MINERSVILLE, PA – Ryan Watt led all 50 laps at the familiar Big Diamond Speedway on his way to winning the ‘Anthracite Assault,’ a match-up of drivers from both the Halmar International North Region and Velocita South Region under the Bob Hilbert Sportswear Short Track Super Series (STSS) Fueled By VP umbrella.
The flag-to-flag performance worth $5,210 was Watt’s first career STSS victory, and second career BD Motorsports Media LLC triumph – he won at Penn Can Speedway in Susquehanna, Pa., on June 12, 2013.
“It’s awesome to win at my home track,” Watt said. “There are a lot of people here that used to cheer me on every Friday.”
The event was originally scheduled for May 10. However, rain postponed the program by a week. Despite morning showers and precipitation, management pressed on with the program presented by H.B. Steele & Son Inc. of Orwigsburg, Pa.
With an ultra-competitive field of 51 Modifieds, Watt was productive on the track throughout the night. He advanced from third to second in the heat race to earn a redraw position, and as the last driver to redraw, the number one was waiting for him.
The defending STSS Velocita South Region champion burst to the lead as the green flag dropped on the 31-car field with Duane Howard, Stewart Friesen, Erick Rudolph and Craig Von Dohren in tow.
The first caution on lap eight for Jamie Mills allowed the field to close again and gave Watt a clear track after reaching lapped traffic on just the seventh lap.
Watt led again on the restart and remained unchallenged until lapped traffic again. With heavy traffic all around on lap 18, Watt pushed high in turn four nearly hitting the wall, and nearly losing the lead.
“I was trying to keep it straight,” Watt explained. “I just happened to keep it too straight and missed the cushion.”
Howard and Friesen swarmed the bumper of Watt, erasing the deficit they had faced. Friesen ducked under Howard on lap 19 and took the spot. Watt began opening the lead again before a caution on lap 23 for a slowing Billy Pauch Sr.
While the top-three were in heavy traffic, Matt Sheppard and Ryan Godown were on missions to the front. Sheppard started 17th and reached fifth after the ensuing restart on lap 23. Godown started 24th and jumped inside the top 10 on the same lap. The Ringoes, N.J., driver earned a redraw spot in the heat race but had to use a back-up car in the feature relinquishing his top-10 starting position.
Watt held steady on a slew of restarts, and always jumped out to a healthy advantage in the first two circuits. After a few laps Friesen would be able to close a little, but Watt was strong.
“I had a great car,” Friesen said. “I was better on the long runs. My tire would kick in after six of seven laps or so. I was licking my chops for lapped traffic, but it wasn’t meant to be.”
In the waning moments, a few drivers with terrific runs going took major hits.
With 19 laps remaining, Brett Kressley, who never dropped outside of the top-10, pulled off under caution with a coolant leak.
On lap 36 Sheppard’s charge to the front was halted by a right-rear flat sending him into the pits briefly.
Godown suffered rear-end issues just three laps later.
Andy Bachetti, another top-10 runner throughout the night, spun with 10 laps remaining, sending him to the rear of the field.
On the final start, with 10 to go, Watt again jumped out to the advantage and completed his assault of the Coal Region oval with a big-block powerplant.
Friesen, of Sprakers, N.Y., finished second in the Halmar-backed Jeff Daley No. 44 small-block.
Rudolph battled for a podium finish after sliding by Howard in the last couple of laps.
“I’ve had some good success here,” Rudolph noted. “A top-three with this caliber of competition is really good.”
Howard, of Oley, Pa., finished fourth, and never dropped lower than that throughout the entirety of the race.
Hard-charging Jordan Watson, of Milford, Del., marched from 23rd to round out the top-five, an impressive performance for someone not accustomed to the Minersville oval. Watson was the Searock Fabrication & Speed Supply Hard Charger, worth $150 cash and an additional $100 product certificate.
Finishing sixth through 10th, respectively, were Von Dohren, of Oley, Pa., aboard the Dick Biever-owned No. 14S; Ryan Grim of Laurys Station, Pa., took a career-best STSS finish in the Steve Searock-owned No. 26; Jimmy Horton from 14th; Jeff Strunk from 19th operating the Glenn Hyneman No. 126; and Sheppard, aboard the Norm Hansell No. 357, battled for a top-10 finish after having to go to the pit area late in the race.
Brandon Grosso of Montgomery, N.J., made history as the first-ever STSS Open Sportsman winner, taking a $1,000 payday in the 25-lap affair. Grosso, a rising star who competes at both Big Diamond and New Egypt (N.J.) speedways regularly, started from the pole via a redraw of top qualifiers and led the entire distance.
An intense battle for second raged for much of the race’s second half, with Chuck Fayash, a Big Diamond regular, thwarting the inside challenges of Brian White, a New York outsider who competes on Saturday nights at Thunder Mountain Speedway in Center Lisle, N.Y.
Track regular Mike Lisowski and Empire State driver Shane Jablonka completed the front five.
A field of 32 STSS Open Sportsman entered the program.
In XCel 600 Modified competition, Michael Burrows emerged from a wild last-lap, dropping back to third and charging back to the lead in the final set of corners to pocket a $1,000 payday. XCel 600 Modified officials will issue a separate release on the 20-lap event.
COAL NUGGETS: Ryan Godown qualified via his heat race in a redraw position. However, engine issues developed on the final lap. Per STSS rules, Godown unloaded a back-up, relinquished his redraw starting position and started from the rear of the field. He was inside the top-10 before contact ended his effort….
The 51-car STSS Modified field higher, by seven cars, than the event’s 2015 running. It marked the second straight STSS event with a larger field of Modifieds than the year before….
A field of 32 cars took part in the STSS Open Sportsman event with drivers from New Jersey and New York joining the local Pennsylvania teams….
Despite the morning rain, track conditions were smooth and racy for the midweek program of the season at Big Diamond….
Next up for the Velocita USA South Region is the ‘Diamond State 50’ at Delaware International Speedway (Delmar, Del.) on Thursday, May 26. Crate 602 Sportsman and Super Trucks complete the card.
The STSS Halmar International North Region visits Thunder Mountain Speedway in Center Lisle, N.Y., next on Sunday, May 29 (rain date: May 30) with the ‘Lightning on the Mountain’ presented by Sharkey’s Fuels & Waymart Building Center. The STSS Open Sportsman are on the program in addition to XCel 600 Modifieds and Fight Night Street Stocks.
-Short Track Super Series Press Release
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com/Daryl Canfield