By KEN BRUCE
Ryan Watt has won many big races in his many years of racing but there are two races the Boyertown, Pa., driver has sought out to define his career, the Coalcracker 72 and the Freedom 76. After Sunday night, Watt can put a check-mark next to the Coalcracker 72 as the “Electric Company” went out and dominated the field en route to the big win and the $17,000 first place prize in his familiar Roberts Racing No. 14W. Including lap leader bonus money and other awards, Watt took home almost $20,000 dollars total for the night. It was a race the team will never forget.
“Man, this is awesome! Right out of the box today the car felt good even in warmups,” said an obviously excited Watt standing in the trailer taking it all in. “Then in the heat race to go out and drive by Dippel there to get the win was great. I knew I was in a redraw spot there behind Dippel but I wasn’t comfortable sitting there in second with Decker and Laubach behind me. The car just kept getting better and honestly all we did after the heat race was to put harder tires on it and add fuel.”
This season has not gone quite as smoothly as years past have for Watt mostly due the COVID-19 pandemic, but then again, 2020 hasn’t gone smoothly for many. Watt has only been to victory lane once this season in a Modified with that win coming at Grandview Speedway back in July in a Thunder on the Hill show. Watt does have a USAC Wingless 360 Sprint Car win at Georgetown driving Tim Hogue’s No. 39 car. Other than that, it’s been a year the No. 14W team has struggled to find victory lane.
Through it all the team has maintained it’s never say die attitude and is always prepared to race when they unload the car. Watt’s crew is made up of many and each member knows his or her job whether it be at the track or on race day. Add in good friend and ERK Steering owner Erick Kormann to the role of crew chief when he is available. It makes them that much better.
After racing at Delaware International Speedway on Saturday night where Watt finished second in his experimental TEO chassis, the attention turned to Sunday’s big Coalcracker 72 race. On the long drive home from Delaware Watt started to focus on his car and what he wanted to do to make it race ready. There are always little things to do to prepare a car but that is not how Ryan Watt thinks, he wants to be at his best on race day and will do whatever work is necessary to get that accomplished. After running their spec head 358 car all year on torsion bars, Watt had the idea to switch the car over to a coil over set-up for Sunday. It was a decision that proved to be the way to go for Watt as won the highest paying race of his career.
“Looking at the results up here this year, it was something I thought we needed to do,” said Watt as he explained his reasoning for switching over the cars suspension. “Strunk has won with his Bicknell car on coils, Gular has won a couple with his, (Alex) Yankowski won two in a row and if you look back at all the cars who have won here this year, the only car that won a Modified feature here this year that wasn’t on coils was Timmy Buckwalter with his torsion bar deal and I just felt like the odds were better to be on the coils. It is really the first time all year that I’ve ran my spec head on this coil deal with this Bicknell. I was comfortable with my torsion deal, but I figured it was time to try the coils.”
Starting in the third spot, Watt wasted no time in getting to the front passing Tyler Dippel and polesitter Shawn Fitzpatrick to take over the lead as lap two was scored. Although never having a huge lead, Watt maintained a safe advantage throughout as the race progressed. The only time Watt was really challenged was on a lap 25 restart when Tyler Dippel was able to get a good run on the outside. Ultimately Watt was able to hold off the challenge to remain in the lead.
“On that restart, Dippel started to roll a little early on me,” explained Watt. “He then was able to stay even with me when I didn’t clear him coming out of four and we ended up running side-by-side for a lap and a half before I was able to clear him. That is about the only restart I felt a lot of pressure. When Craig (Von Dohren) was there I didn’t see him coming out of four so I knew I had the advantage there and then I could walk the car out to the wall and arc my entry into turn one. I knew once I was able to get clear on the starts that I was pretty fast around the bottom and knew it would be tough for someone to get past.”
Other than the Short Track Super Series race back in June, this was the team’s first visit to Big Diamond this season and Watt made it payoff in a big way.
“I really had planned to get to Big Diamond earlier this year but with the whole COVID-19 situation it really screwed up everyone’s racing schedules,” cited Watt. “Jake’s (track promoter Jake Smulley) done a great job here and pays good money, but it just didn’t work out for me to get here this season between Logan’s racing and my running the Sprint Car it didn’t leave too many Fridays open to get here. Plus, we only had the one spec head motor and we didn’t want to put too many laps on it before this race and the 76er. Everyone here at Big Diamond does a great job and it sure feels good to win this race.”
An emotional Watt was very thankful of his big win as it brought back memories when Watt started racing at Big Diamond driving a car for the late Fran Purcell. To this day members of the Purcell family will purchase tires for Watt to run just for this event.
“I ran back here in the 90’s for Fran Purcell and we won a few races together here. Still to this day, Fran’s sons always buy us a pair of tires to use for this race and tonight we were able to get the job done for them and their dad.
“I have to thank Ronnie (Roberts) and Fay for everything to do for me and allowing me to race whenever and wherever we want. I also have to thank my wife Lesley and my son Logan for their support and also my crew for all of their hard work. Without any of them I wouldn’t be standing here today.”
