With a pair of fierce Modified competitors breathing down his nick, Tommy Catalano broke through to score his first Race of Champions (RoC) Asphalt Modified Series victory Saturday night at Jukasa Motor Speedway.
The 21-year-old racer from Ontario, New York fended off a vicious charge from Andy Jankowiak over the final laps before parking his No. 54 Modified in victory lane in Hagersville, Ontario.
“They may have been breathing down my neck but I don’t know if I was breathing at all,” Catalano joked after the race. “That was definitely huge.”
Catalano’s path to victory lane was anything but ordinary.
After starting sixth, he began methodically making his way to the front during the first half of the race. As dark clouds began approaching the race track with Chuck Hossfeld leading the race, Catalano knew it was time to get up and go. He closed in on the back of Hossfeld’s No. 22 just before rain drops started falling and race officials sent the field to pit road.
Following a rain delay that last just over an hour, the race resumed with heavy smoke coming from the rear of Hossfeld’s Modified.
On the restart, Hossfeld drifted up just high enough for Catalano to fill the hole and power to his inside down the backstretch to challenge for the lead. Catalano completed the pass in turn four to take the lead for the first time on Lap 67.
A late restart with 11 laps to go stacked the field back up with Emerling and Jankowiak right behind Catalano.
When Emerling’s bid came up short on the restart, Jankowiak charged by Emerling to take over second and begin challenging Catalano for the lead. After trying high, low and everywhere in between, Jankowiak’s vicious bid for the lead came up just short.
The result: a very happy Tommy Catalano and family celebrating the rising star’s first RoC Asphalt Modified Series victory.
“This is huge. At the beginning of this race I said it’s a long race and I just wanted to take it easy for a few. I wanted to get to (lap) 60 and try to save a little bit. Last year we had a good car and just burned it up way early,” Catalano explained. “When the rain was coming in tonight and it was close to halfway, I said it was time to go, so I started putting the pressure on Chuck. I knew I wanted to be leading if it started raining and I kind of dropped the ball on that. When we ended up in the rain delay and they said we were going to go back racing, that was when I knew it was my redemption shot.
“That start he pushed up just a touch and I knew that was my opportunity so I filled the hole the best I could. We never touched so it was awesome.”
Jankowiak, like most racers would be, was disappointed to finish second but was happy for Catalano.
“I hate finishing second but congrats to Tommy Catalano,” Jankowiak said. “He ran a heck of a race and his big RoC win has been coming, so today is his day. Congratulations to him. It was fun racing. He was defending it perfect. I don’t know if I was going to get him but I had a good run down here on the last lap and the car jumped out of gear when it hit the apron. I wasn’t going to get him down the frontstretch so I figured I had one more shot down the backstretch and we were going to go race for it.”
Emerling completed the podium in the third spot, while early race leader Chuck Hossfeld and Scott Wylie completed the top five.
An on-demand replay of Saturday night’s live Summer Thunder TV broadcast on Speed51 can be viewed by clicking here.
-Story by: Brandon Paul, Speed51 Editor – Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
-Photo credit: Speed51.com / Duane Canfield