One of the largest crowds in recent memory gathered to celebrate I Love America Night on Saturday at Riverhead Raceway, and they watched as Ryan Preece of Berlin, Connecticut, captured a nonstop 35-lap NASCAR Modified feature event on Miller Lite/Donaldson’s Volkswagen night.
The triumph was Ryan’s third of 2014 and snapped the four-race win streak of Tom Rogers Jr.
Dave Sapienza of Riverhead, for the first time in his career, set fast time, with a lap of 11.922 seconds, but would redraw third for the feature event. Preece and defending NASCAR Modified champion Howie Brode drew the front row. Preece, who normally does not do well in the redraw, took full advantage of his pole-starting position, as he raced out front when the green flag waved, while Brode quickly tucked into second. Brode found himself under attack from his nearest rival in the point standings, Rogers Jr., who raced his way from fourth to second early in the race.
With Brode and Rogers having at it for second, Preece was able to open up a sizable lead in his East West Marine Chevrolet, and with not a single yellow flag in sight the defending NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion expanded his lead, lap after lap. The tussle for second would be the battle to watch, as Brode and Rogers Jr. were racing not only for runner-up money but for valuable points as the 2014 season winds down. Brode came to the race with a 17-point lead over Rogers Jr., who has narrowed the gap greatly with his recent win streak.
When the checker flag waved, it was Preece, in the Bill & Barbara Park-owned entry, driving a flawless race to claim the Rapid Recovery Towing/Joe’s Garage hardware.
“Man, this car was on the money tonight,” Preece boasted in a busy victory lane. “Bill and Dave found something, I’m not going to tell you what, but it worked.” Preece was also thankful for the large crowd that was on hand: “It is great to see all these people here tonight, and I sure hope they are having fun.”
Brode, of East Islip, would come out on top in the fight for second, in his Freightliner of Long Island Chevy, while Rogers Jr., of Riverhead, was third, in the Royal Fence Chevy—which translates into a 19-point lead for Brode in the championship standings, with four point races left.
Sapienza, of Riverhead, and John Fortin Sr., of Holtsville, rounded out the top five, respectively.
While he might have lost some ground in the NASCAR Modified title fight, Tom Rogers Jr. made a giant leap in the Figure Eight championship chase, as he won the 15-lap feature event for his third win of 2014.
Rogers Jr. wasted no time racing his way from a third starting berth to the race lead at the throw of the green, with Ken Hyde Jr. in tow. Just prior to an early-race yellow flag for a multi-car crash involving Bryan Quilliam, Mike Mujsce and Chris Turbush, Roger Maynor powered past Hyde Jr. for second. On the ensuing restart, disaster would strike for Maynor, as he appeared to break an axle when he hit the gas, and his once 14-point lead over Rogers Jr. would vanish.
That turn of events moved Hyde Jr. back to second, and the defending champion went back to work trying to find a way past race leader Rogers Jr. Hyde Jr. looked high and low, and at times got a wheel on Rogers Jr., but the latter was able to pull away each and every time.
At the finish, it was Rogers Jr., in the PCFI Plymouth coupe, not only winning the race but also taking over the championship lead from Maynor by two points, 456-454. Hyde Jr., of Mastic Beach, was runner-up in the K&K Towing entry, while Mujsce, of Quogue, made a great recovery from his early-race tangle to place third in the Bill Beener Tree Service racer.
The 20-lap Charger feature event would provide the closest finish of the night, as defending champion Eric Zeh of Selden made a last-lap pass of David Roys of Coram to notch his fourth win of 2014.
After several DNFs due to mechanical issues, Roys found himself on the pole for the race, and he raced his way out front when things got under way. Greg Immerman gave chase to Roys over the first eight laps of the race, before he was overtaken by John Baker on lap nine.
Meanwhile Zeh, who started the race 10th, was on the march toward the front of the race, which was in the process of going green to checker. At the halfway mark, Zeh worked his way under Baker for second down the backstretch, and his task then became trying to erase a hefty race lead built up by Roys. Lap after lap, Zeh made up some ground, but it became evident that without a caution flag that he’d run out of time in his pursuit. On lap 18, Brandon Turbush, making his first-ever start, spun off turn two, and the caution that Roys never wanted to see indeed would wave, setting up a green, white and checker finish.
When the race resumed, Zeh made no bones about his plan of attack, as he dove under Roys, who was able to thwart the first challenge. However, after taking the white flag, Zeh got two-thirds of his car under Roys off turn two. Roys then tried throwing the block, forcing Zeh under the line going into turn three, but Zeh would prevail, as the tandem raced off turn four to take the win in the Randy’s Performance Chevy, as the crowd roared with approval for the close finish.
Roys was second in the Robert’s Asphalt Chevy, while Baker, of Brookhaven, was third in the Sunrise Medical Labs Camaro.
Over the past two years, Richie Davidowitz of East Moriches has been tabbed “Big Money,” as some of his wins come with extra prize money on the line. Well, it also appears that the soft-spoken talent likes big crowds, as he won his fifth Legend Race Car main event of 2014 on Saturday.
As per INEX rules, the heat race winners have the front three starting spots for the 20-lap feature, and Davidowitz won the first heat, giving him the pole—and he didn’t waste this golden opportunity. When the green light winked on, Davidowitz roared out in front in his Thriftway Auto Body machine, with Kevin Nowak, winner of heat two, tucking in behind Davidowitz from the outside pole. Nowak, a tested, tough veteran, was able to keep step with the race leader but never really close in for a pass, and soon he’d find himself under attack from Kyle Soper and Brad Van Houten, the two main championship contenders.
While there was plenty of “peeking” among the top four cars, they pretty much ran nose to tail for the remainder of the race, with Davidowitz posting the victory. Nowak, of Medford, was runner-up in the J-Tech Electric Sedan, while Soper, of Manorville, was third in the Moriches Bay Diner mount.
The program opened with a 50-lap Grand Enduro that found Jimmy “The Kid” White Jr. starting on the pole via luck of the draw. White Jr. was gunning for his 10th overall Riverhead Raceway win in 2014, having not only won in the Grands but also the Blunderbusts and Demolition Derby events.
White Jr. would lead all the way in his Busy Bee Pest Control Chevy, which was the good news. The bad was that he would fail an extensive post-race technical inspection. White Jr. was found to have an unapproved part in his engine and was disqualified.
Steve Mastro of Port Jefferson made a late-race pass of Rob Bader of Holtsville for second, and that pass actually netted the driver of the NY Auto Giant his second career win. David Antos of Lindenhurst was runner-up in the CR Customs Chevy, while Rob Bader held on for third in his Robert’s Express Fuel Oil entry.
The School Bus Demolition Derby once again provided plenty of thrills and spills along the way, and when the steam settled, it was “The Junk Yard Dog,” John Denniston of Westbury, earning a hard-fought victory over Michael “Cheesebox” Rommeney of Maspeth. The duo, along with “Irish” Mike O’Keefe, were the last three standing, with plenty of hard hitting and games of cat-and-mouse taking place. In the end, it was Denniston, in the Hagerman Systems bus, the winner. Rommeney, in the Gershow Recycling bus, was runner-up, and O’Keefe, of Islip, was third in the Tom O’Keefe & Sons entry.