Column By: BOBBY CHALMERS / RPW – WEST LEBANON, NY – Andy Bachetti parked his Modified in victory lane on Opening Night at the Lebanon Valley Speedway. Was he fast? Sure he was. Did he make the right moves? Obviously. However, he was aided by one more thing…attrition.
Several of those who started the $3,000-to-win Modified main did not make it the entire 30 laps. In fact, it seemed like the kiss of doom was getting into the top five.
Case in point, defending Modified Champion Brett Hearn who had absolutely no place to go with Eddie Marshall had an engine expire in his #98. Hearn’s #20 made contact with Marshall, shearing off the right front shock tower on the Madsen Motorsports ride.
He would make a pit stop and return to the race for just a single lap before calling it a night.
Kenny Tremont was also one who met the “top five fate” when he got to third position. The #115 Troyer machine picked up a skip in the engine and the all-time winningest Modified driver on the high banks pulled in before halfway.
This was all behind the Bachetti #4, yes I said #4. Andy’s returned to his old number and colors for 2017 and the Teo Pro Car was fast. He got to second quickly from his third row starting position and was knocking on the back door of leader Mike King’s #55 by lap 5.
“Mike had a really good car tonight,” Bachetti said. He was running real well and I had to search around for a lane to get by him.”
He would do so by the eighth lap and the rest, as they say, is history.
“This car really needed to be out front in clean air tonight,” he said. “I kind of missed what I was looking for in the set up but through some lucky breaks we were able to get it done.”
The win keeps the Bachetti team’s hot streak rolling so far in 2017 after their big win two weeks ago at the Short Track Super Series Hard Clay Open at Orange County.
“I really can’t believe how well things are going right now,” Bachetti said. “The new team (which includes former BBL & Schilling Motorsports wrench Travis Corbett) is really clicking but we have to keep our heads down and digging. On to the next race, you know. One day you’re the hero, the next, you’re a zero.”
For the Bachetti team, it’s on to Bridgeport Sunday for the Short Track Super Series South Jersey Shootout. Andy and Co. left for the New Jersey as soon as the races were complete so they can be ready.
Second in the feature was the #99 of Kolby Schroder, who by his own accounts, had a season to forget in 2016. Even finishing tenth in points last season, the Staatsburg, NY driver had very little to celebrate and is hoping for better things in 2017. A second place run on opening night can definitely help with that.
Schroder was able to beat Bachetti in his heat race, but finished right behind him in the main event. It was the start of a new year he needs as he chases more checkered flags and his first Lebanon Valley point championship.
The rest of the top five at the finish was made up of Elmo Reckner, Keith Flach and Rob Pitcher. For Reckner, it keeps the momentum going from 2016 which saw the second year Valley regular place ninth in season points.
In regards to Keith Flach, it was the exact same situation. Last season, the Ravena Rocket was probably the surprise of the season finishing a career-best third in points. This season, he is one of the favorites to win the Modified track title and a fourth place finish on opening night really helps towards that.
“We were alright tonight,” Flach said after the race. “We definitely had some help with the fact that some guys had issues as far as moving up. We tried a few different things from last season and the car wasn’t quite as balanced as it needed to be after the heat race. My guys worked hard on it for the feature, and got it better, but we still need to improve it some more for next week.”
For fifth place finisher Rob Pitcher, this was a great end to a long week which saw the Chatham, NY driver chasing a vibration in the Troyer machine he brought to the warm-up session last week. He decided to bring out his 2014 Teo and the car was fast right off the trailer.
“On Monday, the Teo had no motor, no transmission, no rear end and no front axle in it,” Pitcher said. My guys put in a lot of work this week and to come away with a top 5 tonight is great.”
Pitcher battled with Chad Jeseo and Kyle Armstrong for a good portion of the main event as all three sat just outside the top five until the two-thirds mark of the event. That was, until some cars began to drop out.
“The car was okay tonight, but we got a little bent up in a first lap jingle,” he said. “I think we could have been a lot better than fifth tonight without that happening. The car got in the air and when it came down, it came down hard and we lost the right rear torsion bar which really affected the handling. This is definitely something to build on.”
