CANANDAIGUA, NY – The stars were aligned for the final ‘Saturday Spectacular’ of the month at Land Of Legends Raceway and it was Justin Haers shining brightest as he captured his first-ever Pepsi Big-Block Modified Championship in come-from-behind fashion.
“Numerous 2nd-place finishes, tied Matt (Sheppard) a few years ago, and to finally get it is unbelievable,” beamed Haers, 41, after the popular pilot from Phelps outgained his biggest adversary Erick Rudolph by a mere two points in the season-long battle for Big-Block supremacy at the hallowed Ontario Co Fairgrounds half-miler. His third-place finish in the 35-lap feature proved just enough to emerge as the fourth different Modified titlist since Paul Cole took over LOLR promotions.
Ironically, it was in 2018 that Rudolph overcame a 22-point deficit to Sheppard on the final night to nip him by a single marker while on this occasion Haers made up 11 points to steal the title from Rudolph, the only drive to finish among the Top-5 in all 14 point races.
“We had a really good race car, just kinda tough getting going. Didn’t know where Erick was, just knew I had to stay in front of him. Trying to get past Alan on the last lap it was balls to the wall all the way around. Got a special hat with me, my dad’s hat, he wore it when he used to come to the races. Put that thing in my suit before we started tonight and he was definitely riding with me. Pretty special,” remarked an emotional Haers, who also finished runner-up to Sheppard in 2011 and 2015 before ‘Super Matt’ was declared the points champ in 2017 based on more feature wins. DIRTcar’s 2004 Rookie of the Year Haers placed 6th in last year’s point standings.
Not lost in the final rundown was north country regular Tim Fuller registering his first Big-Block victory at the fairgrounds in five years while all-time Canandaigua winner Alan Johnson secured runner-up honors ahead of Haers.
A full field of winged machines returned and it was second-generation leadfoot Jordan Thomas edging Paulie Colagiovanni in the A-Verdi Storage Containers Patriot Sprint Tour 25-lap A-Main postponed from Aug. 7 due to rain.
Trevor Years joined Thomas as first-time winners at LOLR, outlasting Brandyn Griffin in the 20-lap Mike Emhof Motorsports 305 Sprint Car finale while Zach Payne (Speed Connection Sportsman) and Josh Pangrazio (Eldredge & Sons Scrap Recycling Street Stock) copped their own checkered flags in the five-star special.
P.A. Announcer Steve Ovens riled the crowd prior to the race, introducing top-3 point getters Rudolph, Haers and Peter Britten before the remaining cars pulled trackside. Fuller fell into fifth on the Big-Block starting grid and chased down early leader James Sweeting after eight laps circling the smooth speedway. Once out front his #19 St.Lawrence Radiology-G&R Auto Parts-Integra Shocks/Bicknell entry was no match for the rest of the field, even point leaders Rudolph (started 12th) and Haers (9th) as the Watertown wheelman cruised home uncontested for a 15 car-length win.
“Been good here, just could never get a win. This is our first one here for Mike Maresca so that’s good too,” noted Fuller, 53, following his seventh career win in Canandaigua, his last scored in June of 2016. “We could do top-3s, just never got a win lately.”
“Had a good starting spot tonight. Still had a good set-up, tonight just a little bit better. Any win is big, doesn’t matter where you are. Especially when you get into August, gives you some momentum coming into fall. Been a good year, fortunate to pick up a win here,” added Fuller, who finished the summer season sixth in points.
While Fuller remained on course for the $2,000 triumph, reaching traffic after only 13 laps, just as many eyes were focused on the points battle raging in his rear-view mirror. At the halfway mark Haers had charged into sixth and Rudolph climbed to ninth, each looking to gain more ground as the laps clicked off.
The lone yellow flag flew after Dan Wiesner’s mount slowed at the end of the back chute, suddenly erasing Fuller’s near 12-sec. advantage while setting up a pivotal lap 29 restart. Back under green Fuller remained unchallenged yet Haers charged into fourth and Rudolph improved to sixth with just a handful of laps to go.
Haers grabbed third from Sweeting on lap 31 before clinging to Johnson’s bumper across the line while Rudolph stole fifth from Sweeting on the last lap to send track point-keepers reeling. In the end the final count read Haers-839, Rudolph-837, with 4th-place feature finisher Britten totaling 782.
