By JOHN BONESKY
With Ransomville Speedway now open for competition as of this past Friday evening, the dirt track racing action is in high gear for the Niagara Region. The 56th consecutive season opener at the Niagara County oval played host to packed grandstands and a pit area containing many familiar faces, new comers, division veterans and those who made a move up in class for 2013. When all was said and done, it was Chad Brachmann cruising to victory in the modified feature, a theme that those of us in the dirt-racing world should probably start growing accustom to.
With the 30 – lap triumph, Brachmann is now a perfect three for three this season claiming victory in each event he has entered this year. With wins at the Lernerville, Merrittville and Ransomville Speedways, the pilot of the Mighty Taco number 3 machine is primed to have one of his most successful campaigns of a long career. Brachmann raced out to a big early lead in the modified main event and was just too far ahead even for the closing number 38 ride of Ryan Susice. Coming up just shy of what would have been back to back track championships, Brachmann left no doubt in the minds of those in attendance who the car to beat will be at least at this point in time.
Come back drivers were the story of the night in Ransomville’s ultra – competitive sportsman division, highlighted by James Friesen grabbing the win in a most unsuspecting manner. Going into the year, talk revolved around the return of Scott George to the sportsman ranks after a few seasons off from small block modified racing. George was a main – stay in the DIRTcar sportsman world for quite a spell before jumping to the 358 modified division for a few seasons. George rocketed by Jesse Cotriss for the initial lead and looked to be on his way to victory until Friesen from no where at all, swept away the lead and held on for the duration of the event. Friesen is a former track champ in the sportsman class and has made periodic appearances at Ransomville in both the modified and sportsman divisions since his lone track title.
Another strong contender making his way back to the sportsman field is the number 41 Hig – Fab chassis of Boyd Mactavish. Piloting a sharp looking machine manufactured by modified driving veteran Jerry Higbie, Mactavish came home with a solid 5th place finish. The Niagara racing Region is one usually dominated by BRP chassis in both open wheeled divisions, but over the past few years, we have seen a compliment of other builds out on the track. Although Bicknell cars still claim the majority of victories and championships, others are finally making headway.
Erick Rudolph piloted his Troyer car to two victories at Ransomville last season and just this past Friday, we saw the number 44 of Phil Vignari claim a strong 5th place finish with his Troyer as well. Vignari may be a familiar face to those who have been around the sport for a while, but to many newer Ransomville fans the sight of Vignari’s 44 charging into the top five might have been a bit of a shock. The shock will certainly wear off eventually due to the fact that Vignari has some very solid equipment and carries a patient friendly attitude wherever he goes down pit lane.
In the past, speedway veteran Todd Burley has also had success with the Teo Pro Car brand but recently switched back to the Bicknell stable as of 2012. Burley’s Big R struggles continued Friday evening as an early caution saw the number 89 return pit side with assistance from the tow truck. Look for the Spencerport, NY native to resume his winning ways as the season rolls on, as this is surely one competitor who will settle for nothing less than the ultimate prize considering that he is a former four time division champ.
Thought Mat Williamson’s opening day victory at Lernerville was a flash in the pan? Guess again folks, Williamson repeated the feat again on Friday night, this time without the assistance of the original victor’s disqualification. Let us all also keep in mind that although not new to a big block modified, this is Williamson’s first full time season in the division and he can only improve from this point forward. Will this Lernerville success benefit Williamson against the Super DIRTcar Series veterans? One would certainly think so, but only time will tell.
If Friday night’s conquest was not satisfying enough, Williamson piloted his 358 ride to the checkered flag at Merrittville Speedway Saturday night making that a solid three wins on a still very young season. At this pace, the St. Catharine’s, ON native will set career records in feature wins and will definitely throw himself into two track championship discussions. Already the point’s leader at both establishments, he has put himself in the driver’s seat for one hell of a season.
Speaking of the Big Block Super DIRTcar Series, Western, NY and Southern ON fans should mark their calendars accordingly for Wednesday June 5th, and plan on being at the Rolling Wheels Raceway for the first event of year, the annual Hall of Fame race. Reminiscing, one can only dream of the original format for this event and its $20,000 to win format and the packed grandstands at the Cayuga County Fair Speedway, when it was once referred to as, All Star Weekend. In excess of 50 big block drivers packed the pit area from all over the Northeast region, an event which saw an epic duel between modified legend Tim Fuller and underdog Ryan Phelps which ended with Phelps picking up a major upset victory. The Hall of Fame race and the All Star moniker were combined for at least one season, before being switched to the current title. Although the future of the Weedsport, NY track is murky at best, straying from this popular format was clearly an oversight by the people at World Racing Group. Never the less one can anticipate a great field of cars on hand for the 60 lapper, which opens the year for the ever-popular Big Block Super DIRTcar Series.