MIDDLETOWN, NY – In a picture-perfect performance, Stewart Friesen dominated Saturday night’s ‘Hard Clay Open’ at Orange County Fair Speedway.
Friesen, 31, of Sprakers, N.Y., capitalized on a pole starting berth and a potent Jeff Daley-owned No. 44 small-block to kick off the Short Track Super Series (STSS) Fueled By Hi-Tek with a victory at the legendary five-eighths-mile oval. Friesen led all but two laps in the 50-lap big-block/small-block Modified event.
The Halmar International ‘Hard Clay Open’ presented by United Pump & Tank and East Coast Speed/ECS Auto Inc. was postponed by wet weather from its original date of April 7. The event opened the $15,000 STSS Bob Hilbert Sportswear North Region championship battle.
“This feels awesome,” noted Friesen, whose only previous OCFS Modified victory came during the small-block portion of the 2013 Eastern States Weekend. “We decided to come here with the small-block and take the weight break and the sail panels. It ended up being the right decision for us.”
Friesen pocketed $5,783 for his triumph: $5,000 from the posted base purse, $400 from Rock Fantasy Concert and Smoke Shop as the Halfway Leader and an additional $383 in lap money.
While Friesen started from the pole, it was Pennsylvania invader Rick Laubach who darted into the lead at the outset with the Gary Spotts-owned No. 91. Laubach paced the opening two circuits before Friesen shot into the top spot on a second-lap restart.
As Friesen led, OCFS regular Jerry Higbie Jr. was marching through traffic from his 13th starting spot. Using big-block power in his family owned No. 97, Newburgh, N.Y.’s Higbie reached fourth on lap 13, third on the 16th circuit and arrived in the runner-up spot on the 20th tour of the fairgrounds facility.
At that point, Friesen had built nearly a half-track lead.
With no yellows from lap five to the finish, Higbie’s only hope would be lapped traffic. He closed to within a straightaway of Friesen but ultimately settled for runner-up pay.
Friesen, for the first time in his career, won a STSS point race. The win was his fourth in a BD Motorsports Media LLC promoted Modified event, but his first since July 26, 2011 at Pa.’s Big Diamond Speedway.
“These races always pay really well,” Friesen said. “It feels good to win one. It had been a while.”
Higbie finished second and earned $4,449 including $4,000 from the posted purse, $200 as the highest-finishing OCFS regular from Simplicity Designs and $249 in lap money. Rochester, N.Y.’s Danny Johnson throttled Chris Gennarelli’s No. 27J small-block from eighth to a podium finish, taking over third spot 13 laps from the finish.
Tommy Meier of Waldwick, N.J., started 14th and drove to fourth in Jeff Behrent’s No. 3, working the outside lane. All-time OCFS win leader Brett Hearn advanced 18 positions from his 23rd starting berth to finish fifth in the Madsen Motorsports No. 20 small-block. The Sussex, N.J., star pocketed $500 as the Grand Rental Station Hard Charger as a result.
Finishing sixth through 10th, respectively, were Mike Ricci of Tillson, N.Y., in the Halmar Racing No. 44 big-block; J.R. Heffner of Valatie, N.Y., who ran as high as third in the race’s opening laps; track regular Craig Mitchell of Poughkeepsie, N.Y.; Anthony Perrego of Montgomery, N.Y., driving Gary Mann’s No. 55 big-block; and 22nd-starter Andy Bachetti of Sheffield, Mass., the defending STSS champion, in a small-block.
Top passing-points earners in the six, 10-lap heats were Jeff Heotzler of Wallkill, N.Y., Billy Van Pelt of Westfield, Pa., Erick Rudolph of Ransomville, N.Y., Ricci, Perrego and Tyler Dippel of Wallkill, N.Y.
Consolation victors were Steve Dodd of Middletown, N.Y., Mike Mahaney of King Ferry, N.Y., and Jackie Brown Jr. of Hurley, N.Y.
Rich Ricci Jr. of New Paltz, N.Y., won the 3-lap Last Chance Qualifier to earn a starting berth in the main. The event was run for drivers missing a transfer spot by one position in the three consolations.
A field of 52 big-block/small-block Modifieds attempted to qualify for the event.
Danbury, Conn.’s L.J. Lombardo topped the ‘Elmo’s Speed & Supply 25’ for Crate 602 Sportsman, earning $1,250. The defending track champion, driving the Bob Sweeney No. 99, outdistanced fellow Connecticut driver Michael Sabia for the triumph.
Central New York visitor Dave Marcuccilli, Joey Bruning (rebounding from an early scrape with the turn-two wall) and Zachary Vavricka completed the front five.
Tim Southard was the Crane Golf Street Stock 10-lap winner.
FAIRGROUNDS FODDER: Despite a cold wind, attendance for Saturday’s ‘Hard Clay Open’ was strong, with a healthy grandstand crowd and the drive-in section packed to the bottom row. A total of 105 competitors representing seven states and one Canadian province filled the pit area for the second annual event….
Top-five efforts ended shy of the finish for Rick Laubach (apparent rear-end issues, lap eight, while in second) and Tyler Dippel (flat right-rear tire on lap 48). Dippel’s 21st-place finish, with lap money and bonuses, was still worth $1,204….
The strong result for Higbie was a quick start to the 2015 STSS Bob Hilbert Sportswear North Region. He will chase points driving for Dave Zubikowski on the series….
Nearly $40,000 in cash and product was distributed to competitors in the STSS Modified ranks….
Defending OCFS champion Tim Hindley was sidelined after hot laps with rear-end issues. Craig Hanson was slated to start on the pole for the Last Chance Qualifier and was sidelined with a broken axle….
Brett Hearn’s fifth-place finish netted him $2,120 in cash, a free Vahlco wheel and a $100 certificate for ATL Fuel Cells….
The next STSS event takes place on Sunday, April 19 at N.J.’s Bridgeport Speedway with the ‘South Jersey Shootout’ special. Modifieds race 40 laps for $5,000 to win, $1,000 for 10th and $400 to take the green in the opening round of the Pioneer Pole Buildings Inc. South Region presented by Scotty’s Speed & Diesel. Sportsman and Outlaw Stocks complete the card on the five-eighths-mile, while Doug Borger’s XCel 600 Modifieds race for $1,000 to win on the inner quarter-mile oval.
-Short Track Super Series Press Release. Photo credit: Dave Dalesandro/Race Pro Weekly