Two competitors instantly established themselves as championship contenders in the Race of Champions Asphalt Modified Series for 2017 when the season opened at Lancaster National Speedway (NY) on Saturday afternoon. The Fans in the Stands 75 featured a little bit of everything, but it came down to Andy Jankowiak and George Skora III battling hard for the victory in the closing laps.
Jankowiak took the lead from Tyler Rypkema, who led a vast majority of the first two-thirds of the event, but had to stay mistake-free while Skora made one bid after another for the lead.
“We’ve been racing together a long time and I guess we’ve both come a long way,” Jankowiak told Speed51.com powered by JEGS regarding Skora following his third-career win and first at his home track in a RoC Modified. “I was actually glad to have George behind me. He ran me hard. I know George hates losing so I knew I was getting everything he had, but I think unless we slipped it was going to take a left rear dive-bomb and I trusted him not to do it.”
“One for one, that’s a good average. Maybe I should quit now, right?” Jankowiak joked. “It’s just incredible. I knew we had good stuff. I figured it might take a couple weeks and I didn’t think I’d expect to be here. It might take a minute to sink in.”
Jankowiak made sure not to miss making one more statement in victory lane about a dream he would like to see come true, which he plans to continue reminding those watching about.
“I’m going to say it at every race that I win; I want to race Daytona,” Jankowiak said. “I’m looking for an ARCA ride.”
Skora’s career best second-place finish may have been one spot short, but on this day displayed dedication after a number of chaotic events unfolded throughout the course of the afternoon.
“When everybody comes up to tell you you’re the show it’s pretty fun and exciting,” the Eden, New York driver remarked about the race. “We were faster than him. He drove a great line. I couldn’t get high and was out of tire at the end coming from the back how many times.”
Skora was still able to set his first career fast time after being involved in a practice incident with a slower car, but that was only the beginning of what the team had to overcome.
“Drive shaft snapped in the heat race, and then it kept popping out of gear halfway through the race so I was driving one-handed still laying fastest times down,” Skora mentioned.
Defending champion Patrick Emerling made his way to the lead in the middle stages, but during a red flag for a melee on the backstretch, involving Amy Catalano and multiple other cars including Skora, was forced to give up his track position and climb from the rear of the field as well.
“The left front started bouncing on me and when the red flag came out that thing went completely flat,” Emerling, who rallied back to finish third, said. “Then we had to pass a bunch of good cars to get back up through and I had to burn myself out doing so. We were just as good as them in front us; maybe a little bit better towards the end. If they missed a mark I’d catch them. I can’t be mad about this one. It’s a really hard fought one and I’m proud that the guys and I stuck together.”
Former series champion Chuck Hossfeld and veteran campaigner Daren Scherer survived the 75 laps to round out the top five.
Looking at the bigger picture as the RoC teams head to Chemung Speedrome (NY) and Oswego Speedway (NY) in the coming two Saturdays, the championship battle could be setting up to be a close one later on down the stretch.
Emerling likened his team’s performance to some of the races during their championship run in 2016.
“Salvaging a third out of that is great for us,” the Orchard Park, New York driver noted. “That’s the thing we did last year. When we did have misfortunes we ended up salvaging some good runs out of it. Pretty good start to the season for us."
Skora announced his intentions to run the full schedule for the first time in his RoC career, and a start like Saturday definitely was a boost in confidence going into Chemung. A 13th-place finish is the best he has been able to do at the 3/8-mile facility so far.
“I’m glad we turned the corner after last year and we’ve started putting together some good finishes,” Skora recapped. “65 is going to be a contender for the championship this year. I have terrible luck (at Chemung) so hopefully I got it out of my way today.”
As for Jankowiak, he gave a simple answer when asked if the group was running for the title.
“I’ve got to now; I’m the point leader.”
Race fans can find on-demand Trackside Now coverage of Saturday's race by clicking here.
-By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com Central NY & PA Editor – Twitter: @aaron_creed
-Photo credit: Speed51.com
Fans in the Stands 75 Results
Lancaster National Speedway (NY) - April 29, 2017
|2||17||65||George Skora III||75|
|16||3||10||Daryl Lewis Jr.||37|