The 4th Turn: 4/29/2021

~ By Tom Boggie

We’ll start with a little history test this week.

In 1983, when Alan Johnson won the CRC Industries 200 to cap off Super DIRT Week at the Moody Mile in Syracuse, how many DIRT series drivers were competing in the Nazareth Nationals in Pennsylvania on the same day?

Let the “Jeopardy” theme music run through your head for another minute or two.

The answer? It doesn’t matter! Alan Johnson was still the winner at Syracuse.

Just like Jeremy Pitts was the modified winner last Friday night at Albany-Saratoga Speedway.

Skip the what-ifs and the maybes. Pitts recorded his first modified win ever, and that’s the bottom line (sorry, Stone Cold. I stole that one).

After a very successful career in the sportsman division, winning 18 features and three division championships (2013, 2014 and 2016), Pitts made the decision to step up to modifieds at the tail end of the 2019 season. He blew his motor late in the year and instead of buying another crate engine, he decided it was time to step up.

And he discovered that it was a huge step. Last year, he finished eighth in the second race of the COVID-19 pandemic-shortened season. That proved to be his only top 10 finish of the year.
But he didn’t get discouraged. He knew he was racing against an all-star cast every Friday night at Albany-Saratoga, so he just readjusted his goals for the Grennon Industries/Next Generation Roofing sponsored Bicknell modified.

“I got a top 10 last year, so I started chasing a top five this year,” he said after his win on Friday night. “I thought maybe I could get a top-five tonight. I never expected this.”

Granted, three of Albany-Saratoga Speedway’s top guns – Stewart Friesen, Marc Johnson and Mike Mahaney – were competing in the Super DIRTcar Series last Friday at Bristol, which increased Pitts’ odds of a good finish.

“There are still a lot of great cars here,” said Pitts, who won his heat race to earn the No. 2 starting position for the feature. “(Anthony) Perrego, (Mike) Maresca started next to me, Kenny Tremont, Matty D (Matt DeLorenzo). This is only the second race with this car, and after I got the lead, I was just hugging the bottom.”

For a long time, it looked like Pitts would have to be satisfied with that first top-five finish. Maresca and Perrego went right to the front from the inside lane and Perrego stayed right in Maresca’s tracks.

But on lap 24, the leaders came up on Kris Vernold, who was trying to stay on the lead lap, going into the fourth turn. Maresca swung high, while Perrego tried the middle. But because the inside was still the fastest way around the track, Vernold was able to stay right on Perrego’s door going down the front straightaway.

As they went into the first turn, Vernold drifted just enough to catch Perrego, who turned into Maresca, putting the leaders into a spin in the first turn.

That gave the lead to Pitts, and that’s where he stayed. “I knew I was decent, because Maresca and Pitts weren’t getting away from me,” he said.

Pitts knew he was facing a big learning curve when he moved up in class.

“I don’t feel like I was struggling last year,” said Pitts, who got his first career win at Albany-Saratoga in the old pro street stock division in 2008. “It’s just that with the sportsman, I could go anywhere I wanted to and I always felt like I could win.”

Now he knows he can win in a modified, too.

Now we know why Keith Flach wasn’t around for Albany-Saratoga’s opener two weeks ago. He revealed on his Facebook page that he tested positive for COVID-19 on April 8, and was in quarantine. He was one of the area drivers who raced at Bristol last weekend, and is expected to be back at Albany-Saratoga tonight.

Another former sportsman competitor, Jack Speshock, also made his modified debut last week. He said one reason for the move was the increased expenses he was incurring in the sportsman division. “Hopefully, I won’t get wrecked as much,” he said.
Speshock had ordered a new motor in December and it finally arrived just days before Albany-Saratoga’s opener, allowing him to make his debut last Friday. “Except for the motor, everything else is basically the same,” he said. “But I can really feel the difference. It will take some getting used to.”

While Pitts won last Friday’s feature, LJ Lombardo, whose 2020 season was cut short when he had back surgery, had a career-best second-place finish.

If you just walked into Albany-Saratoga last Friday and weren’t paying attention, you would have thought Duane Howard won the limited sportsman feature. No, that was Chris Jakubiak of Ballston Spa. The former Norm Hansell car he’s driving still had Howard’s 357 number on it, and Howard’s name was still on the roof.

The limited sportsman feature was the best race of the night at Albany-Saratoga, with Jakubiak catching Gerard LeClair, who had led the first 19 and three-quarters laps, just before they took the checkered flag from starter Rich Peterson.

Hunter Sanchez came from the rear of the field to win last Friday night’s street stock feature, but he was later disqualified, giving the win to Kaleb Shepard.

Friesen won both DIRTcar Series races at Bristol last Friday and Sunday, earning $20,000 in the process, and tying the series record with three consecutive wins.

Mike Mahaney, the 2020 Albany-Saratoga champion, drew the pole position for both modified events in Bristol, giving him $1,000 in bonus money, but he couldn’t parlay either front-row starting spot into a win. He finished fifth on Friday and fourth on Sunday. “We had a really fast car all weekend, and there are a lot of positives to work on,” Mahaney told DIRTcar officials.

Demitrios Drellos, who is driving the Ed Munger No. 93 on Friday nights at Albany-Saratoga this year, also hauled to Tennessee last weekend and finished second to Friesen in his family-owned No. 111 on Sunday.

“This is a good boost for the whole team,” Drellos told DIRTcar officials. “Whoever thought we were going to race at Bristol, let alone be in contention to win.”

Depending on who you listen to, Friesen’s modified victory at Delaware International Speedway on Tuesday was either the 349th or 350th of his career. The hard-working guys at Auto Racing Research Associates have him at 349 because they’re not counting his win in last year’s “Invitational” race at Tri-County Speedway in North Carolina, one of the first modified races of the short season. A 28-car field, with $3,000 to win, sounds rather official to me. I say Friesen has just hit 350. Congratulations.

Lebanon Valley will kick off its season Saturday, with the modifieds running for $5,000 to win. Defending champion Andy Bachetti and Tremont will be starting on the front row, after setting the quickest times during practice last Saturday. Giving the front row to two of the best drivers at the track didn’t sit too well with many big block competitors, who were racing at other facilities last Saturday.

Also opening this weekend are Glen Ridge Motorsports Park and Devil’s Bowl Speedway. There will be $1 hot dogs, courtesy of “Jim With the Red Chair” on Sunday at the Ridge, while Devil’s Bowl will be switching to Saturday night racing this year, the first time since 1998 that the Vermont track hasn’t used Sunday as its primary race night. The Bowl will be offering $2,500 to its modified/sportsman winner on Saturday.

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