Ronnie Johnson Overpowers Modified Field at Malta

MALTA, NY – Thanks to a back-up car, one of the longest slumps of Ronnie Johnson’s racing career has come to an end.

Johnson parlayed a front-row starting position and some perfectly executed restarts to dominate Friday night’s 35-lap NAPA Modified feature at Albany-Saratoga Speedway.

Johnson had a rare winless season in 2022, and had been winless in three starts prior to Friday night’s card at the historic Malta track. After also ending the 2021 with 13 straight starts without a win, he was riding a 0-for-67 streak.

But that’s all ancient history now. Johnson easily won his heat race, and also had the fastest time during the final set of hot laps prior to the feature.

And it was all done in a backup car, as he had damaged his primary car, which featured a retro wrap in a tribute to the colors his late father, Jumpin’ Jack Johnson, carried during the 1988 season, the week before.

“Last week, we wrecked pretty good and didn’t get the car back together,” said Johnson after victory lane ceremonies. “This car was ready, so we brought it here.”

The 35-lap feature was slowed by six caution flags and two reds, but three cautions on laps 23, 25 and 26 were especially nerve-wracking for Johnson.

“Every time I felt like I was getting into a rhythm, the yellow would come out,” he said. “I just tried to move around and find a lane.”

The first red flag came out for a multi-car wreck in the fourth turn on lap four. That came on a restart, and as the field came through the fourth turn, the left front tire of Keith Flach’s car crunched into the inside barrier, sending the car up the track. Flach slammed into Darren Smith, who then bounced off the outside wall and shot back to the inside. When the dust settled, Smith, Jack Lehner, Adam Pierson, Dylan Zacharias and Flach were all done for the night.

The second red came out on lap 18, and probably gave Johnson some heart palpitations. After catching the rear of the field, Johnson was following Vinnie Visconti when Visconti’s car began to smoke heavily. Johnson dove to the inside going into the first turn as Visconti went to the top, where his engine detonated, forcing Visconti to scramble out of his burning car.

Because he was cruising along on the point, Johnson was missing a heck of a show behind him, as Marc Johnson and Scott Huber were engaged in a wild battle for second.

Huber, who had started third, was running second for the majority of the feature, until Marc Johnson, who had started seventh in a brand new Bicknell chassis that he just finished preparing on Friday morning, made his presence felt.

After a caution on lap 26, when defending champion Matt DeLorenzo suffered a flat tire while running in the top 10, Marc Johnson used the restart to move by Huber coming out of the second turn.

Johnson and Marc Johnson ran side-by-side until Huber moved back into the No. 2 spot as he and Marc Johnson completed lap 29.

Three laps later, Marc Johnson was again the runner-up, using a move on the inside on lap 32, but the next time around, Marc Johnson ran into the rear of the lapped car driven by Ed Kitchell, allowing Huber to again retake the No. 2 spot.

Kitchell then stopped near the billboards, bringing out last caution with two to go. Ronnie Johnson executed one last perfect restart, and Marc Johnson came away with the runner-up finish when Huber’s engine gave out coming out of the fourth turn for the final time.

“I saw Marc on that final restart, so I just drove as hard as I could,” said Ronnie Johnson, who received $3,000 for the win. “I know this track pretty good and I knew what I had to do.”

Demetrios Drellos, who started 14th, finished fourth, his third straight top-five finish this season, while Ken Tremont Jr. was fifth, after starting 12th.

Because of a large number of sportsman cars signed in, promoter Lyle DeVore opted to split the field and run twin 20-lap features for the third week in a row.

Tony Farone won the first 20-lapper, dedicating the win to his late mother Christine, who passed away in September, and Travis Witbeck held off a late charge from Chad Edwards to win the second feature. Emerick Associates sponsored an increased sportsman purse.

DeVore also opted to split the limited sportsman field into two features. Those 15-lappers were won by Dakota Green and Ron Delease Jr.

The pro stocks ran for a winner’s payoff of $1,000 through sponsorship from Kim Duell’s Twister Chassis business, and when Duell won the 25-lapper, he said he would give the extra money to the drivers that finished second through sixth.

Duell’s car started to fade at the end, and he only had a 0.24 second margin of victory over Chucky Dumblewski, with Rich Crane third.

Luke Horning, who finished fourth in the feature, also picked up a $200 bonus for winning the Four States Enterprises Dash for Cash.

