By BILL FOLEY
The first edition of the Empire State Challenge had come to an end around 9:30 p.m. on Sunday and the fans poured into the pits.
With the big-blocks having the final race of the night the pits were closed. Were the fans going to have the opportunity to get an up close look?
Well, surprisingly it was like the old days at Weedsport when the Outlaw drivers came to town. Those old timers stayed for as long as the fans needed to see them. In today’s racing world the contact of this nature has disappeared as teams load up and head for the next long distance stop.
However, Sunday was just what grassroots racing should be all about. Many Sprint teams left their cars unloaded and I saw Donny Schatz, Logan Schuchart, Carson Macedo, Kraig Kinser, David Gravel and Larry Wight (there were probably more) signing their cards for fans, getting selfies or pics taken and just talking to folks who loved racing.
It was like the old days and it felt good.
Whether you are a Donny Schatz fan or not you had to be happy for the multi-time World of Outlaw Champion. He’s come on some hard times as they have been researching and developing the Ford Sprint Car engine. Wins have been rare in the past couple of years.
But he led from green to checker in a non-stop feature event for a win number 305 and win number three at Weedsport. To go along with second the night before the Tony Stewart owned team had a great weekend.
Fans saw an outstanding three car battle though the closing stages as Gravel, from his ninth starting spot, and Logan Schuchart (from seventh) had a three car, traffic fighting battle. Gravel was all over Donny while Logan just needed a little grip and you had the feeling he was going to win this one. It certainly was an exciting eight minutes and twenty-eight seconds of feature racing.
It was an Outlaw night at the finish as Schatz, Gravel and Schuchart were followed by Brock Zearfoss and James McFadden for an all-Outlaw top five. Seventh and eighth were Outlaw regulars Brad Sweet and Spencer Bayston while Sheldon Haudenschild was tenth.
So who finished sixth and ninth?
Local Modified fans had their chance to cheer as Larry Wight was sixth in a career Outlaw night and Danny Varin ninth.
Wight got the attention of the Outlaws right out of the box as he timed in second overall with his 360.
Larry said, “I feel really good about it. We were the first car out and I used up all there was before tehe others got out there. It is awesome to be able to compete with these guys, but I now need to produce. However, it’s awesome and it does make the night a little easier.”
Wight followed up with a dominating heat win over Sweet and McFadden, drew six for the dash and finished fourth and ran as high as third on lap one of the feature.
Varin, out in his 410 for only the second time this year, said after his time trial which saw him fourth quick overall behind Schatz, Wight and Zearfoss, “It pretty incredible. I missed my mark in time trials as I looked down for a moment and it cost me.”
Night one he was doing pretty well, but he felt he could have done better than his tenth place finish as he explained, “I slipped up at the start. There was a wet spot in four and I slide up the track. Six cars got by me. I kicked myself last night and again today for that mistake.”
However, overall a ninth and tenth in his first two nights out with his 410, against the World of Outlaws wasn’t so bad.
Paulie Colagiovanni finished up his weekend with an 11th while Cicero’s Joe Trenca had a good night in 14th while other area regulars were Matt Farnham (18th), Chris Hile (20th), Jordan Thomas (21st), Dave Axton (22nd) and Dalton Rombough (23rd).
Modifieds Put on Solid Show
The instant classic between Wight, Tim Fuller and Anthony Perrego was another green to checker feature.
Traffic is part of racing and Sean Beardsley made it interesting. Wight tried everything to get by him in the closing stages and then when Torrey Stoughtenger ran alongside Sean for several laps the leaders were hanging on for dear life. It was what racing is. (See Additional Story on DTD) You have to love it as a fan.
Wight got his first big-block win at Weedsport since 2011.
Fuller got second at the line and he thought it was a 40, not 35, lap event.
One interesting comment from Tim was, “I was blinded by the flames coming out of the back end of the 4 on every lap. I don’t know what it was.”
Perrego was disappointed, but was using the night for a shakedown for the upcoming 100 lapper. He said, “I need to get better on the slick up here. Orange County, where we run regularly, is slick, but this is a totally different kind of slick.”
Earlier in the weekend Max McLaughlin said about the slick conditions in New York, “It’s slick up here, but nothing like Orange County. He it is like ice, but as Peter Britten said Orange County is like putting butter on ice. However, running down there certainly has helped me run much better at places like Canandaigua.”
Chad Phelps and his team thrashed on their car to get to Weedsport. The X sustained extensive left rear damage on Friday at Brewerton. Replaced were a spool, bell, tube, axle, shock and spring and the car wasn’t really ready until Sunday afternoon. So fourth in the main was pretty good.
Ronnie Davis III was fifth and much like Phelps ran his position relatively uncontested for 35 laps. He noted the outcome was decided early as “I needed to be on the bottom and started outside.”
Tough break for Matt Sheppard as he attempted to pass Darren Smith the two made contact inflicting a race ending flat for the 9s. Matt has been progressing well through the field.
Chris Hile had left his big-block home as he felt it was too much for him to do both. Hile had a very respectable weekend in his Sprint appearance. Hopefully this wasn’t a one time arrangement.
Young Jackson Gill had an up and down weekend. In 358 action on Saturday he was DQ’d from his heat after on track contact with another car. He said, “No one told us we were DQ’d so I missed the consi. I guess we should have looked at the line up. So I didn’t get to run the feature. I have to forget it and move on. I just need to get more experience and seat time in the big-block.”
Well, it ended up decently as he came home eighth.
Darren Smith continues to show improvement with a sixth place finish in the Jeremy Smith Racing 12.
Tim Sears Jr. was seventh, Peter Britten ninth and Alex Payne 10th.
Hopefully, there will be a second year for the Empire State Challenge.
Big-block and 358 racing were exposed to new fans who might have come out to watch the Outlaws, the Sunday night show was efficiently run, crowds were huge and fields were full (a different date further away from Knoxville and big Pennsy shows might help), but overall it was a weekend well spent at Weedsport Speedway.