RPW Column: John Lieto Goes Wire-To-Wire For First Orange County 358-Modified Win

Column By: MIKE TRAVERSE / RPW – MIDDLETOWN, NY – John Lieto capped off a very busy night at OCFS by leading all 30 laps of the H.O. Penn 358 Small Block feature to take the victory. For Lieto, who has 6 wins in the Big Blocks, it was his first ever 358 win.

Although Lieto led all 30 laps, the race was not a runaway as Ryan McCartney was in close pursuit over the final 23 circuits, but had to settle for 2nd. Small Block Modified rookie Tanner VanDoren made a last lap pass to take the final podium spot in 3rd.

After the initial start had an immediate caution, it was Lieto and Pat Reiser leading the way at the with Lieto gaining the advantage. Reiser settled into 2nd as Mike Kolka moved up to 3rd. Caution waved on lap 6 as Anthony Perrego had a flat. Perrego pitted and quickly returned. The restart saw McCartney move up from 4th to 2nd and begin his chase of Lieto. A lap 9 restart saw Corey Cormier, who had been on the move from his 10th starting spot, take 3rd from Kolka. The red flag came out after 12 laps were down when a pileup on the backstretch briefly blocked the track. At halfway, it was Lieto over McCartney, Cormier, VanDoren and Kolka. Perrego was charging after his pitstop and was already back into the top 10 at the crossed flags.

As the second half of the race settled into a green flag period, it was still Leito, McCartney and Cormier at the front with Perrego pressuring VanDoren for 4th. McCartney kept it close, but was never able to get up alongside of Lieto and as the laps ran out, it was John in the Hermance #33 taking the win by a shade under a half second over McCartney. Both VanDoren and Perrego got by Cormier on the final lap to finish 3rd and 4th with Corey taking 5th. Kolka, Tyler Boniface, Jimmy Spellmon, Bob McGannon and Craig Mitchell completed the top 10 running order.

“It’s been a long time since I was in Victory Lane. Kenny (Hermance) liquidated all the Big Block stuff, so the Small Block is the only car we have left,” Lieto said. “We didn’t race at all last year with the pandemic and everything. Starting up front helped out and the car worked really good. I knew the 2nd place car was close because I saw a lot of cameras flashing.”

There were 33 Small Blocks in action Saturday with heat wins going to Kolka, Lieto, Reiser and Perrego. Boniface was the consi winner.

When Jeff Hulsapple made his most recent podium finish two weeks ago, he said in his post race interview that he would like to get up onto a higher step than the 3rd place one he has been on 4 times previously this season. On Saturday night, Hulseapple got his wish as he capitalized on a late race restart and passed race leader Joe Bonetti to take the feature win in the Arkel Motors feature event.

Bobby Waters and Dylan Smith was the front row for the feature with Smith getting out from and John Bockhorn taking 2nd. After a quick caution, it was Smith still leading on a lap 3 restart. Bonetti was moving up from 9th spot and was 3rd by lap 7. Bonetti took 2nd on lap 8 when the caution flew for Aidan Elliott andJared Miller who both got a tow off the track.

Bonetti took the lead on the restart with Bockhorn back in 2nd by passing Smith. At halfway, it was Bonetti, Bockhorn, Smithm, Jake Bedell and Hulsapple who was advancing from 13th starting spot. lap 12 saw both Bedell and Hulseapple get by Smith. Bonetti started to stretch his lead. On lap 17, Hulseapple moved into 2nd. When Lem Atkins brought out the caution with 2 to go, it set up a sprint to the finish. Hulseapple got a good run on the restart and made the pass to take the win over Bonetti and Bedell 3rd. After a disastrous 4th lap which saw him get out of the groove and lose 9 spots, Jared LaBagh roared back to finish 4th. Bockhorn took 5th with Brian Krummel, Ryan Neiger, Josh Allen, Bobby Flood and Jeff Higham rounding out the top 10.

“The car felt really good all night long, it was awesome,” Jeff said in Victory Lane. “If that caution hadn’t come out we would have finished 2nd. My hats off to Joey. Our luck has been awesome this year. Driving is one part of it, but also you have to have the luck to go along with it and we’ve had it all season. It’s really hard to believe right now, I’m very happy for my car owner (Anthony Vitale) who has spent a lot of time and years in racing. I’m very proud to dedicate this win to him.”

Saturday’s win made it 7 for 7 in top 5 finishes for the Vitale 1X team. In addition to leading the points, it was Jeff’s 5 podium of the season. The win was Hulseapple’s 5th career Sportsman win, his most previous one on 8/27/16.

Heat race action saw the wins go to Neiger, Labagh, Hulseapple and Bockhorn. Jason Armstrong won the consi. Thirty four cars attempted to qualify.

It was with much sadness that Jim Hajkowski took to the track on Saturday. Jim’s brother, George Hajkowski passed away this week. As George watched tonight from the Heavens above, Jim raced to victory in the NAPA North East Parts Group Street Stock 15 lap feature as he outraced Bob Sleight and Dillon Gannon.

Charlie Donald got the jump on Ryan Modiano at the start, but before the first lap was scored, Hajkowski had taken the lead. Gannon was running very well in the beautiful looking #46, taking 2nd spot on lap 4. Further back in the pack, Walt Henry, Mike Vigiletti and Sleight were moving up. At halfway, it was Hajkowski over over Gannon, Sleight, Henry and Donald.

As the race moved into it’s later stages, Vigiletti passed Henry for 4th on lap 12 and Sleight took 2nd on lap 13. But Hajkowski was too far ahead and Jim took the win by a 1/2 second over Sleight, Gannon, Vigiletti and Henry. Modiano was 6th, Donald 7th, Rob Taylor 8th, Danny Hedges 9th and Jack Beaumont 10th.

“Winning, it never gets old. It’s a tough field this year,” Hajkowski said. “You have to be on your game every week. The track changed some between the 2 practice sessions. We made some adjustments, threw something at it, hoping it would work and it did pretty well. The car was still a little tight in the feature. I dedicate this win to my brother who passed away this week.”

OCFS Notes

It was a very busy time at the track before racing even began. The Kids Club made it’s return for the 1st time since 2019 and it proved to be a big hit with the very young fans. Ms. OCFS 2018, Christina Contento, did a great job getting the club back organized and she had a great amount of activities for the children. Well done Christina!!

Also before the racing began, OCFS’s Le Mans Style Meet and Greet was a huge success. Just about every car in the pit area came out to the front stretch to participate and the festivities were enjoyed by both the fans and drivers. A very well done job by OCFS officials with the smooth operation of the event.

OCFS Street Stock driver Wayne Taylor recently had knee surgery. His #414 was driven Saturday by John Tucker a former driver. It has been so many years since Tucker had raced at the speedway.

Frank Frasco had a flip last week that heavily damaged his #186. But Frasco was back at the track on Saturday with a new body on his car. It’s the dedication of guys like Frank and so many others like him that make the sport so great.

Racing returns to OCFS on May 22 with the 358’s, Sportsman and Rookies.

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