RPW Column: Justin Haers Rebounds From 11 Down To Win Land Of Legends Mod Title; Fuller Scores First Of ’21

Column By: MARTY CZEKALA / RPW – CANANDAIGUA, NY – Justin Haers has been coming to Land of Legends since he was a kid.

He won his first Sportsman race back in 1999 and his lone division championship in 2001.

In Modifieds, “T-Bone” picked up his first checkered flag in 2007. With 14 wins entering the season, could Haers ever win the championship in the top class, especially after entering 2021 with a four-year winless streak?

Many probably didn’t, but 2021 will be a year the 41-year old will remember forever.

On June 26th, Haers scored an emotional victory at Land of Legends that ended a near four-year winless drought and the first since losing his father, Gerald, in 2019.

Who would’ve thought the wins would’ve started to rack up, and entering championship night, Haers would come in down 11 points to Erick Rudolph?

Haers would have to fight for it if he wanted to win it over Rudolph, the 2018 track champion. Not to mention either, Rudolph entered the night batting 1.000 on top 5s this season.

And he earned it tonight, winning his first Big Block championship.

“I’ve been with the Big Blocks for 17 years. I’ve been 2nd, 3rd, tied for the win in the championship with [Matt] Sheppard a couple of years ago. To go in and be 11 behind, that heat race was crucial when we got the win,” Haers told RPW.

We would know more about how the two drivers could win the title following heats in which the top five award points. Joining Haers and Rudolph in the title fight was Peter Britten, who was mathematically in contention but needed help.

Haers was in the first heat and a massive charge from fifth to second in the first lap and took the lead on lap three with a slide job entering the second set of corners. Haers’ win would earn him five points.

In heat two, Britten and Rudolph took part in. While Britten finished in third to get three bonus points, Rudolph came in P6, earning no bonus points. Rudolph’s lead would be in more considerable jeopardy.

“My car was surprisingly good. Usually, you’re really good in the heat, and you’re not that great come feature time. We made a few minor adjustments for the feature. That was crucial,” Haers explained.

The clinch scenarios looked this way. For Rudolph, as long as he finished ahead of Haers and Britten, he would clinch. If Rudolph didn’t win, a win or 2nd for Justin Haers would clinch. If both are outside the top three, Haers must beat Rudolph by two spots. Britten was in a must-win situation and hoped that Rudolph and Haers would finish 14th and 13th (respectively) or worse.

In the 35 lap feature, Britten started in 8th, Haers 9th, and Rudolph 12th via handicap. Rudolph would come out swinging, instantly threading the needle between Haers and Maier looking to pass Haers, but would wash up in turn three, giving Haers the advantage early. The championship contenders were mainly nose to tail. Lap four, Rudolph tried to get some bite on the exit of two to advance Haers for P8, but Haers would defend on the preferred bottom. Three laps later? Same thing and “T-Bone” held serve.

Lap eight, the battle for the lead, heated up between non-title contenders James Sweeting and Tim Fuller. Fuller found a gap on the bottom to take it over Sweeting.

Lap 17 would begin a pivotal moment in the championship feature. Justin Haers would pass Kevin Root for the seventh spot, while Rudolph would have issues passing Root. Coincidentally, Root was the same guy who finished fifth in the heat Rudolph was in. A lap later, Haers found himself in P6, passing Kyle Coffey on the outside of 1 & 2. With 13 to go, Haers came knocking on “The Batman” door to break the top five. Meanwhile, Rudolph kept trying to pass Root for the eighth spot, but nothing was found on the outside. Seven to go, Haers found a gap open inside Britten for fifth at the line, and then the yellow flew for a stalled Dan Wiesner on the back straightaway.

The caution would stack up the field, and questions remain asked. Who had the better short-run car? Who could prevail on the restart? Unofficially, Haers was leading by ten points coming back to green.

“It really killed me. I had just passed Alan [Johnson] and [Gil] Tegg, and I was sitting third right there. I think I could’ve gotten the 11 car. It is what it is,” Haers on the yellow.