Defending Sportsman Track Champion Jeff Watson had very little not go his way during the 2016 season on the high banks. The second-generation driver had three wins last year with his trusted PMC Chassis, but sometimes, it’s time for a change.
During the off-season, the team put together a brand new Bicknell in their Sheffield, MA shop and the hard work paid off Saturday with a win in the 20-lap opener.
“This is really a great way to start the year off,” he said. “I have not won on opening night since 2003 so we’re really excited.”
Watson battled 2015 Sportsman high point man John Virgilio for the win. The two raced hard early and often in the main event with the Ultra Lube #22 coming out on top.
“The car seemed to be pretty good throughout the event,” he said. “It responded well to changes we made and with the Fox Shock package we had on it, the car just worked tonight. Time will tell if it’ll be this good throughout the season.
When asked on the chassis change, Watson was quick to give praise to PMC’s Pete Chuckta, but when an opportunity presents itself, you have to take it.
“We had someone offer to buy a new Bicknell frame and body,” Watson said. “We were already in the process of buying a new one from Pete when this deal came up. I have won all my championships in PMC cars and almost all my wins. Pete is by far the best fabricator I’ve ever seen, so this wasn’t a case of wanting to jump ship. However, when you have someone offering to buy you a new car, you use that opportunity to try something new.”
Virgilio’s night looked like it was going to be sitting in victory lane until things started to unravel under the hood of the #14 Turner Auto Bicknell.
“Jeff was really good and our engine seemed to be laying over a little bit,” he said after his second place run. “We’ve been having some carburetor issues so I’m sure that had something to do with it but we’ll get it straight. The car handled pretty good. We just need to figure out how to get more smoke.”
Michael Sabia, Whitey Slavin and Connecticut’s Chris Lynch rounded out the top 5S.
Defending Pro Stock Track Champion Rob Yetman and the season opener at Lebanon Valley go hand-in-hand. I can’t count how many times the driver of the #7 has won the lid-lifter on the high banks, but you can be assured Brian Bedell and his “Basic Book of Lebanon Valley Facts” has the statistic.
Yetman easily won his heat race and in the heads-up start, took off from the drop of the green and was never headed the rest of the night, leading all 20-laps enroute to the win.
“It definitely helped having the up front starting spot tonight,” Yetman said. You never get sick of winning any race, let alone opening night. Now we’ll see how good this car is. I think we’ll be okay as I think it can definitely come from the back.
Yetman’s closest competition in points last year, Jay Corbin had to come from deep in the field but could only get as high as third as the checkers flew.
“The car was good but came on way too late to really have anything for Rob tonight,” Corbin said. “It didn’t help that we started so far back and had to fight traffic as much as we did. We’ll get things figured out and be ready to go for next week.”
Paul Larochelle started up front with Yetman and came home with a solid second place finish. Jon Routhier and Jason Meltz, returning to the Pro Stock division after back-to-back championships in the Pure Stock class, rounded out the top five.
Jeff Meltz Jr., Randy Miller and Bill Deak Jr. all took home Pure Stock feature wins on the evening.
News & Notes…
Brian Berger was ready for the 2017 season, and after a strong test session last week, he felt like the new motor inside his Phaze3 Racing #60 machine was strong.
However, this Saturday night was a different story.
“Something went wrong internally in the engine during our heat race,” he said. “Not quite sure yet what it is.”
That meant Berger was done for the night, or does it.
“I have to thank Scott Hamlin (Chad Jeseo’s car owner) for letting me take out their back-up car tonight,” Berger said. “Starting it the rear, stayed out of trouble and worked our way up to 11th at the end. It was a good way to get some points on a night that I thought we were done before the main event even began.”
Another driver who looked like they were going to have a great run on the night only to have it go away was JR Heffner. The former Modified Champion was running away with his heat race when the car cut off as he exited turn two.
