06/06/2020 - Opening Night: Friesen Victorious in 43-Lap Battle
Stewart Friesen, Jared Labagh Win Opening Night OCFS Modifeid, Sportsman Features
Stewart Friesen flew by race leader Matt Sheppard with two laps remaining in the Jimmy Horton Tribute 43-lap Big Block Modified feature to win the feature. Friesen earned $4300, a figure commemorating honoree Jimmy Horton's family's long time car number.
The race was slowed twice in the first two laps for crashes but when it went green on lap three, the rest of it went straight to the checkered.
Rich Eurich led the first lap, and Andy Bachetti led laps two through 14 before Sheppard tracked down Bachetti and passed him for the lead on lap 15. Friesen then gathered in and passed Bachetti on lap 17 and the race, between two career 300 feature winners, was on.
As the two front runners knifed their way through ever thickening lapped traffic, Friesen began to whittle down Sheppard's lead which had been three quarters of a straightaway down to ten, then five car lengths.
With ten laps left, Sheppard's difficulty in navigating through lapped traffic became more acute. Fully committed to the low side of the speedway, Friesen closed in for the kill, with the top side of turn three all his.
For five straight laps, Friesen threw the Halmar No. 44 Bicknell into turn three as hard as he possibly could; Sheppard, meanwhile, took the short way around.
With two to go, Friesen got the high side bite he needed with a particularly dramatic rush into turn three and emerged out of turn four with the lead, as the white flag waved.
Sheppard had no defense against the bold move and settled for second by a car length. Two Lebanon Valley Speedway regulars, Andy Bachetti and Kenny Tremont, were third and fourth. Billy VanInwegen gained several spots by joining Friesen at the top of the speedway, edging Anthony Perrego for fifth at the line. Invader Jack Lehner, Tyler Dippel, Tommy Meier, and Mike Mahaney completed the top ten.
Mahaney, Dillon Steuer, Jimmy Horton, Sheppard and Tremont won the five heats run for the 41 entries. Matt Hitchcock and Marc Johnson claimed the two consolations.
In the Sportsman 20-lap co-feature, Jared Labagh, who started from the 16th spot, carved his way through traffic
to clear the top five with three laps left as Capital District invader Jason Buff, who had taken the lead at the start, looked poised for an upset victory.
Then a caution flag came out that ended the race of another invader, Robert Bublak, and set up Labagh's charge to victory.
Buff had led defending track champion Grant Hilfiger and third generation Sportsman driver Kevin Stevens prior to the caution with Labagh a distant fourth. But when Hilfiger pulled to the pits with sudden mechanical issues unrelated to the Bublak crash, Labagh, who was ever present riding the outside groove, lined up third for the restart, but on the inside.
The lineup proved to be no disadvantage for Labagh,who surprised Stevens to gain second on the inside entering turn one, then shifted back to his favorite lane at the top of speedway, hounded the bottom-groove-committed Buff, and drove by him for the lead as the white flag flew. He ran out the final lap to win over Buff, young Stevens, Central New York invader Tyler Corcoran and track regular Joe Bonetti.
Ken Ryder, Bublak, past champion Greg Sleight, Corcoran and Tyler Buff won the five heats. Invader Cole Stangle and 16-year old third generation driver Cody Higbie, who was making his first career OCFS start, won the pair of consolation races.
The races were run for the first time without the infield being used as pit area, and for the first time without fans in the homestretch grandstands. The pits were spread throughout the fairgrounds behind the empty grandstands. Spectators were admitted by advance purchase only to the Drive-In section, per carload, maximum capacity of four.
Forty-one Modifieds and 45 Sportsman signed in for the night. All were pre-registered. Speedway management team member Doug Dulgarian said that every single one of the registrants showed up to race Saturday...
Modified Feature (43 Laps): 1. Stewart Friesen, 2. Matt Sheppard, 3. Andy Bachetti, 4. Kenny Tremont, 5. Billy VanInwegen. 6. Anthony Perrego, 7. Jack Lehner, 8. Tyler Dippel, 9. Tommy Meier, 10. Mike Mahaney, 11. Michael Storms. 12. Demetrios Drellos, 13. Mike Gular, 14. Rich Eurich, 15. Jimmy Horton, 16. Marc Johnson, 17. LJ
Lombardo, 18. Dillon Steuer, 19. Craig Mitchell, 20. Sammy Martz, 21. Matt Hitchcock, 22. Tyler Jashembowski, 23. Cole Hentschel, 24. Tyler Boniface, 25. Ricky Davis, 26. Billy Dunn. DNQ: Brenden Finley, Danny Cronk, John Brown, Johnny Illanovsky, Corey Lowett, Erik Holmgren, Bob McGannon, Jerry Higbie, Patrick Reiser, Gary Edwards, Jimmy Spellmon, Brian Berger, CG Morey, Steve Dodd, Donnie Wilson, Chris Shultz, Kirk Horton, Kevin Root.
Sportsman Feature (20 Laps): 1. Jared Labagh, 2. Jason Buff, 3. Kevin Stevens, 4. Tyler Corcoran, 5. Joe Bonetti, 6. Jake Bedell, 7. Tanner Vandoran, 8. Andrew Buff, 9. Dom Roselli, 10. Jack Speshock, 11. Greg Sleight, 12. Bobby Flood, 13. Jeff Hulseapple, 14. Ken Ryder, 15. Sammy Martz Jr., 16. Matt Shultz, 17. Cody Higbie, 18. Travis Green, 19. Cole Stangle, 20. Ryan Neiger, 21. Jeff Highams, 22. Joe Conklin, 23. Tighe Sherlock, 24. Grant Hilfinger, 25. Robert Bublak, 26. Dan Morgiewicz.