By KEN BRUCE
What started out as a tough night for Mat Williamson ended on a good note as Williamson drove from a 19th place starting spot and ended up with a solid fourth-place finish garnering his No. team a guaranteed starting spot in the Speed Showcase 200 on Saturday night. With his fourth-place finish Williamson can start no lower than the 17th spot for the big race.
A bad draw saw Williamson having to start deep in the field for his race and with such a talented field of drivers in each heat Williamson could not pass enough cars to get up into a qualified spot coming up just short. Williamson easily won his consolation race putting him into the field for the 40-lap main event.
Williamson charged through field quickly using the rash of early cautions to aide his progress. A lap 15 caution for Michael Maresca found Williamson in the eighth position as he continued his charge to the front. Another caution was displayed on lap 16 and now Williamson was up to the sixth spot. It was green flag racing the remainder of the race and Williamson was able to work by Rocky Warner and Peter Britten to get to fourth. The last few laps of the race found Williamson hounding Mike Mahaney for a podium finish but in the end had to settle for a fourth-place finish.
“We had a good car in the feature tonight, but I probably should’ve been a little more aggressive early in the feature and if I did that I could’ve been where Billy Pauch Jr was tonight,” Williamson explained about his race from the back. “Billy was a little better than we were in the beginning but at the end I thought we were as good as him. I was catching both him and Mike Mahaney but just kind of ran out of laps. It wasn’t a bad run, certainly better than it could’ve been.
“There was some carnage up there early on with a lot of yellows and I just wanted to keep the nose of the car clean so we can put it in the trailer tonight. We did what we wanted to and got ourselves a guaranteed spot for the 200 because these draw races are not my favorites.”
What Williamson was referring to was that the top four finishers from tonight’s race automatically locked themselves into Saturday’s Speed Showcase 200 and can start no worse than the 17th spot. Locking himself into the race takes pressure off of the team as they approach Friday’s qualifying races which will allow them to better their starting spot but also gives the team a chance to try some different things knowing they are already locked in.
“Locking ourselves in is a obviously very good thing,” mentioned Williamson. “And what we are going to do tomorrow is go to the draw and if we start in the top two rows of the heat, we’ll race and if we don’t start in the top two rows we’ll treat it as a hot lap session. So that is kind of nice, hopefully the track is a little better earlier in the day tomorrow like it was in the feature tonight to allow more passing in the heat races. This place is awesome and please don’t take that what I said there as a complaint because this place is amazing.”
Port Royal Speedway as everyone knows is predominantly a sprint car track where most drivers run up against the wall and rip the cushion through the turns. The cushion for the Modifieds tonight was not quite as high as it is for the 410’s but there was a cushion on the top and that seemed to be the fastest way around the track.
“It was definitely edgy up there tonight and there were some drivers who went by me tonight that were probably better than me but ran out of talent there getting into three,” cited Williamson. “It’s treacherous out there up on the wall and if you can do that for 200 laps on Saturday more power to you and hat’s off to you. We have a good car off the cushion, Jeff (Behrent) put this car together the last couple of weeks and it goes to show you how good he is putting cars together to be able to come out here without a hot lap session and be as good as we are and I can’t thank him enough. We had a disappointing dirt week last week so it felt good to come out tonight and race well.”
I asked Williamson one more question. What can you take away from tonight’s 40-lap feature and apply it to Saturday’s 200-lap race?
“Yes, that I need to go back to the hotel and hit the gym!”
Fifth-Place for Britten
Peter Britten has never raced at Port Royal before last night and the driver out of Queensland, Australia surprised himself with a great run ending up with a fifth-place finish .
“This was good tonight, I have never even seen this place before and to have a good run tonight like we did was awesome,” explained Britten standing next to his No. 21A after the race.
“To be honest with you, after the draw and starting seventh in the heat and redrawing two and qualifying three, my goal was just to qualify and man were stellar in the heat race. I was able to work on the bottom and got up to second and got in the redraw so that was nice. Surprising but nice!”
Britten was very impressed with the track and the facility here at Port Royal.
“This is a beautiful place and the track is really racy,” said Britten. “You could move around and run both the top and the bottom. It kind of reminded you more of the Charlotte style of race track or a Volusia type deal where the racing is fast paced and has a cushion up top but I think the track had a pretty good balance tonight. There was a point there where you kind of had to be on the top but there were also guys there still rolling the bottom and the middle and the best thing is that if you had faster race car you could move forward and that’s all you can ask for.
“To come here for the first time and get a fifth-place finish here is good for us. I am not used to running a track with a cushion. We rarely ever have a cushion up in New York and our cars aren’t made for that. Those sprint cars have those big right rear tires and they can handle that roughness up there but these cars have much smaller tires so our cars get upset much easier so it’s harder for out cars to run a lip like that compared to a sprint car but either way it’s the same for everybody and you have to make the most of it. Just don’t hit it too hard so you don’t bike over it.”
Port Royal Notes
61 cars signed in for action last night with the six heat races being won by Alex Yankowski, Max McLaughlin, Michael Maresca, Matt Sheppard, Josh Hohenforst & Danny Bouc. The three consolation races were taken by Matt Williamson, Stewart Friesen & Billy Decker…
Larry Wight, Andy Bachetti, David Vanhorn & Jimmy Horton were all DNQ’s Thursday night and were added as provisionals…
Tough night for Ryan Watt as the No. 14W exploded a motor at the finish of his heat race running fourth. Watt, who had entered his backup car for Dave Shirk to race ended up driving the car himself started last in his consi and failed to qualify. By virtue of his win at Georgetown two weeks ago, Watt is locked into the 200 on Saturday…
Ryan Godown had a great run in his heat race starting seventh and getting past some talented drivers to qualify third. Godown was steady in the feature running just outside the top ten most of the race and finishing tenth…
Danny Bouc put on a show in his heat race after starting eighth. Bouc’s Craig & Lesley Pondish No. 6 was a rocket passing everyone in front of him to win the heat race going away. Bouc’s heat race win earned him the Bill Brown & Company heat race hard charger $50…
Max McLaughlin had another great run going in the Vic Coffey No. 32C. Unfortunately for McLaughlin he hopped the cushion in turn three while running second and slammed the wall hard resulting in a flat tire and a trip to the pits…
Larry Wight was another driver who had motor troubles in his heat race and having to resort to using a backup car in the consi. Wight failed to qualify but received a provisional to get him into the feature…
A total of nine cautions within the first 20 laps of the race repeatedly slowed the action. Thankfully all of them were for minor incidents or flat tires…
Andy Bachetti was not happy with Stewart Friesen during the feature race. Bachetti who had pulled his car to the infield one lap earlier came back out onto the race track one lap later when the caution flag was displayed and chased down Friesen and let the Sprakers, NY driver know that he was not happy bumping into the Halmar No. 44 multiple times…
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