RPW Exclusive Column By: BOBBY CHALMERS / RPW – SYRACUSE, NY – Rookies always have a learning curve. First time for anything will produce that, but when you have only a few laps to get up to speed, you learn in a hurry.
For 2019 Super DIRTcar Series freshman Ryan Godown, Demetrios Drellos and Jack Lehner, that learning curve was a steep one. However, all three came away from their first years on the tour with solid runs, good point finishes and, most importantly, momentum heading into 2020.
For Godown, a second-place finish to Matt Sheppard at the Battle on the Midway in August at Orange County Fair Speedway, was his best run on the series, but he was the most consistent of the three, capturing two top 5’s and 10 top 10’s in 22 event starts. That helped him capture seventh in points and the tour’s Rookie of the Year honors.
“It’s a little surreal yet to be honest,” Godown said. “We started back a long time ago running Street Stocks and put our nickels together to do that. That went Sportsman and then Modified just hoping one day to get on a tour. Finally, thanks to Steve and Diane Searock, we were able to do that this year.”
The tough part for Godown, who has been a winner many times over through the year at different tracks in the northeast, wasn’t that he never made it to victory lane on the series. More so, it was tough that some places he struggled.
“This year was a lot of fun, but definitely frustrating at times,” he said. “There were plenty of times I felt like a fish out of water. I still have to get use to Weedsport and Canandaigua (Land of Legends Raceway), but it’s really a lot cleaner racing up here compared to home. Down south there are a lot more hard-racing type of tracks where as up north, you have to keep your car straighter.”
How did that challenge Ryan’s driving style?
“You have a different tire down by us in New Jersey,” he said. “Down there, I can do whatever I want and still get grip, so that was the biggest learning curve I had, but we got better every race.”
While Godown was the highest rookie in points and the most consistent, he didn’t grace victory lane. Only one rookie on tour did, and that was the driver who finished 10th in series points, Demetrios Drellos.
Drellos was able to capture the biggest win of his career, to date, in the Massive Malta Weekend at Albany-Saratoga. That win was not only worth $10,000 but also gave the Queensbury, NY driver a guaranteed spot in the Big Block 200 at Super DIRT Week.
“That victory was simply living the dream,” Drellos said. “I can’t thank my team, my parents and my fiancé enough for their support and dedication. That night was cool and all season was too. It says a lot about for our program.”
Just like Godown, many nights were tough for the driver of the #111, but when you have to get up on the wheel and make the best of each event, Drellos did just that, capturing the one victory (his only top 5) and five top 10’s.
“Some nights were a struggle for sure,” he said. “At the end of the year, we started to get more momentum and it was a lot of fun.”
While Drellos has been a regular at both the Albany-Saratoga and Lebanon Valley Speedways, he skipped around to different places weekly to try and help his performance on tour, even picking up a win at Mohawk International on June 28th.
However, the track he’s seemed to have the most success at since joining the Big Block ranks is the Dirt Track at Charlotte. During this year’s World Finals, he timed fastest in his group on both nights, won both of his heat races and ran strong in both features with a sixth being his best finish in the finale.
“Charlotte’s one of those places that just works for me,” he said. “Go fast first and think second. You don’t know the limit until you’re in the wall there and we did that a couple times too. I like that track and just like the atmosphere of that place. It’s really a cool event put on by DIRTcar and it’s fun.”
Drellos will be back on tour next year as will the third in our trio of first-year series followers, the driver who finished 12th in points, Jack Lehner.
Lehner had one top 5 finish, a fifth at Brockville for the Fall Nationals, and two top 10 runs on the season. More times than not, the “Ginga Ninja” was struggling to find speed and comfortably on tracks he’d never visited before.
A chassis change from Teo to Bicknell late in the season helped to boost his season, with his best finish on tour coming in the penultimate event of the year.
“It was definitely a trying year for us,” Lehner said. “When you’re new on the tour, and you have to work as hard as everyone else, it’s tough. Not getting the results you want and to finally break through and have a night (at Brockville) that we thought we were all capable of, and then proved that we were, was huge.”
The best part of being on tour, for Lehner, this year was the fact that there was a solid group of teams that went to every event. That helped, especially with the learning curve.
“I really want to thank all the guys that we run the tour with,” he said. “We all go to these tracks they have on the schedule, travel all over and you roll into each place and know everybody. It’s familiar and you become very good friends with them. That helps out a lot.”
Now comes 2020 and the next phase of their Super DIRTcar Series odyssey. Will they be able to fend off the dreaded sophomore jinx? Can Godown and Lehner finally grab a series checkered flag? Will Drellos revisit victory lane?
We’ll find out when the series kicks off early next season.