The 4th Turn: September 30, 2021

~ By Tom Boggie

Ever since last weekend’s Malta Massive Weekend, the phrase that keeps popping into my head is, “Good things happen to good people.”

When Rich Peterson threw the checkered flag at the conclusion of last Saturday night’s 100-lap Super DIRT Series race that brought an end to the 2021 racing season at Albany-Saratoga Speedway, Mike Mahaney had the biggest win of his career. To say he was overjoyed during his victory lane celebration wouldn’t be hyberbole. He was acting like a kid who discovers on Christmas morning that Santa Claus brought just what he had asked for. He laughed, he got choked up, he was at a loss for words. Giddy isn’t a word I use when describing a dirt track driver, but he was darn close.

And later, when he got out of his car for the victory lane photos in the pits, he and car owner George Hutting embraced. Not hugged, like one of those lame bro-hugs everyone does now. Embraced, like a proud father and his son.

Which, basically, they are.

When Mahaney became a free agent following the 2018 season, he quickly made a connection with Huttig, and the rest, as they say, is history. Huttig first hit the racing scene in the 1980s, with Mike Perrotte behind the wheel of the Adirondack Auto-sponsored modified, and has been one of the most respected car owners ever since.

When the formation of the Mahaney-Huttig team was first announced, Huttig said in an interview, “I saw Mike run in his own stuff and I know what he’s capable of. I don’t think he had the best chance and I want to prove what he can do.”

And Mahaney is as down-to-earth as Huttig. Mahaney is old-school, and learned everything about a race car from his father Jim, another hard-working, no-nonsense racer. When he first started racing at Malta, he usually stayed in his hauler, keeping to himself. With some gentle prodding by his girlfriend Mandee Pauch, he has come out of his shell. But he still has that humble quality that is so hard to find these days.

When the Mahaney-Huttig team first began, Mahaney lived with George and his wife Julie until Mahaney could find a place of his own. They treated him like one of the family, and still do.

That’s what made Saturday night’s win so satisfying, to see good things happen to good people.

The final 13 laps of the feature have been dissected to death in the past week, as Mahaney and Stewart Friesen put on a show that fans who witnessed the duel will never forget.

Ironically, earlier in the night, I was standing in the control tower with Albany-Saratoga announcer Dan Martin and Super DIRT Series announcer Shane Andrews, and they were reminiscing about the best Series race they had ever seen. They both pointed to Friesen’s last lap pass of Brett Hearn in Hearn’s “Big Show 11” at Malta in 2019 as their No. 1 pick.

A little while later, after frantically calling out all the action that happened on the final lap, Andrews stood and applauded. I think he has a new “best” memory.

When things calmed down a little in victory lane, I asked Mahaney how long he was going to celebrate his win. I expected the usual, “We’ll celebrate tonight, but we’ve still got … blah, blah, blah,” response.
He surprised me when he said, “Forever. This is our first Series win and I’m going to remember it forever. They say after you get the first one, the rest get easier. I hope so, because we waited a long time to get this one.”

It couldn’t have happened to two nicer guys.

MALTA MASSIVE NOTES

When was the last time you saw Ken Tremont Jr. and Marc Johnson both have DNQ next to their names after a big race at Albany-Saratoga?

I’m going to say never.

OK, that’s an exaggeration. Tremont recorded his first win at Albany-Saratoga in 1982, so it’s probably sometime before 1982, which is ancient history for a lot of people in the stands and in the pits at Malta.

But that’s what happened on Saturday, when Tremont and Johnson, who have combined for 15 modified championships at Malta, both wound up being spectators for the 100-lapper.

Their nights went south in the third modified heat. Starting mid-pack, they hooked together coming out of the second turn on lap two, and had to go to the rear. Both finished out of a qualifying spot, and had to run the last-chance races. Tremont finished eighth in his consy, and Johnson was fourth. With the top two from each race advancing, both were done for the night.

Speaking of consys, I thought I had been transported back to the mid-1980s when I watched Don Ronca move to the top, sail around both Johnson and Tyler Trump and go on to win the second last-chance race. The old guy’s still got some juice left in him.

The weekend was chock-full of great racing, and Friday night’s 20-lap Winner’s Classic was no exception, with Ronnie Johnson rocketing past Adam Pierson coming out of the fourth turn on the final lap to get the top prize of $2,000.

