Story By: TOM BOGGIE / ALBANY-SARATOGA SPEEDWAY – MALTA, NY – For the first 16 laps of Friday night’s season-opening modified feature at Albany-Saratoga Speedway, leading the pack wasn’t the place to be.
But once Mike Mahaney moved out front, it was the only place to be.
Mahaney, who started ninth in the heads-up start, took advantage of misfortune on the part of two of the early leaders, and then held off a hard charge from surprise invader Stewart Friesen to win the 35-lap modified feature that kicked off the 2020 season, delayed by nearly two months because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ve got one bad-fast race car,” said Mahaney of his George Huttig-owned, Adirondack Auto sponsored modified. “We’ve worked hard all year on this car.”
Mahaney inherited the lead on lap 15, when Keith Flach suffered a flat left front tire after bouncing off the newly installed Jersey barriers on the inside of the first and second turns. One lap later, Jackie Brown Jr., who had started on the pole and led the first seven laps of the feature, spun around in the second turn, bringing out another caution.
With the final 19 laps being run under green flag conditions, Mahaney stayed out front, and used lapped traffic to hold off a tremendous effort by Friesen.
Friesen suffered a broken shock in the fourth and final heat, and as a result, had to start at the tail of the bulky 32-car field. But he had worked his way up to the top 10 after just 10 laps, and was sitting fourth when Brown brought out the caution on lap 17.
On lap 18, Friesen got by Rocky Warner for third, and then swung wide around Ronnie Johnson coming out of the fourth turn on lap 22 for second.
He had been running the far outside groove to get through traffic, but when the top went away, Mahaney was able to extend his lead.
“The top was good for a while in three and four, but then it got pretty choppy,’ said Friesen. “I think if we had gotten another caution, I could have raced with him.”
Mahaney was quick to praise engine builder Skip Seymour, who passed away during the offseason, after his victory.
“This is a Skip Seymour racing engine we’re using,” he said. “Skip and I go way back, and it means a lot to me to have his engine in my car and pay tribute to him with a win like this.”
Following Mahaney and Friesen across the finish line were Johnson, Peter Britten and Warner.
Connor Cleveland, the 2019 sportsman division champion, also used some racing luck to get a victory in the 25-lap sportsman feature. Scott Duell, who started on the pole, led the first 12 laps of the race, but broke something in the left front suspension on lap 13, giving the lead to Cleveland, who had started sixth.
Cleveland and Tony Farone, making a rare stop at Albany-Saratoga Speedway, ran side-by-side for five laps until Cleveland was able to get some momentum and pull away, leaving Farone to settle for second.
Nick Stone started on the pole and led flag-to-flag to record his eighth career win in the 25-lap pro stock feature. Luke Horning, defending track champion Josh Coonradt and Rob Yetman all took turns holding down the number two position, but none of the challengers had anything for Stone.
Other opening-night winners were Travis Witbeck (limited sportsman); Devil’s Bowl invader Chris Murray (street stocks); David Frame (dual cam four-cylinders) and Steve Ryan (single-cam four cylinders).
PIT NOTES: The delayed season opener drew fields of 34 modifieds and 42 sportsman … Flat tires were a problem for many competitors. Matt DeLorenzo started on the pole of the first modified heat, but suffered a flat left rear on the second lap, which dropped him to 19th in the starting grid for the feature … Ken Tremont Jr. pitted twice for tires during the modified feature. The first came when he was running second on lap six. He wound up finishing 11th, after starting third. … After going over the scales after his heat race, Anthony Perrego discovered a hole in his oil pan, and had to bring out his backup car, which put him near the back of the modified field. He charged back to finish seventh … The Mahaney-Hutting team went through four engines early in the 2019 season, but they aren’t taking any chances this year. “We’ve got six cars,” said Huttig with a laugh. “We had nothing to do, so we went a little crazy.”
MODIFIEDS: Mike Mahaney, Stewart Friesen, Ronnie Johnson, Peter Britten, Rocky Warner, Marc Johnson, Anthony Perrego, Demetrios Drellos, Jack Lehner, Matt DeLorenzo, Ken Tremont Jr., Jeremy Pitts, CG Morey, Keith Flach, Matt Depew, Matt Pupello, Jimmy Cottrell, Derrick McGrew Jr., Bobby Hackel IV, Justin Barber, Drew Cormie, Adam Gage, Vinnie Visconti, Jackie Brown Jr., Ricky Davis, Don Ronca, Don Mattison, Rick Ronca, James Meehan, Jessey Mueller, Reggie Bonner, Brian Berger.
SPORTSMAN: Connor Cleveland, Tony Farone, Jason Gray, Jack Speshock, Dave Baranowski, Jim Nagle, Tim Hartman Jr., Daryl Nutting, Derek Bornt, Justin Buff, Adam Pierson, Andrew Buff, Robert Bublak Jr., Mike Ballestero, Dick Bisson, Marty Kelly III, Jeff Washburn, Jon Miller, Todd Buckwald, Mike Coffey Jr., Stephen Kneer, Jake Scarborough, Cody Ochs, Dan Grignon, Joey Scarborough, Scott Duell, Dave Richer, Nick Lussier, Pat Jones, Payton Talbot, Brian Calabrese, Davis Boisclair,
PRO STOCKS: Nick Stone, Luke Horning, Rob Yetman, Josh Coonradt, Kim Duell, Jason Meltz, Dean Charbonneau, Chuck Dumblewski, Jay Fitzgerald, Scott Towslee, Phil Arnold, Jordan Modiano, David Cook, Mike Ostrander, Dave Stickles, Brandon Emigh, Nick Arnold, Ed Thompson, Yates Lansing.
LIMITED SPORTSMAN: Travis Witbeck, Yule Cook, Shane Larman, Bryce Breault, Jared Miller, Scott Bennett, Jared Powell, John Santolin, Taylor Wason, Brent Warren, Don Delease Jr., Chris Bisson, Gary English, Joe Smith, Tommy D’Angelo, Jon Cook, Craig Wholey, Tyler Rapp, Kevin Groff, James Hinman Jr., Bryant Moore, Brandon Jacobsen, Garrett Poland.
STREET STOCKS: Chris Murray, Al Relyea, Josh Hemming, John Filarecki, Matt Mosher, Paul Braymer, Jeff Meltz, Tim McFarland, Janai St. Pierre, John Williams, John Hayes, Jacob Zennaiter, Kaleb Shepard.