The 4th Turn: July 22, 2021

~ By Tom Boggie

I love a good action movie. Give me high-speed chases, cars flipping through the air, a good shootout, any of the “Fast and Furious” movies. That’s a good couple of hours worth of entertainment.

I also like watching NASCAR races at Daytona and Talladega, the high-speed ballet of cars side-by-side and nose-to-tail at 190 miles per hour. Unlike some people, I don’t wait for the “Big One.” Just give me the side-by-side racing and an occasional “Crank It Up” and I’m good.

What I don’t like is violence, and I’m seeing way too much of it on Friday nights at Albany-Saratoga Speedway.

Jack Lehner is the latest victim. He took a wild ride during the second modified heat last Friday. After jumping the cushion in the third turn, his car catapulted into the air, did two or three barrel-rolls, slammed back to the track and rolled once more, coming to rest on his wheels.

The car was destroyed. When I was leaving the track, the car was sitting on a flatbed outside the main gate, for all to see. I had flashbacks to my high school days, when everyone took driver’s ed. I remember watching the films of wrecked cars (the teachers always showed these movies right before Prom Night) that were a reminder to drive carefully. When I walked past Lehner’s car, I had a “This could be you” moment.

Lehner got on Facebook earlier this week to inform fans that he was OK, but that the car, which was his only race-ready car, was destroyed. He had a new chassis in his shop that he was saving for the end of the season, but that car is now being put together.

“Our current objective is to return Sunday at Weedsport for the Super DIRT Series,” Lehner reported on Facebook. “With the loss of resources, we are forced to prioritize. Our plan is to focus only on the Super DIRT Series with the JLR2.”

Which means the “Ginja Ninja” probably won’t be back at Albany-Saratoga until September. That’s a shame.

Lehner was the biggest victim after jumping the cushion, but he certainly wasn’t the only one. Todd Stone got airborne twice in the first turn in the first heat, but never went over. Following Lehner’s wreck, Chip Meehan nearly went over in the same exact spot.

Looking back, Keith Flach has been over twice in the first turn this year, and rookie Jack Speshock wound up on his roof in the same vicinity. Last year, Ken Tremont Jr. destroyed a race car in the first turn.

Flach was in the same heat as Lehner last Friday, and after Lehner’s flip, Flach hugged the bottom for the rest of the race. When was the last time you saw Keith Flach hug the inside?

I know I’ve harped on this before. About two months ago, I had a conversation with Tremont, who told me, “These short-rod, coil cars are very violent. They react quickly. If you hit a hole, you’re going to roll over and wreck a race car.”

Everyone who’s ever watched a race on a dirt track knows that the surface gets peeled up, and holes or ruts develop. It’s inevitable. But now it’s also dangerous.

Which puts Albany-Saratoga promoter Lyle DeVore in a sticky situation. DeVore is recognized as one of the best track preparers in the Northeast, and Albany-Saratoga is known for its two-groove, side-by-side racing. That’s what keeps fans coming back. But the only way to keep these coil cars on the ground is to have a dry, slick, rubbered-over race track.

That’s pretty much how the track was two weeks ago, when Rich Ronca won the modified feature. There was only one caution all night on the slippery surface. Ronca, Speshock, Bobby Hackel IV and Derek Bornt all started in the top 10 and had their best finishes of the season. One of the big movers was Peter Britten, who is more accustomed to that type of surface. He started 19th and finished fifth.

So what does DeVore do? Stick to his normal routine of track prep and keep his fans entertained, or try to keep those coil cars on four wheels?

The bottom line is that he’s lost another car, and that’s something no promoter wants.

MORE FROM MALTA
Speaking of entertainment, Jessey Mueller and Marc Johnson put on a heck of a show last Friday during the middle stages of the modified feature. Johnson, running the bottom, did everything he could to make his car very wide as Mueller tried to find a way around on the top.

“I wanted the top, and Marc knew I wanted the top,” said Mueller after the team’s exuberant celebration in victory lane. “I was screwing with his head for a while there, trying to get him to make a mistake.”

In the first seven races of the season, Mueller’s best finish was a seventh. But since June 11th, he’s finished seventh, sixth, fourth, 19th (on the rubbered-up track) and first. Despite the discouraging start, the team kept plugging along.

“We just keep making small changes,” said Mueller. “The left-side setup threw us for a loop for a while, but I think we’ve found a sweet spot.”

A late caution helped Scott Duell record his second win of the year in the 25-lap sportsman feature. It looked like Pat Jones had the win locked up until the caution with two to go gave Duell another shot.

“I didn’t think this was going to happen,” said Duell in a post-race interview. “The yellow came out and on the restart, I tried to pinch him down low, but he got a good jump and I knew I had to go to the top.”

Duell caught Jones just before the flagstand and finished with a 0.228-second margin of victory.

Scott Towslee finally got the monkey off his back, picking up his first pro stock win of the season. “It’s been a rough year,” he said after the race. “Both our cars have been destroyed.”

With Lehner out, the modified field at Albany-Saratoga has lost four cars recently. Neil Stratton was a no-show last Friday. He had put a big block into his car for the July 9 race (the first time he had run a big block in 10 years), but the engine was damaged during the feature, and his Facebook page states he’s not sure when he’ll be back. Jackie Brown Jr. and LJ Lombardo are now only racing at Lebanon Valley, cutting back from two nights of racing.

AROUND THE TRACKS
The Super DIRT series race at Land of Legends was rained out Tuesday after all of the heats had been completed. The two last-chance qualifiers and the feature will be added to one of the two future SDS stops at the Canandaigua track. The redraw was completed, with Tim Fuller picking the pole. Britten will start second, Demetrios Drellos will start seventh and Stewart Friesen will line up in the 11th spot.

Accord Speedway had to postpone its show last Friday because of an ambulance shortage. Following an accident during the pure stock feature, the ambulance on site had to transport one of the drivers to an area hospital. When no back-up ambulance could be found, the rest of the show was postponed.

I don’t know what to do about Tim Hartman Jr. Do I say he’s in a slump because he’s only won three races all year (all three at Albany-Saratoga, despite also running on Saturday nights) or do I pat him on the back for his consistency and the fact he’s opened up a huge lead in the sportsman point race at Malta?

The post The 4th Turn: July 22, 2021 appeared first on Albany-Saratoga Speedway.

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