A combined total of more than 50 cars were on the Lake Erie Speedway (PA) grounds for nearly four hours of on-track opportunities rotating between the six divisions participating in this weekend’s 67th Annual Race of Champions weekend. RoC Owner Joe Skotnicki remarked that it was the first occurrence in recent time that he recalled witnessing a turnout well into the double digits for the Modifieds on an optional practice day, enhancing the optimistic outlook toward a positive first appearance of the historic event at the 3/8-mile venue.
Fast Times for the Catalano Family
While not everyone chose to run a transponder, the No. 64 RoC Asphalt Modified Series machine did and turned in the quickest recorded time of 14.885 seconds. Amy Catalano normally pilots the ride but shared the driving duties on Thursday evening with her son Tommy Catalano in order to get additional feedback on where the car needs to be.
“We made some changes this week trying to make it steer a little easier,” Amy Catalano told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “We have what I call semi-different driving styles, but apparently his is better than mine at times so sometimes I think I need to convert to his. Part of it was he went out and tried to dial it in and then he got on the radio and tried to tell me how I was going to be more aggressive than normal.”
The younger Catalano definitely has some sage advice as he finished a career-best second behind four-time RoC winner Matt Hirschman at Lake Erie back in June. His No. 54 RoC Modified remained loaded up in the hauler, as they concentrated on Amy’s car as well as their Sportsman Modifieds in which they plan to run on Friday night.
“We’re going to try and save it and give it everything she’s got on Saturday instead of getting it out now and kind of overthinking things or screwing it up,” Tommy Catalano said. “It was pretty good (in June) so we’re going to try to stick to our guns and leave it the way she was.”
While there’s a lot more racing to take place than June’s 75-lap distance, both mother and son who are part of a legendary Upstate New York racing family have thoughts on how huge it would be to get victory number one in the series at the biggest event of the year.
“It crosses my mind at each one,” Amy Catalano clarified. “I always tell (my kids) that it’s such a big event for me that when that checkered flies and I’m the winner, I’m retiring that day. They wish for me to win it at times, but my other boys at home wish for me to never win it, so I think that they’re maybe striking against me.”
“I definitely think it would be huge, for sure,” Tommy Catalano, who is also in the hunt for the RoC Late Models and three-race RoC Sportsman mini-series titles this weekend, added. “I wanted to win one all year. We’ve been close with seconds and thirds, so coming here where we have a shot at winning it and it being the biggest race of the year; that would definitely be something to get the first RoC win.”
Championship Battle Could Go Down to the Wire
A little over a month ago it appeared that Patrick Emerling was easily on his way to a second consecutive RoC Asphalt Modified Series title. An accident and a flat tire at the most recent events at Lancaster National Speedway (NY) have not only narrowed the gap but have also resulted in the points lead changing hands.
The Orchard Park, New York driver’s teammate, Mike Leaty, despite remaining winless in 2017, now holds an eight-point advantage. To put that in perspective, setting the fastest qualifying time, in which Leaty has done four times and Emerling twice, nets five additional points toward the championship. A heat race win, in which Emerling holds the most with a total of seven, also awards five points.
While slipping in the standings, Emerling has his sights set on one prize.
“We had some really bad luck so we’re looking to make up for it,” Emerling, who finished second in last year’s RoC 250 running, said. “We’re just going to try to go out and win the race and whatever happens as far as points goes, happens.”
On the other hand, Leaty is focused more on accomplishing the bigger picture as he looks to continue carrying on his family’s legacy.
“To be honest with you, this weekend is all about the championship,” Leaty commented. “I would love to have a RoC win, but we’re going to try and bring home the season-long prize. I can tell in the shop that all the guys are really excited to be leading the points with one race left. It’s certainly not over. We just have to execute like we did at Lancaster. If we can do that again on Saturday I think we could have a really good chance at bringing home a trophy.”
With this race being double the distance of any other, Leaty clued in on what is going to be expected to play out over the course of the event.
