2019 HARD CLAY OPEN | SPORTSMAN RESULTS | 04-07-2019
By FRANK CATIZONE
MIDDLETOWN, NY – Just who was that behind the wheel of the Crate 602 Sportsman No. 78 race car Sunday night at the Orange County Fair Speedway?
The murmurs were heard throughout the crowd as veteran driver Grant Hilfiger turned some heads and served notice to the rest of his OCFS Sportsman competition as he scored a thrilling victory in the Short Track Super Series North Region 20-lap main event.
Hilfiger, a former two-time track champion at Penn Can Speedway in Pennsylvania, hasn’t competed at OCFS in a decade. The Pennsylvania driver admitted that he’s never had much success here in the past after earning his first career win. But the impressive part of reaching victory lane was the way he did it.
Hilfiger, after starting ninth in the 24-car field, was able to move past all of the track’s top Sportsman drivers en route to the front and said during the post-race interview that OCFS will be his new Saturday night home for the 2019 season.
“I’m really excited about the upcoming season,’’ said Hilfiger. “I’ve never raced here before for a full season, but I’m really looking forward to it. The last time I competed here was 10 years ago, but I really didn’t have too much luck.
“My goal is to finish in the top five in points. I hooked up with Jerry Higbie during the off-season and he has built me just an awesome race car. I’ve never felt more comfortable in a car before and we’ll just see how well we can get things done. This win got me off to a great start.’’
Reigning OCFS track champion Greg Sleight, who won the first qualifying heat, brought the field to green and led for the first seven laps when Joe Toth slowed down on the homestretch for force a caution.
Jimmy Johnson, who battled Sleight for the points title right down to the wire last season, may have gotten a little revenge when he got a good jump on the ensuing restart and bolted into first place.
Hilfiger, meanwhile, cracked the top five by the opening lap, was in fourth place by the second trip around the historic five-eighths mile, hard clay oval, and then only had OCFS hotshoes Jesse Leiby, Johnson and Sleight ahead of him.
Hilfiger was able to move past Leiby into third place following a 10th-lap restart and then took advantage of Sleight’s misfortune on the 16th lap to inherit second. Sleight’s car broke and he was forced to retire to the pits.
Hilfiger drove around Johnson going into the first turn and then darted in front to grab the lead for good. Johnson managed to hold on for a second place effort with Leiby, Patrick Reiser, Sammy Martz Jr., Matt Shultz, Jimmy Leiby, Dan Morgiewicz, Ken Ferrier and Will Shields rounding out the top 10.
“I was really able to drive my car on the outside without too many problems,’’ said Hilfiger. “I figured that was going to be my best shot at taking the lead and just went for it. Everything just worked out great and I can’t thank Jerry Higbie enough for all of his help.’’
Like Hilfiger, both Martz and Ferrier will be welcome Saturday night editions to OCFS’s Sportsman roster.