By Ken Bruce
The Sportsman race at Eastern States weekend has a history of being marred by tech controversy and this year was no exception as LJ Lombardo crossed the finish line first and celebrated in victory lane only to have the win taken away after his No. 35 failed post-race tech for what I was told, a motor violation.
Tanner VanDoren, who crossed the line in second place was declared the winner. It was the second year in a row that the young 13-year-old has won the Eastern States sportsman finale. VanDoren found out the news of his victory just as I started to interview him.
“Apparently I just won,” said a surprised and smiling VanDoren as we started to talk. “So that makes me happier than I was. I struggled through lapped traffic there and I just tried to do the best I can.”
The 50-lap race was a good one as early leader Brian Krummel and VanDoren swapped the lead numerous times as the pair raced through traffic and battled on restarts. Lombardo, who had run in the top five all race long, thrust himself into the lead late in the race after Krummel brought the yellow and pulled off with a broken shock tower. On the restart, the veteran Lombardo was able to power around the outside of VanDoren to take the lead and, apparently, the win.
VanDoren who had made most of his passes on the outside earlier in the race kept choosing the inside on the restarts which cost him the lead on a couple of occasions.
“I picked the inside on the restarts because I knew I could control the race,” explained VanDoren. “The last one I should have gone to the bottom. My dad told me when I came off the track that he should’ve told me to take the top, but I knew where I wanted to go, but I left it up to him. I thought the bottom would fire better and I could get a better restart.”
The track conditions at Orange County Fair Speedway have been highly criticized throughout the year but on this night the track was in great condition and that didn’t go unnoticed by VanDoren.
“The track was really good tonight,” said VanDoren. “It was slick and slippery like ice and hopefully they get it like this tomorrow and we can race for 100 laps in the small block race and see where we end up.”
Editor’s Note: The statement below was posted on the Facebook account of LJ Lombardo on Saturday morning regarding his post race disqualification.
This will be a pretty long post. Needless to say I’m very well disappointed with myself. Here it is. I ran the sportsman class here at ESW. We were the first over the line to take the checkered flag but we were DQ’d for illegal valve springs. Here’s the cold hard truth, i tried to buy a brand new crate engine 3 months ago and I was told absolutely not dont buy them because they are having a crank issue. Well when I saw that they were paying 5k to win a sportsman race I called around and borrowed an engine. I asked them to please put new valve springs in before I grab it and I’ll take care of the rest. Well big mistake on my end because they didn’t pass inspection. I feel horrible for all my guys who busted their asses for me. My sponsors don’t deserve to have their name represented like that. I truly am sorry to all my fans and I really hope you guys understand this 100% was not intentional. I’ll take my beating like a man and regroup from here. Congrats to TVD on his back to back wins that kid drove a hell of race and I’m looking forward to running door to door with him again soon.