The 4th Turn: August 19, 2021

~ By Tom Boggie

Remember this name: Duane Howard.

No, wait. That’s the wrong name. That’s the name that used to be on the roof of the 357 limited sportsman at Albany-Saratoga Speedway.

Remember this name instead: Chris Jakubiak.

I’ve got a feeling that racing fans will be hearing a lot about Jakubiak in years to come.

It’s rare when I know absolutely nothing about a driver at Albany-Saratoga Speedway. Even the teenagers (and pre-teens, like Brock Pinkerous) who start climbing through the ranks have some kind of racing experience under their belts and their past results can be found with some diligent searching on the internet.

But Jakubiak, who has won four limited sportsman features this year, was still a mystery to me. So between storms last Friday, I made a side trip to his pit area. And boy, did I learn a lot.

The 37-year-old driver out of Ballston Spa had never raced an open-wheel car before this season. His background was in motocross.

“With old age comes a roll cage,” he said with a smile. “I raced go-karts for a while, then motocross. I guess speed is in me. All my fellow motocross competitors are in cars now, and we’re racing together again.”

Jakubiak, who operates Vertex Property Management, started coming to Albany-Saratoga Speedway when he was 7 years old, and “I always dreamed of racing one of these things,” he said. “It took me 30 years to get here.”

When Jakubiak, who is good friends with ONYX Industries teammates Daryl Nutting and Dan Grignon, decided last winter that he wanted to join his buddies on the race track, the first step was getting a car. That’s how he ended up with the former Norm Hansel 357, which Duane Howard drove last season.

“We picked it up in January and got it together quickly,” said Jakubiak. “When I talked to Daryl and Dan about buying a car, they said to make sure I got a Bicknell, because that’s what they had and knew the most about. I don’t know anything about these cars, but I’m learning.”

After buying the car and dropping a 3-year-old motor in it, Jakubiak was ready to go racing, even though the ONYX guys wanted to wait until spring. But Jakubiak proved to be pretty persuasive.

“We ended up going down to South Carolina in January for the South of the Border races (at Lake View Speedway) and I ran in one race,” said Jakubiak. “I just ran around in the back, trying to get it figured out.”

Which makes what he did next pretty impressive. Albany-Saratoga Speedway began its season on April 18, with Jakubiak finishing 24th in his limited sportsman debut. But just five days later (don’t forget, the season began on a Sunday), Jakubiak was in victory lane, passing Gerard LeClair coming out of the fourth turn on the last lap of the feature to record his first career win. That was the third time he had raced the car!

After a couple of uncharacteristically bad weeks in mid-July, Jakubiak heads into this weekend’s racing action with a three-race winning streak, and is just 16 points behind Dylan Madsen in the battle for the limited sportsman title. He can’t wait to move up to the regular sportsman division, but he hopes to win a championship first.

Jakubiak has been parking next to the Derrick McGrew Jr. team and he’s been getting a lot of advice from Derrick McGrew Sr., as well as Nutting and Grignon.

“He’s never driven anything before, so he doesn’t know what he’s doing out there and he’ll listen to me,” said McGrew Sr. “He hasn’t developed any bad habits, and he trusts me to give him driving advice.”

“I’ve got a great group of people around me who have been racing for a long time,” said Jakubiak “I’m usually out of town for most of the week because of work, so I don’t do a lot of work on the car. (Grignon) does all of the maintenance. I just show up and drive, basically.”

He’s already talking about putting a new body on the car so he can run at Super DIRT Week in Oswego, but first, there’s that matter of winning a championship.

AROUND THE TRACKS

The big story going around this week is the possible retirement of owner Jake Spraker, who has had Rocky Warner behind the wheel of his cars for the last seven years. After Warner and Ronnie Johnson finished tied for the modified championship at Fonda Speedway, Spraker said he was “75 percent” sure he’ll retire at the end of the 2021 season.

In the seven years that Warner and Spraker have been together, they’ve won over 75 sportsman and modified races. I’ll have to wait and see how this one plays out. Spraker, who began his career as an owner back in the 1980s when he put C.D. Coville in a car, has talked about retirement before, but always seems to get the itch again.

Ken Tremont Jr. recorded his first win of the year at Lebanon Valley last Saturday, starting on the pole and leading flag-to-flag in an all-green-flag feature. That was Tremont’s 140th career win at the Valley. The win came on the same night that one of Tremont’s long-time crew members, Steve Kahler, who died of cancer last winter, was being honored with a special race for pure stocks in his memory.

Matt Sheppard won the $10,000 first prize at last Sunday’s “Battle of the Bowl” at Devil’s Bowl Speedway. Stewart Friesen, Demetrios Drellos, Mike Mahaney and Adam Pierson completed the top five.

Anthony Perrego and Friesen won the two 25-lap qualifiers, which paid $1,500 to win. But Perrego damaged his small block during the qualifier, and had to bring out his big block as a back-up car. That put him 26th in the starting grid and he battled his way back to 11th in the 50-lap feature.

Drellos also picked up $2,000 for winning a separate sportsman/modified feature Sunday. The weekend started on Saturday, with Elmo Reckner picking up his second win of the year. Obviously, he’s not feeling any adverse effects from the concussion he suffered in a wreck at Utica-Rome earlier this season.

Going back to last Thursday, Friesen won the Centennial 102 Super DIRT series at Orange County Speedway, earning $10,200. Perrego was running second when he ran out of gas with two laps left. Chris Hile, who finished second, ran out of gas at the finish line and had to be pushed back to the pits.

Hey, has everyone forgotten about the FantaSStick 4 street stock series between Albany-Saratoga and Glen Ridge Motorsports? Well, I haven’t. Matt Mosher has won four of the six events so far (two were rained out), but only has a 22-point lead over Jason Samrov heading into the finale on Aug. 27 at Albany-Saratoga.

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