By KEN BRUCE
When it comes to winning the bigger paying Modified races, especially on the Short Track Super Series, the New York based drivers tend to dominate the headlines. Of course, when you have Stewart Friesen, Matt Sheppard and Mat Williamson representing the north, that makes it much easier to do.
As we head into the 2022 season, there seems to be a couple of drivers who are set to change that trend. If the finish of last Saturday’s Rebel 50 at Cherokee Speedway as part of the new STSS Halmar International Elite Series is any indication, that change seems to have taken the first step.
New Jersey drivers Ryan Godown, Billy Pauch Jr., and Jimmy Horton finished first, third and fourth on Saturday night showing that they are ready to take that step and be in the mix for not only the STSS Elite Series, but also on the STSS South Series.
Ryan Godown held off New York driver Larry Wight to take the big $25,000 to win with Pauch and Horton both coming from deep in the field starting spots for top five finishes. A video with the winner will be posted on the DTD.com shortly.
Pauch had a great car coming into Friday night’s qualifying heats after having the fastest lap in Thursday’s practice sessions. Unfortunately for Pauch, a bad pill draw on Friday found the Frenchtown, NJ driver having to start 12th in his qualifying race. Pauch made the best of it and got up to fifth to qualify but missing out on a coveted redraw spot.
Starting the $25,000 to win Rebel 50 back in 19th spot, Pauch knew he had a lot of hard work in front of him especially with the quality of drivers starting towards the front. Pauch behind the wheel a very fast Rick Holsten owned #96 modified knew he had a good car and worked his way towards the front at a steady pace.
“We had a very strong run,” cited Pauch as he talked about his race on Saturday. “We had good speed on Thursday during practice, but when I drew bad. I knew it was going to be a long weekend, but we were able to bail ourselves out of that. It was pretty damn cool to be able to get through and get ourselves a good finish. I didn’t know how much tire I had left at the end so I backed it down just a little and figured at we can take a third place finish out of the weekend.”
Pauch knew what he needed to do, but track conditions hampered him early in the race.
“It took me a little while to get rolling because I really couldn’t see where I was going to be honest,” mentioned Pauch. “Once the track cleared up and the dust settled, I could kind of maneuver the car a little bit. Once I started pounding the top I was able to roll around some cars and we were pretty good. Then there was that big wreck coming off of turn two and I was able to get by four or five cars and that made it a little bit easier. Then I made a couple of mistakes. I overdrove turn one and then got tight in turn three and after that I was able to get back to where we needed to be.
“I got Sheppard on a restart and then on the next one the yellow came out and I thought the top was better,” explained Pauch. “Then it started raining and I had to switch grooves a little bit to see where I needed to be. I found it so then I knew where we needed to be.”
The Pauch/Holsten No. 96 team has progressed every year to get to the point where they need to be to compete with the Friesen’s and the Sheppard’s on a steady basis and both driver and car owner seem to be on the same page to accomplish that goal.
“We have a really good combination going right now and I am pretty ecstatic about going into the year,” mentioned Pauch. “In four races this year we have a second, third and two fourths. We have had a really strong start to the year and are very confident we can keep it going at Georgetown in two weeks. We have been really good there but honestly you never know what can happen when you go there.”
Going into the second STSS Halmar International Elite series race at Georgetown in two weeks where the Pauch/Holsten combination has won five consecutive races has the team beaming with confidence.
“It has given us a lot of confidence and I am big preacher of that,” cited Pauch. “I have been doing this along time and I think we have more confidence now that we ever had, and it that is the sign of the year to come I think we have a really strong year ahead of us and just keeping the momentum driving with everything we do. Confidence breeds success and success comes off of that and that is what we are hoping to build off of.”
Pauch mentioned while being interviewed after the race that he thought it was time for the New Jersey and southern Modified drivers to step it up and challenge the New York drivers for supremacy and expanded on that during our talk.
