By KEN BRUCE
If you ask Duane Howard, he would tell you himself that his last two years at Grandview Speedway have been less than satisfying. The tracks second all-time leading winner has struggled at the track where he was used to winning multiple features per season. While still being steady with almost weekly top five finishes the Oley, Pa., driver has not reached victory lane in a Saturday night race in over two years. Howard did manage to win two Thunder on the Hill shows in 2017, but Saturdays have remained a struggle for himself and the Norm Hansell No. 357 team.
On Saturday night, Howard put a halt to that winless streak and he did it in a big, big way. The five-time track champion closed out the season at Grandview by winning the tracks marquee event “The Freedom 76”. The win was also a milestone victory for Howard as he registered win #250 of his illustrious career.
With qualifying at a premium as a total of 65 cars tried to make it into the main event. Howard easily transferred through his heat but the car was far from dominate. Howard and the crew knew changes needed to be made to give them a chance for victory in the feature.
“Man, I can’t believe it. We were so bad all year long, probably a fifth-place car all year,” cited an emotional Howard greeting all his well wishers at his car after the race. “Last year the same thing happened at the Coalcracker race when we had a bad year at Big Diamond and ended up winning the race. I said this is gonna be our night. Then in the heat race we were bad so we changed some things in the motor and everything worked out. I told Jay (Thomas-crew chief) after the heat that we needed to make some changes or there is no way we can win this thing.”
Howard has always been a driver who needs that confidence in himself and the car to be able to win and Saturday night was no difference.
“We were confident going into the night,” mentioned Howard. “I talked to a lot of people during the week and they all told to just go out and race it. I needed that confidence and once we hit the track for the feature I knew I had something good. If I could just keep it straight no one was going to beat us because we were hooked up tonight.”
Drawing the fifth starting spot for the 76-lap race, Howard knew he had a chance to win it if the adjustments they made prior to the feature proved to be correct. Richie Pratt took the lead at the onset of the race leading the first nine laps until fourth starting Ryan Godown took over.
Howard steadily worked his way forward passing Pratt for second and started to set his sights on the leader. Howard was trying to play it a little conservative as to save his tires for a run later on in the race. The first half of the race was very choppy with multiple yellow flags and three red flags slowing the action and preventing the race from getting any kind of flow to it.
A caution on lap 30 changed the complexion of the race in Howard’s favor. The leader Godown and top five runner Ray Swinehart used the caution to enter the pits for refueling purpose since they were the only two cars running that were still using alcohol. As per the rules, both Godown and Swinehart could pit for fuel and return to their running positions. It proved to be just what the doctor ordered Howard.
When the race resumed, Howard made a charge on the outside as the field went back to green. This time Howard made it work as he powered by Godown to take command of the race.
Now in the lead, Howard started to pull away slightly from Godown but the race was far from over. Howard had to endure two more restarts along the way. On both restarts Godown would pressure Howard for the lead as the two veterans raced cleanly side by side until Howard could once again establish an advantage. Once safely back in front, Howard would put some distance between himself in Godown who now was under attack for second with Craig Von Dohren applying the pressure.
“The restarts were key like they always are,” stated Howard. “Both Ryan (Godown) and myself were starting the races much earlier than we are supposed to but they were letting us do it so we just kept on doing it. Ryan raced me clean and it was good battle, we banged wheels on the one restart, but that was just both of us going for it and it happens sometimes and it was just hard racing. Once I was able to get to the lead it was just a matter me keeping the car straight and this car was fast right through the middle. I knew if I could keep doing what I was doing nobody was going to beat me tonight.”
The last ten laps of the race went smoothly for Howard as raced under starter Ray Kemp’s checkered flag to record the emotional $25,000 win.
“This car was right on the money tonight after we made those changes,” cited Howard. “This is our car we ran at Big Diamond all year and it worked for us. We needed to do something to change our luck up here and switching cars was the way to go for us. We switched it over from alcohol to gas and it proved to be the right decision. This team deserves to win this race, they work so hard all year and Norm (Hansell) gives us everything we need to win and it was up to us do it and tonight we did it.”
Godown Wonders What Could Have Been
Godown ran a great race on Saturday night leading many laps before having to pit for fuel on lap 30 as the field was under red for a multi-car pileup in turn three. The Searock Fabrication No. 26 decided to keep their 358-spec engine running on alcohol instead of switching it over to gas and after the race I asked Godown if that is what might have cost them the race.
“It did cost us and if that didn’t open up everyone’s eyes to what it is running on alcohol I don’t know what else will,” commented Godown. “The car was excellent tonight, but the problem was I needed it to be excellent on gas. With the alcohol you are carrying over 100 pounds more than everybody else. Then you make the fuel stop and you are 200 pounds heavier than everybody else. It is just too much weight to carry. Then the track gets black and he’s able to run straight and I was trying to do that also. I was for the most part, but it’s much harder to do that on alcohol than on gas. Running on gas gives you a little more drivability.”
Even after finishing second Godown was proud of his team as they recorded their best ever 76er finish.
“Hey, those three guys (Jeff Strunk, Howard and Craig Von Dohren) have been running here forever and we beat one of them and lost to one of them. This was our best 76er finish and that’s not too bad for only running here a few times. I am not a guy that wants to finish second. I would’ve loved to win, but we’re happy finishing second and we have something to work with for next year. These new Troyer TD4 cars are good cars and give us a little time with them and we are going to be there for sure.”
