The 4th Turn: 6/24/2021

~ By Tom Boggie

My guess is that Jack Lehner has never heard of Alice Cooper.

In 1972, Cooper released “School’s Out” (No, it’s not School’s Out Forever. It’s just School’s Out. You can look it up.), an anthem for kids who can’t wait for summer to start, which became one of Cooper’s best-selling singles ever.

In one sense, school is out for the 22-year-old Lehner, who recently graduated from Siena College. But in another sense, school is never out for “The Ginja Ninja.” His classrooms are now dirt tracks, and his goal is to learn as much as he can.

Those lessons paid off last Friday night, when the driver out of Saratoga Springs chalked up his first big block modified win at Albany-Saratoga Speedway. It took him four years to get that first modified win, but his learning curve is getting flatter and flatter. Not only does he race against some of the best drivers in the Northeast every Friday at Albany-Saratoga, but 2021 will be the third straight year that he’s following the Super DIRTcar Series, which is like working on a PhD.

“Absolutely. Running the series has helped me tremendously, especially with our program overall,” he said last Friday in victory lane. “Coming to our weekly tracks, we’re also learning, but running the series, you learn so much more. I’ve become good friends with Matt Sheppard and Kurt (Wiegel) from HBR (Heinke-Baldwin Racing) and just watching what they do, and watching the changes they make throughout the night has really helped me a lot.”

I’m sure that Lehner would love to be winning more races, but that will come with time. Look at the tracks he’s already been to this season with the Super DIRTcar Series – Can-Am, Bristol, Bridgeport, Weedsport and Lebanon Valley. He’s recorded two top-10 finishes (a ninth at Bridgeport and a 10th at the Valley) and is 13th in points. And that’s without a lot of notes to work with.

Lehner has been fast all year at Albany-Saratoga, but has also been the victim of untimely gremlins. How wacky has it been? Early in the year, Lehner came from eighth in his heat race to finish second and earn a spot in the Service Tire Truck Center Dash for Dash. During the dash, his steering box failed, and he didn’t have enough time to fix it, making him a spectator for the feature.

“I knew we had the car to do it (get a win), but we’ve been plagued by some silly issues, or we’ve been forced to start deep in the field,” he said. “A couple of weeks ago, we started 18th and got up to fourth, so I knew the car was good.”

Oddly enough, bad luck played a factor in Lehner getting his first win at Albany-Saratoga. The previous week, he had ignition problems and only completed three laps of the feature. That put him eighth on the starting grid last Friday, and he was in position to pounce when leader Don Ronca missed his mark and slid off the racing surface on lap 26.

The 2021 season has been a season of firsts for Lehner, as he also recorded his first modified win at Fonda Speedway, driving the Nelson Racing No. 85. I wouldn’t be surprised if he adds his first Super DIRTcar Series to that list before the year is over.

Note to Lyle DeVore. Get someone to trim those branches hanging over victory lane. Lehner had to duck when he climbed on the roof on his car to celebrate his win.

MORE FROM MALTA
It’s rare to see a driver completely deflated after a race, but Ronca was about as low as a snake’s belly in a wagon-wheel rut last Friday.

“I just lost it,” he said glumly of the miscue that cost him what had looked like a sure win. “I’m not going to get too many more opportunities like this, and I can’t afford to squander them.”

Oddly enough, when a yellow came out on lap 22, Ronca noticed that it was starting to sprinkle. “I was hoping they wouldn’t be able to restart it. I was praying for rain,” he said.

Anyone who has spent any time around Matt DeLorenzo knows he’s got a quick wit and a penchant for sarcasm, so it’s really no surprise when he doesn’t provide a straight answer.

In the last two weeks, DeLorenzo has lost two modified races by a grand total of three-tenths of a second. Two weeks ago, he was officially 0.116 seconds behind Ken Tremont Jr., and last Friday, he trailed Lehner by 0.172 seconds. When I pointed that out to him, he said, “I’m just trying to help out Lyle. If I keep getting these photos finishes, I’m sure he can get more fans.”

Multi-time street stock champion Al Relyea picked a perfect time to record his first win of the season last Friday. With defending champion Jeff Meltz having all kinds of problems and finishing 16th, Relyea moved to the top of the point standings, leading Meltz 428-427.

One of the best races of the night was the pro stock heat battle involving Dean Charbonneau and Kim Duell. They ran side by side for much of the race, with Charbonneau nosing out Duell by .002 seconds for the win.

All that steam you saw in the pits last week was probably coming out of the Hartman Racing Team trailer after Tim Jr. was penalized for what track officials said was rough-riding during his heat, which put him 23th in the 30-car field for the sportsman feature. But Hartman drove like a man possessed, passed Jim Nagle coming down to the white flag and picked up his third win of the season. He needs one more victory to tie Mike Ballestero at the top of the all-time sportsman win list with 32.

In case you missed it (but I really don’t see how you could) the Horsepower 100 Super DIRTcar Series race that was rained out on Tuesday has been rescheduled for July 13. Can someone tell me why all the big races at Albany-Saratoga have horse racing themes, like “Horsepower” and “Stampede”? The track is in Malta, not Saratoga Springs. I don’t see jockeys like Johnny Velazquez or Joel Rosario hanging out at the speedway on a Friday night during August. Isn’t there some Malta history track officials can tap into?

AROUND THE TRACKS
Every week, when I watch Ronnie Johnson post one of the fastest times during hot laps at Albany-Saratoga Speedway, I always think, “Too bad features aren’t two laps.”

Features may not be two laps, but each leg of the Bill Ag Memorial Elimination last Saturday at Fonda was, and RJ walked off with a grand total of $5,678.12 by going 5-for-5, beating Craig Hanson, Josh Hohenforst, Mike Mahaney, Lehner and Rocky Warner. The memorial, a tribute to the late Bill Anagnostopulos, who owned the Winner’s Circle restaurant in Fonda, was created by Mike Mallet, George Smith and GT Smith of Dirt Track Digest and is now being run by Scott Friers. Ronnie Johnson also won the Memorial in 2016 and 2017, but the payout has grown tremendously in the last couple of years.

Glen Ridge Motorsports held the 50-lap Jerry Buff Memorial last Sunday and it was only fitting that Jerry’s grandsons, Andrew and Justin, finished 1-2 in the feature. This Sunday, The Ridge will be hosting the DIRTcar Sportsman East Region Tour.

Chuck McSpirit recorded the first pro stock win of his career at Glen Ridge on Sunday. McSpirit, who was the 2008 street stock at the Ridge, returned to racing about a month ago after a short retirement.

Craig Wholey had a good weekend in his limited sportsman, finishing second to Tyler Rapp on Friday at Albany-Saratoga, and crossing the finish line second on Saturday at Devil’s Bowl.

Demetrious Drellos is eating up the competition at the Bowl. His sportsman/modified win last Saturday was his fourth in seven starts at the Vermont track this season.

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