Unable to determine why this happened, the team was forced to their Small Block car as for the feature and JR brought it home with a 15th place finish, gathering those all important points as he chases another track title.
Freshman on the high banks, LJ Lombardo, was enjoying an amazing first night at the Valley aboard his family-owned #35 machine. Thanks to the luck of a draw used for the first week of racing, LJ easily qualified through his heat and was into the top five during the feature when problems arose.
“The right rear hub on the car broke and ripped the brake caliper apart,” he said. “I am really happy with how our first night at the Valley went. It’s definitely a good starting point and the car works very well. We’ll be good for next week.”
Even the oil pressure began to drop and he was forced to park his Montanari Fuel #55 Teo Pro Car early during the feature, you couldn’t get the smile off Mike Keeler’s face.
“I absolutely love this car,” he said. “It’s extremely comfortable and reacts to any changes we make. I wasn’t happy with how the brakes felt tonight, though, and with losing oil pressure, I felt it was better to be safe than sorry. We’ll be back next week.”
In another showing of just how tight the racing community is, Keeler and his team have offered fellow Connecticut racer Eddie Marshall the use of their back-up engine in the event he can’t get his motor repaired in time for next week. That Big Block engine was originally purchased from Marshall for use last season. Just another way racers help racers in times of need.
Chad Jeseo is another driver who ran well all night and is love with his ride. The third-year Big Block modified pilot took his new PMC Chassis to a sixth place finish and gained some serious notes about how to drive the machine.
It a really good car, but I just need more time with it,” he said. “I’m in my third year against guys with 30+ years experience here. The car is strongest getting in and through the center of the corner. I just need more time with it and more patience to show how good it can be.”
For Pittsfield, MA driver Paul Gilardi, what started as a strong night seemed to end before it even began.
After driving around Kyle Sheldon to gain a qualifying spot in his heat race, Gilardi was caught up in a first lap jingle which included Wayne Jelley. The Superior Seamless #87x went pit side for repairs only to return to the race for a handful of laps before calling it a night.
Upon review of the car, the HigFab’s front axle and radius rods were bent in the crash, but the team is excited on how the new car ran throughout the night.
With the rainout at Middletown on Saturday, chassis builder Jerry Higbie made the trip to the Valley to work with Gilardi and all of his HFC cars that were in the pits.
Rick Duzlak was having a good run going in the Pro Stock feature only to have it go away late in the running.
The #29 machine began to lay down about halfway down the straight-aways which hindered the performance.
“We had an issue with the distributor,” Duzlak said after the race. “We’ll get it fixed and be ready for next weekend, no doubt.”
Duzlak brought his car home in 9th at the end of the 20-lap main.
Denny Soltis’ Teo Pro car was popping during opening night warm-ups. The team worked to get things fixed and they made it out for the heat race, but did not run the feature.
Kyle Hoffman was back at the track with a car on Saturday. The driver from Averill Park, NY shook down his DKM #16 Cyclone Chassis but also did not run the feature.
Elmo Reckner also had a Cyclone Chassis in the pits with a 358-Modified engine in it. That’s the car he will run in Small Block competition in 2017.
Olden Dwyer fought problems all evening, but in the end, had a great finish to the night. Problems in early night warm-ups and his heat race forced the Dwyer’s State Line Beer & Wine #88jr to start deep in the feature.
The Vermont racer worked his way up from 22nd to come home with a 10th place finish and something to build on as the season gets rolling.
Steve Hough was at the track Saturday and had a real struggle in his heat as the right front wheel locked up on the #34 machine.
Hough would get it fixed and brought his car home 16th in the feature go.
Brandon Daley had a driveshaft slip yoke let go on his #44 Sportsman entry during his heat race. The team attempted to make repairs but didn’t get things finished in time.
Two interesting spectators on the evening have ties to Modified racing, but maybe not so much on dirt. NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour point leader Timmy Solomito was in the grandstands on Saturday night as was Stafford Speedway SK Modified standout Sean Foster.
