Yankowski a Rocket in Coalcracker 72 Domination Plus Notes and Quotes – DTD Exclusive

By KEN BRUCE

Seventeen-year-old Alex Yankowski put on a clinic for the rest of the field on Monday in the 41st running of the Fritz Roerhrig, Jack Rich Inc., Coalcracker 72 at Big Diamond Speedway. Yankowski who drew the pole starting spot had the lead on lap three after Matt Stangle broke. After that Yankowksi had the No. 84Y set on kill. Yankowski is in only his third year of Modified competition and the Covington Township, Pa., driver won two of the three biggest races of the year at Big Diamond Speedway. Back in May Yankowski won the $5,000 to win Money in the Mountains race and then backed that up with his dominating performance on Monday in this year’s Coalcracker 72.

Honestly, I don’t think it mattered where Yankowski would have started in Monday’s Coalcracker as he was just that good. When starter Jeff Merkel threw the double checkered flags on Monday, Yankowski was almost a half a track in front of second place finisher Dominick Buffalino.

“It just comes down to having good guys that keep this car on the track,” said a very happy Yankowski in his trailer afterwards while soaking in the biggest win of his young career. “Kevin Bates is like a brother to me; we are so close and we work well together. We have Dennis, Bruce and Peety and we all work so hard that it is good to see it all paying off.

“The car was so good tonight; I was able to move around the track and I think that is what made us as good as we were early on. The track changed a lot during the race, which I expected. I thought it was going to burn off, but it didn’t, so it was just a matter of being able to move the car around and not hit the ruts too bad.”




Usually in long races, traffic becomes an issue as the leaders catch the tail-end of the pack, but other than early in the race when Duane Howard and Jeff Strunk made a run at Yankowski as he approached the tail end of the pack, Yankowski had no such troubles.

“Being able to move around as much as we could contributed to the fact that we didn’t have too many issues with traffic tonight,” mentioned Yankowski. “I could go to the top, the middle or the bottom with the car tonight which made it so much better to get through traffic.”

Restarts are such a big factor at Big Diamond or anywhere for that matter and Monday was no exception. Choosing the right lane on the restarts, especially with drivers like Howard and Strunk alongside of you goes a big way in deciding the final outcome. Yankowski choose the outside on each restart, and it paid off as he was able to hold off his competition.

“Choosing the outside was more of a momentum thing tonight,” explained Yankowski. “I was nervous that I did the wrong thing on the first restart, but it worked out for me and even the second time I was doubting my choice, but in the end, it was the right choice.  I am glad it stayed green the second half of the race, so I didn’t have to choose again.”

Still being a teenager, Yankowski had to hold off the likes of the grizzled veterans Howard, Buffalino and Strunk who were all his idols growing up. It was a feat that Yankowski didn’t let go unnoticed.

“It’s awesome to be able to win against these guys,” stated Yankowski. “As you just saw, Strunky was just here in the trailer, and he was one of my favorite racers growing up and still is for that matter. It is awesome to have the respect of drivers like them, get to race with them and to also be able to get to know them as a person. This whole night was truly incredible for me and for my team.  I can’t be more thankful to everyone involved, especially my mom and dad.”

Buffalino Races to Second Place Finish

The original plan was Dominick Buffalino to race at Big Diamond most of the year. Unfortunately, engine issues derailed those plans and aided by a hard crash at Big Diamond early in the year that destroyed the Glenn Hyneman No. 126. The team made sure they were ready for a return to Big Diamond at the Prelude to the Coalcracker at the end of August and then it was time to prepare for the season ending Coalcracker 72.

Buffalino started fifth in Monday’s season finale and ran in the top five throughout the race.  He made his way to second late, but by that time, Yankowski had checked out on the field. After reaching second, Buffalino needed a caution flag to see if he had anything for the leader.  The caution never came and Buffalino was forced to settle for the runner-up spot. It was a good finish for the Sayreville, N.J., driver who hasn’t made many starts at Big Diamond.

“I have raced in the Coalcracker before and I think I finished 10th the last time I was here about five or six years ago,” stated Buffalino standing next to his second-place finishing Modified in the tech shed. “Drawing good helps and starting fifth is big here where there is not really a whole lot of passing. Saying that, we did start fifth and there were some pretty good cars in front of us so to come here and race with Strunk and Howard who race here every week and being able to finish ahead of them is nothing to be ashamed of. The win and taking home $17,000 would have been a little nicer, but I am happy with finishing second.”

Talking about Strunk, Buffalino and Strunk waged a heavyweight battle for second for many laps until Buffalino was finally able to get past for good.

