Howard Grabs First of the Season; Horton and Godown Overcome Issues for Podium Finishes in the Money in the Mountains – DTD Exclusive

By KEN BRUCE

MINERSVILLe, PA – It took a little longer than they had hoped for but Duane Howard and the Norm Hansell No. 357 race team finally were able to win their first race of the 2018 season. Howard and the No. 357 team have been fast all year long with plenty of top five and top ten finishes to go along with only one DNF but just haven’t been able to visit victory lane. Last night everything went perfect for the Oley, PA driver as he took the lead from John Willman on a lap three restart and then proceeded to hold off a determined Jimmy Horton for the final ten laps to take home the $6000 first place prize.

Howard praised his crew and their hard work for the night’s efforts afterwards.

“This team works really hard. We went to coils then back to the bars. We had just a conventional car tonight and I think that’s what we really needed to do. Get back to what we know and how we do it and we can win races. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel.  We just have to do what we know how to do and that means having a standard conventional race car which is what we did tonight. We hardly changed anything tonight after the heat race. We thought we were decent and I talked to Jay (crew chief Jay Thomas) and I said I don’t think we need to do a thing with the track conditions what they are.”

On a track that was very heavy due to Friday’s early rain and overcast conditions throughout the day, Howard credited a good draw for his starting spot in the feature as one of the reasons he was able to pull off the win.

“Our starting spot really went our way with the luck of the draw. Starting fourth was key tonight, we had a small-block in the car tonight and I thought we might be a little under-powered with the track conditions being wet with all the heavy rain this morning. Our car was really balanced well.  I knew not go up on the cushion with the small-block we had. We just had to rotate the corners and we made that better for the feature. It’s a good win for us, we’ve been finishing consistently with this team. This is good to get the monkey off our back give the driver some confidence.”

The hope is that this win for the Howard and his team can get the team on a roll, so they can grab a few more wins along the way.

Strong Second Place Finish for Horton

Jimmy Horton doesn’t make very many starts at Big Diamond Speedway and when he does make the occasional start his luck hasn’t been the best up in coal country. Last night looked to be another one of those nights as the Halmar No. 43 coasted to a stop as the cars were running in the track and had to be pushed to the pits. The trouble was determined to be a bad MSD box which had just been installed the night before in the Horton shop. The team scrambled to replace it and had the car ready to go when the call for the first modified heat came over the pit speakers.

Horton was in a heat race that was loaded with talent and starting in the eighth spot didn’t bode well for the driver out of Neshanic Station, N.J., especially with no warmup laps on the car. However, Horton was a man on a mission and worked his way to not only a qualifiying spot but with his third-place finish was able to get himself into the redraw.

“We were pretty good tonight which surprised us a little bit because I really don’t run as good here. We brought this car out last week after we did some experimenting with it over the winter and we’ll see how it goes going forward. This car feels really comfortable and it’s doing what I like a race car to do and I haven’t had that feeling in a couple of years now. We’re gaining on it for sure.”

When feature time came around, Horton found himself in the sixth starting spot and he knew he had a good car underneath of him. Horton was able to avoid a three-car tangle directly in front of him on lap two and motored on without incident.

A good two car battle between Laubach and Horton ensued with Laubach having the edge, but you could see that Horton had the faster car on this night and just needed a break to get by. That break came on a lap 19 caution as Horton was able to overtake Laubach on the restart and then immediately disposed of Mike Gular for the runner-up spot to then set his sights on the leader Howard. Immediately Horton began to cut into Howard’s lead with five to go had worked his way up to within three car lengths with lapped traffic right in the leader’s sights. Unfortunately for Horton his charge ended there as Howard was able to maintain his three-car advantage and take the win.

All in all it was a good run for Horton who has struggled all year with driveline problems and the veteran driver was satisfied with his runner-up finish but like all superstar drivers would’ve like to finish one spot higher. Horton thought he had something for Howard but explained why his charge to the front ended when he got close to the leader.

“I think if I got to him I had a chance, but we had something going on with the motor late in the race. I shouldn’t say it was the motor itself but when we had the ignition problem in warmups I never checked the timing after putting a new box in so I don’t know if the timing was way off but the motor won’t run like it’s supposed to. If the motor was running like it was supposed to, Duane was a sitting duck. The bottom line is that we had a good race and brought it home in one piece. Well at least almost in one piece, I’m getting yelled at for bending up the quarter panel.”

