By FRANK CATIZONE
MIDDLETOWN, NY – Jeff Heotzler Sr. continued to pad the credentials of his Hall of Fame racing career last Saturday night as he drove away with his 51st career Modified victory in impressive style in the 30-lap main event at the Orange County Fair Speedway.
Reigning track champion Tommy Meier, meanwhile, punched his ticket into October’s Eastern States Small Block Modified 100-lap championship event by virtue of his triumph in the 25-lap qualifier. Meier earned at least seventh starting position for the fall classic, but must try to better that spot through time trials during the weekend’s racing festival.
Heotzler, who has struggled during the early season, vaulted past Craig Mitchell following a fifth-lap restart and never trailed again to notch his first win at the track since earning his milestone 50th triumph on May 7, 2016. The four-time Modified track champion stands third on the track’s all-time winners’ list behind Brett Hearn (174) and Frankie Schneider (58).
“We really needed this,’’ said Heotzler. “I lost two fuel pumps a week ago and never even got on the track to try and qualify. I just want to thank all of my sponsors that contribute to this racing program. This wouldn’t be possible without all of their help and I can’t thank them enough.’’
Heotzler, who captured the second qualifying heat, started second in the 24-car field and settled there behind leader Mitchell before Kirk Horton’s third-turn incident forced a caution with four laps completed. The veteran Wallkill driver then powered ahead of Mitchell with an outside pass following the restart and was in control of things from that point on.
Mitchell, meanwhile, has his hands full with Jimmy Horton on his tail throughout the event. Horton, who continues to lead the Modified standings after five events, continually pressured Mitchell, but was unable to find the right passing lane and settled for a third-place performance.
The battle for fourth place was as equally impressive as Bob McGannon and Meier were embroiled in a heated war during the latter stages of the race. Meier, who started 12th a week earlier, began the event in 13th position and came home with a fifth-place effort.
Mike Ruggiero followed in sixth place with Chris Whitehead, Matt Janiak, Steve Dodd and Richie Eurich rounding out the top 10.
Meier, who has two Small Block championships at OCFS, said he won’t be defending his divisional crown at the track in 2017.
“I’m going to park this car for a while,’’ said Meier, after securing his 11th career victory which tied Andy Bachetti for eighth place on the all-time leader board. “It’s good knowing I have at least seventh starting position for Eastern States and I’ll definitely try to improve on that.
“But I just don’t have to time to work on both of these cars. We want to concentrate on our Modified program the remainder of the season and will only bring the Small Block car out on a few occasions.’’
Meier, who started outside pole next to Zack Vavricka, charged into first place at the drop of the green flag and was never challenged for the lead. However, there was some fierce racing behind him as Jerry Higbie and Anthony Perrego battled for second place.
Higbie, despite surrendering second place on a 17th-lap restart, rebounded to grab the spot back a lap later and then pulled away to the finish. Perrego settled for a third-place effort with Mitchell, Tom Hindley, McGannon, Tyler Boniface, Bobby Hentschel, Jesse Leiby and Chris Stevens rounding out the top 10.
Leiby, another driving doing double duty, took the checkered flag more than half a track ahead of Austin Smith in the Sportsman 20-lap feature as he averaged speeds of more than 102 miles per hour around the five-eighths mile, hard clay oval.
Leiby, after starting 10th, quickly moved through the pack during the event’s early stages and stood in third place behind Smith and Joe Conklin after seven laps were completed. Conklin came up with a flat tire while battling for the lead and was forced to the pits for a tire change during the ensuing restart.
Leiby moved past Smith for first place on the ninth circuit and then cruised to his fifth OCFS career win. Smith followed in second place with Leo Fotopoulos, Roger Henion Jr. and Jimmy Johnson rounding out the top five.
Mike Vigiletti became the first multiple winner of the season in Street Stock competition as he finished ahead of Charlie Donald in the 15-lap main event. It was the 23rd victory of Vigiletti’s career and moved the defending track champion into fourth place on the all-time winners’ list.
Vigiletti wrestled first place away from Donald on the third lap and never trailed again. Donald, meanwhile, battled with Tommy Pickles and Joel Murns Jr. for the next three spots. Donald held his ground with Pickles, Murns and newcomer Walt Henry rounding out the top five.
Modified Feature Finish, 30 Laps: 1. Jeff Heotzler Sr., 2. Craig Mitchell, 3. Jimmy Horton, 4. Bob McGannon, 5. Tommy Meier, 6. Mike Ruggiero, 7. Chris Whitehead, 8. Matt Janiak, 9. Steve Dodd, 10. Richie Eurich, 11. Mike Kolka, 12. John Ferrier, 13. Jerry Higbie, 14. Tim Hindley, 15. Tyler McKee, 16. Stan Frankenfield Jr., 17. Matt Hitchcock, 18. Danny Cronk, 19. Chris Shultz, 20. C.G. Morey, 21. Brendan Finley, 22. Gary Edwards Jr., 23. Joey Falanga, 24. Kirk Horton. Did Not Start: Anthony Perrego, Billy VanInwegen. Did Not Qualify: Tyler Jashembowski, Donnie Wilson, Corey Lowitt.
Small Block Modified Feature Finish, 25 Laps: 1. Tommy Meier, 2. Jerry Higbie, 3. Anthony Perrego, 4. Craig Mitchell, 5. Tom Hindley, 6. Bob McGannon, 7. Tyler Boniface, 8. Bobby Hentschel, 9. Jesse Leiby, 10. Chris Stevens, 11. Rob Rowe, 12. C.G. Morey, 13. Zack Vavricka, 14. Mike McKerrell, 15. Allison Ricci, 16. Gary Edwards Jr., 17. Scott Flamer, 18. Donnie Elliott, 19. Patrick Reiser, 20. Mike Horton, 21. Joey Falanga, 22. Eddie Burgess, 23. Rich Eggers, 24. Danny Conklin. Did Not Start: Frank Venezia.
Sportsman Feature Finish, 20 Laps: 1. Jesse Leiby, 2. Austin Smith, 3. Leo Fotopoulos, 4. Roger Henion Jr., 5. Jimmy Johnson, 6. Joey Bruning, 7. Anthony Falanga, 8. Joe Bonetti, 9. Matt Shultz, 10. Dan Morgiewicz, 11. Greg Sleight, 12. Danny Carlough, 13. Brad Horton, 14. Tommy Vigh Jr., 15. R.J. Smith, 16. Patrick Murphy, 17. Troy Arnold, 18. Connor Otten, 19. Joe Conklin, 20. Jeff Hulseaple, 21. Bobby Flood, 22. Billy Eggers, 23. Howie Finch III, 24. Mel Schrufer. Did Not Qualify: Chris Curtis, Dylan Smith, Tyler Pirone, Jamie Doolan, Chris Grispin, Dave Werber, Chris Raser, Mike Bull, Mike Talmadge, Anthony Horton, Mark Connoly, Jared LaBagh, Ken Ryder.
Street Stock Feature Finish, 15 Laps: 1. Mike Vigiletti, 2. Charlie Donald, 3. Tommy Pickle, 4. Joel Murns Jr., 5. Walt Henry, 6. Joe Scheffold, 7. Jim Hajkowski, 8. Peter Van Noordt, 9. Ryan Modiano, 10. Emerson Cargain Sr., 11. Pete Wiegand, 12. Wayne Taylor, 13. Stan Vishinski Sr.