“Just the pressure coming into this thing, tried not to let it get to me but its always in the back of your mind,” divulged Haers, after his Finger Lakes-powered no. 3 Honeoye Auto Parts-Phelps Cement Products-FLX Home Solutions/Bicknell machine spun a donut and kicked up dust in a most deserving frontstretch title celebration. “Was just looking at some stats. Saw 20 years ago I won the Sportsman Championship here in the same way. Needed to beat Karl Comfort to win and I did it, now here we are again.”
“Beginning of this year I did my homework. If I had the year I did in 2020 I think this would be my last one. We really struggled and I said I’m going to work, learn these cars and learn what I need to do. Obviously it paid off here. Have a great crew and sponsors, and I’ve got some really awesome fans. Everybody on Land of Legends TV, thanks for pulling for me. Got to thank my family, there’s a lot of volunteers that do this deal and without all of them none of this would ever be possible.”
Strong family ties were also apparent in the Patriot Sprint ranks as the flag-to-flag winner matched his father, Jeff ‘Spider’ Thomas, in a fitting victory lane appearance.
“Definitely have to thank my dad, he puts in a ton of time and just kills it on the set-up,” boasted Jordan, 23, whose father Jeff won an Empire Super Sprint A-Main at then-named Canandaigua Speedway in 1991. The younger Thomas from Harding, Pa. is the ninth winner in 19 PST events staged at LOLR since 2003, logging his only other Top-5 finish (3rd) in 2019.
Only one caution period slowed the action early on but it was significant as a turn one tangle knocked out all-time Canandaigua 305 Sprint winner Darryl Ruggles and six-time LOLR Patriot victor Chuck Hebing with just two laps scored. Daughter Kelly Hebing was also involved in the mishap yet refired and returned to the rear.
The final 23 laps featured a non-stop duel between Thomas and two-time Canandaigua ESS winner Colagiovanni from Cicero, each dicing through traffic with precision as they turned it into a two-man show.
“I saw his nose a couple times but he was on the outside of me, just tried to make my car as wide as possible and pick up the pace when I’d see him,” said Thomas, after overtaking Davie Franek, who rallied from 19th to finish 7th, for the PST points leader after his third career tour win, fifth overall in 360 competition. “The car was good, was able to roll pretty much wherever I needed to go. We sucked in hot laps and weren’t much better in the heat so to come out with the win is pretty good.”
“I wasn’t really that great behind lapped cars, would stay even with them. When I’d get a run I would maneuver to the middle of the race track and hopefully put enough distance between me and Paulie. Without those lapped cars I think it would’ve been tough to hold him off,” added Thomas, after parking his black #79 Mechanical Service Co.-Pribula Industries-Ohsweken Speedway Race Mart/XXX ride powered by an A-1 Racing Engine in Canandaigua’ Cazbah Victory Lane for the first time, adding $3,000 to his growing account.
Colagiovanni settled for runner-up laurels yet on the heels of his third-place tally in the ESS event at LOLR run Aug. 7 topped the LOLR 360 Series points chart to pocket an additional $1,000. Joe Trenca, Jason Barney and recent ESS winner Matt Farnham completed the front-five in Saturday’s 15-minute shootout
Heading into the next PST event scheduled at Utica-Rome Speedway on Sept. 5, Thomas (999) holds a slight advantage over Franek (982) in the point standings, with Dave Axton (854), Colagiovanni (845) and Steve Glover (832) in closest pursuit.
The standard MEM 305s shared the spotlight with their 360 series counterparts and matching Thomas’ inaugural run to the checkers was weekly Canandaigua campaigner Years. After Matt Rotz looped his mount high between turns one and two, Years charged past front-row partner Dan Craun on the ensuing lap three restart and kept his blue #13T Doc’s Tackle-Lake Shore Auto Mall-Racing For Autism/Happiness House/Maxim on cruise control the rest of the way.
“Honestly, this is probably the last night I thought I’d be here,” figured Years, 28, who ran a Sportsman at LOLR when Cole took over in ’18 before strapping into a sprint car to open the ’19 season. “I always struggle on these real slick tracks and going out last this (finish) was a big surprise. Trying to hold back tears right now, haven’t been in victory lane since 2017 so its been awhile.”
