For the 14th time since 2003, racing returned to the hallowed Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey this past Friday and Saturday. With 92 entries recorded on Friday for preliminary racing action, the stories and challenges faced by the teams and drivers were to be bountiful. That proved to be the case when the final checkered flag flew on Saturday night. When it was all said and done, Anthony Sesely had won his third Gambler’s Challenge over Andy Jankowiak and Justin Bonsignore.
JANKOWIAK’S TURNS THINGS AROUND AFTER ROUGH START
The weekend in Atlantic City begin with a hiccup for New York racer Andy Jankowiak after the team accidently brought a drum of diesel fuel into the building during Thursday practice. Due to the regulations of the indoor arena, the team was nearly expelled from competition. Instead, officials penalized Jankowiak with the loss of his Friday practice time and second time trial lap. Jankowiak nearly advanced to Gambler’s Classic Saturday, but contact with Jimmy Blewett while racing for the lead forced him into the Saturday heats where he eventually advanced before finishing second in the main event.
BONSIGNORE PLEASED WITH PODIUM FINISH
Justin Bonsignore has had a rough time since acquiring a TQ chassis of his own for the 2016 Indoor Auto Racing season, first crashing out of the feature in Allentown on January 2, and then falling out of his Friday qualifier with a leaky radiator hose. Bonsignore fought back to qualify in through the Saturday heats and in the race he kept his nose clean, moving to front. He eventually ran out of laps to challenge Sesely for the win, but overall Bonsignore was plenty happy with the third-place finish and expects to go for the win next time out in Trenton, New Jersey.
BLEWETT DRIVES HARD TO SEVENTH-PLACE FINISH
There were multiple challengers up at the front throughout the night, including that of in-state star Jimmy Blewett, who is still trying to come up big in one of these Indoor events. At one point in the race, Blewett had a chance at leader Sesely on the outside for a restart. After some slight contact, Blewett thought Sesely had moved him unnecessarily, but it didn’t change his attitude to how he raced the night.
“I just drive as hard as I can possibly drive,” Blewett said. “But you don’t see me smashing somebody to move them out of the way or driving people up into the fence. I’m just happy I had a fast car and everybody knew I was here to race tonight.”
Blewett would later spin after contact with Zane Zeiner in the closing laps after getting knocked backwards. Zeiner would be penalized for the contact, which he did not agree with given the heavy traffic in the middle of the field. Blewett went on to finish seventh.
RUDOLPH’S CHANCE AT $10,000 COMES TO AN END
It looked as though it might be another runaway weekend for Erick Rudolph, much like the weekend he had in Allentown, a night where the New York driver outright dominated the competition he was up against. Rudolph time trialed second and won his qualifier on Friday night, but a poor redraw and finish in the five-lap dash prior to the Gambler’s Classic led to a seventh-place start for the 40-lap race. After fighting to third, Rudolph would spin out, only recovering for a 10th-place finish, costing him a shot at a $10,000 bonus if he swept the main events at all three indoor racers promoted by Len Sammons.
SHAW SURPRISES WITH STRONG QUALIFYING EFFORT
One the biggest surprises of the weekend was New Hampshire’s D.J. Shaw. Shaw, a familiar face in Super Late Model competition had missed out on Allentown due to work commitments. He started the weekend knowing he needed to gain experience in open wheel cars, but shocked everyone, challenging Rudolph for the lead throughout much of the third qualifying race Friday night. Shaw would advance to the main event with a second-place finish in the Saturday heats before bringing the No. 60 home 13th and on the lead lap in the A-Main.
CONNECTICUT MODIFIED DRIVER HAS STRONG SHOWING
Another surprise on the weekend was that of Connecticut SK Modified driver Nick Ladyga. Ladyga showed speed in time trials Friday, but got into hot water later in the night after being black flagged for spinning another car in the qualifiers and would fall out after he was discovered to be leaking water. After failing to advance through the Saturday heats, Ladyga would finally get some luck in the second B-Main, taking the win to advance to the Gambler’s Classic, where he would fight back from an early spin and showed his metal to finish eighth in the A-Main.
BIG NAMES MISS THE SHOW
There were multiple drivers, including a few big names that were on the opposite end of the luck spectrum on the weekend. Ryan Preece struggled to find speed on Friday, which went through to time trials and eventually to his qualifier when he suffered a flat tire. Preece missed the field in both the Heats and B-Mains on Saturday. It was a similar story for both David Calabrese, Earl Paules, and Bobby Holmes who also failed to race their way in.
NO LUCK FOR CICCONI
Lou Cicconi might have had the hardest weekend of all, first with his own car having no speed Friday. Cicconi also had four cars of his own with Jeff Strunk and Alex Bright’s cars having parts failures and falling out Friday, and his remaining cars of Russ Gamster and John Ivy failing to make the final feature.
(Editor’s Note: The original version of this story included an incorrect report that there was a falling out between Ted Christopher and Cicconi. Christopher, who owns both the cars he and Cicconi were driving, packed up his own car Friday night and left the event. Cicconi also withdrew from the event Friday night due to what he considered rough driving, as he clarified with 51 Wednesday afternoon.)
-By Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com State Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Daryl Canfield/Speed51.com