Claremont, NH — Home track favorite Mike Willis, Jr. of Grantham, NH, scored the victory in the inaugural Ron Bouchard’s Auto Stores 100 at Claremont Speedway presented by SPAFCO and Jerico. A strong crowd was on hand to watch and appreciate as one of their own scored the victory over some of short track racing’s best like runner-up Ryan Preece of Berlin, CT, and podium finisher and series’ dominator Matt Hirschman of Northampton, PA.
Hard-charging Tommy Barret of Millis, MA, and Ron Silk of Norwalk, CT, completed the top-five.
It was not all clear sailing for Willis, who had to overcome dogged determination by his fellow competitors and late-race restarts to capture the popular win and the $6,000 winner’s share. Hard-charging competitors locked in fierce battles from the drop of the green flag, the race was undeniably a fitting tribute to the late, great Ron Bouchard.
“I loved every minute of this race,” said Claremont Speedway co-owner Phil Hayes after the race.
By virtue of his heat race results and ensuing redraw, Willis led the 27- car field to green for the start of the Bouchard memorial race. Before a lap could be completed the caution flag flew when Sammy Rameau spun on the front stretch from his third-place staring position. Willis and Les Hinckley immediately ran out to a two-car breakaway; however, action was slowed again on lap two with a caution for debris.
Hinckley stayed alongside of Willis on the restart. With sparks flying Hinckley was able to grab the top spot. Hirschman had settled-in in third. Hard side-by-side racing throughout the field in the early going included a great battle between Woody Pitkat and Preece. Russ Hersey looked to be on a mission in the opening segment of the event.
Hinckley and Willis enjoyed nearly a straightaway advantage over Hirschman and a closing Mike Holdridge. Silk, after being shuffled back during the early restarts, had moved back into contention. Young gun Dana DiMatteo was running strong knocking on the door of the top five. Preece had faded back to sixteenth.
Leader Hinckley entered lapped traffic at lap 23. But a spin by Les Rose on lap 24 brought out the event’s third caution; erasing namesake Les Hinckley’s huge lead. Under the caution Preece brought his 6NY into the pits for service. On the ensuing restart, Hinckley was able to retain his lead. Willis had his hands full with Hirschman. The two went wheel-to-wheel for a pair of laps before Hirschman claimed the position. Silk followed through relegating Willis back to fourth. Hersey took chase in fifth. Holdridge lost several positions following the restart.
Again, Hinckley was able to run out to a sizeable lead. Silk was getting racy with Hirschman for second. Behind Hinckley the rest of the top-five -Hirschman, Silk, Willis, and Hersey- ran nose-to-tail. Another local favorite, Todd Patnode caught the group as well.
Silk was all over the back bumper of Hirschman during the green flag run. Rowan Pennink had joined the mix running seventh over Pitkat and Kirk Alexander. Rameau was making a nice recovery racing his way back into the top-ten. On lap 42 both Hersey and Patnode got by Willis.
DiMatteo saw his good run come to an end with a spin in turn four on lap 43 to bring out the fourth caution. Under the caution, Hersey relinquished fourth position to go pit side. Willis, too, pitted.
Hinckley had to contend with Hirschman to his outside on the ensuing restart. He was able to maintain his lead once again. Silk was able to gain the advantage over Hirschman from the bottom groove. Silk immediately ran down Hinckley in pursuit of the lead. At halfway, Hinckley led Silk, Hirschman, Patnode, Pennink, Pitkat, Rameau, Alexander, Barrett and Brian Robie inside the top-ten.
With some hard racing, Hinckley and Silk made contact on lap 54 but Hinckley able to gather it up. The two made slight contact again exiting turn two on lap 56. Again, Hinckley was able to maintain the lead.
Things settled down at the head of the field with Hinckley leading Silk, Hirschman, Patnode, and Pennink. The best battle on the field was for sixth on back with Rameau, Pitkat, Barrett and Alexander.
While Patnode was making his charge and taking third from Hirschman on lap 63, Silk was setting his sights on Hinckley. By lap 64, Silk was the new leader. Once out front, Silk immediately gained some distance. Hirschman began to fade on the outside losing positions to Pennink, Rameau and Pitkat. With two-thirds of the race in the books, the running order inside the top-ten was Silk, Hinckley, Patnode, Pennink, Rameau, Pitkat, Hirschman, Barrett, Hersey and Alexander.
The fifth caution of the event flew on lap 80 for a single-car incident involving Holdridge. Under yellow only Silk, Hinckley, Patnode, Pennink, Rameau, Pitkat, Hersey, Alexander, Willis, and Matt Galko remained on the speedway. All others, including Hirschman, Preece, and Barrett, headed to pit road for service.
On the lap 80 restart, Silk rocketed out to the lead followed by Hinckley. Patnode made a bold move on Hinckley for second but his efforts were thwarted by the sixth caution. This time for a spin by Pitkat. Hersey was sent to the rear of the field for his involvement as well.
