By KEN BRUCE
SWEDESBORO, NJ – The big 5/8’s mile oval in South Jersey hosted a big night of racing on Monday night with not just one, but two 40-lap features for their headline division, the mighty big-block Modifieds. The first 40 lapper of the night was the rained out feature from May 28th which was race number two of their of the track’s popular Poker Series. The scheduled 40-lap feature was billed as race number four of the series.
When it was all done and the dust had settled it was Rick Laubach and Ryan Watt who took the big wins. In the first 40-lap feature it was Laubach who held off a hard charging Watt to grab his 49th career big-block win and roles reversed for the second feature when Watt took the lead from Laubach early and then went on to annihilate the field lapping up to the fifth place running Billy Pauch Jr with this time Laubach a distant second.
Feature #1 (Poker Series Race #2)
Pole sitter Billy Pauch Sr. jumped out to the initial lead at the start but the racing didn’t last long as the car of Ricky Dieva went hard into the first turn bringing out first the yellow flag and then the red flag as the Dieva complained of some back pain. Dieva was checked out by the first aid personnel and deemed okay.
Once the green came back out, Pauch again took the lead but the racing as short lived again as the #30 of Jamie Mills rolled to stop. Laubach was on the move and up the third spot when the yellow came out and on the restart made a strong move down low to get by Travis Hill for second and set his sights on the #15 experimental Modified of Pauch.
Laubach was on a mission and went under Pauch a lap later to take the lead only to have Buffalino stop with a right-rear flat to bring out another caution before the lap could be scored.
On the restart the #19 of Brett Kressley made a bold move around the outside of both Pauch and Laubach to take the lead with Watt not far behind also getting by Pauch to take over third. Kressley and Laubach put on a great show for the fans battling for the lead. Kressley would run the extreme outside while Laubach worked the low side and it paid off for Laubach as he was able to move up in front of Kressley on lap 17 to take the lead.
Two laps the later, the hottest driver in the NJ/PA area Watt moved by Kressley for second and stet his sights on the leader Laubach. While all this was going on both Richie Pratt Jr and Jimmy Horton were on the move and both got by Pauch to move into the top five.
Now everyone was waiting for Watt to make his move by Laubach to grab the lead but Laubach was having none of that on this night as he was able to maintain a small, but safe distance between himself and Watt. Watt did put on a big move on a restart after Neal Williams stopped on the track. Watt threw it hard into turn on the outside but there just wasn’t enough bite out there for Watt to motor past Laubach.
After that short battle, Laubach was able to open up a safe advantage over Watt the rest of the way to score the big win. Watt had to settle for second with Jimmy Horton, Sammy Martz and Richie Pratt Jr you top five.
MODIFIED MAKE UP FEATURE FROM 5/28 (40 laps) 1 – Rick Laubach, 2 – Ryan Watt, 3 – Jimmy Horton, 4 – Sammy Martz, 5 – Richie Pratt Jr, 6 – Dominick Buffalino, 7 – Brett Kressley, 8 – Tommy Beamer, 9 – Travis Hill, 10 – Billy Pauch, 11 – Ron Roberts, 12 – Rusty Smith, 13 – Neal Williams, 14 – Bob Sarkisian, 15 – David Hunt, 16 – Mike Franz, 17 – Dave Shirk, 18 – PJ Oliver, 19 – Jack Swain, 20 – Jamie Mills, 21 – Ricky Dieva DNS – Pete Visconti, Mike Barone, HJ Bunting, Westley Smith
Feature #2 ( Poker Series Race #4)
Watt was determined to not have this race end like the other feature with him not being in victory lane. In what has become a reoccurring theme the past month or so, Watt once again put on a driving clinic to not only win the race but doing so in a dominating fashion by lapping all but the top five finishers in route to another big win for the Roberts Racing #14W Team.
After winning race number one, Laubach drew the pole position to start feature number two hoping for a sweep on the evening and after being able to holding off Watt for the win earlier looked to have things going his way to do just that.
Watt, who started in the eighth position, surely had other ideas to not let that happen again and imposed his will on the field by grabbing the lead over Laubach after only four laps were completed. The yellow came for a slowing Richie Pratt Jr the next lap to slow Watt’s pace.
That would turn out to be the last caution of the race and when the green flag was back, Watt was gone and when I say gone. I mean he was gone, outta here, checked out, in another zip code, you insert the adjective.
Just after Watt took the halfway signal from the starter he was starting to lap the top ten runners. The only thing that was going to stop Watt at this point was himself or something mechanical. Neither driver or car had a hiccup and when what flashed under the checkered flag the second place car of Laubach was still in turn two.
Watt was your dominant winner over Rick Labauch, Craig Von Dohren, Dom Buffalino and Billy Pauch Jr. To put Watt’s dominance in perspective, the top five cars were the only cars to finish on the lead lap.