Despite Early Problems, Godown Hustles to a Podium Finish

The “Ringoes Rocket”Ryan Godown had high hopes for a win coming into Friday’s “Money in the Mountains” race at Big Diamond. It was all stacking up for a big night for Ringoes, N.J., wheelman. Godown was a former winner of this event, was able to race his old trusted Troyer “Outlaw” car with their tried and true “Outlaw” motor.  When they arrived Godown was able to draw a low pill number to set himself up for good starting spot in his heat race. But their luck stopped there. Godown went out in warmups and when he came back in told his crew the car seemed sluggish but the attributed that to the track being very slick during warmups and proceeded to get the car ready for the heat. When Godown smashed the gas pedal down as the heat received the green flag he knew he had a problem.

“It’s just frustrating, we had a good car tonight. This car has always been good here and we end up breaking a rocker arm in hot laps. I told my brother after warmups that if felt a little luggie but we just attributed it to the track being slimy and greasy, but when I hit the gas to start the heat race it was just flat and it just sucks.”

After repairing the broken rocker arm on their ERD motor Godown promptly went out and won the consolation race going away. Starting 19th in the feature event, Godown knew he had a long way to go in the 40-lap feature but he was up to the task. Godown was a man on a mission early on and quickly vaulted into the top ten and into the seventh spot on lap ten. When the caution flew on lap 19 Godown was up to sixth and knew that this was the break he needed to move up further in the running order.

When the green flag came back out Godown made his move and quickly moved by Jeff Strunk, Laubach to the fourth spot. After a few more laps the former Big Diamond track champion moved by Gular into the third spot and was looking like he had the car to contend with the leaders for the win.

With around 10 laps to go Godown’s progress on the leaders had leveled out and was never able to run them down forcing him to settle for a third-place finish. All in all, it was a good night for the NJ driver after the rough start to the night.

“We put on a show and got to third but by the time we got to the front we had so much mud on the rear of the car that it really started to lug it down coming off the corners. I thought we were a little better than the guys in front of us and we probably should’ve used a little more gear, but we decided to go a little safe on the gear. I didn’t want to turn the RPM’s on the motor to high since we have to run this car on Sunday. The track was a challenge tonight and I know a lot of guys bitch about that, but I like a challenge. They did the best they could with track with all the rain they had today, and I think the fans got their money’s worth tonight. It’s been a frustrating year for sure, we’ve been fast but have had things pop up that aren’t letting us have the finishes we think we deserve. We salvage a third, so I guess we’ll take it and move on.”

Big Diamond Nuggets

35 Modifieds signed in for action on the night with Craig Von Dohren, Rick Laubach and Ryan Watt the heat race winners. Ryan Godown won the consolation…

Brett Barrett took a wild ride into turn one at the start of heat number two. Fortunately, Barrett was ok but the same couldn’t be said for the his Modified…

Southern Tier driver Brett Tonkin took advantage of his home track of Afton Speedway cancelling to make the trek down to Big Diamond Speedway. This was the first time out all year for the young driver and planned on using it as a way to make sure all was well with his Modified. Tonkin qualified thru the consi but pulled off during the feature and was a DNF…

With the track being so heavy, it definitely was not a good night to have spec 358 motor under the hood. Most teams elected to go with an open small-block with a couple of big-blocks sprinkled through the field…

Watt looked to be the favorite going into the night’s feature event after winning his heat by a wide margin and sporting a big-block under hood of his favorite Bicknell chassis nicknamed “Stitch.” Starting in the seventh position Watt was poised to make a run for the money but misfortune struck the Boyertown, Pa., driver on lap two when Shawn Fitzpatrick cut down on Watt forcing both of them to spin and also collecting the car of Billy Pauch Jr. Watt quickly pitted and came back out and was slicing his way through the field but the lack of cautions hurt his progress and he had to settle for a well-earned fifth place finish…

Tough night for opening night winner Billy Pauch Jr., after being collected up in the lap two tangle. Talking to Pauch Jr., before the feature he knew he was underpowered for the track conditions on the night after bringing his regular Big Diamond car equipped with a 358-spec motor. Pauch Jr., was hoping to just get through the feature intact being able to save his car for the weeks ahead…

Both Laubach and Strunk made early runs to the front but ultimately faded in the second half of the race. Both did finish the race in the top ten…

The Sportsman feature was a fantastic race as Doug Hendricks and Craig Whitmoyer put on a tremendous battle for the win trading places on a couple of occasions. Hendricks looked to have the race won as he took the white flag only miss his mark in turn one allowing Whitmoyer to get by him coming out of turn two to take the win…

As always, I can be reached at dirtracefan25@hotmail.com or on Twitter @dirtracefan25 for any questions or comments.