By KEN BRUCE
DELMAR, DE – Every driver dreams of going on a hot streak of major proportions at least once in his career. Some are lucky enough to experience it, most drivers do not. Boyertown, Pa., native Ryan Watt is on one of those streaks right now. Watt’s record driving his new Bicknell chassis Modified with an Enders powerplant under the hood is just downright amazing. This car has been super fast every time he has driven it and if it weren’t for a couple of other issues that came up with the car, Watt could even have a couple of other wins.
All Watt has done in the last month with his new favorite car nicknamed “Stitch” is win four out of the five major money races he has entered. The streak started back on May 16th when Watt topped the stars of the Super DIRTcar Series worth a cool $6,000. Then it was off to Big Diamond Speedway for their annual “Money in the Mountains” race, once again Watt pulled into Victory Lane, taking home the big check also worth a nice $6,000. Last Thursday Watt was back again at Bridgeport Speedway for the round three of their popular “Poker Series”. Watt destroyed the field that night and if it wasn’t for a late race caution, Watt might’ve have lapped the entire field. Oh by the way, that win was worth another $4,000 to the race team coffers. Even the race that Watt didn’t win, the Super DIRTcar Series race at Five Mile Point, Watt was running well into the top ten until tire troubles caused him to slip back. Eventually the tire gave up and went flat forcing Watt to pull in with only two laps remaining running 10th.
Which brings us to the “Diamond State 50” at the Delaware International Speedway which was part of the STSS South Series. Watt, who had never won a race in the state of Delaware, was looking to keep the streak going. He once again looked very strong in his heat giving him some confidence going into the night’s 50-lap main event. But in the early part of the feature it sure looked like the streak wasn’t going to continue as Watt got off to a bad start and dropped back from his eleventh place starting spot all the way back to seventeenth.
Watt explained what his thoughts were regarding his opening lap struggle.
“The car was really good in the heat race and I could run the bottom really well but then we started having brake issues. At the start of the feature I got stuck on the outside there and kind of just got shuffled back. Then when I tried to get going there and started running the bottom I just couldn’t get slowed up enough getting in. I mean I was standing on the brake pedal and I couldn’t stop the car. I really had a handful there early on. I could drive it from the middle out okay and if I could hit the corner right I was good. The top was too fast early on but once I figured out how to get it to set in the corner without bouncing all over the place. When I did that we went on a tear.”
Once the race got going Watt was able to start his charge to the front and by lap 14 had make it to inside the top ten. Watt settled in there for most of the middle part of the race and when the yellow was displayed on lap 38 Watt had made up into the sixth spot but with the best of the best lined up in front of him. When the race restarted you would’ve thought Watt had one of those “press to pass” buttons like the Indy cars have. From the time the race restarted on lap 38 to when the field came around to complete lap 40 Watt had charged on the outside going by drivers like David Van Horn, Frank Cozze and Duane Howard to move into the second spot with the leader Stewart Friesen directly in his sights.
It took only two more laps after that until Watt was starting to pressure Friesen for the lead. Friesen saw the line Watt was running and moved up to try and stave off his momentum and it looked like at first it was the right move forcing Watt to have to find a different line to get past.
A caution on lap 44 for a slowing Ryan Godown proved to be the break Watt needed. Friesen choose the inside on the restart and got a good jump at the drop of the green to keep in front of Watt. Friesen then jumped to the outside to block Watt’s line and in doing so jumped the cushion. Watt, who had already saw what Friesen was doing, moved his line to the inside. He was able to slide by Friesen coming out of turn two to take the lead. Duane Howard was also able to take advantage of Friesen’s miscue to move back into the second spot at that time.
Watt talked about the pass for lead and how it came about.
“Before the caution came out I was able to get by Duane (Howard) and I rolled in there on the outside of Stewie (Friesen) and he saw what I wanted to do and took the line away from me going down the backstretch. I kind of ended up going over the cushion there in turns three and four but I was able to save the car and I was able to start reeling him back in. When the caution came out he knew what I was going to try to do. I really thought he would take the top on the restart but he didn’t and took the bottom. He knew what he had to do getting into (turn) one to try and take the top away. When he did that I seen that he shoved the nose a little bit and I just let it drift a little bit. I threw it down to the low side and went under him.”