MODIFIEDS (40 lap Poker Series #4) 1 – Ryan Watt, 2 – Rick Laubach, 3 – Craig Von Dohren, 4 – Dominick Buffalino, 5 – Billy Pauch Jr, 6 – Duane Howard, 7 – Frank Cozze, 8 – Neal Williams, 9 – Richie Pratt Jr, 10 – Sammy Martz, 11 – Jeff Strunk, 12 – Tommy Beamer, 13 – Rocco Infante, 14 – Rusty Smith, 15 – Ron Roberts, 16 – Dave Shirk, 17 – Jimmy Horton, 18 – Mike Franz, 19 – Brett Kressley, 20 – Travis Hill, 21 – Billy Pauch Sr, 22 – David Hunt DNS – Jack Swain, Ricky Dieva, PJ Oliver DNQ – Pete Visconti, Bob Sarkisian
Laubach Happy to Grab Win and a Second
Laubach has been fast all year in the Gary and Lori Hermann owned #7 was finally able to put together a full race and grab the big win in the rained out feature. It was Laubach’s second big-block win of the season at his home track and he talked about their year so far at Bridgeport.
“This car has been fast all year and it feels good to get it back into victory lane again. Gary and Lori give me what I need to make this car fast. We could’ve had a few more wins with this car but it just hasn’t worked out. We handled really well in the first race and not as good in the second race. Honestly this car has been really fast. The last time we ran this car we finished fourth and if there was a yellow we probably would’ve won, the time before that we finished third and if there were a few more laps we could’ve won. This car has been fast, at the DIRT show we were super fast and had a flat then ended up dropping out.”
Laubach went on to explain that it’s been hard to get into a rhythm with this car due to all the rainouts and with the way the schedule has been at Bridgeport so far this year.
“With the way the season has been going here and what I mean is with the schedule and the rain-outs, it’s been hard to really get a good consistent feel week in and week out. Everything seems to be settling out a little bit now and hopefully we can get ourselves a nice rhythm going for the this team. Like I said before the car has been really fast but we just haven’t had the chance to race with it enough.”
I asked Laubach if the track changed from the first feature to the second. Both features were run back to back with approximately a 30 minute intermission in between so Keith Hoffman and his track crew could do some track prep.
“The track was good for the first feature then they worked on it before the second one and I know they had to do it but after the first few laps it wasn’t that good. Our car handled really good in the first one and in the second not as much. Once Watt got past me and started to pull away, I decided to take it easy and just try to hold on for second.”
All-in-all, Laubach was very satisfied with his first and second place finishes on the night and after wrecking the Ryan Kerr owned #1K the previous Tuesday at New Egypt it was good for him to get that much needed confidence back.
“After wrecking that car last week it was good for me to get this win. It surely helps with my confidence but honestly that wreck is behind us. That car is all fixed up already and ready for the Deyo race next Sunday at Big Diamond. Racing this year has been tough on us. We found something in the other car (# 1K) and they took it away from us so now we are struggling a little bit with that car but we’ll be back. I really want to get some good runs going in the (Doug and Ann) Flurer #16 car. We just haven’t been able to run that car nearly enough to get a good feel where we’re at with that car.”
Watt Registers Another Impressive Win with “Stitch”
Watt, his wife Lesley and their son Logan along with the rest of their crew have always come up with nicknames for their cars. Most of the nicknames are based off a Disney character since that is the family’s favorite vacation destination.
The 2017 Bicknell chassis they are currently running has been nicknamed “Stitch.” Since Watt has been running this car, they results have been way more than they could’ve expected. Although Stitch yet to win a regular Saturday night points paying race so far this season you can’t argue its success in the big money paying races which have been well documented in past articles.
Flash back to last Tuesday night at New Egypt Speedway and after the night was over it looked like Stitch was on life support. Watt had a hard crash in his heat with good friend Sammy Martz in which the car suffered major front end damage. Despite the fact the car was fixed up enough for Watt to qualify through the consi, Watt decided the car wasn’t right and pulled out of the feature after only two laps so they could get home and tear the car apart to assess the damage.
Once the car was stripped the crew determined that the frame was damaged and was not sure if it could be fixed. After a call to Bicknell, chassis guru Randy Williamson it was determined that the car was not as bad as they thought and it could be fixed. The car was then completely stripped down to the bare frame ad shipped to a frame shop to be straightened while Williamson would send the parts down they needed to repair the car.
The team decided to take the weekend off from racing to put Stitch back together in hopes of having back to where it was for Monday nights races at Bridgeport.
Well, after the night was over there was no doubt that Stitch had made a full recovery. Watt won his heat by big margin and in the first feature event Watt would finish second to Laubach. Not a bad finish for the first race after the rebuild.