The win was the 27th of Duell’s career at Malta, moving him back into sole possession of second place on the all-time pro stock win list, one behind leader Rob Yetman.

Joey Wilson led all 20 laps of the street stock feature to come away with his first victory of the season, while Micah Grant took the lead on lap six and went on to win the 15-lap four-cynlider feature. Robert Garney, who started puffing smoke late in the feature, finished second overall and had the first single-cam car across the finish line while Kyle Famfear, also driving a single-cam car, finished third.

NAPA MODIFIEDS: RONNIE JOHNSON, Marc Johnson, Scott Huber, Demetrios Drellos, Ken Tremont Jr., Mike Mahaney, Peter Britten, Jack Speshock, Ryan McCartney, Jeremy Pitts, Derek Bornt, LJ Lombardo, Justin Stone, Robert Bublak, CG Morey, Matt DeLorenzo, Rich Ronca, Ed Kitchell, Jessey Mueller, Matt Depew, Neil Stratton, Don Ronca, Vinnie Visconti, Keith Flach, Darren Smith, Jack Lehner, Dylan Zacharias, Adam Pierson, Brandon Daley, Brian Calabrese.

NORTHEAST PAVING & SEALCOATING SPORTSMAN (first feature, 20 laps): TONY FARONE, Chris Crane Jr., Mike Coffey Jr, Pat Jones, Mike Ballestero, Dave Baranowski Jr., Tim Hartman Jr., Andrew Buff, Jeff Highnam, Taylor Wasson, Mike Benson, Chris Jakubiak, Dan Grignon, Jon Miller, Zach Buff, Tyler Rapp, Nick Lussier, Justin Barber, Jim Osgood, Eric Mack, Scott Bennett, Floyd Billington, Ron Proctor.

NORTHEAST PAVING & SEALCOATING SPORTSMAN (second feature, 20 laps): TRAVIS WITBECK, Chad Edwards, Drew Cormie, Scott Duell, Daryl Nutting, Elliott Lussier, Derrick McGrew Jr., Tommy D’Angelo, Rob Maxon, Joey Scarborough, Bryce Breault, David Boisclair, Dylan Madsen, Mike Jeske, Cory Castell, Michael Wagner Fitzgerald, Taylor LaPlante, Jeff Washburn, Cody Ochs, Travis Billington, Craig Wholey, Brendan Gibbons, Brandon Darrah.

SARATOGA MASONRY PRO STOCKS: KIM DUELL, Chucky Dumblewski, Rich Crane, Luke Horning, Jay Corbin, Jason Casey, Steve Hankle, Shane Henderson, Chad Jeseo, Kyle Hoard, Jordan Modiano, Devon Camenga, Dean Charbonneau, Randy Miller, Pete Vila, Jay Casey, Nick Stone.

HAUN WELDING LIMITED SPORTSMAN (first feature, 15 laps): DAKOTA GREEN, Mike Parodi, Steve Miller, Dan Seguin, Anthony Maxon, Tanner Coon, Dylan Grogan, Mike Arnold, Alex Palmer-Sawyer, Brent Bouplon, David Zelker, John Santolin, Walter Cook, Damian Anderson.

HAUN WELDING LIMITED SPORTSMAN (second feature, 15 laps): RON DELEASE JR., Chad Gregory, Chase Zimmer, Steve Burch, Nick Auspelmyer, Kyle Swart, Craig Coons, Nick Arnold, Gary English, Connor Crane Jr., Scott Towslee, Gus Kamburelis, Phil Arnold, Mike Baker, Wesley Sutliff.

LAKE AUTO PARTS STREET STOCKS: JOEY WILSON, Josh Bussino, Chris Stalker, Jeff Meltz, Josh Hemming, PJ Cram, Jimmy Duncan, Nick Napoli, Kaleb Shepard, Gary Brust, Fred Shippee, Ray Pierre Jr., Damien Ward, Al Relyea, Mark Lester, Dana Van Veghten, Mike Bussino, Dan Buell, Steve Young, Tim McFarland.

GREG’S TOWING FOUR-CYLINDERS: MICAH GRANT, Robert Garney (first single-cam finisher), Kyle Lamfear, John Mason, Chris Duffney Jr., Tom Hill, Daniel Joubert, Matt Tedrow, Brittany Ladd, Josh Ramsey, Andrew Palmer, Ashlynn Ramsey, Adam Montville, David Frame, Josh Rheome, Olivia Swinton, John Sullivan, Chayanne Garney, Justin Ramsey.