Column By: BOBBY CHALMERS / RPW – WEST LEBANON, NY – The name of the game Saturday at Lebanon Valley was practice. Yes, I’m taking about practice, and for many teams in the pit area, it was time to knock the rust off and get ready for the new season. However, it was also time for a new face at the high banks to knock off some rust.
That face is the new pit steward at the Valley, Lane VanDeusen. VanDeusen is one year removed from holding the same position at the Albany-Saratoga Speedway and was ready to get back at it.
“I have to admit, when I left Malta, I didn’t think I was going to miss it this much,” he said while standing next to the Valley’s Pit Shack. “My full-time job needed to take precedent. I’ve known Ronnie (Mensing, the Pit Steward at LVS in 2016) for over 40 years and knew he didn’t want to return. I threw my name out there to let them know I may be interested, and things just came together.
VanDeusen at the helm in the pit area brings stability to the events each week after spending four years at the “Great Race Place.”
“I’m fortunate that Lyle (Devore, LVS General Manager) considered me again,” he said. “I think he knows I can probably handle the responsibility.”
His first evening running the show went well Saturday, but VanDeusen knows it will take time to get things rolling at the Valley.
“Respect gets respect,” he said. “I’ve learned that over the years. Hope I can earn their respect…not just the racers, but my guys as well. That is most important. Racers know consistency, but co-workers realize loyalty.”
News & Notes…
While defending Modified Champion Brett Hearn wasn’t in attendance, the King of the Valley, Kenny Tremont, was, and was getting set to dial in a new Troyer.
According to crew member Joe Matthews, the test session was a success.
“We tried a lot of things and by the last set of laps, we got the car freed up,” Matthews said. “Overall, Ken’s happy with the car which means all of us on the team are happy as well.”
For Matthews & Company, the day proved to be rewarding in more ways than one.
“Not only did the car work well, but for the first time since I’ve been with Ken, we have a primary car and a back-up that are identical twins,” he said. “Ken loves the feel of them both.”
JR Heffner has a brand new Bicknell car for the 2017 season and is happy with how the practice session went.
“I think this car will be good,” he said. It has good movement and with the track the way it was, we were able to try some things that we can use going forward.”
Brian Berger has his Modified in the pit area and, with a new engine between the framerails, was excited after the session was completed.
“The whole test was awesome,” he said. “The new engine felt very strong and the track was in great shape.”
The #60 Phaze3 Team was able to get up to speed quickly thanks to some help they learned at Super DIRT Week last October in Oswego.
“The tire prep we learned from Bicknell’s Randy Williamson at Super DIRT Week really helped us,” Berger said. “Today though was making sure the engine was okay and the brakes worked. We were really happy with the car and I’m told we were the fastest in our last sessions. That’s a good start.”
Kyle Armstrong has a brand new Teo Pro Car for this season and during the off-season, decided to put on the brand new PFC Brake system. After his first runs with the car, he is pleased with his choice.
“It took some getting use to but seeing as we had to get the entire system anyway, we decided to go with the PFC deal,” Armstrong said. “I think it was worth the money. The new car is good. A couple of little issues today that are all fixed and we should be good for opening night.”
Paul Gilardi is starting 2017 with a brand new car for the first time since 2006. His new Hig Fab Chassis is very bright and as the Pittsfield, MA native got more comfortable in the car, he got quicker.
“I like the new car…just need more seat time in it,” he said. “We made a few changes to the braking system so that it didn’t get in to the corners so hard on the right front and by the time the day finished, it was better. The car reacts to changes very well and the entire team is happy.”
Mike Keeler has a Teo Pro Car this year, which was a machine out of the Eddie Marshall shop. Keeler’s engine program has also been stepped up this year as his father-in-law and brother in law built both their primary and back-up engines for the new season. His brother-in-law is NASCAR Whelen Modified driver Todd Szegedy.
Keeler had some troubles in practice on Saturday but is extremely happy with his new piece
“We had the bolt fall out of the shifter after the first session and I had to adjust the steering box and the brake balance so I could get comfortable,” he said. “I love the car and the motor ran great. I have a new bias setup in the car and it’s very responsive but takes some getting use to. I’m excited for this year.”
Chad Jeseo’s #25 team may have changed chassis makes this off-season, but you can tell he is still just as eager as ever to put the RC Concrete PMC in victory lane.
Jeseo fought steering box problems and between the second and third sessions, car owner Scott Hamlin changed the steering box in the car. That was in 12 minutes. That is amazing.
“We are very close with the new car,” Jeseo said. “We didn’t have the spring rod on the right rear and didn’t have the right amount of stagger in the rear tires. But, I feel very comfortable in this ride. I can’t wait to get it in race conditions.”
