For the 68th time the hopes and dreams of the many great Modified stars will be put on the line at the annual Race of Champions this Saturday night at Lake Erie Speedway (PA). While many of the Modified stars will be chasing the $12,500 check, a pair of drivers will also settle a year-long battle for the 2018 RoC Asphalt Modified Series championship.
Three-time series champion Chuck Hossfeld leads Andy Jankowiak by a narrow five-point margin entering the 250-lap season finale.
Saturday’s race is one that Jankowiak, a second-generation racer, has dreamed of winning since the days of watching his father Tony take on the old three-quarter mile track at Pocono Raceway. After seasons of hustle and bustle, Andy had his best shot in 2017 go away with a flat tire in the closing laps of the race.
While he is confident that he has a shot at the checkered flag again in 2018, he also has another thought on his mind: completing his charge to the top of the points standings and winning his first championship.
“We had a shot to win [the race] last year and we got a flat left-rear pretty late in the going there. Granted, Mr. Hirschman was still in front of me, but we had a good car. We’re anxious to get back there, but it’s going to be a little different this time because we’re going to have to keep the points in the back of our mind. But we really want to win the race,” Jankowiak told Speed51.com.
On the other side of the fence, this isn’t Hossfeld’s first title dance, having won three RoC titles over his impressive career. Over that time, he has adopted the approach that winning races is the best way to ensure points. Meaning that his goals of winning the race and championship are essentially one.
“I have been involved in a lot of championship battles when it comes down to a certain amount of points, and what I’ve found is that to keep my head in check is to just do the best you can in the race,” Hossfeld explained. “Things happen and what you want to do is do your best, then the points take care of themselves; you don’t want to look back and wish you had done this or that better. It’s good to be involved in a title battle, five points separating us. The best man that day will win the championship.”
In most short track series, fans and drivers usually only look to the race as the only arena for championship points. But not in the RoC, where even time trials reward points, enough to either tighten the gap for Jankowiak or lengthen it for Hossfeld before the green flag flies on Saturday.
The first scenario is one that Jankowiak wants to take full advantage of, knowing that it could get to the point where even if Hossfeld is one spot behind on race day, that would be all he needs to win the title.
“The wheels are turning in my head with all of the different scenarios and all that,” Jankowiak commented. “Hopefully we can come out of time trials with a good lap, so we can just focus on what’s ahead of us. If we even it up with Chuck all we have to do is beat him. We can win it on tiebreakers anyway you spin it. We got to get a couple of time trial points and we can just go and race.”
Despite Andy J’s determination, Hossfeld is confidently resolute, feeling that he still holds the strong hand when it comes to time trials.
“We have a history of qualifying well, so we should be able to do that, and hopefully get the maximum amount of points for the qualifying effort,” Hossfeld stated. “If we can just concentrate on doing what we’ve been doing and have some great results with the car, I think we can put a great championship effort forward. We’ve worked around the clock, so I’m hoping it pays off for the guys on the team and everyone who has gone the extra mile.”
Either way, this year’s championship picture is the ideal scenario that RoC promoter Joe Skotnicki has been waiting for from a competition perspective since introducing the points format.
“Andy has had to turn it up a notch. Chuck has been on his game in qualifying from day one when we introduced it,” Skotnicki said. “It all comes down to five points. I don’t know anywhere in racing where the whole system comes down to five points and it’s not a fake playoff deal or anything else. Every lap that we’ve run this year has mattered, and everyone one of those 250 laps on Saturday afternoon or evening will matter for those two guys. Honestly, I think that’s pretty damn cool.”
Why is it cool? Simply put, it is a situation where every lap, every second of competition over such a long weekend will matter.
“Some people have been critical of the point system that we use; however, we based that system off of something I created in my past and brought it over to this. We had to challenge the people who weren’t racing hard from the time they unloaded,” Skotnicki explained. “I wanted to get to a point where every lap mattered, whether that was a practice lap, a qualifying lap or the race. I think we’ve succeeded in that. As much as some people were critical, I’ve actually had people respond to me about how cool it is to watch the qualifying races or the green-white-checkered qualifying where it matters.”
But no matter what the system or scenario, Jankowiak is simply happy to have a stake in it.
“It’s pretty wild,” the always joyful Jankowiak stated. “I’m in a pretty good situation driving for Tom and Bud with the 12x. I’m young with a bright future and all that, but you never know how many times you’re going to be able to go into a weekend like this with a car as competitive as this one. I’ve gone into this weekend with less competitive stuff, so it’s exciting to go in with this chance, and it’s exciting to make the most of this opportunity. The car owners are hungry and they’re just as passionate as I am.”
Hossfeld has three RoC title and three Race of Champions 250 wins to his name, including a sweep of the two in 2014. But things are different than four years ago, and not just with the location shifting from Oswego Speedway (NY) to Lake Erie.
During that year, the Race of Champions race was not the season finale for the RoC Asphalt Modified Series. In 2018, with so much on the line at once, Hossfeld feels that sweeping this time around would be a huge mark for his career.
“Oh man, I would be MIA for three days,” Hossfeld joked. “I’d be really happy. Winning the title would be a big deal itself. Anytime you reach for something, the goal of winning the championship, that would be great. But if we won the race and the title, it would mean a ton to me to win the race again. We’ve won the race three times and there’s only a handful of guys that have done it more than three times, so it would be very gratifying.”
Race fans will be able to watch the Race of Champions 250 battle and the RoC Asphalt Modified Series war this Saturday via a live pay-per-view broadcast on Speed51.com. Live video tickets for the event will be available to purchase starting Wednesday evening.
-Story by: Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Speed51.com / MoJo Photos