It was in the second race where Watt would show the fans that Stitch was back to normal. Which in layman’s terms means “kicking ass”. Watt would go on to completely dominate the event as described above and afterwards talked about all the hard work the crew had to put in over the weekend to get the car back to where it was.
“Well as you know we had a lot of work this week after we got tore up pretty bad at New Egypt last week there. The frame was tweaked a little bit so we had to have a buddy of ours straighten it out and then when we got it back Bobby Strunk came over and welded a couple of bars back in it and to our surprise when we put it up on the scales it was pretty close to where it was before the crash. After that we just made a turn and a half on one of the coil springs and it was back to same as it was the last we scaled it. I was very happy with that.”
With a second place finish in the first race Watt was happy with that for the first time back out but thought the track wasn’t quite to his liking.
“I am not really good on the outside with this deal and the top was fast. That’s how Kressley got to the lead there and then it started to go away. Rick (Laubach) was really good in one and two there on the bottom and could run the outside there in three and four. I really didn’t even go up there to try it. I felt like if I went up there I would start burning my tires off and I didn’t think it would work. I was starting to slowly creep back up to Rick there but with five or six to go he moved to the bottom in three and four and that was it. I thought we were both about the same speed. With him being the leader he could control the race and the bottom was better on the restarts. I tried everything I could in one and two there but that was all I had.”
Once the second feature rolled around, the team only made a few minor adjustments after watching the track crew work the track between race. Watt was confident going into the race he could improve his finish by one spot and win the nightcap.
“We really just watched what they were doing with the track prep there. I knew the track would be in better shape than the first one. They seemed to more prep before the second one and I had a feeling it wasn’t going to rubber up as quick. It did there with about ten (laps) to go when it started taking rubber on the bottom but for the first half of the race it was really good. After watching the prep we made our tire choice and it turned out to be the right choice.”
Watt was so far out front in the second race that he really didn’t know where he was in reference to the other front runners and it almost cost him at one point as he was trying to figure it out. Watt explained what happened.
“I knew I was lapping cars but I didn’t have any idea where I was at. One lap as I was trying to look at the scoreboard to see who was behind me and I brushed the front stretch wall with right rear tire. I then saw Rick was in second and I could see him in front of me so I knew I was in good shape so then I settled in there behind Billy (Pauch) Jr and just rode it out the last five laps. At that point there was no use to push it anymore then I had to and risk abusing the car or the tire. The track was rubbered up and I just wanted stay clean the last few laps.”
As the crew was loading the car up for the night, you could tell Watt was happy with the night’s performance and especially how the car rebounded after the hard wreck only one week ago.
“How can you not be happy with how the night went? We had a first and second. Plus, we are confident the car is working as good as it was before the accident.”
Horton Has Up and Down Night
Jimmy Horton is the all-time feature winner at the Bridgeport Speedway but when you look at his performance’s there this year. Jimmy would be the first to tell you that he is not happy with his runs this season at the speedway. Horton has seemed lost at times this year at the track he used to dominate and is having a hard time figuring out what he is doing wrong.
For the most of the season, Horton has brought his Halmar Racing team’s TEO car to Bridgeport but just can’t seem to get it to go. Tonight against his better judgment, Jimmy decided to bring the 2017 Bicknell chassis they have been running well with all year up at the Orange County Fair Speedway.
It looked like it was a pretty good decision when Horton finished a strong third in the make-up feature but things quickly took an ugly turn in the second feature when the team’s Enders big block let go around the halfway mark.
I caught up with Horton as the team loaded the car into the trailer to discuss his up and down night. As we talked you could see a big puddle of oil where the car was sitting before it was loaded.
“We were real good the first race, the second race we just missed it. I don’t know what happened there in the second one. The track changed and went back to the old Bridgeport I guess. I just can’t get it going good here for some reason. We aren’t consistent right now, but we’ll keep working on it and find something.”
A disappointed Horton explained that the motor went in the second race and was placing the blame on himself for letting it come to that.
“This motor had a lot of time on it, it’s nobody’s fault but my own. I just ran it too long. I shouldn’t have brought here tonight and saved it for Orange County. But we’ll be alright and be ready to go for Saturday.”
There were a total of 28 Modifieds in the pits for the night’s action. Billy Pauch Sr, Ryan Watt and Jamie Mills won the three heats with Ron Roberts winning the consolation race…
Three drivers that were already qualified for the make-up feature didn’t make the return trip. Mike Barone who has decided not to return to the track after the fine to Wade Hendrickson was rescinded. HJ Bunting and Wesley Smith were the other drivers not to return…
Pete Visconti was qualified for the make-up feature and did return but unfortunately had terminal trouble in his heat race and was forced to scratch…
Jamie Mills was forced to scratch his #30 from the second feature after the car suffered driveline damage in the make-up race…
As always, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @dirtracefan25 for any questions or comments.