For the past couple of seasons, New York Modified ace Patrick Emerling had taken on one of the most daunting racing schedules out of anyone, not just in the Northeast, but the entire country. Committing to running both the Race of Champions (RoC) Asphalt Modified Series and NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, the focus has been on wins first and championships second.
A schedule conflict back on May 18 had Emerling running Wall Stadium Speedway (NJ) for the fifth Whelen Modified Tour event of 2019, while skipping the RoC season opener at Chemung Speedrome. It seemed that Emerling’s championship chances on the RoC side were dashed right then and there; however, the Emerling and Leaty family-run operation buckled down for a busy summer, with Emerling getting back into the championship mix.
Podium finishes in seven of the next eight races, with three wins and a worst finish of seventh saw Emerling challenging Andy Jankowiak for the title this past Saturday in the season-ending Race of Champions 250 at Lake Erie Speedway (PA). Fortune swung the way of the No. 07 camp, with Jankowiak dropping out due to an engine failure and Emerling coming home seventh to secure his second career RoC Modified title.
“We had a heck of a season in the series, we were able to run pretty consistent. Actually, the first RoC race of the season was a conflict, we ran the Tour race at Wall instead," Emerling explained on Speed51’s Morning Bullring on Monday. "So we started out of the box 100 points down, but we were able to collect some wins and just run up front the rest of the season there. We were able to be there at the end."
It is the ultimate payoff for what has been a season of both extreme grit while trying to find a balance while taking on a busy schedule.
“For us, it’s a lot of racing. We like running the RoC, it’s a great series, very competitive," Emerling said. "It is tough on us, running the two Modified series out of one shop. Our shop becomes a lot at times, that’s the one thing. At points throughout the year, it becomes a bit much. We are scrambling to get some stuff and some cars ready. Like, this week we broke two motors and had two changes. We sent a truck and trailer to Stafford and had Ronnie Williams practice and qualify the car for us while we raced the Race of Champions. We drove all night after the RoC race and competed the next day.”
However, it seemed as though on Saturday night at Lake Erie that the racing gods had one last test to throw at the No. 07 team after it seemed as if the title was in hand following Jankowiak’s retirement from the race.
“The last race, there was quite a few things that happened that made things pretty interesting. We had Andy, who we were running against was 17 points up on us. He ended up breaking an engine, so he had a tough day. Then, we actually had some things go wrong on our end, we etched out the steering rack, we were running pretty good, a caution came out, and the steering wheel flipped upside down. We threw a bolt in it, but it was still locking up, so we didn’t know if it was going to go straight in one corner and not turn."
The very unusual problem for Emerling nearly ended up putting his championship aspirations in the cold concrete on more than one occasion.
“It was an uncommon anomaly, there were no symptoms before. Then we had the caution come out, and you’re like, gosh. We came in, and there was only one bolt and two threads holding the entire rack in place. We got really lucky there. Got the one bolt in there and it was good for a while. Then it started turning and flexing throughout the rack, I kept binding up the wheel, almost walled it a couple of times, the car wouldn’t turn left anymore.”
In fact, there was one point where it seemed for sure that the effort was doomed to fail, until the team got one last break thrown their way.
“We got lucky, if we had gone a lap down, we wouldn’t have won the championship. We were working on it and the green came out, but there was another caution within a lap. Highly unlikely, but we didn’t go down lap. So we had a chance to go over things, and limp home in seventh place. We had gotten as high as fourth, but when the steering had problems, I just backed off, and just wanted to finish. Never had a race play out like that, a very odd race for us.”
You can listen to even more from Patrick Emerling and several other drivers from across the country by watching the latest episode of the Morning Bullring on-demand by clicking here.
-Story by: Connor Sullivan, Speed51 Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Speed51Photos.com