By MATT NOLES
Richard Petty’s key to success was rather simple. Put yourself in a position to be in the right place at the right time.
Mike Mahaney proved that theory correct and then some on Saturday night with a nearly perfect drive to a third-place finish in the first 200-lap modified feature held at the ‘Track of Champions’ in nearly 20-years.
While the adage of speak softly and carry a big stick may be true to the last letter, Mahaney took it one-step further with one of the quietest, cleanest and most unassuming drives at the fabled Montgomery county oval in recent memory.
With a flat right-rear tire marring his strategy in the first-half of the main event at lap-63, admittedly having the wrong carburetor, wrong set of gears in the rear-end of his Bicknell chassis, the wrong tires for the surface and a two-hour rain delay on top of it all, the driver of the No. 35 proved how much talent and patience he has behind the wheel of a center-steer modified.
His 200-lap drive was nothing short of an imperfect, perfectly executed masterpiece even with the failed tire before the halfway break. What should have been a hinderance may have actually presented itself as a blessing in disguise.
“We had our flat before the halfway break so we had new rubber to begin with,” Mahaney stated on Saturday night. “When the rain came, we had our track position back because everyone pitted after the rain and we already had our tires and that put us up front so I could just kind of ride.”
After the rain came and went, the track surface took a dramatic turn from locked down and rubbered up on the bottom to wide and drivable. It was an opportunity that the three-time Fonda feature winner took full advantage of as he found himself running in the top-five with 80-laps remaining.
“We could run the top or the bottom,” continued Mahaney. “We could go wherever we wanted to go. Being in the top-five after the halfway point made a big difference. If our car was a little bit better, we could have put ourselves further ahead after the halfway break but to come home in third with what we had, I’m really happy. We had the wrong gear, the wrong carburetor and the wrong right-front tire. To come home third with all of that is great.”
Since the concept of racing came to light well over a century ago, drivers have always been their own harshest and, at times, their worst critics. Though not overly so on this particular night, Mike Mahaney is no different in that aspect.
“I never expected to be in the top-three,” He explained. “I think we had a fifth-place car and then we forced our way into fourth on the final restart and to be honest, we probably had a sixth-place car really. Then with one car being light, we got a break for once this year. We’ve had a lot of bad luck and we finally got a break that went our way so that’s nice and to come home with $10,000, we’re really happy.”
Mahaney seems to have a penchant for big-money races where the Fonda Speedway is concerned. With bookend victories in the season opener and final event in 2012 and a win in the sought-after Jack Johnson modified tribute a few short years later, when money is on the line, he shines more so than most who don’t call the fabled speedway home on a weekly basis.
“Third in the 200 is definitely up there on my list of accomplishments here,” stated Mahaney. “The win in the Jack Johnson race trumps everything here because he’s an absolute legend in the sport but money-wise, this is right up there with them. It’s big money and I’m really happy that Brett [Deyo] put this on.”
When the idea of hosting a 200-lap modified race once again within the confines of the hallowed grounds that is the Fonda Speedway was announced less than a year ago, many naysayers thought it would be a venerable crap-show and not worth the time or effort. Saturday night’s third-place finisher, amongst many others, vehemently disagree.
“They executed the whole night really well,” Mahaney explained. “Even through the rain delay, everyone handled it perfectly. There’s a lot of issues there with making sure everyone stays within the rulebook and nobody works on their cars and such and they really got control, made sure that the cars were covered and people weren’t messing with them. We got through the rain delay and they executed everything like they were supposed to by the rulebook. I’m really happy that it came out that way and that we were able to be part of it.”
So, the question remains: should a 200-lap modified event at Fonda Speedway be a regular staple at the end of the year like it had been for decades prior? According to at least one prominent driver the answer is a simple yet resounding yes.
“No doubt I’d come back and run a 200 here again,” concluded Mahaney. “Absolutely. You have to. I hope they do it every year; it should be a tradition at this track and many others.”