Solomito was impressed with the low admission prices for fans at the Valley and Foster was roaming the pit area, gaining knowledge about the Pro Stock class. The Willington, CT driver has spent the off-season working to retrofit one of his old asphalt Pro Stocks for possible action at the high banks.
Modified: 1) Bachetti, Andy 4 2) Schroder, Kolby 99 3) Reckner, Elmo 17R 4) Flach, Keith 43 5) Pitcher, Rob 17P 6) Jeseo, Chad 25 7) Armstrong, Kyle 11A 8) Jelley, Wayne 45J 9) Sheldon, Kyle 42 10) Dwyer, Olden 88JR 11) Berger, Brian 60 12) Lombardo,L.J 35 13) Pupello, Matt 42P 14) Drellos, Demetrios 111 15) Heffner, J.R. 74 16) Hough, Steve 34 17) Keeler, Mike 55 18) King, Mike 55K 19) Tremont, Kenny Jr 115 20) Marshall, Eddie 98 21) Hearn, Brett 20 22) Gilardi, Paul 87X 23) Aanonson,Kenny 43k 24) Hoffman, Kyle 16 25) Soltis, Denny 1X 26) Houghtaling, Alan 250 27) Pierce, Chad 83 28) Hall, Ray Jr 72 29) Harper, Frank 25
Sportsman: 1) Watson, Jeff 22 2) Virgilio, John 14 3) Sabia, Michael 7S 4) Slavin, Whitey 53 5) Lynch, Chris 74 6) Maxon, Rob 96 7) Ward, Kevin 98 8) Lanfaer,Rob 19X 9) Hoard, Frank Jr 78 10) Curtis ,Chris 35 11) Knipe, Robbie 18 12) Ochs, Cody 33C 13) Arnold, Kevin 76 14) Plumstead,Nick 5P 15) Atkins,Lem 46 16) DeLeon,Bobby 27 17) Gramolini,Mike 66 18) Groff,Kale 21 19) Robitaille,Harold !03 20) Ouellette, Nikki 16 21) Smith,Joe 20 22) Lyle, Dan 90 23) Daley Brandon, 44
Pro Stock: 1) Yetman, Rob 7 2) LaRochelle, Paul 78 3) Corbin, Jay 8 4) Routhier, Jon 315 5) Meltz,Jason 51 6) Towslee, Chuck 23 7) Dempsey, Rick 35 8) LaRochelle, Steven 178 9) Duzlak, Rick 29 10) Hopkins, Victor 243 11) Warner,Henry 49 12) Reilly, Sparky 441 13) Arnold,Nick 1 14) LaFlamme, Joe 60 15) Cross, Matt 39 16) Keough, Brian 311 17) Bishop, Ed 144 18) Page, Hugh 2 19) Cote,Dan 13 20) Dean, Tom 413 21) Hoffman,Todd !08 22) Hilt, Nick 17
Pure Stock #1: 1) Meltz, Jeff Jr. 15 2) Murphy, Jesse 013P 3) Hatch, Ed 50 4) Devine, John 24 5) Arnold, Mike 76 6) Murphy, Chris 011 7) Ganczar, Lou 08 8) Walsh, Brian 43 9) Vandenburg, Brian 86V 10) Burdick, Wuggie 30 11) Cross,Walt 38x
Pure Stock #2: 1) Miller,Randy 12 2) Meltz, Jeff 5X 3) Denue, Dom 145 4) Hall, Ray Sr 27 5) Sorrentino, Zach 54S 6) Streeter, Chris 32 7) Thompson, Tim 144 8) Schneider,Adam 61 9) Stickles, Dave 55 10) Perez, Shawn 09 11) Booth, Clifford 17 Reilly, Nick 46
Pure Stock #3: 1) Deak, Bill Jr 86X 2) O’Brien, Gary 57 3) Kreutzinger, Jeff 31 4) Casey, Jay 93 5) Relyea, Al 14 6) Seyerlein, Zach 33 7) Morris, Scott 84 8) Miller,Jordan 38 9) Meltz,Tim 515 10) Dwyer, Mark 35XJR