Column By: DYLAN FRIEBEL / RPW – FONDA, NY – In one of the biggest races of the year, and one of his favorites, Mike Mahaney brought his No. 35 home third in Saturday night’s Fonda 200 at the Fonda Speedway, and a flat tire, of all things, may have helped him in doing so.
When he rolled into the ‘Track of Champions’ on Thursday night for practice, Mahaney was running his normal George Hutting-owned Adirondack Auto no. 35 ride which he follows the Super DIRTcar Series with but had his family-owned powerplant bolted inside the frame rails.
On Friday evening, Mahaney laid down a solid pace in his qualifier and managed to finish fourth. That put him 11th on the starting grid for the 200-lap main event Saturday…right behind the 9s of Matt Sheppard.
Early on, the the feature was marred by cautions. However, the Kings Ferry, NY driver stayed patient and cautious. Then, the track started to take rubber and became one-groove with tire wear.
Near the lap 66 mark is when Mahaney right rear tire went flat. He went to the pit area to change it. Just eight laps later, rain moved in and the event was delayed nearly two hours.
Fortunately for Mahaney, the rain played into his hands. Once the lap 100 mid-race break came, he returned to the pit area, just as about three-quarters of the field did. However, he elected not to change his right rear again.
“The flat early in the race actually helped a lot,” Mahaney said. “The rain did as well. Everything went smooth with the delay. The rules were enforced well and the officials kept everybody in line during it.”
With the decision to just take fuel, Mahaney’s put all of his cards on the table. Baring another flat tire, he wasn’t pitting again.
On the ensuing restart, Stewart Friesen made quick work of the five cars that were in front of him to take the lead while Mahaney settled into a rhythm and began to pace himself. However, with 10 laps remaining, Brett Hearn showed Mike his nose. That’s when he knew it was time to go.
“I didn’t want to race that hard,” he said. “When I saw Brett, I knew it was time to pick up the pace, and I did. He got a good run a few times on me but I held on.”
The decision to race Hearn hard paid off. At the finish, Mahaney crossed the line fourth which was a great end to his night, but second place finisher Matt Sheppard came up light at the scales. That moved Rocky Warner to the runner-up spot and gave Mahaney third and paycheck of $10,000.
“I love coming to Fonda and running these big events,” he said. “It was so well organized and run the right way. We weren’t the fastest car in the end which kept us from winning. However, we were close.”
Ironically, the tire troubles near mid-race ended up being a good thing for the young racer.
The flat played into our strategy,” he said. “If we made it halfway, we would have changed tires then. We also should have done more testing with the motor before we came here. The carburetor loaded up and was tough to restart with. We could have used more gear or something.”
With the end of the year coming up, a third in the Fonda 200 is a big boost for a crew that has had an up-and-down year in 2019.
“This is huge for us,” he said. “I love the big races at the end of the year. They are always so huge and we want to keep this momentum rolling as we head into those.”
Mike Mahaney once again proved why, even as an outsider, he is always dangerous at the Fonda Speedway. He also probed why, at the end of the year, his name deserves to be in the hat of contenders no matter where he goes.