“We had a really good clean battle going there for a while,” explained Buffalino. “I knew he was getting under me there and you have to be able to get into the corners and not scrub off too much speed to let them get a nose up under you, but you also don’t want to miss the bottom. I did change my line to the top later and Glenn (car owner Glenn Hyneman) told me that Strunk and Howard stayed to the bottom. I have been here other times and there was only one lane, but tonight there were two very distinct lanes.”

For Buffalino to only have raced here a few times this season, those experiences gave him some knowledge of how he needed to race to be competitive.

“The few times I was here, what I learned is that you have to be able to rotate the car and cannot get yourself too tight,” said Buffalino. “All of the other tracks we run; you generally have to tighten the car up for the feature, but I’ve learned here that you just have to leave it alone. That’s the biggest thing I learned here I guess, and also to not hit the wall full throttle going into turn three. We have had some bad luck here this year as I should’ve had a couple of top five finishes already, and not that the track owed us anything, but it certainly feels good to have a good finish in the track’s biggest race.

“You know when we here in the beginning of the year, the car we had wasn’t one that I built and was stuff they had from last year and the biggest difference is that Jeff (Strunk) is probably 75 pounds lighter than I am and the cars were heavy. This car is the car we ran at Bridgeport all year and it is something I am more comfortable with.”

Howard Finishes the Year with a Podium Finish

The way the season went for Howard and car owner Butch Getz was not what they envisioned at the start. The No. 15G team did not have a bad yeah at Big Diamond as they finished second in points being passed by Timmy Buckwalter on the final night of the regular season. They did have a win in July in the annual Topless race and were very consistent all season long. Still with caliber of a driver such as Howard, they wanted more.

Monday night the team continued with their consistency with a third-place finish in the season ending Coalcracker 72. For Howard, who is a master in these long-distance races having won the Coalcracker seven times, it was a good finish, but left the team wanting more.

“The race wasn’t bad, we started up front and fell back to fourth,” cited a happy yet disappointed Howard as he talked to me in the tech shed. “I made a mistake in one and two after I saw Alex (Yankowski) go to the top so I figured I would try it and I just about dumped it over. The track was really choppy and I couldn’t really move around.  I had to stay on the bottom and I just got to bouncy and chattering.

“It was a good run, but not really what we wanted. I tried to stay with Alex there, but he was just too fast tonight. It’s tough here as you know, and you need to start up front, especially with the talent that was here tonight. We were able to start up front tonight and I couldn’t take advantage of it, so yeah, that is disappointing.”

Big Diamond Gems – Coalcracker 72 Style:

A season high 42 Modifieds signed in for the Coalcracker 72 with heat wins going to Howard, Max McLaughlin, Craig Von Dohren and Yankowski. The two consi’s were won by Mike Gular & Anthony Perrego…

The caliber of the field could be measured by the drivers who failed to qualify such as defending champion Ryan Watt and three-time Coalcracker winner Ryan Godown. Others who failed to make the 25-car starting field were Cole Stangle, Brian Malcolm, Cale Ross, Shawn Light, Scott Albert, Mike Tyson, Heath Metzger, Kyle Weiss, Cory Renninger, Kevin Beach Jr, Tanner Vandoren, Dave Hunt, Jessi Leiby, Butch Getz and Andy Burkhart…

Former driver Butch Getz, who is the owner the No. 15G driven by Duane Howard, returned to the driver’s seat for the Coalcracker race. Getz was involved in a incident in his heat race and was done for the night…

To say the heat races were competitive would be an understatement as the aggressive meter was pegged with many incidents occurring…

Perrego was the hard charger of the night coming from his 22nd starting spot to finish fifth. Perrego’s No. 44 was a rocket and just needed a caution late in the race to be able to move up even further in the finishing order…

Heartbreak for Matt Stangle as he slowed dramatically after leading the first three laps of the feature with what looked to be engine problems…

Billy Pauch Jr., lost a battle with a yuke tire coming out of turn two ending his good run…

Dan Hineline was only making his third start of the year was a surprise in his heat race with finishing in a redraw spot. Unfortunately, Hineline’s good run came to an end with a DNF in the Coalcracker…

Dillon Steuer was the recipient of the One Added from the Dog Pound by virtue of his perfect attendance…

Max McLaughlin was back behind the wheel of the Norm Hansell No. 357 and had an impressive heat race win and was looking good in the feature as he reached the top five until the car faded late with McLaughlin finishing in ninth…

Former Coalcracker winner Danny Bouc was forced to sit out this year’s race after taking a couple of hard hits the past few weeks at Georgetown and Grandview…

Timmy Buckwalter was named Bill Brown & Company Big Diamond Speedway Driver of the Year. Buckwalter accepted his $250 cash award after warmups in victory lane…

If you have any questions or comments. I can be reached at dirtracefan25@hotmail.com or on Twitter @dirtracefan25.