Story By: RACE OF CHAMPIONS – NORTH EAST, PA – Matt Hirschman of Northampton, PA, took home his sixth consecutive and eighth overall Al Gerber Memorial Trophy after winning the 70th Annual Race of Champions 250 Sunday at Lake Erie Speedway in North East, PA.
The platinum edition of the race capped off the Presque Isle Downs & Casino Race of Champions Weekend.
“Everyone is getting tougher, as they should, but here we are again,” Hirschman said from victory lane. “It’s just incredible. We are making history.”
The win paid out $12,570.70 in celebration of the race’s 70th running, and Hirschman added another $250 for leading the pack at the halfway point. Hirschman has now won eight of the last nine Race of Champions 250 races dating back to 2012.
Despite being a favorite, a win for Hirschman never really seemed certain. He was involved in a collision on lap 36 that forced him to pit, but he escaped with a bent front bumper and no serious damage. He slowly worked his way back through the pack before taking the lead on lap 116, where he stayed until deciding to pit from the lead on lap 140 for new right side tires.
“I’m not even sure what happened there [during the crash]. It happened quick, that’s for sure,”
Hirschman said. “The competition is getting better [every year] and then you have something like that to make it a little harder again.”
Jon McKennedy delivered a gutsy performance while taking an alternative approach to pitting, opting to stay out during the lap-140 caution that saw a large portion of the top-10 pit and give him the lead. McKennedy was able to hold onto the lead until he finally headed to the pits on lap 205. Despite a last-minute run, he would be forced to settle for fifth place.
Hirschman took the lead from Tommy Catalano of Ontario, NY, on lap 215 for the final time, riding out the final 35 laps despite a couple of late cautions and restarts. Catalano would finish sixth.
Patrick Emerling of Orchard Park, NY, completed his triple-duty weekend with a second-place finish, while 17-year-old Austin Beers of Northampton placed third. Austin Kochenash of Danielsville, PA, turned in a fourth-place finish.
Rounding out the top 10 finishers was Calvin Carroll of Andover, NJ, Chris Finocchario of Macedon, NY, Andy Jankowiak of Tonawanda, NY, and Timmy Catalano, respectively.
The action got underway with Bobby Holmes of Lockport, NY, winning the Harry Macy Classic 29-lap race in the second night of TQ Midget racing.
The win was Holmes’ second of the weekend as he picked up the win in Saturday’s NYPA series race. Starting next year, Race of Champions and the NYPA will partner to award the
“Printed Image Cup” to the driver who performs best in the two weekend races.
Holmes won his qualifying heat to earn his way onto the pole, but not without a challenge from Andrew Nye of West Seneca, NY, who finished second in the feature after passing Tyler Wagner of Chester, NJ, with two laps to go. Wagner would finish third.
“I was kind of disappointed starting at the pole, because if you don’t win you have no excuse,” Holmes said following his win. “I like starting from the back, but I will take this for sure.”
Ronnie Flaim of Olean, NY, started and finished fourth, and Kyle Hutchinson of East Aurora, NY, finished fifth.
The Dash Series Triple Challenge came to an exciting conclusion as Jason Anasiewicz of Alden, NY, took the win in the Butch Palmer Classic. With top-3 finishes Friday and Saturday, the win Sunday secured his victory in the overall challenge.
“It’s been a tough road,” Anasiewicz said. “I made a couple of adjustments on the car today and it hooked. It was gone. This is what I’ve been waiting for, to win it all.”
Briar Dils of Derby, NY, who won the series opener Friday but settled for a 15th-place finish Saturday, worked hard and battled back from a bad restart on lap 21 to finish in second. Corey Copeland of Ontario, NY, climbed from a start in the middle of the pack to finish third.
Nicholas Robinson of Waverly, NY, placed fourth. David Milbrand of Clarence, NY, was a factor at the front of the pack for most of the race after starting on the pole, but could not follow up his Saturday victory and ultimately fell to fifth.
Rich Sharpe of Depew, NY, turned in a dominant performance in the Street Stocks Series Feature after also winning his qualifying heat earlier in the day.
“We changed [the car] from the last time we came down here,” Sharpe said after his win in the 30-lap race. “It definitely made it better. This is definitely a fun track to drive.”
Brian Hoffman of South Wales, NY, who narrowly finished behind Sharpe in qualifying, was able to hang on for a second-place finish in the feature.
Tim and Nik Welshans finished back-to-back to take third and fourth, respectively, while Chris Powers of Blasdell, NY, rounded out the top five.
The Presque Isle Downs & Casino Race of Champions Weekend will return for the 71st Annual Race of Champions 250 at Lake Erie Speedway Sept. 24-26, 2021. Tickets for the 71st Annual event will go on sale at www.lakeeriespeedway.com. The pricing for 2021 will remain the same as 2020.
JANKOWIAK EARNS FIFTH ANNUAL TRIBUTE TO JOE REILLY CROWN ROYAL CLASSIC 54
Andy Jankowiak of Tonawanda, NY, won the Sportsman Modified Series Tribute to Joe Reilly Crown Royal Classic 54 Saturday at Lake Erie Speedway as part of the Presque Isle Downs & Casino Race of Champions Weekend.