Having the chassis builder working with you doesn’t hurt either.
“With Pete (Chuckta) and Bobby Hackel (from PMC) here working with us and Mike King is a big shot in the arm,” he said. “They give us ideas we wouldn’t have thought of and that is invaluable.”
Keith Flach is ready to build on his 2016 racing season which saw him finish third in track points. The “Ravena Rocket” had two cars at his disposal on Saturday and both felt really good to him.
“The primary car was a little tight all evening, no matter what we did to it,” he said. “The back-up is night and day better than it was last year. Andrew (Phillips, Flach’s crew chief) changed the whole set up to the car and it is 100 times better.”
The back-up is the car Flach ran at the Super DIRT Week Finale at the Fairgrounds and is a completely different car compared to the team’s normal equipment.
“The car wasn’t very stable or consistent last year here,” he said. “It was both of those today, but was a little free off the corner. The track will likely be different next week so we’ll go with a similar setup to what we ran last year but keep today’s adjustments in mind if it’s a similar track.”
Freshman on the high banks, LJ Lombardo, had his Teo #35 in the pit area and was a man of few words on Saturday.
“We are going to be good here this year,” he said. “I can feel it. The car felt great and the motor ran strong. My team will be ready, that is for sure.”
A late arrival at the track on Saturday was Rob Pitcher and his son Brandon. Rob had his half-season old Troyer machine and was trying to get the balance right the entire time he was there. Near the end of the test he looked very comfortable.
Small Block racer Brett Haas had his #55 Mildred Elley-sponsored car at practice and appeared to be fast. Brett’s father, Adam, told me that they are happy but the car still needs some fine tuning. The Small Blocks don’t start their season until April 29th.
Former Fonda Speedway Sportsman Champion Cody Bleau had his #173 in the pit area as he gets ready for the King of Dirt Sportsman Series races on the high banks this season. While plans have the Defreestville, NY driver only running the tour shows in 2017, plans are to see him in the pit area at the Albany-Saratoga Speedway for next Friday’s season opener.
Cody was one of the fastest Sportsman in the pit area on Saturday, and that speed has him excited for action at the West Lebanon oval.
“The car is phenomenal,” he said. It was extremely fast and the good thing is, we only had to make minimal changes on the car from Friday at Malta to be good here at the Valley.”
Bleau told me he is still searching for a ride in any type of machine to fill in some of the gaps in his 2017 racing plans. He would like to see time in a sprint car if he can, but only time will tell for this talented young racer.
You can’t miss the #74 of Chris Lynch this season, as he’s gotten away from his florescent orange in exchange for florescent green and is carrying new sponsorship from Elliott Air and Jamie Scott Auto & Tire Center.
The 2011 PMC Car was fast on Saturday and has the second-generation driver pumped for the new season.
“The car’s a rocket ship and we were super happy with today,” he said. “I hope it races as well as it ran today, because if it does, we just may contend for a lot more wins.”
Lynch grabbed his first win last June on DMC Racing Products night at the speedway.
Harold Robitalle had his first foray in the Sportsman division cut short by an accident in the first set of warmups. There was a tad bit of water on the bottom of turn three and four and Rob Maxon just nicked the water and slid up the track. That, in turn, had the #96 make contact with Robitalle’s #03 which sent the car into the wall, ending their day.
While the damage included a broken right rear hub and rotor, among other things, the sportsmanship from the Maxon team needs to be commended. While Harold and car owner Karl Ruquist understand it was an accident, the Maxon team offered money, parts and help in any way to help get the #03 back into shape.
“Rob felt extremely awful about what happened and they are trying like hell to help us get back together,” Ruquist said. “That is just amazing for something we all realize was an accident.”
Maxon had two cars in the pit area on Saturday as he and the Dane’s Auto Parts-sponsored team looks to hit the road in 2017 to gain all important experience for the Pownal, VT driver.
Jay Corbin had two Pro Stock machines at the Valley on Saturday as well as he gets ready for the season at his home track and on the DIRTcar Tour.
“Both cars were good,” he said. “The track was in really good shape. Lyle and everyone worked their tails off and that helps us get ready for the opener.”
One of the all-time winningest Pro Stock drivers at the Fonda Speedway, Todd Hoffman, will be calling the Lebanon Valley Speedway home in 2017, aboard the Paul’s Lawn and Landscape #08 Pro Stock. Unfortunately, their practice was cut short by a meeting with the fourth turn wall in one of the final sessions.
The season gets underway this Saturday on the High Banks and it will be a show you don’t want to miss!