The 4th Turn: August 12, 2021

~ By Tom Boggie

In case you haven’t noticed, the racing meet at Saratoga Race Course has passed the halfway point (Good thing. I’ve already had to replenish my Capital OTB account twice). Only 20 more days to flush more cash down the toilet.

It’s so easy. Win, place and show betting; daily doubles; exactas; trifectas. All waiting to gobble up your cash.

I never bet trifectas, in which you have to pick the first three finishers in the correct order. Heck, I have enough trouble picking a winner, much less the top three.

But I wish someone had come up with a betting line for the modified feature at Albany-Saratoga Speedway last Friday night. The odds on that trifecta would have been astronomical.

James Meehan, Adam Pierson, Rich Ronca.

I dare anyone to tell me they had that one correct.

Taking any one of those drivers to finish in the top three is a long shot by itself. But to have all three on the podium on the same night is mind-boggling.
Let’s take them one at a time.

Meehan is in his second year in the modified division. He won three features in the limited sportsman division before moving up to the regular sportsman division, where he was winless for two seasons. Until last Friday, his best modified finish was a third, on May 14.

Pierson is another driver out of the sportsman ranks. The Vermont driver won his only sportsman feature at Albany-Saratoga Speedway on April 28, 2017 (ironically, 2017 was the same season in which Meehan picked up his three limited sportsman wins), and he’s also got five wins under his belt at Devil’s Bowl Speedway. But until last Friday, he’d only broken into the top five once this season at Albany-Saratoga.

Ronca ended an 11-year winless drought earlier this season, on July 9, but let’s be honest. He really didn’t have history on his side last Friday. The last time Ronca had two top-five finishes in the same year was 2012, when he finished fourth on May 25 and fifth on Aug. 31.

But there they all were last Friday, with Meehan getting his first career modified win, Pierson recording his best modified finish ever and Ronca back in the top three for the second time this year.

Meehan’s win was actually redemption. The previous week, he had set the pace for the first 20 laps before missing his mark in the first turn, allowing Matt DeLorenzo to get the lead. Eight laps later, he broke an oil line on a restart and was done for the night.

As he stood in victory lane last Friday, I asked him if he was able to block out the problems of the previous week.

“I tried not to look at the board (the lap counter),” he said. “I didn’t want to start looking ahead and have the same thing happen.”

The 28-year-old Meehan, who joined Jeremy Pitts and Jack Lehner as first-time winners this season, was quick to hand out praise after his win.

“We’ve been working really hard on this,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of bad luck this year. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. My brother Patrick spends a lot of time in the garage and Dick Hicks has taught us everything we know. It’s good to have him with us.”

Hicks is a Hall of Fame fabricator and the man behind Hico Fabrications, Meehan’s major sponsor. Hicks began building chassis with Dextor Dorr many decades ago and was a familiar face on Brett Hearn’s crew for years.

The finish to last week’s feature was also incredible, with Pierson, who was riding the outside wall, Ronca and DeLorenzo crossing the finish line three-wide, and only the automatic scoring was able to separate them. Pierson finished in 13:51.052, Ronca stopped the clock in 13:51.103 and DeLorenzo hit the timer in 13:51.143. That’s one hell of a photo finish.

“The car felt really good,” said Pierson after the race. “I’ve got to thank Matty D and Rich for giving me room on the last lap and not wrecking me.

“We’re starting to get the handle on this,” he added. “This is a lot different than the sportsman.”

Ronca, who is still wearing his nephew Chris’ firesuit, had to be pushed back to the pits after his battery died during the victory lane celebration on the track (Old firesuits. Old batteries. Is there a trend here?). Hey, Rich. Two top fives in the same year?

“Who would have believed it?” he said with a smile.

You won’t see another trifecta like that anytime soon.

MORE FROM MALTA

Jim Nagle recorded his second sportsman win of the year in his Mickle Automotive-sponsored Bicknell last Friday, and then gave all the credit to Ronnie Johnson.

“I owe this to Ronnie,” Nagle said. “I’ve been struggling for the last few weeks and Ronnie took over the car this week and set it up for me. He gave me a real good race car.”

Anthony Perrego’s fifth-place finish in the modified feature went virtually unnoticed because of everything that was going on up front. That allowed him to open up a 36-point lead over Marc Johnson.

Sportsman driver Joe Williams was back at Albany-Saratoga last Friday for the first time since his opening-night win. But he failed to qualify for the feature.

STILL CRAZY AFTER ALL THESE YEARS

Congratulations to my longtime friend Jeff Sheely for winning last Saturday’s modified feature at Thunder Mountain. That was Sheely’s first victory since 2008, when he picked up his only career win at Glen Ridge Motorsports Park. If you get a chance, find a picture of Sheely’s car. As Albany-Saratoga announcer Dan Martin would say, it’s a plain white wrapper. Not a hint of sponsorship. This is a labor of love, or maybe insanity. (Who knows?)

When Bernie Heald and I were both working at Albany-Saratoga years ago, we decided one year to give Sheely $100 each week for tire money. He did win a feature that year, but I’m not sure if he was running Afton or Thunder Mountain then. It was that long ago.

At 64, Sheely has earned a spot near the top of the oldest-drivers-to-win-a-modified-feature list, but he’s got no chance of catching Denny Soltis, who was 74 when he won his last modified feature at Lebanon Valley on Sept. 2. 2017.

AROUND THE TRACKS

Chad Jeseo has been dominating the pro stock division this season, and if there was any question about the legality of his motor, it ended earlier this week. Lebanon Valley officials had the Donath Motor Worx engine from Jeseo’s car pulled after his win in the Jim Langenback “Old Buzzard” Memorial last Saturday and the engine was sent to Carlquist Competition Engines in Oakville, Conn., where an inspection found it to be perfectly legal.

In addition to his three wins at the Valley, Jeseo also has seven wins at Albany-Saratoga.

Also at the Valley, Kyle Schroder won the Butch Jelley Memorial. That was Schroder’s first win since Aug. 19, 2017.

Garrett Poland recorded his second straight win at Glen Ridge Motorsports Park on Sunday, passing Andrew Buff on the last lap. Josh Pieniazek won the Empire Super Sprints feature, also getting the lead on the final lap. ESS competitor Matt Tanner set a new track record of 11.202 seconds, while Luke Horning pulled off a rare double, winning both the pro stock and limited sportsman features.

The top three at Tuesday night’s series race at Woodhull consisted of Matt Sheppard, Andy Bachetti and Perrego. Albany-Saratoga Speedway sportsman points leader Tim Hartman Jr. made the long haul to Woodhull and finished fifth in the 602 crate feature.

Speaking of Hartman Jr., he now has a 136-point lead over Chris Johnson in the race for the sportsman championship at Malta. I know how much Tim loves banquets. Better start saving up for tickets, Tim.

With only four big block events left on the 2021 schedule at Lebanon Valley, Ken Tremont Jr. is running out of time to get his first win of the season. Since getting his first win at the Valley in 1982, Tremont has had just two winless seasons on the high banks, in 2011 and 2014.

The post The 4th Turn: August 12, 2021 appeared first on Albany-Saratoga Speedway.

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