BY JEFF WITHEY
MIDDLETOWN, NY – A long and winding journey to find the first win of 2017 and his 51st overall win in the mighty big-block division at Orange County, Jeff Heotzler was humbled by his win and found a little time for some retrospect.
Surrounded by his son Jeff Heotzler Jr, and the occasional fan and a few drivers stopping by to congratulate him on his win, such as Billy VanInwegen, “Hollywood” Craig Mitchell and family members, Heotzler sipped an ice cold water while sitting in his portable lawn chair inside his trailer and reflected on what it took to not only get this win but to get going again in 2017 after several lean years in less than stellar equipment and a frightening health scare.
“I don’t want to drive sub par equipment. I just cant. People see you in the back trying to keep up and say oh he’s washed up. I can still do this and if it wasn’t for the owners of Extreme Energy Solutions we probably wouldn’t be here today. This equipment is the best stuff I’ve had in probably five years or more. I gave the owners of the company a list of things we needed to go racing competitively and they were the only company to step up and help us out. We have one motor, a Morrison big-block that was a former Vinnie Salerno owned piece, this car, a Teo with my suspension ideas on it that we’ve been working on for over a year now and I think we’re really close to what I want as far as being comfortable in the car. I have some more ideas I want to enact on the car but for tonight I am very happy with the car,” said Heotzler.
In the fall of 2016 Heotzler was stricken with a heart condition that caused him to miss Eastern States weekend. Within a few days of coming home from the hospital with new stents in his heart to help with keeping his arteries open, Heotzler was back to work at Behrents and started making preparations for a comeback in 2017.
While he finished third on opening night, its been downhill until this weekend. Last weekend Heotzler went through two fuel pumps. “We had one on the shelf in the trailer and after putting it on it didn’t work. It wasn’t in a box so I probably tossed it in there last year and forgot that it had issues. We wont be doing that again,” said Heotzler.
Mitchell and Heotzler lead the field to the green with Mitchell getting the lead early. The racing action only lasted four laps before the first caution on lap four.
With the ensuing restart on lap four, Heotzler overtook Mitchell for the lead and the chase was on from there. Only three more circuits were completed and yet another yellow slowed the field down again. Another and final caution came out on lap nine.
With the lap nine restart on tap it would once again give Craig Mitchell a chance to reacquire the lead but he couldn’t reel in Heotzler and would soon have both his hands full of a determined Jimmy Horton. Horton who was right on the bumper of the 93x early and often just couldn’t get passed the potent 93x. Horton would finish the feature 3rd.
At the halfway point it was all Heotzler who was appearing to get better as the laps wound down.
“Lapped traffic wasn’t much of an issue for me. I was more concerned with keeping the tires on me and keeping the car straight. I was also listening for anyone closing in,” said Heotzler.
No one closed in on Heotzler as he would go on to score a convincing 51st career win. Rounding out the top 5 were Craig Mitchell, Jimmy Horton, Bob Mcgannon, Tommy Meier.
News & Notes
Last week while leading his heat race Anthony Perrego’s Precision engine went up in a plume of smoke leaving a hole in the bottom of the motor. The team changed out motors for this week and once again as he was leading his heat race smoke poured out the back of the car. A team member said that there was a hole in the weld of the oil pan causing an oil leak. The team was going to use a patch of JB Weld to stop the leak. Perrego didn’t make the call to the feature as it was determined the oil leak was the least of the problems for the motor. This marks two weeks in a row for Perrego with engine trouble.
Perrego is to race this week in the STSS at I88 and will use a small block entry for an event coming up at New Egypt instead of running the Big Show at Malta.
“If we could use the open small-block I have at Malta we would run that show but you have to weigh 2600lbs and we wouldn’t be competitive in any shape or form.”
When asked about his recent rash of engine trouble, Perrego was succinct in his comments. “Its racing. If it were easy everyone would do it”.
Mechanical gremlins are starting to take a toll on Billy VanInwegen. Either its a smashed up car, or being run down in the feature only to see victory snatched right out of his hands, its been a very up and down year for the Sparrowbush, N.Y., native. On this night while on the pace laps before the feature, Billy went pit side and parked it for the night without taking a lap in the feature. “Carb trouble” said a dejected VanInwegen. Its been a year as of June 18th since his last big-block win at Middletown.
Fathers Day weekend to remember.. Tommy Meier scores a guaranteed spot for the Eastern States 100 358-race in October and it was also on Fathers Day weekend several years ago that he scored his first big-block win at Orange County.
Are you a rock music fan ? Do you remember the stage at Middletown ? Flashback in time to June 17, 1994 Metallica played at the “Hard Clay”.