“Lost the lead right off the get-go to Dan and didn’t think I was going to get it back. But that restart was a good one, was able to keep the car real straight and just set smooth sail from there,” said Years, who now stands sixth in points.
Taking advantage of no slow downs most of the 9-minute race, Years maintained a comfortable margin over Craun just as long. Now sole points leader Griffin closed the gap on Craun the last third of the race before grabbing second with three to go, falling five car-lengths short of Years on the final scoresheet. Alysha Bay and her father Darryl Ruggles, performing double-duty along with Randy Years and Bobby Parrow (rolled 360 in qualifying), rounded out the top-5.
“I heard somebody behind me and I kept looking up at the scoreboard and saw the #18 (Craun),” revealed Years, a past USAC National Micro Sprint (wing 600) champion. “Dan and I are good friends and the fact that he was behind me provided a good piece of mind. He knows how I drive and I know how he drives, so we’d have a nice battle if it got close at the end.”
The 25-lap Sportsman finale featured a pair of lead changes with Payne finally wrestling away the lead from Kane Bristol two-thirds of the way through in his blue #7z MP Delivery-Page Trucking-Honeoye Auto Parts/Bicknell car en route to victory number two on the season.
“Seemed like (Bristol) and I were inching back and forth for 5 or 6 laps there,” recalled Payne, the second-generation standout from Stanley following also his second career win at the fairgrounds. “Rolling the middle was tough, had to keep up the momentum. He was down on the brown so I did all I could in turns three and four to keep with him coming off the bottom.”
“Moved outside and the car worked pretty good. Had to give it a lap or two to get it going, just kept rolling it to keep the tires cool. I was a little off but the car was really on rails tonight,” added Payne, who enters next weekend’s double-points show trailing defending track champ Matt Guererri by a count of 733-699. Both have two wins on the season while third-place runner Zach Sobotka (664) has four trophies.
A.J. Lloyd staved off every challenge of Bristol until he storm by on a lap 15 restart. Guererri suffered a broken right-front shock tower mount to bring out the first yellow flag and forced him pitside for a quick repair. Lloyd immediately dropped to fourth when the green lights returned with Payne and Joe Sobotka freight-training to the front behind Bristol.
Just after Payne went around Bristol for the lead on lap 17, a second caution came out for Alex Payne as his car sat motionless high in turn two. Just two laps later chief starter Scott Hixson threw the final yellow as Tim Lafler slowed off turn two to keep the remaining field in check.
Payne pulled away for a decisive victory by a dozen car-lengths at the line, followed by Bristol while Zachary George outlasted Sobotka in a back-and-forth battle for third. Lloyd crossed the line fifth ahead of recent LOLR Hall of Fame inductee Paul Guererri and his hard-charging nephew Matt Guererri.
The 20-lap Street Stock feature kicked off the night’s card and to no one’s surprise it was defending track champion Pangrazio posting his fifth win in seven starts. The only unexpected aspect of his latest romp was an early race miscue that dropped the Oakfield ace to 12th after filing in 10th on the original 18-car starting grid.
“Plain and simple, just ran out of talent,” admitted Pangrazio, who recovered in plenty of time to steer the potent blue #7 Skyline RV Sales & Service-Houseman Refrigeration-Cummings Trucking Ford Mustang to career win number 15 at LOLR. “It was still early in the race so I thought lets just get back on track, don’t ever give up and keep digging. Stay calm, cool and collective, hit your marks and work your way back up through.”
Pangrazio followed his simple strategy for the duration, cracking the Top-5 on lap 8 and each lap moving up one spot at a time until blasting high around runner-up Parker Smith with 12 down. Turn four contact between Chris Beyea and Mike Welch required the first yellow flag and Pangrazio wasted little time disposing of race-long leader Adam DePuy on the lap 16 restart.
Dakota Sharp and ‘Bundy’ Metcalf locked horns exiting turn four on lap 16 while a five-car tangle in turns 3 & 4 prompted two more caution periods, yet each time Pangrazio never flinched, eventually dashing home for a comfortable eight car-length win over current points leader and ninth-starting Jimmy Grant. DePuy and Smith came next with Marc Minutolo moving up to fifth after Nick Dandino was disqualified for a spring location infraction in the customary post-race technical inspection.