A single-file restart and Haers continued to fight, passing Gil Tegg Jr. for fourth at the line. Rudolph would finally get by Root for eighth. Half a lap later, he passed Kyle Coffey for seventh. Off two with seven to go, an easy pass in turn three on Tegg for sixth. “The Firestarter” was chowing down on Haers’ lead. “T-Bone” would find some extra breathing room passing Haers for the third spot off two with five to go. Coming to the finish, Haers rounded out the podium. At the same time, Rudolph edged Sweeting for fifth, enough for Haers to win the championship by two points.

Haers compared this title run to when he won his Sportsman title in 1999.

“I won my Sportsman championship 20 years ago in the same situation. I needed to beat the guy to get it done. It’s definitely nerve-racking to race that way. We gave it our all and prepared a lot this week. Tried not to let it get on our mind of what we had going on. Just come out here and race,” Haers compared.

The celebration, though after Haers’ won the title, made the hair stand on the back of your necks. Haers’ family was sitting in the front row past the start/finish line came up to the fence to party with him. Usually, the winner goes straight to victory lane, but Haers took it in. After going through the scales, he went up to the wall. He drove on the front chute both ways to salute the fans, and then approximately 40-50 of “T-Bone’s” family and crew came to victory lane.

“It’s unbelievable. The tweets I’ve gotten. The racing family in general. I try to treat everybody really fairly because that’s how I want to be treated. It’s awesome,” Haers exclaimed.

After passing Sweeting on lap eight, Tim Fuller wouldn’t look back and score his first win at Land of Legends this season.

“I’ve had a couple of good starting spots this year, just couldn’t capitalize. We did a few more things tonight, and it seemed to like it. The track was passable, racing enough. The changes we made were good,” Fuller said to RPW. “[Justin] had a very successful season. Anytime you put many finishes together and win a championship, you’re doing good.”

“I just needed to run better in the heat race and then needed to run better in the feature. Just a little bit off tonight,” Rudolph commented on coming short in the championship. “[Shoutouts to] my whole crew for being here week in and week out, my sponsors for allowing me to do this, and my fans,”

Tonight, other winners included Jordan Thomas in the Patriot Sprint Tour makeup, Zach Payne in Sportsman, Trevor Years with his first career LOL win in 305 Sprints, and Josh Pangrazio in Street Stocks.

Unofficially, 99 cars checked in tonight.

Next week, Land of Legends hosts championship night for all remaining weekly classes and a non-point Modified Invitational with open motors.

For more content with Haers, Rudolph, and Fuller, head to the RSN Trackside Facebook page.

Big Block Modifieds (35 Laps)
19 Tim Fuller, 2. 14J Alan Johnson (3.664s), 3. 3 Justin Haers (3.784s), 4. 21a Peter Britten (5.244s), 5. 25 Erick Rudolph (7.141s), 6. 11J James Sweeting (7.298s), 7. 34 Kevin Root (8.403s), 8. 22g Gil Tegg Jr., 9. 23c Kyle Coffey (11.093s), 10. 33J Robbie Johnson (-1L), 11. 56 Garrison Krentz (-1L), 12. 31m James Maier (-1L), 13. 10m Henry Maier (-2L), 14. 66 Dan Wiesner (-9L), 15. 77 Lance Dusett (-33L), 16. 27J Daniel Johnson
Heat Winners: Haers, Coffey
Fastest Lap: 19 Fuller 20.028s
Champion: Justin Haers

