Patrick Emerling took very little time to maneuver to the front in Friday night’s return of the Sportsman Modifieds to Lake Erie Speedway (PA) for the first time in a few years as part of the 67th Annual Race of Champions Weekend. The Orchard Park, New York driver redrew fourth after winning his qualifying race and used a lap 4 restart to pass inside pole starter Kevin Timmerman for the lead in the 75-lap feature.
From there, the 2016 RoC Asphalt Modified Series champion went fairly uncontested to grab his second straight Sportsman Modified win as part of this prestigious event. The 25-year-old talent and team had a quick turnaround to prepare for what was a race featuring a stacked field of 36 drivers that attempted for the 30 spots to take the green flag on Friday night.
“The car was a bare frame and chassis Monday, and we put in a lot of effort getting this thing together,” Emerling noted in victory lane. “Right out of the box the thing was awesome and I can’t thank everyone who supports me enough. Hopefully, we repeat this (tomorrow).”
Emerling will be looking for his first Race of Champions 250 win on Saturday evening after coming home a close second in last year’s running at Oswego Speedway (NY).
Finishing runner-up Friday night was last week’s U.S. Open Sportsman winner at Lancaster National Speedway (NY), Chuck Hossfeld. The Ransomville, New York veteran was quick since Thursday practice but took a few extra circuits to near the lead despite starting the race from third. Although he started clicking off some of his fastest laps of the race near the conclusion, Emerling was as well.
“I made the call to make an adjustment to tighten the car and we did just a hair too much,” Hossfeld said. “(Emerling’s) car really ran well and ours was just the bride’s maid today.”
Like Emerling, Friday’s time on track gives Hossfeld a baseline of what to expect regarding the 3/8-mile’s characteristics. The 40-year-old racer compared Saturday’s distance to some of the events that were offered when he began his full-time career on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.
“When I first started racing years ago for (Bob) Garbarino they had the Thompson 300 and I thought that was the best race because it was so long,” Hossfeld commented. “I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
The versatile Scott Wylie, a former Lake Erie track champion, made the biggest charge from 19th starting position to complete the podium. Western New York’s Andy Jankowiak ran in the top five all day and claimed fourth.
Rounding out the top five would be Tommy Catalano, who had a good enough run to lock up the inaugural RoC Sportsman Modified Series championship. This was a recently organized three race late-season assault which included a mid-September event at Delaware Speedway in Ontario, Canada, last weekend’s U.S. Open Sportsman feature, and Friday night’s affair.
“We were hoping for another podium finish, but to come here and take a fifth it’s definitely huge,” Catalano, already a weekly champion in 2017 at New York’s Spencer Speedway and Holland Speedway, remarked. “Early in the race, I think we got trapped on the bottom and burned the tires off trying to get it to turn. When I finally got a lane late in the race and passed a couple guys, at that point we were trying to hang on ourselves.”
The Ontario, New York driver’s weekend is far from over as he goes for yet another championship in Saturday’s 50-lap RoC Late Model feature and will be making his second start in the annual long-distance Race of Champions.
“It’s definitely going to be a management race, not only on the car but yourself inside the car, taking it easy and saving yourself for the last 50 or so,” Catalano predicted.
The RoC Super Stocks supported Friday night’s festivities with a 30-lap feature. Defending series champion Joe Mancuso took the win, his first during the historic race weekend. Southern Tier New Yorker Tim Gullo easily captured the season championship.
Saturday’s action will begin early with Four Cylinders on the track for qualifying races before Noon and a 20-lap feature. Street Stocks, Late Models, and the RoC Modifieds will get their turn for hot laps in the early afternoon with feature racing slated to begin at approximately 4:30 p.m. ET.
Race fans can find on-demand Trackside Now coverage of Friday’s action by clicking here.
For the first time in the event’s 67-year history, race fans worldwide will be able to watch this weekend’s Race of Champions 250 live on Speed51.com. Live pay-per-view video tickets can be purchased today for $35.99. Click here to purchase today.
-By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com Central NY & PA Editor – Twitter: @aaron_creed
-Photo credit: Speed51.com