After the incident at Grandview two weeks ago with Brett Kressley, which saw Godown get black flagged as well even though he was not at fault, the Ringoes, N.J., driver said he was done with Grandview and would not come back. After thinking it through and receiving phone calls from the track personnel, Godown changed his mind and returned to the track for the big race.
“I am absolutely glad we changed our mind and came back,” he said. “When you fail, you have to get back up on the horse. Sometimes it doesn’t go all your way and shit happens. What was good was that the race track reached out to me and apologized and that helps makes it better.”
Friesen Battle Way to Fifth
After flying in from Las Vegas after running the NASCAR Camping World the night before, Stewart Friesen was looking for a good run in the Freedom 76. The Sprakers, N.Y., driver had a bad night out in Las Vegas and was definitely looking to turn his luck around.
The night didn’t start too well for Friesen as he missed qualifying through his heat after starting dead last leaving him to run the Minute Man 20. Friesen finished second in that race to qualify putting him in the 29th starting spot for the 76-lap main-event.
If there was an incident to be had in the feature event, you can bet Friesen was involved in it. Three times the former winner of the race was part of a wreck forcing him to pit on two of those occasions for repairs. Despite the setbacks, Friesen had a good car and was able to drive back through the field for a hard-fought fifth place finish.
“I think I was in the wrong lane for every Grandview pileup or multicar tangle and got in it,” mentioned Friesen. “I was lucky though because every time I got hit it was always square and we didn’t bend much or tear the tires off it so we could get back up there for a good finish. The car was good all night. The track was little heavy early on, we were a little too tight and got bottled up there a few times, but once it slicked off and the cars spread out a little bit we were really good. We were going for fourth there with about two to go but the No. 19 “Grandviewed” there on the back stretch, but he probably didn’t know I was as far along side of him as I was.”
Friesen has always enjoyed running at Grandview Speedway and despite the trials and tribulations of the night, the truck series title contender was still in a jovial mood discussing the night’s events as he greeted and signed autographs for his many supporters.
“I love coming to Grandview and running this race,” stated Friesen. “It is such an awesome place and the 76er is probably one of the most intense races all year. This was our first race here running a DKM car and it was a little different than the TEO, but it was good and it was fast. We just needed a couple of breaks early on.”
Grandview 76er Notes
There were a total of 69 cars that went through tech inspection for the 76er which included backup cars for Jeff Strunk, Mike Gular, Danny Bouc, Craig Von Dohren and Jared Umbenhauer. The six heats were won by Alan Johnson, Frank Yankowski, Kenny Gilmore, Richie Pratt Jr, Anthony Perrego and Scott Albert. The two consolation races were won by TJ Lilly and Don Norris. Rick Laubach was the winner of the Minute Man 20…
Strunk (last year’s winner), Mike Gular (track champion) and Swinehart (Forrest Rogers winner) were guaranteed starters on the night going straight to the redraw. Former winners who had to use their preferred status to make the field were Billy Pauch and Meme Desantis. Brian Krummel was added to the field after Scott Albert was forced to scratch…
Jeff Strunk was the winner of the cash dash…
Hard luck award of the night has to go to Albert. Albert who has had terrible luck all year at his home track of Big Diamond looked like the tide was turning when he won the six and final heat handily. Unfortunately, that is where he night ended as Albert’s bad luck streak continues. As Albert crossed the finish line the engine lost oil pressure. It came back up as he entered the pits, but now Albert could hear a noise in the motor as he crossed the scales and when the returned to their pit. Not wanting to take a further chance on doing more damage to the motor, they decided to park the 10$ for the night…
Billy Pauch Jr., and the Danny Pizza Pizzazz No. 51 had hoped to turn their terrible season around with a good run in the 76er. After recording the fastest lap time in one of Friday night’s practice sessions the team was confidant going into Saturday’s big race. After qualifying easily through his heat, bad luck once again prevailed in the feature as Pauch was involved in the big multicar wreck that brought out the red on lap 26 which resulted in a full car pick-up on the #51, ending his night…
Shout out to David Hunt who qualified his No. 27 through his heat in his first ever attempt at to race in the Freedom 76…
There was heartbreak for Danny Bouc who was driving No. 2A which was there as a backup car for Mike Gular. Bouc was very happy with the car and was very fast on Friday night in practice. Starting his heat race in the eighth spot, Bouc quickly worked his way up to second and looked to be in good shape to qualify. After a yellow flag and on the ensuing the race turned ugly for Bouc who got caught up in a tangle leaving him and Doug Manmiller hooked together. Starting from the back in the first consolation Bouc drove it hard but still missed qualifying by one spot…
Multi-time Freedom winner Craig Von Dohren had a tough night qualifying, but being the competitor that Von Dohren is you knew he would be there at the end and he was. Von Dohren finished third in the Minute Man 20 to qualify and start in the 30th spot. Early on Von Dohren looked like he was not on his game as he lingered back in the field. As the field started to thin out, CVD started to make his way to the front and with less than twenty to go had moved into the third spot. Von Dohren challenged Godown for second but could not complete the pass and settled for a third-place finish. I know it’s not what the team was looking for but kudos to Von Dohren and his team for not giving up…
Ryan Krachun’s feature event ended early after flames started shooting out from underneath the No. 29 forcing the starter to red flag the race so Krachun could exit his car…
2018 Grandview Sportsman track champion Loudon Reimert made the field for the main event…
14-year-old Alex Yankowski had a weekend he would rather forget as he not only failed to qualify for the 76er, but also fell short of qualifying in Friday night’s Sportsman 38er…
As always, I can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @dirtracefan25 for any questions or comments.