Ten years. That is how long it had been since asphalt Modified racer Tony Hanbury won a Race of Champions Asphalt Modified Tour event.
It certainly did not look like an attainable goal around mid-afternoon on Sunday in the series season finale Tommy Druar / Tony Jankowiak 125 Memorial as part of the conclusion to the annual U.S. Open weekend at Lancaster Speedway (NY). When the checkered flag waved, however, the winless drought had come to an end.
“I screwed up in the heat race and got into turn one a little hot trying to get a redraw spot,” Hanbury told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “Backed it in the wall and bent a lot of stuff in the back end. The crew and I worked our asses off to get it put back together and I just got it close and said we’re just going to see if the car goes, and if it’s not that great we’re just going to ride around.”
Hanbury started toward the back of the 23-car field in a race that saw several comers and goers for various reasons. Point leader coming in Chuck Hossfeld appeared to be the class of the field early on, making it stick on the outside pole starter George Skora III for the lead, but things would turn sour rather quick.
Jimmy Zacharias got by for the lead on a restart and then Hossfeld was overtaken by Sam Fullone, who had a best career run going for much of the race. In the ensuing laps one car after another would try to find their way by the Ransomville, New York veteran when it finally became too much. Daren Scherer got hooked with Hossfeld and both went toward the turn one foam protecting the outer wall, Hossfeld getting the worst of it.
“We wound up with a flat tire which looked like it was pretty common today for whatever reason,” explained Hossfeld. “I was just trying to make my way to the back where I could hopefully wait for a caution, but I know (RoC President) Andy (Harpell) was trying to keep the show going so I didn’t want to bring out a caution and it ended up biting me.”
Tire strategy would come into play and shuffle the deck among the leaders. Zacharias would pit while Andy Jankowiak, Nick Pecko and Bobby Holmes found their way to the front after stopping earlier in the feature. Holmes, a driver who had a realistic shot to win on the RoC Tour for the first time since Lancaster in 2006, became the next victim in calamity corner after getting into the turn too hot.
The next yellow would turn out to be the turning point of the race. Pecko and Jankowiak got together on the backstretch battling for the lead. Austin Kochenash lost control and Mike Leaty came out with the lead. Unfortunately, contact on the way to the top spot resulted in damage and a flat tire for the new leader.
Riding in fifth at the time was Hanbury. Officials deemed that Jankowiak and Kochenash kept up their momentum but were behind the new top four cars at the time of the caution, which as a result gave Hanbury the lead. In the remaining laps, he would hold off a hard charging Zacharias for the win. Kochenash, T.J. Potrzebowski and Skora rounded out the top five.
An elated Hanbury went from riding around on the same straightaway as the leader to becoming the actual leader throughout the course of the 125-lap race.
“The thing is I wasn’t the fastest car here tonight, but we were a top-three car and there was a lot of luck on my side too,” said Hanbury. “This is great equipment. Dan Kurzejewski has great stuff, Morgantini Motors with Dodge power in this thing. It’s a bunch of great guys.”
With the several weather postponements and the Thompson World Series NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race taking place on the same day, Hossfeld simply needed to start to clinch the title with closest competitor Matt Hirschman not in attendance. Still, it was a disappointing end to a stellar season.
“We had great finishes all along and today our luck ran out,” said Hossfeld. “It’s part of racing, but I would have liked to have finished on a high note. Unfortunately, we couldn’t.”
It was Hossfeld’s third career RoC championship and his first since 2011. More on Hossfeld’s run to the championship in the coming days on Speed51.com.
– By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com correspondent.
– Featured photo credit: Helen & Alex Bruce