RPW Column: OCFS’ Eastern States Weekend; Rich In History & Tradition Set To Return In ’20

RPW Column By: MIKE TRAVERSE / RPW – MIDDLETOWN, NY – Everybody has their favorite racing moment of the season. Mine is when the green flag waves for the start of the Eastern States 200.

The leaders streak away at the front while the cars in the middle of the pack take a cautious approach. At the back of the pack, drivers desperately try to stay on the lead lap while the leaders quickly catch up to them.

There are battles all through the field and it’s all unfolding before our very eyes. Just something different about the start of that big race.

The Eastern States 200 is the longest tenured end of season race for the Northeast Big Block Modifieds. It has evolved from it’s early beginnings of an 100 lap single day event to a multi day, multi division event that concludes with the biggest race of the year at the historic 5/8ths hard clay oval. From it’s time as Victory Speedway until now, the tradition is rich with history as there have been many races that will be remembered for a long time by the loyal fan base.

Brett Hearn has been the most successful racer in the history of the event. His 12 wins in the 200 are twice the amount of anyone else. Hearn was first victorious in 1979, his 2nd full season of Modified competition. Hearn has also had 2 different streaks of 3 consecutive 200 wins. His 12 wins are an amazing achievement. But then again with 919 wins, that is pretty much what Brett’s career has been, truly amazing.

The Doctor, Danny Johnson, stands second with six 200 wins .His first win came in 1992 with the Freightliner #6 and his most recent win in 2011 was with his familiar 27J. Any long time OCFS fan will always have some great memories of the epic Doctor/Hearn rivalry of the 90’s.

Will Cagle won his first Eastern States in 1966 when it was still of the 100 lap length. In 1968, Victory Speedway became known as the Orange County Fair Speedway and along with the name change came a new length of the Eastern States race to 200 laps. Cagle took that first 200 win and he followed with wins in 1970 and 1971. His 1970 win came in car #17, owned by Ronnie Thiel. Cagle had crashed his #24 during heat race action. Cagle’s 4 wins places him 3rd on the Eastern States winner’s list.

Two of the great drivers of their respective eras, Frankie Schneider and Stewart Friesen, have scored 3 wins in the Eastern States race.

Schneider was the first ever Eastern States winner in the 100 lap race of 1962. Frankie repeated in 1963 and also won the final of the 100 lap races in 1967. Schneider was nearly the winner of the first 200 lap race in 1968 won by Cagle, but a tangle with a lapped car while leading kept the Old Master from the victory. Still, the accomplishment of 3 Eastern States wins is impressive.

Until 2016, Friesen had little success at the Eastern States Weekend. He had a Sportsman win early in his career. In 2010, Friesen lost a chance at winning the 200 when there was a controversial, well documented scoring decision that removed him from the lead. A 358 win in 2014 was the only other ESW success that Friesen had until the 2016 edition. After a late pitstop, Friesen roared through the pack in the final laps as leader Hearn was having a tire going soft. Friesen passed Hearn in between turns 3 and 4 of the final lap to grab one of the more memorable Eastern States wins. Friesen has followed up with wins in 2018 and 2019, the latter an epic drive from last starting spot.

Three different drivers has won the Eastern States 200 twice. Gerald Chamberlain won in 1973 and 1976. The 1976 race was quite memorable as Chamberlain had a great race with Buzzie Reutimann and passed Buzzie on the white flag lap to take the win. Frank Cozze used a no pitstop strategy to win the 200 in 1989 and he followed up with another win in 1990. Three time OCFS Modified Champion Jimmy Horton was the winner in both 1991 and 1995.

Of the single time Eastern States winners, 4 have been residents of Orange County. Harry Behrent was the first of these in 1982. He was followed by Richie Eurich in 1988, Chuck McKee in 2000 and Jerry Higbie in 2009. 2007 winner Jeff Heotzler from nearby Ulster County is another of the local winners. The local winners have always been popular wins with the crowd.

