By MIKE MALLETT
Duane Howard has always been a strong contender whenever the Modified compete at that Selinsgrove Speedway. The Pennsylvania Small-Block Modified standout won made it two years in a row with a win on Friday night as part of Icebreaker weekend.
During the off-season, the Chad Sinon owned team went through major changes which included a chassis change from Troyer Race Cars to a Bicknell. On Friday night Howard didn’t skip a beat as he went out and passed Ryan Godown on a lap 16 restart for the lead and eventually the win.
“It was more of a head game,” said Howard about the change. “It plays games with you all winter. As a driver it gets in your head and you wonder if it going to work like the other one. My crew chief (Alan Finch) did a heck of a job getting it together. He always gets it right.”
Howard hopes to carry the momentum into 2013. He’s been successful at Grandview Speedway and wants to see that success translate to the racing action on the road. Friday night was a start.
“We were really good at our home track last year,” said Howard. “When we ventured out to travel we weren’t as good as I would have liked. This is neutral ground and we can build on that. We need to have more success away from home.”
Ryan Godown ended up with a second place run on Friday night. Godown, piloting an ERD powered Troyer, led the event early on before Howard made his move on the restart. The disappointment was evident after the event.
“You get through turns one and two and it is a different winner,” stated Godown. “He (Howard) got a good restart. We ran a 650 carburetor tonight and we don’t run that a lot. It hesitated a little bit on the restart. I’m not blaming anything I just wanted to win.”
The highest finishing New York regular was Larry Wight who crossed the line in third. Wight had a great battle with Danny Johnson before Johnson ultimately broke a wire ending his night. Wight was happy to come out strong in his first event of 2013.
“This is a good boost for everyone,” stated the Phoenix, N.Y., driver. “Everyone worked hard trying to get these cars ready on time so to come out here and get a top three is a good confidence booster for everyone.”
Wight’s teammate, Billy Decker, came from the 15th starting position to finish in fourth. He blew a left rear tire during his heat race and had to race his way up from the back of the field to earn a qualifying position which caused him to start so far back in the feature. Decker made several moves in the closing laps to make his way into the top five. On the final restart of the feature, Decker dove underneath Bobby Varin to take away fourth. He closed in on Wight in the closing laps but couldn’t make the pass for third.
Varin drove Tom Umbenhauer’s No. 19 to a solid fifth place finish. Varin has been strong every time out with the car including Friday night. He started eighth and held his own over the first few laps before the car came on. His car was extremely good on longer restarts and the last caution may have cost him a fourth place finish.
“At the end of last year I was not sure what car I was going to drive so how can I complain,” commented Varin. “The first four or five laps I didn’t think we were going to have enough and then about ten laps in the car started whistling and it was a rocket ship. We started passing cars and getting up through there. The caution came out with five to go and that took all my momentum away. I think we were good shape if that caution never came out.”
As Varin said, it’s nice to have a ride. Currently that includes an opportunity to drive for Umbenhauer and Rick Clay. He’s having a lot of fun right now and hopes to see that continue throughout the season.
“These guys are a lot of fun,” stated Varin. “We want to go racing and have fun and get some good finishes. That is what racing is all about. I’ve been going to some tracks the last few years and not having a whole lot of fun and this year one of my primary efforts is to have fun. Obviously you need to have good finishes to do that. This team is a good bunch of guys and it feels good to give them a top five. I didn’t even know them at this time last year. It’s nice we can joke around and have a good time.”
Chad Brachmann made the long tow from Western New York to compete on the weekend. The North Tonawanda, N.Y., driver earned a sixth place finish on Friday night. Brachmann, like Godown, struggled with carb issues during the evening. He made some changes after competition in hot laps and that seemed to fix the issue.
“I was fighting the car,” stated Brachmann. “I was stumbling through the corners. We just went out and ran some laps in hot laps and it was better. I wish we made the carb change earlier. We didn’t have a big field, but we did have a stacked field with a lot of top runners. We finished sixth but I think we had a little bit better car than that.”
Look for Brachmann to compete regularly on Friday night’s at the Ransomville Speedway while also taking the show on the road more. He’s not committed to run anywhere on Saturday and Sunday nights leaving him free to travel whenever he wants.
Seventh place went to Jerry Higbie Jr., the 2012 Orange County Fair Speedway champion. Higbie drove a Gary Mann owned No. 55 in the event. He struggled a bit in his heat race and as a result started from the 14th position. He benefitted from others dropping out as well as an improving race car.
“We were really good there at the end,” said Higbie. “We were a little bit tight early on. There was some issues in the heat race but we hit it right on in the feature. The longer the green flag the better I was getting. When the yellows started coming out I couldn’t get turned in for three or four laps.”
Like Brachmann, look for Higbie to hit the road a little bit more in 2013. He plans to hit a few more Race of Champions events while working with Mann. He has a couple of big-blocks at his disposal for competition.
Tim Buckwalter made his debut in the Gary and Donna Spots/Earl Fellin owned No. 91. Buckwalter, the 2012 ARDC champion, had a great day out for his first time in a Modified as he came home in eighth. The opportunity came about for Buckwalter after Spots and Fellin got together at Grandview last year and asked him to drive the car.
“I’ve been running Gary’s (Spotts) micro for a few years now and Earl (Felling) came around about three years ago,” stated Buckwalter. “They got together a few times last year at Grandview and talked about it and they asked me if I wanted to do it. That was a question they didn’t have to ask. I was ready before it came out of their mouths.”
Buckwalter will compete weekly at Grandview Speedway in the 358-Modified ranks.
Tenth place went to King Ferry, N.Y., driver Mike Mahaney. Mahney drove for the same team he’ll be running for at I-88 Speedway in 2013. Mahaney made some changes prior to feature that may have hurt his chances as a better outing.
“This is the first time I qualified at Selinsgrove,” said Mahaney. “It is a good start. I had a good running engine in the heat race and I was afraid of it blowing up because so many people were blowing motors so we fattened up the carb. I think I went too much and the car didn’t run as good. I wish I didn’t do that but the motor and the car are still in one piece and we are ready to go on to the next race so I’m happy.”
Motor Woes: Frank Cozze, making his debut for Norm Hansell, broke a motor in his heat race. Billy VanPelt and Matt Sheppard among others had motor troubles on the night as well. Pat Ward’s motor starting skipping so he pulled in to prevent any damage. He reported his car was fine afterwards.
Race of Champions Points: As a result of Saturday’s Big-Block Modified portion getting snowed out, RoC officials were forced to come up with a solution for the point standings. The decision was made that everyone in attendance on Friday night were given 20 bonus points, heat winners get their five bonus points and the those that were not there are still eligible for the “Perfect Attendance” bonus.