When the Race of Champions Asphalt Modified Series arrives for their rescheduled season opener at Mahoning Valley Speedway on April 23, there will be a wide assortment of competitors vying for the winner’s share. Drivers such as Matt Hirschman, Chuck Hossfeld, and Andy Jankowiak will certainly be some of the favorites, but names that may not be very well known outside Northeast Pennsylvania will have as much of a shot on their home turf.
Bobby Jones has 15 career Modified victories at the tight quarter-mile oval including two in 100-lap features, and is no stranger to winning against the best of the best. Nonetheless, the Palmerton, Pennsylvania driver still has yet to score a Race of Champions victory.
“I actually led all of it until the last lap, fourth turn, when a lapped car jumped out in front of me and lost it at the line and finished second,” Jones told Speed51.com powered by JEGS regarding the event run in 2004. “There was another time I was running second and a clutch went towards the end.”
Jones will be someone that one should not bet against, and made the last minute decision to participate in the most recent open practice session at the track making tweaks for the upcoming 75-lap show.
“We haven’t been putting a full effort into it and we just came part time, and it just doesn’t give you the results that we want,” Jones, who has not won a feature since 2012, admitted. “We’re going to work around a little harder than we have been the last three years.”
Unlike some larger and higher speed facilities, Mahoning Valley Speedway can be more about preparation and hitting the setup with the weather and track conditions presented for the particular day. Deep pockets and aerodynamics are not always a necessity, although it does not necessarily hurt.
“You just have to show up with your equipment right,” Jones, who rolls in each week with his Modified on an open trailer, said. “It’s been getting tougher. Guys are bringing newer cars and newer stuff, and it means a lot now. Years ago we could come here with a little motor and get away with it. You need some power now and it’s changing.”
Another competitor enters only his third season of Modified racing, but has outrun and held off some of the most talented in the region on multiple occasions. Sixteen-year-old Kyle Strohl could be another candidate for the win despite going up against drivers twice his age and making his RoC debut. A recent purchase from Hirschman Garage and Speed has his team amped up for an all-out assault on his opponents.
“We’re starting fresh this year; brand new car and brand new everything,” Strohl, a three-time Modified feature winner, indicated. “We’re just trying to work out all the bugs for this year. We came up two weeks ago and we had a fuel problem, and we came back this week and changed a couple things and finally finished it, so hopefully nothing else goes wrong for the start of this season.”
His young age notwithstanding, Strohl has multiple years of experience prior to his time in Modifieds. The amount of track time acquired gives the hometown driver an optimistic outlook when the invaders come to town.
“It gives me a lot of confidence from previous seasons running in the Pro 4s and Street Stocks,” Strohl mentioned. “It gave me experience and I took that experience into the Modified and it’s doing me pretty well so far.”
A driver without a feature win but many laps of experience on the track is Glenn Slocum Jr. The New Jersey driver came from the back of the pack to finish seventh behind a host of very accomplished names in last fall’s 150-lap annual Octoberfast race. Slocum, who has also competed in the facility’s Late Model division, made two preseason practice appearances in order to shake down his ride. Several others will join him in hopes of stealing the show for their first career RoC and in some cases, MVS, victory.
The racers that tour around week in and week out will certainly have something to say as well. Now with a weekend off and a weekly 35-lap show at Mahoning coming up, word is that some RoC regulars may gather some notes on the fellow local competition and see how it is to handle the fickle surface.
It will be a challenge that many who run weekly feel they will be ready for.
“This is a very tough place to race,” Jones said. “Just the environment alone; it amps everybody up. You’ve got those RoC guys coming in; everybody gets their game on and gets better.”
-By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com Central NY & PA Editor – Twitter: @aaron_creed
-Photo credit: Speed51.com