In recent big paying Modified shows and past editions of Octoberfast, two names have picked up the winning checks. On Saturday night at Mahoning Valley Spedway (PA) Roger Coss would change that, taking a page from Matt Hirschman and Zane Zeiner’s book accompanied with a daring pass that would eventually lead to a $6,000 victory.
Coss started the 150 lap feature, the longest distance ever run in history at the quarter-mile facility, on the inside of the second row and for the early stages ran with pole starter Chip Santee. It was at that point where the Lafayette, New Jersey racer decided to switch his game plan.
“I really didn’t have a strategy going in; obviously take it easy in the beginning,” the 28-year-old driver told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “I ran behind Chip the first 25 laps and I just thought we were running too hard. The next restart I was on the outside and I kind of just let it drift back. I was stuck on the outside and instead of using the tires up I just dropped to the back. Watching Matt and Zane, they know best usually, so I figured I would just ride behind them.”
Coss chose to come into the pits one lap shy of halfway for a fresh tire permitted for each competitor over the course of the race at the same time as the two talented drivers. The second half of the race would be determined by who could make the right moves to the front first.
Santee was one of several drivers who stayed out on the track, despite a strenuous side by side battle for more than half the race with Austin Kochenash, the most recent race winner at the Lehighton, Pennsylvania track. With less than 50 laps to go Kochenash elected to pit, but it would not stop him from charging toward the front.
However, a turning point in the event would come with less than 30 circuits remaining. Climbing through the field, Kochenash received an incidental tag in the back from John Markovic heading into turn three. The contact was enough to send the 19-year-old around and out of the race for the evening. The chain reaction also collected Hirschman, eliminating his chances at a third career Octoberfast victory.
When the race restarted, Coss began to make his final march, dicing under some impressive equipment. His most daring move came heading into turn three on lap 137 diving under Don Wagner, a 125-lap Mahoning season opener winner back in April, and track champion Earl Paules, setting his sights on the leader which continued to be Santee.
“Chip just pushed up a little bit and he looked a little bit tight and I just saw a hole and had to take it,” Coss explained. “It was so tight there. I was kind of taking it a little bit easy and I was under Don Wagner there and all of a sudden he went and looked like he was going to pass Chip on the outside. I was afraid the whole line was going to come so I just had to go.”
Two laps later, Santee’s car drifted high again and Coss went low for the lead. He would go on to take the victory in only his second start of the season at the track after focusing most of the season on a new venture on the Race of Champions Asphalt Modified Tour.
“I finished second to Matt the first year in this race and it was a good paying night, but it was second,” Coss said. “We put a lot of effort into this race and it paid off.”
Coming out of essentially nowhere to finish second was Zane Zeiner, the 2013 Octoberfast champion and a winner the previous weekend at the American 100 at Wyoming County International Speedway (NY). While he was able to get by Santee easily and close in on Coss, the Bath, Pennsylvania driver was not able to make a bid for the top spot due to a couple different factors.
“Late in the run we had a power steering issue so I was fighting it there,” Zeiner revealed. “It seemed like tonight I couldn’t get in the right lanes and get the right breaks to go my way. That’s half the battle here. We finally got to the right lane on the inside and just like that next thing you know we’re looking at second trying to run down Roger. It was tricky to try to drive because the wheel is trying to go right and I’m trying to go left, and I kept making mistakes trying too hard to run him down.”
With a rather emotional week for Zeiner and family after losing his grandfather on Tuesday, it was still a satisfying runner-up finish.
“Last year we finished second so I think if you really look back at this race we really have a good track record,” Zeiner said. “Guys are catching on and they’re starting to ride more. We’re going to have to step up our game next year for sure.”
Eric Beers, a former track champion and a constant factor in long distance races, made it a perfect record of third place finishes in all four Octoberfast runnings. Paules was fourth and early contender Bobby Jones rounded out the top five.
Although the Octoberfast feature was non-points, there was some additional cash up for grabs from a season long mini-series. The Central States Modified Gamblers Series awarded drivers with the best five-card poker hands among six races in which a card was assigned based on a top 13 finishing position.
Eric Kocher pocketed $2,000 for having the best hand when all was said and done with three of a kind 5s, or in other words three 10th place finishes. Todd Baer finished with two pair, but if not for being one spot too good on Saturday he would have been the champion with a full house.
Santee led a vast majority on this night, but slipped all the way back to 13th in the final finishing order during the closing laps.
“At the beginning I was trying to run my own pace, and Austin came up alongside and pushed the issue a little bit trying to get the lead,” a somewhat dispirited Santee said. “I didn’t want him to get the lead because I figured if he got the lead he wasn’t going to pit and that’s the same as my logic was. I was debating at 110 to pit or not. I stayed out and my right rear just gave out.
“There’s nothing left; it’s totally shot. I couldn’t pick up the throttle and got a little bit loose and (Coss) got underneath me. I couldn’t hold on and they just all went by me. It’s the best the car has been all year. Figures.”
For Coss, the win late in the season kept a special streak alive.
“Personally, starting in 1995 I was eight years old when my dad got me into it. We happened to win some features that year in go karts, in 2007 moved up to Legend cars and was able to win in that, and 2010 in a Modified won in that and just kind of kept it going. 20 years.”
– By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com Pennsylvania/Central New York Editor – Twitter: @aaron_creed
– Photo credit: Speed51.com
Modified Octoberfast 150 Results
1 3 17 Roger Coss 150
2 7 76 Zane Zeiner 150
3 9 45 Eric Beers 150
4 11 8 Earl Paules 150
5 5 1J Bobby Jones 150
6 10 88w Don Wagner 150
7 19 02 Glenn Slocum 150
8 18 95 John Markovic 150
9 15 20 Eric Kocher 150
10 22 41 Todd Baer 150
11 14 53 Brian Defebo 150
12 13 43 Ron Frees 150
13 1 5 Chip Santee 150
14 21 92 Terry Markovic 150
15 20 34 Mike Quinn 150
16 16 39 Calvin Carroll 136
17 4 66 Austin Kochenash 122
18 12 59 Matt Hirschman 122
19 8 88 Lou Strohl 110
20 6 9x Jimmy Zacharias 85
21 17 41x Nick Baer 24
22 2 48 Kevin Rex Jr. 23