By MIKE MALLETT
Sunday features the biggest Modified event of the season outside of Super DIRT Week. The 200-lap feature paying $40,000 is one of the most sought after wins in Modified racing. There are only 32 drivers who can claim to have conquered the Eastern States 200 at the Orange County Fair Speedway. In that lot, 25 drives have only captured the checkered once.
There is never a dull moment when it comes to the conclusion of the 200. Whether it’s the last lap pace by Stewart Friesen of Brett Hearn for the win or the lead driver losing a tire in the closing laps. Other than the final races at the New York State Fairgrounds, you won’t find a race that is filled with more drama and unpredictability.
Before we get that green flag on Friday to kick-off qualifying, DirtTrackDigest.com takes a look at the event with information that includes the format, purse, history, favorites and more.
The finale of Eastern States is a 200-lap feature event. During the 200-lap feature caution laps will count from laps one through 180 with caution laps not counting up to the conclusion of the feature. The race will finish under green, white, checker. There will be double-file restarts for the entire race. Lap cars will be sent to the rear should a caution come out. The race may go more than scheduled distance depending on cautions.
All lapped cars will be placed at the tail of the field under caution. Any car one lap down after lap 30 will get their lap back, but fall to the rear. This is only after the first caution after lap 30. After that no one will get laps back.
All drivers must pit at least once after the lap 30 mark in the finale.
Qualifying will begin with time trials. Time trial results will determine the top six locked in positions for the Modified Eastern States 200. These top six cars will not be listed in a qualifying race. Everyone else will be lined up heads up in the heat races based on their times. Drivers may time trial more than one car for this event.
Position numbers seven and eight are the only guaranteed spots. If driver qualifies better than seventh or eighth, this position will become available. Jeff Heotzler is one of the locked in drivers by virtue of his win on Championship night.
Heat races will be eight laps in distance with top qualifiers transferring to the Eastern States 200. Heat races will be double file restarts for all eight laps. The finishing order from heats will line up spots nine through 33.
The Modified B-Main will be 25-laps. The race will utilize double file restarts. The number of cars qualifying will be determined by the number of cars remaining to fill the feature.
Eastern States 200: 1 $40,000 2 $20,000 3 $15,000 4 $10,000 5 $7,000 6 $6,000 7 $5,000 8 $4,500 9 $4,000 10 $3,500 11 $2,800 12 $2,600 13 $2,400 14 $2,200 15 $2,000 16 $1,900 17 $1,800 18 $1,700 19 $1,700 20 $1,700 21 $1,600 22 $1,600 23 $1,600 24 $1,600 25 $1,600 26 $1,600 27 $1,600 28 $1,600 29 $1,600 30 $1,600 31 $1,500 32 $1,500 33 $1,500 34 $1,500 35 $1,500 36 $1,500 37 $1,500 38 $1,500 39 $1,500 40 $1,500 41 $1,500 42 $1,500 43 $1,500 44 $1,500
Total Purse: $172,800
B-Main: The B-Main will pay $2,000 to the winner with spots seven through 26 earning $500. Not all drivers are guaranteed money if they make the main-event.
Champions Invitational: $5,000 to win ($13,500 total purse)
The “ESW 2018 Champions Invitational” is a $5,000 to win, 20 lap feature for former ESW 200 winners only. Unofficially by my count there are 13 drivers eligible for this event.
Modified Front Row: $1,000 each
Modified Dash: $1,000
Modified Hard Charger: $2,500
Modified/Small-Block Sweep: $10,000
2017 Brett Hearn, 2016 Stewart Friesen, 2015 Tommy Meier, 2014 Brett Hearn, 2013 Brett Hearn, 2012 Brett Hearn, 2011 Danny Johnson, 2010 Tim McCreadie
2009 Jerry Higbie, 2008 Danny Johnson, 2007 Jeff Hoetzler, 2006 Brett Hearn, 2005 Brett Hearn, 2004 Brett Hearn, 2003 Bobby Varin, 2002 Brett Hearn, 2001 Danny Johnson, 2000 Chuck McKee
1999 Alan Johnson, 1998 Billy Decker, 1997 Danny Johnson, 1996 Brett Hearn, 1995 Jimmy Horton, 1994 Bob McCreadie, 1993 Danny Johnson, 1992 Danny Johnson, 1991 Jimmy Horton, 1990 Frank Cozze
1989 Frank Cozze, 1988 Rich Eurich, 1987 Doug Hoffman, 1986 Brett Hearn, 1985 Jack Johnson, 1984 Dave Lape, 1983 C.D. Coville, 1982 Harry Behrent, 1981 Brett Hearn, 1980 Kenny Brightbill
1979 Brett Hearn, 1978 Lou Lazzaro, 1977 Gary Balough, 1976 Gerald Chamberlain, 1975 Wayne Reutimann, 1974 Bobby Bottcher, 1973 Gerald Chamberlain, 1972 Buzzie Reutimann, 1971 Will Cagle, 1970 Will Cagle
1969 Al Tasnady, 1968 Will Cagle, 1967 Frankie Schneider, 1966 Will Cagle, 1965 Ron Lux, 1964 Rags Carter, 1963 Frankie Schneider, 1962 Frankie Schneider
Stewart Friesen: I should just repeat list from the small-block Modified story, but I’ll add in some different facts here. Shockingly Friesen only has one win in the Eastern States 200 which came in 2016. He’s been near the front and finished second last year. Friesen has three wins at Orange County while also winning the Super DIRTcar Series event back in July. His one season as a regular at Middletown has turned around his program there. Unless something bites him, he’ll be at the front at the end when the checkered falls.
