By KEN BRUCE
It’s a battle we’ve all seen many times over the years on tracks in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware. Duane Howard and Craig Von Dohren battling tooth and nail with each other pushing their modifieds to the limit in a battle to come out on top. It’s been the same story for the past 25 years and there’s no reason to think that is going to change any time soon. Sunday’s small-block race at Georgetown Speedway was a classic battle between the two drivers out of Oley, Pa., with Howard coming out on top in this round.
“It was a good race for the team. With so much less racing today, the track was in much better shape and these small blocks were really getting around it today,” explained Howard. “This is a very fast track and getting out front was the key. Believe it or not, clean air means a lot here. When you are tucked in behind someone it’s amazing how you can lose the nose on your car, especially on the straightaways. I think we were pretty much the same speed, so I needed to have that clean air out front.
Starting from the pole position Howard immediately jumped out to the lead as Von Dohren started making his move to the front of the field from his fourth starting spot. A caution on lap one slowed the pace with Von Dohren already up to second. Von Dohren grabbed the lead away from Howard on the restart and started to pull away just a little.
Von Dohren was setting a fast pace and with a pace like that it wasn’t long before he was coming into lapped traffic causing his lead to shrink over Howard and third-place running Billy Pauch Jr. The three lead drivers picked their way through the lapped traffic like surgeons darting in and out of cars both high and low with Von Dohren barely holding off Howard’s advances as Pauch Jr., was lurking quietly behind both of them just waiting to pounce on an opening.
“Man, that was fun racing through the lapped traffic”, said an excited Howard talking in the team’s hauler afterwards. “I really wish that yellow wouldn’t have come out because man that was fun. He’s changing lanes and I can see where he’s going so, I am in a better position running second because I’m going to go where he ain’t and it led to some good fun racing,”
A lap 16 caution finally slowed the torrid pace with Von Dohren still in charge. The two-star drivers battled each other as hard as I have ever seen them battle on the restarts with Howard pulling a slide job going into turn one to take over the lead but Von Dohren crossed him over and pulled back in front going into turn three. Another yellow slowed the action after only one lap was added to the scoreboard and on the ensuing restart Von Dohren took the inside to try and protect what Howard did on the previous restart. This time when Von Dohren took off Howard stayed right with him on the outside as the two raced side by side through turns one and two and down the backstretch. Heading into turn three the drivers were still side by side as Von Dohren pushed up the track causing Howard to go over the berm and lose two spots. Luckily for Howard the lap was never scored as the caution was out once again.
Howard was not happy with the way Von Dohren raced him on the last lap and showed his displeasure under the yellow. With Howard now a little amped up from the previous lap, he was not going to be denied on the next restart as he powered by Von Dohren to take the lead and never looked back. Only a couple of cautions prevented Howard from extending his lead even further as he streaked across the line to take his first win of the 2019 season in the Norm’ Save Station No. 357.
“I wasn’t happy with what Craig did to me there and I let him know it,” stated Howard. “It’s all good hard clean racing though. I did a Sprint Car slide job on him over there in turn one but couldn’t hold on and he crossed over and drove back by me and if had done that to me that would’ve been okay. But he stayed up on the outside and drove me up over the cushion. Lucky for me the caution came out and the lap didn’t count so I was able to get those spots back. Look, Craig and I race hard against each other, it’s been that way for over twenty years and it ain’t going to change until we are done, I guess. It’s just the way it is but we race each hard and we race each other pretty darn clean and none of us ever take the other one out.”
After a solid top ten finish in Saturday’s Melvin Joseph Memorial STSS race and a win on Sunday in the small-block portion of the weekend, the No. 357 team is off to a good start in 2019. Howard talked about the team’s good start and what he thinks the new season will bring.
“I think we’re going to have a really good year this year”, explained Howard. “We didn’t talk too much or say much all winter about the upcoming season and just reached down and worked hard to be ready for the season. We just went back to basic race cars that we know, that I’ve driven all my career and I know what it’s going to do, and I think we are going to have a good year. I’m going to let everyone else try all that trick stuff, we tried some of that stuff last year and got ourselves all out of whack. I thought last night we had one of the fastest cars on the track and it was a standard bar car and it worked. For the old guys like me, that is what we are used to. Let these younger guys get used to all of this other stuff, not me. I don’t want any of that left side stuff, now the team might think otherwise if we start getting beat every week. Right now, we just wanted to start the year out strong and I think this weekend we did that.”
As always, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @dirtracefan25 for any questions or comments.