“I said in victory lane on Saturday night that it’s been many years now that they’ve come down here and whooped our butts,” said Pauch. “Now I finally feel like the two of us (Billy Pauch Jr and Ryan Godown) are at that point where we need to be where we can at least give it a good shot. Years we would struggle but now that we are on the American Racers, and I know Matt (Sheppard) and Stew (Friesen) will still shine. I know we don’t have a ton of laps on some of the tracks, but I am confident we are to the point that we can figure it out. But looking at everything, I think either myself or Ryan have a shot at this deal to represent the southern drivers. Mike Gular was pretty fast as well but just didn’t have anything go his way. It will be interesting to see where we all stack up once we get back north.”
Horton happy to start off 2022 with a strong fourth-place finish
It is no secret that Jimmy Horton and his No. No. 43 Halmar International racing team had a season in 2021 that he would rather forget. The 65-year-old veteran driver out of Neshanic Station, N.J., had a year in which finishing a race was considered a success as the team was plagued with mechanical issues throughout, and to top it off, Horton found himself injured late last season when the trailer door broke and fell on him injuring his back.
However, 2022 is a new year and Horton is looking to get back to contending for wins. The team built a new Bicknell chassis car late last year which was fast each time out. Unfortunately he fell victim to the aforementioned mechanical woes. Horton brought back that same car from last year to race at Cherokee Speedway in the Rebel 50. Starting the feature race in the 22nd starting spot, Horton brought the car home for solid fourth place finish to get 2022 off on the right foot.
“On race day we got going pretty good, things fell our way,” explained Horton after his top five run. “We got some breaks, and we were consistent on Saturday.”
At the halfway point of the race, the running order still showed Horton in 22nd place and it seemed like a top five finish was out of the question, but Horton came on strong in the second half of the race to make it up to fourth and had his sights set on Pauch for third when the checkered flag ended the race.
“The problem in the beginning of the race was that you couldn’t see,” said Horton. “It was so dusty, and I felt the track was still pretty wet where I wanted to race, and I didn’t want to take a chance on putting up there and getting in the wet and knocking the wall down. We got that restart there and I saw it was drying out, so I put the car up there and started pounding the top the rest of the race. That’s where I stayed while everyone else was running in the black and around the bottom leaving the top lane open for me to move on up.”
Horton’s run to the front did not come without some trials and tribulations.
“With not being able to see that good, I knocked the backstretch wall down two or three times when I hit it and I didn’t think I was that close,” explained Horton. “The one time I hit it, I thought we were done because the front end came around and hit it and we climbed the wall a little bit.”
After last season, this was a great way to get the new year started giving Horton some confidence as the team looks ahead.
“Like I said, it was a good run for us to start off the year and hopefully we can do the same thing at Georgetown and have a good run there. We’ll take the same car and see how it goes. This was the same car we used late in the season last year at Middletown except with a big small-block in it.”
The Halmar No. 43 team has just taken delivery of two new Bicknell chassis for the coming season. The team will use both of those new chassis for Orange County with one equipped with a big-block and the other a spec 358 motor as Horton plans to run both Modified divisions at his home track. The car Horton used Saturday at Cherokee will be primarily used for the STSS races in which Horton plans to compete in the Elite Series and on the South Series.
“We picked up our two new cars about a week and a half before we left for Cherokee,” cited Horton. “We have the one pretty close to being done and we’ll thrash on that in the next couple of weeks, the other one is just a frame and body still sitting there. The one car that we have is close to being done will be our big-block car for Middletown and the other one will for the 358 car for Middletown and wherever else we might need it.”
It will be a busy season for Horton on Saturday nights as plans are for now to run both the big and small block divisions at Middletown.
“We are going to try and do them both,” said Horton. “At least until the old man gets tired, meaning me the driver.”
Horton went on to talk about the car he ran on Saturday night at Cherokee.
“I wanted to name this car the Snake because it has been snakebit. Every time we came out with it, it would always be in the top five and something would happen to it. I had a chance to win a couple of races with it and something would always happen. I only ran the car six or seven time and every time it was going to the front before it broke. At Port Royal we were going good and got caught up in a wreck, at Eastern States we were going to finish probably fifth or sixth and it broke with about 10 or15 laps to go. Like I said, it was just snakebit. I think that it why I left it outside all winter, so the snakes would leave. I never even unloaded that car from Eastern States for about two months.”
If you have any comments or questions, feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or message me on Twitter @dirtracefan25