Brett Hearn: Here is another surprising pick I’m sure. Hearn is a 12-time winner of the Eastern States 200. Both he and Friesen have been close to getting the weekend sweep and the $10,000 bonus the last couple of seasons. My bet is that one of them gets it done. I’m just not going to pick which one, that’s up to you to decide.
Anthony Perrego: He was a four-time winner this season at Orange County. He was the big-block Modified track champion. He also finished second back in 2016 in the 200. This could be the year that he and the team put everything together to earn him a $20,000 payday on Sunday.
Jerry Higbie: It wasn’t the best of years for the former Orange County Fair Speedway as he wasn’t able to crack victory lane. His consistency paid off with a top five in the final point rundown. He won the race back in 2009 so he has the pedigree to seal the deal. Will this be the event where he finally breaks through for a feature win?
Tim Hindley: Hindley is one former Orange County regular that has been so close over the years, but has never been able to get it done. He’s been on the podium in four of the last 10 Eastern States 200s. I have to say it would be neat to see him finally have luck stay with him enough to win the race. I’m not even sure he has a ride, but he’s got to be somewhat of a sentimental favorite.
Jimmy Phelps: Phelps went for a radical strategy at Super DIRT Week where he attempted to run 200 laps without pitting. That wasn’t the initial strategy, but it almost paid off with a podium finish. He won the Outlaw 200 and he was close at Super DIRT Week. His Heinke-Baldwin Racing team is peaking at the right time. He’s been on the podium so maybe this is the year he puts all the pieces together to challenge for the win.
Erick Rudolph: Rudolph doesn’t have a ton of experience at Middletown and it seems that track regulars usually have the upper hand. Rudolph was able score a third place effort in the Battle of the Midway Super DIRTcar Series race earlier this season. He’s won his fair share of series races this year including last weekend at Brockville. I’d expect the Ransomville, N.Y., driver to be at the front at the checkered.
Big Blocks Only: In reading the competitors notes I found it interesting that it clearly stated, “The Eastern States 200 is a Big Block event only.” For years small-blocks have been trying to qualify for the race. Will this help draw more cars to the event or will it hurt the car count? That remains to be seen.
Show Me the Money: All I can say about the purse is WOW! There is nearly $300,000 worth of total purse on the line for the weekend. That is amazing. Over the years there have been lots of complaints about green money not being up to snuff. Well that’s been fixed. Let’s hope this race gets the support it deserves.
Surprises: The race the last few years has been dominated by Hearn. He’s won four out of the last six. I’ve picked my favorites and contenders, but I’m hoping to be completely wrong and for a surprise challenger to emerge to that list with the race coming right down to the wire. Underdog stories are always fun to write like Peter Britten’s surprising run last year in the Super DIRT Week 200 finale.
Outside Fun: You got to give the folks at Orange County a lot of credit as they’ve gone all in to make this year’s Eastern States 200 an event. They’ve added nightly bands, a cornhole tournament, areas for the kids and much more. My hats off to the whole crew for going above and beyond to add to the excitement of the racing during the down time.
Wild Ending: The Eastern States 200 is known for crazy endings. As I eluded to in the introduction if it can happen at the end of a race, it has happened at Orange County. We’ve seen last lap passes, drivers running out of fuel and tires, while others were marred with scoring or tech issues. You simply don’t know what’s going to happen until the checkered flag drops and there is potential for more after that.