With Haers capturing the Pepsi Big-Block Modified Championship at Land Of Legends Raceway, the time is near to recognize track titlists in the Speed Connection Sportsman, Mike Emhof Motorsports 305 Sprint Car, Eldredge & Sons Scrap Recycling Street Stock and Lloyd’s Contracting Hobby Stock divisions. The final regular-season double-points event is slated for Sept. 4 when Emerson Oil Company/Castrol presents Season Championship Night for those four classes with a non-point “Open” Big-Block/Small-Block Modified Invitational joining the show.
A complete card is on tap for the first of three ‘Saturday Spectaculars’ scheduled in September, with a Waterloo Softball Team Benefit raffle held during the event. Hot lap sessions kick off the show at 5:30pm and heat race qualifiers go green at 6:30pm. Pit gates open at 3:30pm and spectators gain admittance into the Ontario Co. Fairgrounds main grandstands at 5 o’clock.
FULL-FENDER FRENZY FILLS EARLY FALL CALENDAR
While the mighty Big-Block Modified, Sportsman and Sprint Car open-wheel teams will be away, the Sept. 11 slate remains jam-packed as Howell Properties, LLC presents ‘Full Fender Frenzy’ at the fairgrounds. Top area Street Stockers and Rush Late Model campaigners will be contending for $1,000 top prizes in their 30-lap main events while $750 is on the line for both Hobby Stock and 4-Cylinder winners.
Named in memory of past LOLR Pro Stock champion and driver of the sleek Top Gun #1 machine, reigning track points king Pangrazio will be out to score a third straight title race win in the 10th Les Whyte Top Gun Shootout for Street Stocks. WNY star Dave Schulz claimed the inaugural event in 1999.
On that historic day look for a special on-track tribute to area service men & women as well as our very own LOLR safety crew in a festive pre-race send-off. Fans are encouraged to wear red, white and blue in support and remembrance of those that were lost that tragic day 20 years ago.
If you can’t make it out to the race track this season, LIVE video coverage of every event can still be enjoyed weekly through Land of Legends TV as for the first time ever all LIVE streaming will be offered FREE in 2021. On-line registration at for a free account is the only step to take.
Land of Legends Raceway Quick Results – August 28, 2021
Pepsi & Geneva Club Beverage, Ontario County Fairboard and Monroe Mechanical Services present Saturday Spectacular
Modified Season Championship Night
Pepsi Big-Block Modified(DOUBLE POINTS)
*Feature (35 laps): 1. 19-Tim Fuller ($2,000), 2. 14j-Alan Johnson, 3. 3-Justin Haers, 4. 21a-Peter Britten, 5. 25-Erick Rudolph, 6. 11j-James Sweeting, 7. 34-Kevin Root, 8. 22g-Gil Tegg Jr., 9. 23c-Kyle Coffey, 10. 33j-Robbie Johnston III, 11. 56-Garrison Krentz, 12. 31m-Jimmy Maier, 13. 10m-Henry Maier, 14. 66-Dan Wiesner, 15. 77-Lance Dusett, 16. 27j-Daniel Johnson Jr.
Heats (8 laps)
#1: Haers, A.Johnson, Krentz, Tegg, J.Maier, Dusett, H.Maier, D.Johnson.
#2: Coffey, Sweeting, Britten, Fuller, Root, Rudolph, Johnston, Wiesner.
2021 Track Champion: Justin Haers
A-Verdi Storage Containers Patriot Sprint Tour
*A-Main (25 laps): 1. 79-Jordan Thomas ($3,000), 2. 10-Paulie Colagiovanni, 3. 98-Joe Trenca, 4. 87-Jason Barney, 5. 7ny-Matt Farnham, 6. 10c-Jeff Cook, 7. 28f-Davie Franek, 8. 90-Matt Tanner, 9. 35-Jared Zimbardi, 10. 17-Sammy Reakes IV, 11. 22-Jonathan Preston, 12. 67-Steve Glover, 13. 2-Dave Axton, 14. 42-Jesse Pruchnik, 15. 36-Mike Stelter, 16. 4s-Johnny Smith IV, 17. 21-Randy Years, 18. 10h-Kelly Hebing, 19. 47-Kyle Drum, 20. 36b-Brian Preston, 21. 45-Chuck Hebing, 22. 48jr.-Darryl Ruggles, 3z-Bobby Parrow(DNS).
