The 4th Turn: September 2, 2021

~ By Tom Boggie

Bobby Hackel IV is a lucky man.

Not many people get the opportunity to chase their dream, and then actually achieve that dream.

But Hackel IV made his dream come true last Saturday night, when he won his first big block modified feature at Lebanon Valley Speedway.
To paraphrase The Beatles, it’s been a long and winding road.

I first wrote about Bobby Hackel IV during the offseason in 2011, when he announced that he was going to jump into a modified and run on the asphalt at both Albany-Saratoga Speedway and Devil’s Bowl. But I had known the Hackel family for a long time before that. I got to know his grandfather, Bob Hackel Jr., quite well when he was dominating the mini-stock division at Albany-Saratoga, and even made a road trip to Montreal with him and Albany-Saratoga owner C.J. Richards to watch indoor motocross racing, when Richards was getting ready to bring motocross to Albany-Saratoga.

I also saw a lot of Hackel IV’s father, also Bobby Hackel, during his successful sportsman career.

Hackel IV, who was the budget sportsman Rookie of the Year at Lebanon Valley Speedway in 2010, said he was ready to take the next step in 2011, campaigning a PMC chassis built by Pete Chuckta. “I want to go as far as racing will take me,” said Hackel IV, who was 16 at the time. “If I can make a living off racing, that would be great.”

Hackel IV didn’t go on to become a NASCAR driver, which I’m sure was his desire back then, but he has been making a living off racing, now as a chassis fabricator for Chuckta.

Hackel IV won his first modified race at Devil’s Bowl on July 10, 2011, and found a lot of his success at the Bowl, first on asphalt and later on dirt, driving a sportsman/modified at the Vermont track for years. He has 16 career wins (which includes three sprint car wins) at Devil’s Bowl, including three last year.

When Albany-Saratoga switched back to dirt in 2012, Hackel IV found himself back in the budget sportsman division, running at Malta on Fridays and Lebanon Valley on Saturdays. He finished with seven wins that season, including four at the Valley, where he won the budget sportsman championship.

His best season was definitely 2016, when Devil’s Bowl ran full schedules on both dirt and asphalt. He won eight races that year (all on the dirt track) and was the track champion on dirt. He also earned a place in the Devil’s Bowl record book on Aug. 14, 2016, when he won both the modified and Sprint Cars of New England (SCONE) features, becoming just the second driver ever to record wins in two divisions on the same night (Mike Bruno, now the owner of the Bowl, won both a modified and a late model feature on the asphalt in 2011).

But he had always struggled to find success in the premier division at both Albany-Saratoga and Lebanon Valley, and that long and winding road seemed to be never-ending, until Saturday night.

Hackel IV has always had a solid team behind him (his grandfather has been more than generous, but isn’t that what grandfathers are for?) and he has never been lacking for good equipment, but he got a big break last winter. Lance and Jill Sharpe, who had followed Hackel IV’s career as fans at the Valley, asked Hackel IV what it would take for him to return to the Valley as a regular Saturday night competitor, and Hackel IV told them he needed a stronger motor to be competitive. So the Sharpes bought Hackel a new Dan Bedell-built big block, and went from being fans to being sponsors.

All the pieces of the puzzle fell into place last Saturday.

So now, Hackel IV has reached the end of the long and winding road. He’s in the record books as a big block modified winner on the high banks of Lebanon Valley Speedway. There’s another detour he’d like to take, the one that leads to victory lane at Albany-Saratoga Speedway in his modified, but that’s another story.

When Adam Tranka pulled into victory lane at the end of the street stock feature last Friday at Albany-Saratoga Speedway, I looked at announcer Dan Martin and asked, “When was the last time he won a race here?”

As a former driver and track champion at Malta, Martin usually has a good handle on things like that, but all I got was a shrug, so I did a little digging this week.

Actually, it was a lot of digging, because the last win I could find for Tranka came in a pro street stock feature on July 18, 2003. That was his second career pro street win, with the first coming on July 30, 1999.

I found a couple of top-five pro street stock finishes for Tranka in 2004 and 2005, but then there’s a big gap in his career. Tranka did spend the 2010 season running in the sportsman division at the asphalt at Albany-Saratoga, recording three top-five finishes, but then there’s another long gap in his career prior to returning to street stocks a couple of years ago.

In addition to running at Albany-Saratoga, Tranka has also been piling up street stock wins at Glen Ridge Motorsports Park. He had five wins and finished second in points last season, and has six victories so far this season, and it looks like he’ll be the runner-up in points for the second straight year.

I’ll have the Frog Alley Lager, please. Oops, wrong tap.

The best drivers in the Northeast will converge on Lebanon Valley Saturday night for the 101-lap Mr. Dirt Track USA Super DIRT series race, which will pay $25,500 to win. I’d like to think that drivers like Andy Bachetti, who wrapped up his fourth career big block title last Saturday; Ken Tremont Jr. and Marc Johnson will have a home-track advantage, but when Matt Sheppard and Stewart Friesen pull in the back gate, home-track advantage usually goes out the window.

On Sunday, many of those same drivers will head to the Bowl for the Vermont 200 for crate modifieds, which will pay $10,000 to win. Demetrios Drellos is the defending champion. Last year, the 200 paid $7,500 to win.

Albany-Saratoga will crown a new modified champion Friday, as Anthony Perrego opened up a 35-point lead over Mike Mahaney with his first win of the season last Friday. The card at Malta will also feature the West End Towing and Repair Sportsman Special, which will pay $1,000 to win.

By picking up his first win last Friday, Perrego avoided the possibility of becoming the fourth modified champion who didn’t win a feature. That list includes Bill Wimble (1967), Jerry Cook (1971), Don Ronca (1989) and Tremont (2008). Just for the record, Tremont did have five runner-up finishes on his way to the 2008 title.

Glen Ridge Motorsports Park will be racing on both Saturday and Sunday this weekend, using Saturday as a make-up date for the seven rainouts the track has suffered through.

Perrego only led the final lap at Malta last Friday. It looked like Neil Stratton was going to come away with his first career win until sliding off the second turn on the final lap. “It was our race to lose, and that’s what we did,” said a dejected Stratton after the race.

Mahaney’s run of bad luck continued last week at the DIRTcar 358 Series race at Mohawk International Raceway. Mahaney was leading when his suspension broke with two laps to go, dropping him to 11th. Billy Dunn was the winner. Albany-Saratoga Speedway regular Daryl Nutting made the long haul north and finished third in the sportsman race.

Josh Coonradt picked up a big win last Sunday at Glen Ridge, taking the checkered flag in the DIRTcar Pro Stock Series race. He started 11th, and avoided a big wreck on the first lap that involved two heavy hitters, Rob Yetman and Albany-Saratoga champion Chad Jeseo. Jeseo was done for the night, while Yetman battled back to finish fifth.

Derrick McGrew Jr. blew the motor in his modified during hot laps last Friday at Albany-Saratoga and went out for the feature in Nutting’s sportsman, pulling out after four laps.

Albany-Saratoga promoter Lyle Devore announced last week that modifieds will be added to the Sept. 10 racing card.

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