatement. After missing last week due to engine problems, he had to have the heads repaired, and the team got them back Friday evening. That meant a long night for the 82 team.

“Last night, the machine shop called and said my heads were done,” he said. “He called me at 5pm last night. Went and got them and got to my shop at 9:30. We worked until 1:30am. Got back there at 10:30 this morning and we put the rest of it together. Then we scaled the car and this is just amazing. These guys on this team stand behind me. It’s been seven or eight years, but they’ve been here. It’s been a long time.”. It’s been seven or eight years, but they’ve been here. It’s been a long time.”
Frank Harper had another solid race to bring his Paul Wehnau Snap-On #25 home in the runner-up spot. Harper is making a late season charge in the point battle and now has moved to fourth in the standings with his second-place finish. JR Heffner was third with Brett Haas coming in fourth and Olden Dwyer rounding out the top five.

The point leader heading into the night, Andy Bachetti, found his way to the turn four wall on lap three of the feature event. Track officials deemed that the 7 of Timothy Davis had something to do with it and parked the Vermont driver for the evening.

Davis and his father weren’t very pleased with the decision while their car was towed off the track and let the pit steward and other officials know their displeasure. They were credited with a 16th place finish on the night.

Bachetti, however, returned to the race and managed to bring the wounded #17 Teo Pro Car home in 12th. With Haas’ fourth place run, the point battle tightened up considerably. Now the gap between the two Massachusetts racers is just eight points.

After an original start accident last week which put him out of the race before reaching the green flag, Steven Larochelle rebounded on Saturday to grab his second win of the 2019 season in the Pro Stock division.

Larochelle got the lead before halfway and never looked back as he pulled away from Rich Crane and Nick Arnold at the end to take the checkered flag.

“Man, we have had some of the hardest luck here the last couple of weeks,” Larochelle said. “We haven’t been able to catch a break since my last win. I had a good starting position and I was just in the right place at the right time tonight as this thing was on a rail.”

After last week’s accident, the team had a lot of work to get the car back in race shape, and it all paid off on Saturday night.

“The front end on this thing was pushed over real bad after last week,” he said. “My dad and my crew were all there at the shop Sunday morning so we could work and pull the frame back on this thing to get it back to race-ready condition. After this year we’re going to retire this car and put together a new chassis. I can’t wait for next year. Now I got the monkey off my back.”

Crane came home in second followed by Arnold, Jay Casey and Nick Hilt.

The two Pure Stock features were won by Jesse Murphy and Zach Seyerlein with Murphy taking the special 20-lap Boomer’s Pure Stock Classic. Jon Sheppard (Single Cam) and Brandon Ely (Dual Cam) took home the two 4-Cylinder wins.

News & Notes…

Looks like you can’t keep a racer down. After almost a decade away from the driver’s seat, Ryan Larkin will return to the Valley high banks, next Saturday night, in the Sportsman division.

Larkin recently purchased a 2016 Teo Pro Car from the Olden Dwyer team and will have it ready to go for the next event the class runs at the Valley.

Just as the ‘Mighty Modifieds’ were taking to the track for their second heat race, Mother Nature started to spit light rain across the speedway. Unfortunately, one lap in, Kolby Schroder smacked the turn one wall very hard, folding up the front end.

At that point the skies opened up and put the races on hold. After a 30-minute delay, the water trucks were on the track trying to get the speedway back in racing condition. However, as the track looked decent, as the clock struck 8pm, the skies opened up again.

However, by 8:25pm, the 358-Modifieds were called up to get on track for hot laps and at 8:30pm they were at speed under Rodney Rescott’s green flag.

With the delay, the Schroder team was given enough time to change the entire front axle, hubs and all, and all the radius rods and made it back out for the rest of their heat race when it was run.

“Thank God for the rain,” Schroder’s dad, Jim said. “However, it was because of the rain that Kolby hit the wall. These things aren’t made to race in the rain. The car just went straight in the corner.”

They did, however, let the guys in the first heat tack on to the back of the third heat for a few hot laps. That included the likes of Andy Bachetti, Keith Flach, LJ Lombardo, John Ruchel and Marc Johnson.

Brian Berger looked like he had a shot at the win in the Modified feature, battling with John Ruchel for several lap but the car had a trail of smoke most of the race. Come to find out, one of the car’s power steering lines was the culprit and Berger was manhandling his machine late in the going, salvaging an eighth place finish at the end.

For this first time in his career, Peter Britten ran something other than a Troyer Race Car. Britten picked up a ride in the Jeff Daley-owned, normally driven by Brandon Daley, #44 Teo Pro 358-Modified.

Unfortunately, it was a tough go for the team’s maiden voyage as the Australian driver rode the wall in turns one and two, putting the car on its roof. Peter was uninjured, but the car had extensive damage.

Plans are for Britten to run the car next Friday night in the 358-Modified portion of the Centennial Weekend festivities at Orange County.

