Higbie Put An End To A Two-Year Long Winless Drought Saturday August 12th At Orange County
By FRANK CATIZONE
MIDDLETOWN, NY – It’s said that the cream rises to the top.
Well, with the 2017 racing season quickly drawing to a close, that statement couldn’t be more accurate – especially in the Modified division at the Orange County Fair Speedway.
Because with just two regular season programs remaining, the championship for the division will come down to a hotly contested battle between reigning titlist Tommy Meier, Jimmy Horton and Jerry Higbie.
Higbie drove his way back into the title picture last Saturday night when he put an end to a two-year long winless drought with a convincing triumph over a late-charging Meier in the Modified 30-lap main event.
Higbie’s 27th career win and first since Aug. 1, 2015 was a little nostalgic as he passed Bobby Bottcher for 13th place on OCFS’s all-time leader board. Many of Bottcher’s 26 career victories came behind the wheel of the Higbie Brothers (Jerry Sr. and Gary) No. 97 mount – the car that son Jerry Higbie now chauffer’s himself.
“I won three times in 2015, but haven’t been back here since,’’ said Higbie. “It’s nice to finally get one. The track was in superb shape tonight and you could really get a bite almost anywhere you raced. I don’t know if it was from the heavy rain Friday night or the track preparation…but the surface was just excellent.’’
Both Higbie and Meier closed the gap on Horton, who enjoyed a 51-point lead in the standings entering the night’s race program. Horton, however, smacked the backstretch wall and retired to the pits after just 18 laps were completed to record his worst performance of the season in 22nd place.
Horton, who is seeking his third track championship, managed to hold on to first place in the standings with 862 points – a position he’s enjoyed since winning the season-opener. Meier is now just eight points off the pace with 854 and Higbie stands third with 838. Both Meier and Higbie are seeking their fourth Modified crowns at the track.
Higbie, after starting fifth in the 26-car field, chased early leader Jimmy Spellmon, Brendan Finley and Richie Eurich for the first 12 laps when Horton brought racing to a halt after spinning off the second turn. Finley, meanwhile, exited to the pits as Eurich and Higbie both moved up a position for the ensuing restart.
Higbie was able to move ahead of Eurich following a 15th- lap restart and then set his sights on Spellmon just after Horton retired to the pits. Higbie dove inside of Spellmon entering the third turn and drove off with the lead.
Meier, meanwhile, was able to move past Spellmon on the 20th lap and then began reeling in Higbie as the race progessed to its latter stages. The two drivers turned the event into a two-car battle as they raced well ahead of the rest of the pack.
Meier seemed to make a last-lap dash for the lead going into the third turn on the final lap, but Higbie held his ground to earn his first win this season. Meier settled for second place with Spellmon, Eurich, Craig Mitchell, John Ferrier, Matt Janiak, Mike Ruggiero, Chris Whitehead and Donnie Wilson rounding out the top 10.
“I let off a little too early into the third turn,’’ said Higbie. “I knew Tommy was back there and probably shouldn’t have done that. It’s very hard to win at this track because we have the cream of the crop racing here every week.
“It was good to finally get a good starting position and I was able to take advantage of it. My car was right on all night, but we’ve been fast all season. This (victory lane) is just a hard place to get to here because there are so many fast cars and good drivers.’’
Jesse Leiby has suddenly emerged as the driver to beat in Sportsman competion as he took over first place in the standings behind his third victory of the season in the 20-lap main event.
Leiby, who vaulted into first place ahead of Greg Sleight, passed R.J. Smith coming off the fourth turn on the first lap and then withstood several cautions to rack up the seventh triumph of his OCFS Sportsman career. Jeff Hulseapple followed in second place with Troy Arnold, Mel Schrufer and Jimmy Johnson rounded out the top five.
Leiby now has 972 points going into the final three programs of the season to stand six markers ahead Sleight (966). Sleight is still searching for his first win of the racing campaign. Johnson is third with 948 points and four-time winner Joey Bruning (945) is fourth.