“This race is not going to be about speed as much as it is about the right strategy and the right balance on the racecar at the end of the race on maybe a little bit different tire strategy,” Leaty continued. “There’s going to be a whole lot of different strategies going on out there so we’re here just trying to figure out what we have to do to be successful at the end of 250 laps.”
The big winner at last weekend’s annual U.S. Open, Andy Jankowiak, also has an outside shot at the championship if both of the Leaty Autosport drivers were to run into bad luck.
Hossfeld Sporty in Sportsman Modifieds
Three-time RoC event winner Chuck Hossfeld has been hot in the Sportsman Modified division this season whenever he has been in attendance. The Ransomville, New York driver hopes to continue that streak in what is looking to be a stacked field of competitors for Friday’s 75-lap feature, the first to take place with these style cars on the Lake Erie progressively-banked corners.
“I’ll tell you, it’s going to be a fun race to run,” Hossfeld noted. “We were able to move around high and low, and we raced a little with (Tommy) Catalano and (Jeremy Haudricourt). That car is going pretty well.”
Adversely, it has not been a memorable season with the Tour Modified. Hossfeld remains winless in the division in 2017 and went through the whole machine to find what could make it better after a mediocre performance last weekend.
“We practiced really well, it drove well, and was consistent,” Hossfeld said about Thursday’s practice. “(In June) we set fast time and then had the same problem we’ve been having with our car all year. It just frees up and doesn’t keep forward driving. I think that for this race we’ve struck out some things that hopefully we see the Modified finish up strong.”
Early Setback for a Local Favorite
George Skora III has earned a breakthrough year in the RoC Modified, notching his first career victory back in August at Lancaster. The Eden, New York native is a former Late Model track champion at Lake Erie and is assured to be a favorite among the crowd come Saturday evening.
Nevertheless, his familiar No. 65 had noticeably departed the track after only a couple sessions. Skora posted on social media later on in the evening that they lost oil pressure during practice. Luckily, the team resides only an hour from the speedway and started on the engine swap back at the shop immediately.
Late Models Return for RoC Weekend
It has been a few years since the Late Model division was part of the annual Race of Champions festivities or even has made an appearance at Lake Erie Speedway. In 2017, the full-fendered rocket ships are back for a 50-lap feature.
One of the favorites each year in the division is veteran two-time past RoC Late Model winner Bob Weber. Despite his past success, the Clarence Center, New York-based team is trying to figure out the nuances of a different chassis they recently purchased.
“They are just a blast to drive,” Weber mentioned. “This is a brand new one and it’s like the fourth time out and it’s giving us a little trouble. We’ve had a couple in our grasp just like with the U.S. Open, I think we won six of them and probably lost at least six. It’s just a super prestigious race to win for us up north.”
Weber is also one of the numerous competitors pulling double duty throughout the event. He shook down his No. 09 Sportsman Modified as well and was confident after having a favorable run going a weekend ago.
“We got to run it a couple times and last week were running third and got a flat tire,” Weber said. “It was pretty exciting to follow Chuck (Hossfeld) and Tommy Catalano. It’s a little different driving style for me. The guys put most of our eggs in the (Late Model) basket here. That is what we want to win with first.”
Racing action gets underway on Friday night with the RoC Super Stocks and RoC Sportsman Modifieds features. The Four Cylinders, Lancaster Street Stocks, and RoC Late Models are all in action on Saturday leading up to the RoC Asphalt Modified Series 250 scheduled to take the green flag shortly after 6:30 p.m. ET. Speed51.com will have live Trackside Now coverage on both days.
In addition, 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
RoC Modified Thursday Practice Times (among cars running transponders):
1 64 Amy / Tommy Catalano 14.885
2 71 Jimmy Zacharias 14.942
3 22 Chuck Hossfeld 15.010
4 95 Bryan Sherwood 15.074
5 65 George Skora III 15.144
6 25 Mike Leaty 15.219
7 3 Daren Scherer 15.255
8 1 Chris Ridsdale 15.310
9 13 Tony Hanbury 15.357
10 2T Austin Kochenash 15.630