In an episode of musical seats, after last Saturday’s scene that took place on the front stretch during the Jimmy Langenback Memorial Old Buzzard 30 Pro Stock event, driver’s Rick Duzlak and Chad Jeseo were suspended for one week. While they weren’t in the pit area, their cars were, with new drivers behind the wheel.

For the first time in quite some time, Rob Yetman took the wheel of a car without the #7 on the side. He was in the seat of the Duzlak mount after parking his car. It is unknown if this is permanent or just for the week. Fred Hoffman, a driver with Pure Stock experience, took the controls of the Jeseo #25.

It was a rough heat race for the Yetman / Duzlak team, as the defending champion missed a shift on a restart and the 178 of Steven Larochelle ran over him. There was severe body damage to the #29 while Larochelle’s car returned to the race without its hood, nose or fenders.

One week after severely injuring his Achillies, Nick Reilly returned to the driver’s seat of his #15 Pro Stock. Reilly went to the doctors this week and determined that he was able to climb in and out of the car, so he decided to race.

Several Sportsman racers made laps on Saturday night at the Valley with the 358’s, including Rob Maxon, Ted Teal and John St. Germain Jr.

Modified Results (30 Laps) -1) L.J Lombardo, 2) John Ruchel, 3) Keith Flach, 4) Kenny Tremont Jr, 5) J.R. Heffner, 6) Kyle Armstrong, 7) Peter Britten, 8) Brian Berger, 9) Wayne Jelley, 10) Mike King, 11) Paul Gilardi, 12) Marc Johnson, 13) Andy Bachetti, 14) Matt Pupello, 15) Eddie Marshall, 16) Ronnie Johnson, 17) Josh Marcus, 18) Kolby Schroder, 19) Kyle Sheldon, 20) Olden Dwyer, 21) Ricky Davis,

Small Block Modified Results (24 Laps) -1) Brian Peterson, 2) Frank Harper, 3) J.R. Heffner, 4) Brett Haas, 5) Olden Dwyer, 6) Jason Herrington, 7) Brian Sandstedt, 8) Chris Curtis, 9) Ray Hall Jr, 10) Nathan Johnson, 11) Bryan McGuire, 12) Andy Bachetti, 13) Alan Houghtaling, 14) Kim LaVoy, 15) Guy Sheldon, 16) Timothy Davis, 17) Ricky Davis, 18) Peter Britten,

Pro Stock Results (20 Laps) -1) Steven LaRochelle, 2) Rich Crane, 3) Nick Arnold, 4) Jay Casey, 5) Nick Hilt, 6) Rick Dempsey, 7) Tom O’Connor, 8) Tom Dean, 9) Jason Meltz, 10) Jason Casey, 11) Gary Silkey, 12) Rick Spencer, 13) Brian Keough, 14) Mike Baker, 15) Fred Hoffman, 16) Phil Arnold, 17) Rob Yetman, 18) Don Collins, 19) Tony Markou, 20) Adam Schneider, 21) Nick Reilly,

Pure Stock #1 Results (8 Laps) -1) Jesse Murphy, 2) John Devine, 3) Al Relyea, 4) Scott Morris, 5) Jeff Meltz JR., 6) Dave Stickles, 7) Janai St. Pierre, 8) Ryan Brown, 9) Jethro Rossman, 10) Dennis O’Connor, 11) Matt Guadagno, 12) Chris Murphy, 13) Craig Coons, 14) Jim Dellea, 15) Mitch Bombard,

Pure Stock #2 Results (8 Laps) -1) Zach Seyerlein, 2) Ray Hall Sr., 3) Jeff Meltz SR., 4) Jeff Kreutzinger, 5) Ed Hatch, 6) Clifford Booth, 7) Rocco Procopio, 8) Keri Vandenburg, 9) Brian Walsh, 10) Rob Partridge, 11) Paul Harding, 12) Shawn Perez,

Boomer’s Performance Pure Stock Classic (20 Laps) -1) Jesse Murphy, 2) Zach Seyerlein, 3) John Devine, 4) Jeff Meltz SR., 5) Jeff Meltz JR., 6) Jeff Kreutzinger, 7) Rob Partridge, 8) Clifford Booth, 9) Dave Stickles, 10) Brian Walsh, 11) Janai St. Pierre, 12) Ray Hall Sr., 13) Rocco Procopio, 14) Jethro Rossman, 15) Scott Morris, 16) Ryan Brown, 17) Keri Vandenburg, 18) Dennis O’Connor, DQ) Ed Hatch, DQ) Al Relyea,

4 Cylinder Single Cam Feature (15 Laps)-1) Jon Sheppard, 2) Tim Meltz, 3) Victor Duncan JR., 4) Joey Batho, 5) Luke Williams, 6) Chris Bierce, 7) Demetrie Thompson, 8) Nick McClendon, 9) Bradley Batho,

4 Cylinder Dual Cam Feature (15 Laps)-1) Brandon Ely, 2) Mike Fachini, 3) Jim Guertin, 4) Steve Burbank, 5) Mike Duncan, 6) Jim Williams, 7) Lauren Suriner, 8) John Wright, 9) Rob Miner, 10) Marcus Hillard,