The caution-plagued feature was red-flagged after eight laps were completed when Austin Smith slammed hard into the outside homestretch wall, and then blasted into the inside jersey barriers before coming to a halt near the pit lane entering the first turn. Smith was able to walk away from the car, which had extensive damage.
Sleight was able to outrace Leiby in the one-on-one, single-lap elimination race, which was contested by nine of the top 10 drivers in the standings. Howie Finch sponsored the race, which offered $400 to the winner.
Roddy Watts picked up his first career victory in the Rookie Sportsman 15-lap feature as he finished ahead of Jake Granacker, Dylan Smith, John Miller and Alan Cote.
The event was red-flagged before a lap was scored when Jake Bedell slammed hard into the first turn wall and then shot back across the track. Bedell wasn’t injured, but his car was completely destroyed.
Michael Giuliano jumped into the early lead when racing resumed, before Watts grabbed first following a second-lap restart and never looked back. Granacker, who was seeking his third straight win, closed in on Watts, but never challenged for the top spot.
Reigning track champion Mike Vigiletti strengthened his hold on first place in the Street Stock standings as he captured his third win of the season in the 15-lap main event.
Vigiletti moved past Paul Maiolo following a fifth-lap restart and then held off Maiolo in the latter stages to record his 25th career victory at the track. Vigiletti increased his season total to 973 points – 36 markers better than Tommy Pickles (937) with three programs remaining.
Modified Feature Finish, 30 Laps: 1. Jerry Higbie, 2. Tommy Meier, 3. Jimmy Spellmon, 4. Richie Eurich, 5. Craig Mitchell, 6. John Ferrier, 7. Matt Janiak, 8. Mike Ruggiero, 9. Chris Whitehead, 10. Donnie Wilsomn, 11. Bob McGannon, 12. Tyler McKee, 13. Stan Frankenfield Jr., 14. Danny Tyler, 15. Mike Kolka, 16. Gary Edwards Jr., 17. Danny Cronk, 18. Bob Hayes Jr., 19. Jim Bobbitt, 20. Joey Falanga, 21. John Leiby, 22. Jimmy Horton, 23. Chris Shultz, 24. Kirk Horton, 25. Brendan Finley, 26. C.G. Morey. Did Not Start: Jeff Heotzler Sr.
Sportsman Feature Finish, 20 Laps: 1. Jesse Leiby, 2. Jeff Hulseapple, 3. Troy Arnold, 4. Mel Schrufer, 5. Jimmy Johnson, 6. Joey Bruning, 7. Leo Fotopoulos, 8. Jared LaBagh, 9. Greg Sleight, 10. Anthony Falanga, 11. Howie Finch, 12. Brad Horton, 13. Danny Carlough, 14. Dan Morgiewicz, 15. Roger Henion Jr., 16. Joe Conklin, 17. R.J. Smith, 18. Connor Otten, 19. Austin Smith, 20. Joe Bonetti, 21. Matt Shultz.
Rookie Sportsman Feature Finish, 15 Laps: 1. Roddy Watts, 2. Jake Granacker, 3. Dylan Smith, 4. John Miller, 5. Alan Cote, 6. John Criscione, 7. Rich Eggers, 8. Mike Orlando, 9. Brian Durbin, 10. Jimmy Leiby, 11. Michael Giuliano, 12. Chris Raser, 13. Brett Weslowski, 14. Mike Talmadge, 15. Jeff Jones, 16. Jake Bedell, 17. Erin Paulison, 18. Russell Crotty. Did Not Start: Anthony Horton.
Street Stock Feature Finish, 15 Laps: 1. Mike Vigiletti, 2. Paul Maiolo, 3. Emerson Cargain Sr., 4. Tommy Pickles, 5. Joe Scheffold, 6. Charlie Donald, 7. Jim Hajkowski, 8. Rob Taylor, 9. Ryan Modiano, 10. Mike Bonavito, 11. Pete Wiegand.