The remaining drivers who have taken single Eastern States wins reads like a Who’s Who of Modified Racing. Rags Carter caught fire in the Harold Cope #1 during the 2nd half of the 1964 season and he took the Eastern States win that year. Ron Lux is probably the least well known of all the Eastern States winners. Lux was an up and coming driver who already had good success racing Supermodifieds at Oswego, After winning the 1965 100, Lux went Sprint Car racing in 1966 and sadly, he lost his life in a crash at the Tulsa Fairgrounds Motorplex.

Al Tasnady was in the right spot at the right time to take the 200 win in 1969. Leader Buzzie Reutimann blew a tire on the final lap and Tasnady drove the #44 into Victory Lane. The win was Tasnady’s 8th and final OCFS triumph.

Buzzien Reutimann capped off his great 1972 season with his victory in the 200. The 72 OCFS track champion had taken the first ever Super Dirt Week earlier in October.

1974 and 1975 found 2 of the speedway’s most popular drivers and iconic cars make it into the 200 Victory Lane. Bobby Bottcher in the 666 and Wayne Reutimann in the Richard Marinelli M1 scored their Eastern States wins in those years.

Gary Balough gave the Ferraiuolo Brothers one of their biggest wins, leading all 200 laps in a dominating performance in the 1977 200. Lou Lazzaro barely made it into the 1978 200, but he turned it into one of the more memorable races in it’s history. Starting near last, Lazzaro methodically worked his way to the lead and with his car running low on fuel, held off Kevin Collins in the M1 in one of the closest finishes in the track’s history.

Legendary racer Kenny Brightbill added his name to the winner’s list with a 1980 victory in his famous #19 Pinto. It was Brightbill’s 2nd and final OCFS win, both in long distance races, a 200 and 100.

Upstate New York drivers dominated the Eastern States 200 Victory Lane from 1983-85.

C.D. Coville won all three of his OCFS features in 1983. After 2 early season wins in the Barcomb 11, Super C.D. was back in his familiar #61 for the Eastern States and took a very popular win.

After taking his first win at OCFS in a Syracuse qualifier in 1982, Dave Lape was the winner of the 1984 200, his final win at OCFS. And Jack Johnson made it 3 in a row for the upstate invaders with his 1985 win. It was Jack’s first OCFS win and he was racing with a heavy heart over the loss of his friend Richie Evans who died after a Martinsville crash 3 days earlier.

Doug Hoffman recorded 2 wins at OCFS, both coming in 1987. The 2nd win was in the 1987 200, driving the Leon Conklin owned 125.

Bob McCreadie had a record setting season in 1994 with 43 D.I.R.T. wins. McCreadie added to his win totals with his first OCFS wins in 9 years. After a weather delayed Syracuse qualifier win, McCreadie capped off his amazing season in early November with his Eastern States 200 win.

When Billy Decker won the 1998 200, it was the first of his 4 OCFS victories. Alan Johnson’s most recent OCFS win was in the 1999 200. He was driving the Beachey Motorsports Pillsbury #1, one of the more popular cars of the era. The appearance of the doughboy made it one of memorable schemes in Eastern States history.

Bobby Varin’s 2003 win was the first of his 3 OCFS victories. When Tim McCreadie won the controversial 2010 200, he and his dad Bob became the first father and son winners of the 200.

Since 2012, Victory Lane at the 200 has been the domain of Hearn and Friesen with one exception. Tommy Meier drove the Behrent’s #3 to a very popular win in 2015. Meier held off a fast closing Hearn for his win in the 200 win.

There you have it. 58 races, 32 different winners and so many memories.

As Covid-19 has thoroughly disrupted racing in the Northeast, especially in New York, there was some doubt about whether a 2020 Eastern States Weekend would occur. But the arrangements have been made and the 59th Eastern States Weekend of racing will be happening. The drive-in section will again be open and the live stream will be up and running. I hope that all the dirt racing fans in the area are as grateful for OCFS going forth with the weekend as this writer is.

Information about the ESW is very well explained on the OCFS website. There, you will also find an updated roster of drivers expected to be in competition.

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