Johnson was running fourth on lap 14 when he squeezed by both Rich Ronca and Jeremy Pitts coming out of the second turn to move into second and set the stage for the dramatic win.

“I ran a few on top, and wasn’t going anywhere,” said Johnson in victory lane. “So I moved back down and found something. We were all racing hard, and I got into Jeremy Pitts, but I didn’t think it was too bad. He probably wasn’t happy with me because he flipped me the bird.”

Two years ago, in the first Malta Massive Weekend, Erick Rudolph recorded his first career win at Albany-Saratoga in the 358 race. But he never had a chance for more success last weekend. In the first heat race on Friday in preparation for the Fall Foliage 50, he got hit from behind by CG Morey, had to check up and finished near the back on the heat, which put him 16th in the starting grid. He went on to finish ninth.

Then, lightning struck again on Saturday. Rudolph and Mat Williamson made contact in the second turn of their heat race, and Rudolph missed qualifying by one spot. He finished third in the first consy, and had to take a provisional starting spot. He finished 17th on Saturday.

Promoter Lyle DeVore got some much-deserved praise for his track prep during Malta Massive Weekend.

“This is the raciest track I’ve been on in a long time,” said Williamson after his win in the Fall Foliage 50. “If this was closer to home, I’d race here every week. It just seems to fit my style,”
“I want to thank Lyle for giving us a race track that was good for 100 laps,” said Mahaney on Saturday.

Friesen just didn’t look like himself early in the night Saturday. He only had the fifth-best time in his group during time trials, and didn’t advance in his heat race, finishing fifth. He won the first consy, which put him 21st in the 26-car field, but there he was at the end, second by a car length and part of another great race at the Great Race Place.

Following his heat race, Friesen said that he “went to Ronnie Johnson’s trailer and starting grabbing shocks and stuff, and finally hit on something.”

Some things never change. On Friday, members of Rocky Warner’s crew were nervously pacing around an empty pit spot, waiting for Warner to arrive. When Rocky finally pulled in with the Jason Simmons-owned 358, he and the crew had to scramble to get the car ready for hot laps, going out at the last possible second. Despite the lack of prep time, Warner then went on to win his heat, and also won the Elocin Farms Dash for Cash, which was worth $500. He led some laps in the Fall Foliage 50 before fading to eighth.

Hall of Famer Pat Ward finished fourth in the Fall Foliage 50. That was his first top-five finish at Malta since Aug. 26, 2009, when he finished fifth in the CVRA vs. The World 100-lapper. Ward’s car owner, John Wight, announced recently that he’s disbanding both Ward’s and Billy Decker’s Gypsum Racing teams at the end of the season, but Ward emphatically stated, “I’ll be back next year” when I asked him if he was on his farewell tour.

Congratulations to Mike Parodi for recording his first limited sportsman win on Saturday. After racing everything from motorcycles to quads to ice racers early in his career, Parodi began racing in the four-cylinder division at Albany-Saratoga in the 2014 season, picking up a victory on Sept. 5.

He was the single-cam division champion in both 2015 and 2016 before moving up to limited sportsman in 2017. He recorded his first limited sportsman win at Devil’s Bowl on June 30, 2019.

AROUND THE TRACKS

Tim Fuller won last weekend’s “Slate Valley 100” big block/small block challenge at Devil’s Bowl, taking home the top prize of $10,000. Mahaney, who I would guess did a lot of celebrating Saturday night, led the first 28 laps until getting a flat tire. Fuller then grabbed the lead away from Matt Sheppard following a restart on lap 54, and it was smooth sailing from there, as he beat Sheppard to the finish line by over seven seconds. Only the first seven cars finished on the lead lap.

Lebanon Valley champion Andy Bachetti skipped Malta Massive Weekend and instead won the “King of the Can” feature at Penn-Can. That win was worth $5,000.

If you’re looking for more racing, Devil’s Bowl will be running its final points races and crowning its champions on Saturday, with racing beginning at 4 p.m. Justin Comes has an 18-point lead over Tim Laduc in the battle for the sportsman/modified crown.

Now that Albany-Saratoga is done for the season, this will be the final 4th Turn column of the year. But I’ll be watching what’s going on at Super DIRT Week, the Eastern States 200 and elsewhere, so keep an eye on the News section of the web site for updates on area drivers.

The post The 4th Turn: September 30, 2021 appeared first on Albany-Saratoga Speedway.

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