Heats (8 laps)
#1: Zimbardi, Farnham, J.Preston, Pruchnik, Reakes, Glover, Franek, Drum.
#2: Trenca, Thomas, Barney, Tanner, Years, Stelter, B.Preston, Parrow.
#3: Colagiovanni, C.Hebing(dsq), Cook, Ruggles, K.Hebing, Smith, Axton.
Bonnell’s Rod Shop presented by On The Rocks Bar & Grill Dash (4 laps): 1. Tanner ($100), 2. Ruggles ($75), 3. K.Hebing ($50), 4. Reakes ($25), 5. Pruchnik ($25), 6. Years ($25).
Speed Connection Sportsman Modified
*Feature (25 laps): 1. 7z-Zach Payne ($750), 2. 31-Kane Bristol, 3. 36m-Zachary George, 4. 38-Zach Sobotka, 5. 1f-A.J. Lloyd, 6. 7-Paul Guererri, 7. 12g-Matt Guererri, 8. 20x-Kevin Ridley, 9. 113jr.-Frank Guererri Jr., 10. 3-Justin McKay, 11. 35-Nick Cooper, 12. 11n-Ricky Newton, 13. 00-Sam Hoxie, 14. 61-Andrew Jacobson, 15. 90-Nathan Peckham, 16. 51-Tim Lafler, 17. 31k-Kennedy Payne, 18. 9-Tim Baker, 19. 132-Dalton Martin, 20. 70a-Alex Payne, 21. 34-Tyler Murray, 22. 7x-Troy Sperring, 23. 7j-J.T. Sperring, 24. 56a-Angel Sperring.
Heats (8 laps)
#1: JT Sperring(dsq), Lloyd, Bristol, Z.Payne, Sobotka, Cooper, Jacobson, Peckham.
#2: Baker, McKay, F.Guererri, P.Guererri, M.Guererri, Newton, Martin, K.Payne.
#3: T.Sperring, Ridley, George, A.Payne, Lafler, Hoxie, Murray, A.Sperring.
Mike Emhof Motorsports 305 Sprint
*Feature (20 laps): 1. 13t-Trevor Years ($500), 2. 75-Brandyn Griffin, 3. 18c-Dan Craun, 4. 48a-Alysha Bay, 5. 48jr.-Darryl Ruggles, 6. 41-Chase Moran, 7. 53-Bobby Parrow, 8. 66-Jordan Hutton, 9. 2-Randy Years, 10. 25h-Tyler Emmons, 11. 38-Jason Whipple, 12. 18-Timmy Lotz, 13. 4t-Ray Preston, 14. 77-Matt Rotz, 15. 62-Jacob Lynch, 36-Todd Kaplin(DNS).
Heats (8 laps)
#1: Craun, Parrow, Ruggles, T.Years, Bay, Hutton, Moran, Kaplin.
#2: R.Years, Griffin, Rotz, Whipple, Lynch, Preston, Lotz, Emmons.
Eldredge & Sons Scrap Recycling Street Stock
*Feature (20 laps): 1. 7-Josh Pangrazio, 2. 36-Jimmy Grant, 3. 57j-Adam DePuy, 4. 55p-Parker Smith, 5. 25b-Marc Minutolo, 6. 00-Mike Welch, 7. 93-Jared Hill, 8. 64b-Bob Buono, 9. 12s-Dakota Sharp, 10. 5c-Rick Crego, 11. 74-Ronald “Bundy” Metcalf, 12. 12-John Burritt, 13. 14-Ron Hawker, 14. 63-Mike Fellows, 15. 9-Aksel Jensen, 16. 3-Patrick Hobbs, 17. 122-Chris Beyea, 99-Nick Dandino(dsq).
Heats (6 laps)
#1: DePuy, Hill, Grant, Jensen, Smith, Dandino, Buono, Fellows, Hawker.
#2: Pangrazio, Minutolo, Welch, Beyea, Crego, Hobbs, Sharp, Burritt, Metcalf.