Second-Place run for Gular
Mike Gular has been a force all season long at Big Diamond Speedway with two wins and multiple top five finishes that has propelled him to the lead in the season long points race. Gular and crew chief Jeremy Pottgier have executed their program to perfection all season with all roads leading to the big one, the Coalcracker 72. Gular was the force everyone expected him to be on Sunday. Gular finished second in his race which garnered the Boyertown, PA one of the 12 coveted redraw spots. Gular drew the number seven starting spot. Early in the race Gular tried to take it easy as to save his car for the second half of the 72-lap race. Once the race was past the halfway mark, it was now time for Gular to make a charge.
Gular raced into the top five and started to work on Matt Sheppard for fourth. Gular was one of the few to try and make the outside work and was able to get to the alongside Sheppard but just didn’t have enough to get all the way past the former Coalcracker winner. Finally, Gular was able to clear Sheppard and set his sights on third-place runner Craig Von Dohren. When second place running Tyler Dippel slowed to bring out the caution, Gular was now up to third. Gular was able to work his way past Von Dohren for second but ran out of time to challenge Watt having to settle for second.
“We tried to make the outside work tonight, but it ended up to far out,” cited a disappointed, but still satisfied Gular after the race. “There were a lot of divisions here tonight and it got really wide and there wasn’t much you could do about it. I was trying to take it easy and conserve in the beginning and keep the tires under me, but we were tight in the beginning as well, so we let it free up some. We were good at the end, just not good enough to Ryan (Watt). The only chance I had at the end is if he messed up but he wasn’t going to mess up with $17,000 waiting for him. If you can’t win it, second is not too bad. The 76er is next up so now we’ll focus on that one.”
Von Dohren grabs a podium finish
Defending Coalcracker 72 winner Craig Von Dohren thought he had the car to win his fifth Coalcracker. Von Dohren who started in 12th, worked his way through the field early on passing the likes of Sheppard, Gular and Howard and looked like he had the car to beat as he marched to the front. But a combination of factors forced the Oley, Pa, driver to have to settle for a hard-fought third place finish. Von Dohren like Gular tried to make the outside work during the race but by the time Von Dohren was close enough to try and make a challenge for the lead, the outside groove starting slowing down causing him to move down low and try and protect his runner-up spot. Gular was able to get past Von Dohren late in race as Von Dohren was starting to lose the handling on his car. Von Dohren was able to hold a late race charge by Duane Howard to finish third.
“The outside just wore out tonight, it was okay in the beginning,” said a visibly worn out Von Dohren after the race. “Then the bottom started taking rubber and the bottom got faster and the top got slower. We drew a bad number to start so we had to try something, and we did. Then late in the race we had a fitting break on the power steering line, so I had no power steering the last 10 or 12 laps and that wore me out. It was a good run; we have a good team here and we’ll fix it up and be back after we get the schedule I guess.”
Big Diamond Bits
A total of 53 Modifieds made the tow to Big Diamond Speedway on Sunday for this years Coalcracker 72 with some of the biggest names in modified racing in attendance. A total of six heats were run with Anthony Perrego, Andy Bachetti, Shawn Fitzpatrick, Matt Sheppard, Craig Von Dohren & Ryan Watt taking the wins. The three consolation races were won by Dillon Steuer, Frank Cozze & Lance Willix II
Alex Yankowski looked to have his heat race in the bag when suddenly a belt came off on the motor causing the youngster to be pushed into the pits…
Larry Wight was behind the wheel of a Brett Kressley No. 19K on Sunday but a bad draw early in the night forced him to start deep in his heat race. Wight had a rough time and did not qualify and wasn’t able to make it through the consi…
With the strong field on hand there were plenty of name drivers not making the 27-car starting field. Max McLaughlin, Jack Lehner, Larry Wight, Neal Williams, Danny Creeden, and Richie Pratt Jr., were amongst those who did not make the race…
Cory Merkel, Kevin Graver Jr and Doug Hendricks were added to the field as provisional starters courtesy of the track along with the Big Diamond Dog Pound…
Billy Pauch Jr., had high hopes for this year’s Coalcracker but unfortunately for Pauch Jr, he hit a yuke tire on lap eleven causing the steering link to break. Pauch slowed on the backstretch to try and stop safely but with the broken steering the car veered across the track. Rick Laubach with no where to go ran into the side of Pauch’s car causing DNF’s for both drivers…
Zubi’s Racing owner Dave Zubikowski was so impressed with his driver Dillon Steuer after the debuted their new Bicknell chassis that he ordered another one for his young driver. Steuer started deep in the field on Sunday and drove to a seventh place finish in the feature…
Andy Bachetti made the long tow to Big Diamond from Sheffield, Mass., and had a great run going in the feature when he suddenly pulled off the track ending in an DNF…
Bobby Trapper Sr., had a hard crash in his consolation race ending up landing on the hood of the Jared Umbenhauer No. 1H ending the night for both drivers…
Shoutout to Brad Keitsock, Kevin Schaeffer and the rest of the Big Diamond Dog Pound for putting up many extra cash rewards for this year’s Coalcracker and for that matter all season long. They are a big plus for everyone at Big Diamond Speedway…
Lastly, kudos to track owners and promoters Jake and Jasmine Smulley for all of their efforts in putting together this year’s Coalcracker weekend. Sunday’s crowd was the biggest crowd I have ever seen at the speedway…
If you have any questions or comments, I can reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @dirtracefan25