The win was Jankowiak’s second in as many year’s after winning the sportsman modified feature at last year’s championship weekend.
Before the race, the field was led around the track by Jayme Thompson as the racers’ crews lined the backstretch in order to honor the late Joe Reilly. After the race, fans were invited onto the track to send 54 lanterns into the night sky as well.
“It was a beautiful tribute that they did for Joe,” Jankowiak said after the race. “Joe is a huge part of our class and he’s a sportsman-winning champion crew chief.”
It was Jankowiak and George Skora III of Eden, NY, who provided much of the in-race action, as the two traded the top two spots. Jankowiak lost the lead momentarily after a bad lap-25 restart, but was able to regain the lead and ultimately hold on.
“I want to say thanks to George for racing me clean,” Jankowiak added. “I don’t always get that courtesy near the end of races. I always appreciate that and that will always be returned.”
Following Skora was Mike Leaty of Williamson, NY, in third; Daryl Lewis Jr. of Ontario, NY, in fourth; and Jake Vernon of Hamburg, NY, who finished fifth after starting on the pole.
Matt Hirschman of Northampton, PA, Zack Curren of Horseheads, NY, Tony Hanbury of Owego, NY, Patrick Emerling of Orchard Park, NY, and Eddie Hawkins of Marion, NY, finished off the top 10 finishers, respectively.
David Milbrand of Clarence, NY, finished first in the second of three Dash Series Triple Challenge races after taking the lead on lap 22 of 25.
Bob Palmer of Buffalo, NY, and Jason Anasiewicz of Alden, NY, rounded out the top three, and all three improved on their starting positions by at least six spots. Anasiewicz came off a second-place finish in the first race of the series Friday night.
Charles Palmer of Cheektowaga, NY, took fourth while Nicholas Robinson of Waverly, NY, came from a bottom-half start to finish fifth. Briar Dils of Derby, NY, who took the checkered flag in the first race of the challenge Friday after a late surge, was forced to settle with 15th on Saturday.Dils won the single-race version of the event last year.
On Friday, Joey Bevacqua of Rome, PA, was quick to take the lead after drawing second position to start the race, and he retained the lead through the first half. Dils took the lead on lap 11, but lost it to Anasiewicz after rubbing tires heading into turn three. Anasiewicz did his best to hold off Dils, but was forced to setlle for second place after giving back the lead on lap 19. DJ Shaw of Waverly, NY, and Milbrand finished third and fourth, respectively.
The asphalt 4-cylinders will conclude their series Sunday.
Jerick Johnson of Mooresville, NC, kicked off the feature events Saturday with a repeat win in the Rick Wylie 48 late model feature after leading most of the race. After, he made sure to acknowledge the contributions Rick Wylie made to the sport.
“I want to thank the Wylie’s for everything they did for the late model class,” he said. “With the pay and what Race of Champions does with this race, I can’t believe we don’t get to race here more often.”
Rick’s son, Scott, had some early bad luck in the inaugural event after starting on the pole. A slow start saw him quickly slip to third, only to get pushed to the back after he was spun around in an early caution. He was only able to claw his way back up to seventh.
Mirroring last year’s event, Johnson and Sam Fullone of North Collins, NY led the bulk of the way, while Patrick Emerling finished third in his first of three races this weekend. Brandan Marhefka of Windber, PA, and Dave Heitzhaus of Strykersville, NY, finished fourth and fifth. Tommy Catalano of Ontario, NY, who was part of the lead trio until experiencing tire issues, finished in sixth.
Tommy Krawcyzk of Orchard Park, NY, capitalized on a mid-race restart to take first and held on for the win in the Super Stock Series National Parts Peddler 40.
“That was awesome,” Krawczyk said from victory lane. “It’s been a crazy year with the pandemic and everything. Looking around, this is what we do, and it’s great to be out here with this group of cars.”
Cole Hicks of Brockport, NY, who started on the pole, lost his lead early to Andy Cryan of Hamburg, NY, and wound up settling for a last-place finish. Krawcyzk trailed Cryan for much of the first half before taking the lead on lap 20.
Cryan fell out of the top 15, and nobody who started in the top 5 finished there. Tommy Baron finished second, with Josh Hunter of Derby, NY; TJ Cochrane of Cheektowaga, NY; and Jason Dieter of Lake View, NY, rounding out the top five finishers.
Bobby Holmes delivered an impressive finish in the first of two TQ Midget features this weekend as the Race of Champions weekend will feature a midget race on both Saturday and Sunday due to a new partnership with the NYPA TQ Midget Series.
Saturday’s event was a points paying event in the NYPA program, while Sunday will see the Race of Champions TQ Midget “Harry Macy Classic.”
Holmes made quick work of the pack, jumping six spots to third place after just one lap. From there, Holmes was able to wrestle away the lead and fend off Dave Wollaber after a late-race, single-file restart.
“I figured if he was going to take it, he’d have to go on the outside because I was going to take the bottom,” Holmes said of Wollaber.
Wollaber took second, with Jankowiak, Andy Nye, and Kyle Hutchinson the top five finishers.