RPW Column: You Never Forget Your First; Marc Johnson’s First Big Block Win At Lebanon Valley; A Race To Remember

Column By: BOBBY CHALMERS / RPW – WEST LEBANON, NY – You always remember your first.

Marc Johnson has won plenty of races. He’s a Modified champion. However, Saturday night at Lebanon Valley, he became a first-time winner once again, and it’s a race he’ll never forget.

Johnson and his Scott Hamlin-owned 3j started the 30-lap Modified feature from the 11th starting spot. However, it didn’t take long for him to get to the front.

After a spirited battle with Kenny Tremont and Bobby Hackel, Johnson settled into third and spent the rest of the event chasing down the King of the Valley Tremont and leader Brian Berger.

“I was just doing my thing trying to being as patient as possible, waiting and hoping the race to come to me,” Johnson said. “It did and with like about five go, I knew I was catching the 115. However, going into turn one I saw the 60 coming back to both of us I was like, oh boy…here we go. That’s when I knew the race was on.”

That’s when Johnson knew it was now or never if his first career Modified win was going to come on Saturday night or not.

“I just had to dig deep after following Kenny’s line for a little bit,” he said. Then, I saw Berger ahead and this thing just really worked tonight and we were able to get it done.”

After the race, you couldn’t wipe the smile of Marc’s face. He knows he’d finally been able to seal the deal for his entire team, who he’s extremely grateful for.

“It’s been a long time coming,” he said. “I really need to thank my guys. I’ve got the best crew out there and the best sponsors…Scott Hamlin Snap-On, Lebanon Springs Excavating, Boss Mechanical, Amsterdam Truck Center, Sherman Networks, Griffin Motorsports, VanBuren Farms and everyone that helps on this 3J team. This is for all of those who believe in me.”

Johnson also understands what he had to do to grab win number one of his career on the High Banks…beat one of the best.

“What a way to do it,” he said. “Having to start deep and race with the King here, Kenny. That was fun and then to be able to work lap traffic the way we did. That had to be entertaining for the fans.”

Berger came home in the runner-up position, nearly pulling off the victory on his 50th birthday. His brother-in-law, Tremont, nearly spoiled the party for Berger but brought his 115 home with a strong third-place finish.

Eddie Marshall and Keith Flach completed the top five. For Flach, it was a great run as he gears up for the annual JC Flach Memorial coming up next Saturday night honoring the memory of his brother.

If that finish wasn’t good enough for the fans, how about .017 seconds between first and second. That’s what it came down to in the Sportsman feature as John Virgilio made a last lap, last corner outside pass of leader Joey Coppola to steal the victory.

“This wasn’t easy by any means,” Virgilio said. “I wouldn’t say he was blocking. That was racing. It was hard racing, and I would’ve done the same thing if I was in his position. That was fun.”

After running the low line for more of the race, trying to get to the front, did Virgilio know his car could work on the high side if he wanted to get around the leader?

“We got kind of lucky there and the car stuck on the high side,” he said. “I wasn’t sure if it was going to but I had a good enough run coming to the end and I thought I owe it to my guys to at least try it. I’m not sure what we won by but it wasn’t much.”

Coppola had to settle for second after leading the majority of the 20-lap feature with Rob Maxon third. Walter Hammond had a good showing to come home fourth and Jeff Watson brought his 22 to checkers in fifth.

For the second time in the 358-Modified division this season, Andy Bachetti took victory against a good crop of cars. He took the lead near the midpoint of the event and looked to have the race in hand.

However, a caution with two laps remaining bunched the field up, and put Jason Herrington on his back bumper. In the end, the Herrington car stuck right with Bachetti’s 4 machine but when the checkered flag flew, Andy was headed to victory lane.

“I think Jason was a little better than us early on in the race,” Bachetti said. “I was able to sneak by him and that’s the name of the game here in this class. The track was good tonight and this was awesome.”

Bachetti started deep on the grid in the sixth row but was able to work his way through to capture the victory. He now sits two shy of 200 victories over the course of his career.

“It’s always fun when you can get to the front,” he said. “I can’t say enough about my whole team. The Carlotto Family work awful hard on this car with my brother and my team. Everyone works real hard to get this car here and I’m proud we could put it in victory lane.”

Herrington brought the Big Red 1 home in second with Frank Harper having a strong showing in third, Early leader Olden Dwyer was fourth with Joey Coppola finishing fifth and making it two top five’s on the night for his #94 team.

After missing out on a victory a few weeks ago, getting passed by Chad Jeseo late in the feature, Nick Hilt rallied to capture his first win of the 2021 season and take a little sting out of the loss to Big Bad Chad.

“I went home and watched that video quite a few times,” Hilt said. “That was my fault but I told Chad now I know what not to do.”

The feature went 15 laps under green to start before the first yellow flag flew. Hilt led them all. What was he thinking when that first caution showed itself?

“I was actually paying attention to my temperature gauges,” he said. “When they get to 250 or 260 degrees, they usually blow up by then. I was just happy to keep it going and then the caution cooled it down.”

Jason Meltz was able to finish in the second position with his #51 machine. Point leader Chad Jeseo was third with Team Repo’s Shawn Perez recording a career night coming home fourth and Jay Fitzgerald, having another solid run in the #56, completing the top five.

Rocco Procopio, Janai St. Pierre and Rob Partridge each came home victorious in the three Pure Stock feature events.

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