Column By: BOBBY CHALMERS / RPW
Published: August 7, 2016
WEST LEBANON, NY – Most drivers will say they like to win, but don’t want to do it from the pole. However, in the case of Saturday night’s Modified winner at Lebanon Valley, Brian Berger, he knows how tough it is to win on the high banks, and will take one any way he can get it.
You see, Berger has been consistent over the last few seasons, but has not been able to grace victory lane. That all changed on Saturday evening as the Castleton, NY driver took home his first win in five years on the West Lebanon oval.
“It has been a long friggin’ time,” Berger said with smile after the win. “I lost my confidence a little bit but my guys kept telling me that we could do it, and tonight was our time.”
Hearn moved into second on a restart at lap 11 and set his sights on the Phaze3 Racing #60 but just didn’t have enough to get around him.
“With two to go, he hit my back bumper so I knew he was there and on the last lap he showed that he was on the side of me, and I was like ‘you’ve got to be kidding me,” Berger said of Hearn. “To be honest, with him starting sixth, not to say we were beat before we started, but I didn’t think we could do it. This just shows how good a car my team put underneath me.”
Hearn is usually a driver who methodically works his way through the field and knows exactly when to go. On Saturday night though, he used up his stuff too early.
“He (Hearn) told me that by the time I turned up the wick, he said he didn’t have anything left,” Berger said. “He said he had all sorts of issues with the car, including brakes. I will say this…I’m glad he had the issues.”
Another item that worked in Berger’s favor was track conditions. Over the last few weeks, there was extreme bite built into the racing surface. On Saturday night, the track was smooth and slippery.
“I’m so happy the track slickened up tonight,” he said. “That helped us and now I have a chance against everyone going forward as I will have to come from the back. When it’s been heavy the last few weeks, everyone’s the same speed. Now I can run through the black better than most so we’ll see how well we do going forward.”
Hearn’s second place finish allowed him to lengthen his point lead over Kenny Tremont to 13 and Keith Flach, who finished right behind him in third, to 24.
Tyler Dippel and Andy Bachetti rounded out the top five. Sixth through ten were Eddie Marshall, Tremont, Steve Hough, Kyle Hoffman who made a return to the high banks for the night, and the #42 of Kyle Sheldon.
While it may have been a letdown for Hearn in the Modified main event, he did take home top honors in the companion 358-Modified event. Driving the Scott Hamlin-owned #25 machine, Hearn used a pole starting spot to lead from start to finish, grabbing his first win in the Small Blocks at the track in quite some time.
Following Hearn across the line was point leader Kenny Tremont and youngster Ricky Davis, who scored his career best finish in Small Block competition by crossing the line in third.
Chad Pierce and Tyler Dippel rounded out the top 5. For Pierce, it was a nice rebound after a few bad weeks at the wheel of his H. Sausville Construction #83.
“I’m just glad I could find the scale and tech area after the race,” he said with a grin.
Second-place point man Brett Haas had an okay night in his #55 car, coming home with a 10th place finish.
The King of Dirt Sportsman Series was in action on Saturday night and it was an old face who visited victory lane. Kevin Ward hasn’t won at Lebanon Valley since he ran the old Medium Block Street Stock class in 1994.
“It’s been a while,” Ward said while grinning from ear to ear in the tech area after the race. “We’ve had some seconds and such, but this was a good night to win.”
To get the King of Dirt Series win, Ward had to hold off three-time winner on the season at the Valley, Jeff Watson.
“He had the lead on me a couple of times in turn one,” Ward said. “I just kept the momentum up on the high side to get back by him and here we are.”
Ward knew holding off the likes of Watson was no easy feat, but knew he had a good car under him.
“I was pretty confident but man, he’s tough,” he said. He’s very good but I just tried to keep him at bay and we got the job done.”
Rounding out the top five in the Sportsman event were Whitey Slavin, John Virgilio and Adam Pierson.
In Pro Stock competition, Rick Dempsey was able to get away from the rest of the field and went on for his first win of 2016. The veteran driver figured out how to adjust his #35 to the track conditions which helped propel him to victory.
“The only problem I had tonight was when it got into the black, the rear end came around too easy,” Dempsey said. “We made a spring change to keep up with the track as it started to get black and greasy. The coil cars don’t handle the slippery track like leaf spring cars do. It had grip but getting into the corner, it was still a little loose but as soon as I could get back to the throttle it would tighten up and go, so it worked in our favor.”
While Dempsey’s had an okay season thus far, he was yet to cross the finish line first. That all changed as he held off Ray Hall Jr, Rick Duzlak, and the rest of the field.
“It’s been a long time coming,” he said with a chuckle. “We just keep changing the car to the track conditions as the track dries out. Our car is easy to change compared to the leaf cars. I’m very, very happy with tonight.”
News & Notes
Mike Keeler was still on cloud nine early last night after his sixth place finish from a week ago. The second-generation driver continues to get comfortable with the former Kyle Sheldon PMC-Chassis machine and Eddie Marshall-owned powerplant.
Keeler missed qualifying in his heat race. He fought all night long and came home with a 17th place finish in the main event.
Kenny Tremont fell out of his heat while running in the top 5. The “Sand Lake Slingshot” had an issue where the housing on the steering box of his #115 separated, causing it to falter.
Having to start 20th in the main event, Tremont fought his way up to solid seventh place finish. While has lost points to Hearn, it could have been a lot worse.
Pittsfield, MA pilot Paul Gilardi has been struggling mightily throughout the 2016 season. From one thing to another, gremlins continue to sneak up on the veteran driver.
It wasn’t for a lack of effort by him or his team. In recent weeks, the team has been burning pistons in their primary engine with no real reason found. Gilardi put together another piece and it seems that the situation is heading in the right direction.
His night was tough though. A torsion bar went bad in his heat race and he failed to qualify. He started 16th in the feature and had his brake fade late in the event. All in all, it was a step in the right direction for the Superior Seamless, Don Davis Heating #87x team.
The brake struggles of the Olden Dwyer Big Block program continued on Saturday. The Terry Stacy-led team worked diligently all week long in the shop to rectify the situation. While they were able to get a stiff pedal in the Teo machine, for Dwyer, it seemed as if the brake pads were as hard as rocks, never really gripping.
The driver from Bennington, VT hard a hard time in his heat race though, making contact with the wall in turns three and four, ending his night for the car. He did take a lap in the main with his Small Block machine just for points.
Jeff Watson has plans to race at the Oswego Speedway for Super DIRT Week. The former Lebanon Valley Sportsman champion likes the idea that you don’t need a special car to go to this event now.
“I like that I can take my Saturday night piece to the event now,” he said. “We just have to make sure it’s all nut and bolted correctly. We should have some fun that week.”
Jeff Meltz Jr. had a new car in the pits on Saturday night. The team purchased a car from the Gary O’Brien racing stable to run for the rest of the season after their primary car was wrecked a few weeks ago.
His luck wasn’t any better this week, though, as he was involved in a multi-car accident during Pure Stock #3 and finished a disappointing 15th.
Rick Duzlak’s #29 Pro Stock machine is now carrying primary sponsorship from Scott Hamlin and Snap-On Tools along with Gary O’Brien Property Maintenance and Duzlak brought the car home with a podium finish.
Byron Wescott was a surprise entrant at the Valley Saturday. The Lazzaro Motorsports driver used the event as a tune-up for the upcoming King of Dirt Pro Stock Series race on August 27th. He had a tough night all evening but did finish 14th when the night was over.