Patriot Sprint Tour (25 Laps)
79 Jordan Thomas, 2. 10 Paulie Colagiovanni (1.563s), 3. 98 Joe Trenca (3.995s), 4. 87 Jason Barney (6.067s), 5. 7ny Matt Farnham (9.519s), 6. 10c Jeff Cook (10.117s), 7. 28f Davie Franek (11.906s), 8. 90 Matt Tanner (12.104s_, 9. 35 Jared Zimbardi (15.984s), 10. 17 Sam Reakes IV (17.044s), 11. 22 Jonathan Preston (18.110s), 12. 67 Steve Glover (18.250s), 13. 2x Dave Axton (19.218s), 14. 42 Jesse Pruchnik (-1L), 15. 36 Mike Stelter (-1L), 16. 4s Johnny Smith (-1L), 17. 21 Randy Years (-1L), 18. 10h Kelly Hebing (-1L), 19. 47 Kyle Drum (-1L), 20. 36b Brian Preston (-2L), 21. 45 Chuck Hebing (-23L), 22. 48 Darryl Ruggles (-23L)
Heat Winners: Zimbardi, Trenca, Colagiovanni
Fastest Lap: 79 Thomas 18.727s

Sportsman (25 Laps)
7z Zach Payne, 2. 31 Kane Bristol (2.269s), 3. 36m Zach George (2.741s), 4. 38 Zach Sobotka (2.803s), 5. 1F AJ Lloyd (4.936s), 6. 7 Paul Guererri (5.561s), 7. 12g Matt Guererri (6.121s), 8. 20x Kevin Ridley (6.341s), 9. 113 Frank Guererri Jr. (7.138s), 10. 3 Justin McKay (7.857s), 11. 35 Nick Cooper (8.248s), 12. 11n Ricky Newton (9.406s), 13. 00 Sam Hoxie (10.594s), 14. 61 Andrew Jacobson (10.880s), 15. 90 Nathan Peckham (12.402s), 16. 51 Tim Lafler (12.547s), 17. 31K Kennedy Payne (-1L), 18. 9 Tim Baker (-5L), 19. 132 Dalton Martin (-5L), 20. 70a Alex Payne (-8L), 21. 1m Tyler Murray (-8L), 22. 7x Troy Sperring (-24L), 23. 7J JT Sperring (-24L), 24. 56a Angel Sperring (-24L)
Heat Winners: Lloyd, Baker, Troy Sperring
Fastest Lap: 7z Payne 21.143s

305 Sprints (20 Laps)
13t Trevor Years, 2. 75 Brandyn Griffin (0.963s), 3. 18c Dan Craun (1.852s), 4. 48a Alysha Bay (3.666s), 5. 48J Darryl Ruggles (5.846s), 6. 41 Chase Moran (6.129s), 7. 53 Bobby Parrow (6.826s), 8. 66 Jordan Hutton (8.967s), 9. 2 Randy Years (11.309s), 10. 25h Tyler Emmons (11.789s), 11. 38 Jason Whipple (13.374s), 12. 18 Timmy Lotz (17.830s), 13. 4t Ray Preston (18.707s), 14. 77 Matt Rotz (-1L), 15. 62 Jacob Lynch (-1L), 16. 36 Todd Kaplin (DNS)
Heat Winners: Craun, R. Years
Fastest Lap: 18c Craun 19.317s

Street Stocks (20 Laps)
7 Josh Pangrazio, 2. 36 Jimmy Grant (1.321s), 3. 57j Adam Depuy (3.489s), 4. 55p Parker Smith (4.988s), 5. 99 Nick Dandino (5.596s), 6. 25b Marc Minutolo (5.954s), 7. 00 Mike Welch (7.459s), 8. 93 Jared Hill (9.515s), 9. 64b Bob Buono (9.679s), 10. 12s Dakohta Sharpe (10.406s), 11. 5c Rick Crego (12.247s), 12. 74 Ron Metcalf (-1L), 13. 12 John Burritt (-1L), 14. 63 Mike Fellows (-1L), 15. 9 Aksel Jensen (-4L), 16. 3 Pat Hobbs (-4L), 17. 122 Chris Beyea (-4L), 18. 14 Ron Hawker
Heat Winners: DePuy, Pangrazio
Fastest Lap: 7 Pangrazio 22.069s

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