After a number of failed attempts to restart on lap 81, Hinckley was strong on Silk’s outside. But contact between the two sent Hinckley spinning. Several cars running in the top five had to take evasive action as the caution flag flew again on lap 81. The new top-ten on the restart was Silk, Patnode, Rameau, Alexander, Willis, Galko, Hirschman and Barrett, Preece and Pennink.
Silk set sail out front when the racing resumed. Rameau made some aggressive moves to make his way into second. Patnode lost several spots on the outside. With drivers still vying for position, Silk now had the lead over Willis, who had come through the skirmish for second. Hirschman was back in the mix with Preece in tow with 13 laps remaining. Rameau faltered to fifth.
A spin by Ron Frees brought out the ninth caution on lap 89. Under yellow, Patnode headed pit side. The attempt at the restart was called back when it was deemed that Willis went early. Heeding the warning, Willis still hung strong on the outside. Silk edged up slightly; giving Hirschman a bit of room on the bottom over Silk and Willis. Thinking the better of it, Hirschman settled back into line. The running order remained Silk, Willis and Hirschman in a tight pack. Hirschman was able to take second before an incident with Calvin Carol and Alexander brought the eleventh caution.
Silk was able to grab his lead back from Willis on the restart. Preece was able to prevail over a heated battle for third with Hirschman. Silk continued to lead Willis, Preece, Hirschman and Barrett with less than ten laps remaining.
On lap 95, Willis made a bold move and was able to take the lead away from Silk. The twelfth and final caution flew for an incident that involved Chris Bolton to set up a three-lap dash for the cash. Despite his efforts from the outside, Silk could not overcome Willis. Willis easily retained his lead; bringing Preece along and into second. Hirschman dogged Preece but to no avail. For as heated as the battle for the lead had been over the closing laps, Willis went uncontested for the win at the checkers.
It was a popular win for a young driver who calls Claremont home. In victory lane he was quick to acknowledge his father and the efforts of his crew. Willis received congratulations from Preece and Hirschman, his fellow podium finishers in victory lane. Kudos go out to fourth-place finishers Tommy Barrett, who after suffering mechanical woes in the consi, used a provisional to get into the field and started scratch on the 27 car field. Silk completed the top-five.
A consistent performance paid dividends for sixth-place Galko. Recovering from adversity was the story for the remainder of the top-ten including Pitkat, Patnode, Pennink, and Hinckley.
The inaugural Ron Bouchard Auto Parts 100, presented by SPAFCO and Jerico, is also made possible with the help of a strong list of associate sponsors with a ton of racing heritage including Broad Brook Heating & Cooling, Fred Wilcox, Bruce Brennenstuhl, Fuller RV Rentals and Sales, Fuller’s Car Laundry, Ballard Trucks, Metcalf Paving, Pat’s Auto Center, George Summers Trucking, Ashaway Cement Products, Mad River Construction, Bradford Motors, Dunn’s Corner Repair, Twin Cedars, Central Mass Tree and Ed French & Son Paving.
Next up for the TTOMS is the prestigious Open Wheel Wednesday 100 at Seekonk Speedway on Wednesday, June 27. For the complete series’ schedule and to learn more about the Tri-Track Modified Series, visit tritrackmods.com.
Ron Bouchard’s Auto Stores 100-Claremont Speedway- May 26, 2018, Finishing Order: 1. Mike Willis Jr., Grantham, NH; 2. Ryan Preece, Berlin, CT; 3. Matt Hirschman; Northampton, PA; 4. Tommy Barrett; Millis, MA; 5. Ron Silk; Norwalk, CT; 6. Matt Galko; Meriden, CT; 7. Woody Pitkat, Stafford, CT; 8. Todd Patnode, Richmond, NH; 9. Rowan Pennink, Huntingdon Valley, PA; 10. Les Hinckley, Windsor Locks, CT; 11. Russ Hersey, N. Swanzey, NH; 12. Ron Frees, Brick Township, NJ; 13. Sam Rameau, Westminster, MA; 14. Brian Robie, Sunapee, NH; 15. Calvin Carroll, Johnsonburg, NJ; 16. Les Rose, Southbridge, MA; 17. Carl Medeiros Jr, Westport, MA; 18. Kirk Alexander, W. Swanzey, NH; 19. Chris Bolton, Weare, NH; 20. Mike Holdridge, Madison, CT; 21. Bucky Demers, Cornish, NH; 22. Kurt Vigeant, Oxford, MA; 23. Josh Cantara, Sanford, ME; 24. Dana DiMatteo, Farmington, CT; 25. TJ Bleau, Troy, NH; 26. Dana Smith, Sunapee, NH; 27. Nick Salva, Cheshire, CT. DNQ: George Skora, Scott Adams, Chris Risdale
-Tri-Track Open Modified Series Press Release
-Photo credit: Speed51.com