The 70th Annual Race of Champions 250 weekend at the Lake Erie Speedway kicked off with a bang Saturday night, with the Sportsman Modified division going 54 laps in the night’s main event. With nearly 50 cars entered into the pit area, including many of the drivers competing in the Race of Champions 250 on Sunday, the competition was stiff. When the checkered flag waved, it was one of the region’s best, Andy Jankowiak, doubling up and winning his second straight Sportsman Modified race on Race of Champions Weekend.
After six heat races and two B-Mains, Jake Vernon and Daryl Lewis Jr led the field to the green flag.
Vernon and Lewis battled side by side for the opening laps as last year’s race winner, “Andy J,” would follow the duo. It didn’t take long before Jankowiak passed Vernon and then Lewis to take over the lead by Lap 7.
As Jankowiak began to get away, George Skora III made his way forward from his sixth starting position. After taking the runner up spot away from Lewis on lap 22, he set his sights on the leader Jankowiak. A caution on lap 25 put the two on the front row for the restart.
When the green flag flew, Skora powered around the outside of Jankowiak to snag the top spot. His time out front would be short lived though, as Jankowiak made his way back by Skora on Lap 34. From there, Jankowiak checked out, putting a large gap on Skora and third-place Mike Leaty who had come up through the field after falling back inside the top 10 early on. The race looked to be in hand until a caution with two laps to go put Skora and Leaty back on the heels of the the leader.
With a single file restart, Skora was able to hang onto the rear bumper of Jankowiak as they crossed the stripe, but slowly lost the leader in the final two laps. As the checkered flag waved, it was Jankowiak holding off Skora and Leaty to score his second straight Race of Champions Sportsman victory during Race of Champions weekend. Lewis held on to the fourth spot, with Vernon rounding out the top five.
“It’s awesome. It feels great. Its been a strange weekend, we really needed this one today. We really did. I just couldn’t lose today. I wasn’t going to let it happen, there was no way,” Jankowiak told Speed51. “We had a good starting spot. Georgie Skora got me on the one restart but he was too tight, he missed it. He won the last race here. He was way tight tonight and I was able to get him back and he raced me clean. It was just a good day.”
After leading around the middle part of the race, Skora settled for a runner up finish. Although disappointed, he still took it with a smile on his face.
“It was a good race, we started fifth. I knew we had a top three car,” stated Skora. “We made an adjustment after the heat race thinking that the track was going to loosen up when it cooled off and it didn’t quite loosen up enough for me and I couldn’t make the cut in the middle of the corner. Andy had a good car, congratulations to him. Hopefully tomorrow we’ll have a better day in the 250.”
Rounding out the podium was Mike Leaty. After falling back a bit early, he was able to make a late race charge for third.
“I had a really good car. Not as good as Andy J, but a really good car,” explained Leaty. “At the beginning of the race I just couldn’t get in the right lane to save my life. These Sportsman cars are so frustrating, you’re fighting for inches all of the time. So when you lose a couple of spots, its hard to make it all back up. We were able to do that. I think we were one of the few who that actually came from the back there and got near the front. Couple spots short, but not a bad night.”
The action continues into Sunday when the mighty Race of Champions Modifieds will have their 250-lap main event. Speed51 will have coverage of the racing action from the event.
-Story by Evan Canfield, Speed51 Northeast Correspondent – Twitter: @ecanfield17
-Photo credit: Speed51Photos.com