Once in front Watt was able to keep the lead even after another caution was thrown with three laps to go for the disabled car of Frank Cozze after contact between him and Friesen battling for the third position. On the restart Howard was able to keep the pressure on Watt but never seriously challenged him for the lead as Watt streaked under the checkered flag to win the race and another big payday ($5,000). Howard finished second with Friesen, Brett Kressley and Jordan Watson the top five.
I caught up with Watt back in his hauler as he celebrated with his crew to get his thoughts on the big win.
“Man, this car is running well and it really comes on at the end of the race. I still need to get a little better early on in the race but I ain’t complaining. We still haven’t won a regular season race with it yet but I’ll take winning these big races anytime. I am so thankful for Ronnie and Fay (Roberts) who give me the opportunity to do this and to my family and crew for all the support and hard work they give me to make this all work. Man, this is something isn’t it?”
Howard forced to settle for second place
Most drivers would be happy with a second-place finish in a major race but when you are as competitive as Duane Howard and you happen to start on the front row you always expect more.
Howard jumped to the lead at the drop of the green flag from his outside pole starting spot and lead the race up until lap 21 when Friesen was able to slip underneath coming out of turn four to the take over the point. Howard eventually would slip back to third but was able to take advantage of a Friesen miscue with six to go to get back into the runner-up spot where he would finish.
Howard felt he had a good car but not quite good enough to be able to challenge Watt there at the end for the lead.
“We had a pretty good run but I am not satisfied with it for sure. We started up front and we had a decent car but not the best car. It was a third place car behind Ryan (Watt) and Stewie (Friesen) and we were able to sneak by Stewie there at the end to get second, but man that #14W is fast. We all got some catching up to do to beat him. He (Watt) could really get in the corners there and mash that gas pedal while the rest of us are tiptoeing around. He is really getting the power to the race track that he needs for sure.”
Restarts proved to be good for Howard. He was actually able to regain the lead back twice on restarts from Friesen, only to have the caution flag come out before a lap could be scored, thus negating his pass for the lead.
I asked Howard about those two restarts and if think if they weren’t called back did he think the outcome might have been different.
“Like I said earlier I think we were a third place car. I could get a really good run in turns one and two on the restart and get ahead but we weren’t as good in three and four as we needed to be. We were a little bit too free there at the end. I think I heated the right rear tire up a little too much so I don’t think I would’ve been able to hold those top two cars anyways.”
Friesen finishes a very disappointing third
Let’s face it, when Friesen has the lead in a feature event you might as well start writing his name on the big check to save yourself some time later on.
It was a good thing promoter Brett Deyo held off on doing just that as Friesen not only lost the lead to Watt with six laps to go but also ended up losing second place as well.
Friesen ended up a solid third but was very disappointed with the final outcome after leading the race for over 20 laps.
After all was said and done Friesen talked about his night.
“Yeah, it just wasn’t our night tonight with the way the cautions played out there at the end. We had a good car there in the beginning and in the middle stages of the race but the cautions just took it’s toll and Watty was just better tonight.”
Friesen also talked about the last restart and how he just missed it going into the corner there and jumped the cushion.
“I saw him stick his nose up there a little earlier and I tried to run a couple of laps up there and I was decent but we were just a little too tight to run up there on the cushion. It was just to gnarly and rough up there for our car. We got a little bit of a jump there on the restart and hooked a rut up there in one and two and he was able to get by us along with Duane. We fell back. Finishing third doesn’t show how good our night was. All-in-all it was a good night for our Halmar team. Eric (Mack) and the boys did a helluva job on the car tonight. It was a solid trip but definitely not the outcome we were looking for.”
Diamond State Notes:
32 cars signed in for the night’s action. The four heats were won by Friesen, Hawkins, Kressley and Strunk. Jordan Watson won the consolation…
Billy Pauch Sr. had a quick night when the driveline broke on his newly designed retro #15 in warmups forcing Pauch to call it an early night…
Danny Johnson qualified the #27J in his heat race but after finding problems was forced to switch to the #9 for the feature event…
The Norm Hansell #357 of Howard had a new Morrison Open Small Block under the hood for the first time at Delaware…
Watt is the new point leader in the STSS South series by three points over Duane Howard. Stewart Friesen, Jimmy Horton and Jordan Watson complete the top five in search of the lucrative end of the season payout…
Next up for the STSS South Series is the rescheduled “Anthracite Assault” on Sunday July 16th at the Big Diamond Speedway…
As always, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @dirtracefan25 for any questions or comments.