Teams throughout upstate New York are more than anxious to shake the cold weather and get back to racing. For the next sixth months the Race of Champions Asphalt Modified Tour will be thundering to six different tracks on 13 separate occasions. With the season opener set for Chemung Speedrome (NY) on the first Sunday of May for the third straight season, teams have been working hard over the harsh winter months.
Who are the favorites? Who might fans hear some noise from? Here are some of the answers to those questions.
Chuck Hossfeld, Matt Hirschman, Andy Jankowiak, Jimmy Zacharias
The “Hotshoe” Chuck Hossfeld has momentum on his side after a return to championship form in 2014. After going winless on the tour for two straight years and registering three straight runner-up finishes behind Hirschman to begin 2014, the Ransomville, New York driver finally got back to winning form at his home track Lancaster National Speedway (NC) and did not stop there, going on to win three more times.
“Big Money” Matt Hirschman is always has a chance at victory when he arrives at the track, and with a later start to his season the new father could be even hungrier for victory. Last season was affected by a full-time ride on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, but all intentions seem to point to a run for the RoC championship in 2015.
Hossfeld and Hirschman have won the last seven RoC titles, but a competitor that was hanging right with them much of last year was low-buck racer Andy Jankowiak. Unfortunately some hard luck took the Tonawanda, New York driver out of championship contention a year ago; however, if things go in his favor do not be surprised to see “Andy J” near the front.
Zacharias is traditionally a threat anytime he shows up, but has only run the full schedule on a couple occasions. The Candor, New York multi-time champion at Chemung has confirmed with Speed51.com powered by JEGS that he will be gunning for the RoC title in 2015. He has only won twice on the tour, but has been in contention or even led many times when misfortune struck often in the form of mechanical or tire issues beyond his control.
Daren Scherer, Mike Leaty, Nick Pecko, Brian Defebo
The lead story this season in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour garage has been the influx of the new LFR and Troyer chassis. That headline could be prevalent in RoC as well with Scherer and Pecko both joining the LFR camp, and the one career victory between the two could definitely increase exponentially by season’s end.
Leaty has won in each of the last four years and looks to breakout with even more success in his new Troyer TA2 prototype. With optimal results the second-generation driver could put himself in contention for a championship, something his father Jan never accomplished in a touring series in his many years of racing.
After several seasons of competing throughout the region, Berwick, Pennsylvania’s Defebo ran his first full season on the tour in 2014 with impressive results. With experience gained at each track on the schedule, he could very well back up his previous performance and perhaps pick up his first career victory.
Keep An Eye On
Tony Hanbury, Sam Fullone, George Skora III, Bryan Sherwood, Daryl Lewis Jr.
Word is that Hanbury will be running the full schedule in 2015, and if the conclusion of 2014 was any indication the former champion will be one to look out for. The Southern Tier competitor won his first RoC show in 10 years in the U.S. Open at Lancaster National Speedway.
Fullone and Skora have made the adjustment from Late Models to Modifieds over the last season. They began getting the hang of and adapting quickly to the ground pounders, both winning heat races by mid-season. Fullone even led laps midway through the final race of the season.
Sherwood achieved his first career top 10 finishes in his first full season in 2014. The young driver could move in an upward trend as he continues to follow in the footsteps of his legendary father Lee.
The Lewis family has been around Modified racing for many years. Although bad luck has kept the younger Daryl from RoC success, his immaculately prepared machine could be up toward the front as long as he stays out of trouble.
Lee Sharpsteen, Tommy Catalano, Amy Catalano, Kirk Totten
Sharpsteen finished fifth in his first race with the McGuire racing team late last season at Oswego (NY). Now the Street Stock ace looks for more opportunities to run well for a team that has proven they can win in the past.
Mother and son Amy and Tommy Catalano announced their intentions to move up to the tour during the offseason. They went down to Florida in February to shake down their machines at New Smyrna Speedway with mixed results, but will be ready to race in their home state of New York. Totten was another driver that went down to Florida and had a couple decent runs in his first foray on the tour a season ago. All three have enjoyed success in Sportsman Modifieds and could use that experience as they enter their newer venture.
Austin Kochenash, Zane Zeiner, Patrick Emerling, Second McGuire Racing Car, Kluth Motorsports Cars
Kochenash was Rookie of the Year in 2013 and runner-up in points in 2014, but told Speed51.com that they are undecided if they will make a full time run in 2015. Whenever they do show up, look for the young but seasoned driver to challenge for his first career RoC win.
Zeiner is a former winner and has remarked that he is very interested in joining the series for some races. It is unknown when he may show up though.
Emerling is always a top runner in RoC, but typically does not run the full schedule due to his NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour ride.
The second McGuire car is always a revolving door of special guests. Last year it included winning names like Erick Rudolph and Andy Seuss. T.J. Potrzebowski is scheduled to start off the season, but it will remain to be seen who else steps in the ride.
The Kluth Motorsports group had several drivers in their cars in 2014, including team owner Rick Kluth and Dirt Modified star Stewart Friesen. Their custom 2Kwik Chassis has shown strides of success over the years and certainly could once again in the new year.
These are only some of the names that will be seen week in and week out on the Race of Champions Asphalt Modified Tour. Additional drivers that have not officially announced their intentions are sure to mix it up with the strong crop aforementioned, not to mention any invaders that could make an appearance at events such as the annual Race of Champions 200 lap affair at Oswego Speedway.
It’s shaping up to be a banner year for the RoC cars and stars.
-By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com Northeast Correspondent – Twitter: @aaron_creed
-Photo credit: Duane Canfield