By FRANK CATIZONE
MIDDLETOWN, NY – The first month of the 2019 racing season certainly wasn’t too kind to reigning Modified champion Anthony Perrego at the Orange County Fair Speedway.
Perrego, who enjoyed the best campaign of his young racing career last year, has been dealt with a series of adversity as he challenges to defend his Modified crown and the $40,000 prize that goes along with that title.
Mechanical rear end issues and a flat tire thwarted Perrego’s chances at a pair of top finishes as he entered Saturday night’s racing program already 58 points behind early-season leader Brett Hearn. The talented Montgomery driver has been fast each time out, but the results just weren’t there.
However, with April now in his rearview mirror, Perrego welcomed a new month and turned the tables on his hard luck as he picked up his first victory this season in the Modified 30-lap main event. It was the sixth career win at OCFS for Perrego, who won four times during his championship campaign in 2018.
Perrego, after setting fast time during hot laps for the second straight week, spun the wheel and came up with what proved to be the Lucky 7 starting position. OCFS locks in 12 cars for the feature through its timed hot laps this year and the fastest driver spins an inversion wheel with numbers four through 12.
Mike Gular benefitted from Perrego’s spin as he started on the pole and appeared to be the class of the starting 29-car field. Gular was able to keep distance between himself and Jerry Higbie as the laps ticked away until lapped traffic became a factor later in the event.
Perrego, meanwhile, moved into third place as he moved past Jimmy Horton on the seventh lap and then started to close in on Gular and Higbie. Perrego finally moved ahead of Higbie with 24 laps completed.
Gular was now racing in lapped traffic as Perrego quickly moved in and nosed ahead down the homestretch for a brief lead with 28 laps down. Gular, however, moved back in front between the first and second turns, and had a narrow cushion down the backstretch.
But the two drivers were dead even as they raced off the fourth turn and down the homestretch. Perrego had a slight lead when their cars made contact before completing the 29th lap – sending Gular’s car against the inside jersey barrier as Perrego continued on.
Donnie Wilson rolled his car in the second turn to force a red flag following the restart as Jeff Heotzler Sr. and Corey Lowitt were also involved. Wilson wasn’t injured, but his car had extensive damage.
Perrego was able to hold his ground until the finish as Higbie, Craig Mitchell, Tommy Meier and Hearn rounded out the top five. Mitchell and Meier both passed Hearn on the final lap.
Horton followed in sixth place with Brian Krummel, John Ferrier, Matt Janiak and Chris Whitehead following. Gular advanced to 11th place following his accident.
Greg Sleight grabbed his second straight victory in Sportsman action as he held off a late charge by Mike Sabia in the 20-lap main event. It was Sleight’s 26th career victory as he stands in third place behind Krummel (33) and Tim Hindley (27) on OCFS’s all-time leader board.
Sleight, who started in seventh spot for the 27-car field, grabbed first place from Jared LaBagh following a 19th-lap restart. Sabia and Jesse Leiby also advanced after the restart as LaBagh fell all the way back to fifth place.
LaBagh was able to get past Grant Hilfiger for fourth place on the final lap as Hilfiger settled for a fifth-place showing. Both Sleight and Hilfiger pace the division with a pair of wins in 2019.
Joe Bonetti ran caution-free for the first 11 laps to pace the field before Jordan Lawrence and Justin Gozzi were involved in a second-turn tangle. Sam Martz Jr. grabbed first place away from Bonetti on the 15th lap before LaBagh drove in front two laps later.
Mel Schrufer picked up $300 for winning the Sportsman Non-Qualifiers `12-lap race ahead of Jeff Higham Jr., Ken Ferrier, Don Smith Jr. and Bob Jashembowski.
Joe Scheffold registered his first career OCFS victory in the Street Stock 15-lap feature as he finished ahead of Bob Sleight Jr., Ray Tarantino, Wayne Taylor and Charlie Donald.
Scheffold, who started 13th, grabbed the lead away from Donald on the 14th lap and then held off Bob Sleight Jr., who was seeking his second straight win, to the finish. Donald had led the event from the third lap.
Modified Feature Finish, 30 Laps: 1. Anthony Perrego, 2. Jerry Higbie, 3. Craig Mitchell, 4. Tommy Meier, 5. Brett Hearn, 6. Jimmy Horton, 7. Brian Krummel, 8. John Ferrier, 9. Matt Janiak, 10. Chris Whitehead, 11. Mike Gular, 12. Sam Martz Sr., 13. Gary Edwards Jr., 14. Brendan Finley, 15. Matt Hitchcock, 16. Rich Eurich, 17. Jeff Heotzler Sr., 18. Stan Frankenfield Jr., 19. Corey Lowitt, 20. Donnie Wilson, 21. Steve Dodd, 22. Danny Creeden, 23. Bob McGannon, 24. C.G. Morey, 25. Billy VanInwegen, 26. Danny Cronk, 27. John Lieto, 28. Scott Ferrier, 29. Chris Shultz.
Sportsman Feature Finish, 20 Laps: 1. Greg Sleight, 2. Mike Sabia, 3. Jesse Leiby, 4. Jared LaBagh, 5. Grant Hilfiger, 6. Sam Martz Jr., 7. Joe Bonetti, 8. Cole Hentschel, 9. Jake Bedell, 10. Bobby Flood, 11. Joe Conklin, 12. Willis Mann, 13. Troy Arnold, 14. Jimmy Leiby, 15. Howie Finch, 16. Charlie Loiodice, 17. Jordan Lawrence, 18. John Brown, 19. R.J. Smith, 20. Kevin Ward, 21. Matt Shultz, 22. Dan Morgiewicz, 23. Mike Bull, 24. Ryan Macartney, 25. Austin Smith, 26. Ken Ryder, 27. Justin Gozzi.
Sportsman Non-Qualifiers Race Finish, 12 Laps: 1. Mel Schrufer, 2. Jeff Higham Jr., 3. Ken Ferrier, 4. Don Smith Jr., 5. Bob Jashembowski, 6. Jared Miller, 7. Trevor Arnold, 8. Mike Orlando, 9. Jamie Doolan, 10. Peter Schwartzott, 11. Rich Eggers, `12. A.J. Smith, 13. Cole Stangle, 14. Sean Johannessen, 15. Aaron Doolittle, 16. Ryan Neiger, 17. John Kendall, 18. Billy Eggers Jr., 19. Nick Plumstead. Did Not Start: Patrick Murphy, Christian Rumsey, Daryl Ford, Danny Carlough, Kyle Redner.
Street Stock Feature Finish, 15 Laps: 1. Joe Scheffold, 2. Bob Sleight Jr., 3. Ray Tarantino, 4. Wayne Taylor, 5. Charlie Donald, 6. Emerson Cargain Jr., 7. Jim Hajkowski, 8. Walt Henry, 9. Dan Maher, 10. Ron Constable, 11. Emerson Cargain Sr., 12. Cody Clark, 13. Bob Miller, 14. Rob Taylor, 15. Edgar Hedges, 16. Jim Maher, 17. Ryan Modiano, 18. Paul Maiolo.