RPW Column: Nothing Was Deterring JR Heffner From Making It To Lebanon Valley Victory Lane Saturday

Column By: BOBBY CHALMERS / RPW – WEST LEBANON, NY – If you were ever thinking of throwing in the towel, for any reason, JR Heffner’s performance Saturday night at Lebanon Valley Speedway proved you should always keep trying and never give up.

After starting third in the 30-lap DIRTcar Modified feature, Heffner was running in the runner-up position to leader Olden Dwyer when trouble struck the driver of the #88 machine as he slowed. Smoke began trailing the machine, unfortunately forcing him pitside.

That gave Heffner the top spot, but as this happened, everyone in the Valley could tell there was a change in the sound of the 74. Engine troubles looked to be creeping in on him as well. However, that wasn’t stopping him as everything held together in the green-to-checkers event and the former track champion went on to take a much-needed first victory of the season.

“I really feel bad for the 88 guys,” Heffner said. “Olden was running really, really well and it was about two laps after that we dropped a cylinder. I was like I don’t even care, let it blow, cause we’re gonna keep going.”

Heading into Saturday night, the 2021 season’s been a struggle for Heffner and the 74 team. They’ve had flashes of brilliance, grabbing a couple top five runs early in the season, but engine and driveline problems have forced them out of many events.

In fact, a rear end failure last week didn’t let Heffner see the checkered flag. However, his team kept digging and their hard work was rewarded on Saturday.

“I really want to thank the entire team for their hard work and what we’ve been through this year,” he said. “It’s just been crazy, but all of these guys just don’t give up and that gives me the drive to keep going. We just keep digging.”

Dwyer’s bad luck gave the lead to JR as the lap counter struck 13. The event went all 30 laps without the aid of a caution and the Bedell powerplant held together, even with its obvious troubles.

Maybe luck finally swung to the side of the 74 team?

“As soon as that engine dropped the cylinder, I said to myself I should pull in,” he said. “I thought for sure it was just going to come apart but Dan Bedell built us a strong piece and it held in there. I’m really thankful.”

Kolby Schroder drive his #99 to a well-deserved second place finish on Saturday. If only he had the aid of a caution, with JR’s engine troubles, could Schroder have been in victory lane?

“I had a super fast car tonight,” Schroder said. “If we had a few more laps, I could have possibly gotten the win. However, we’re still very happy with a second place finish. Overall, it was a great night.”

Brett Haas had another solid top three finish, bringing his #55 home in the third spot. That helped to keep the first-time dad in the hunt for his first career Big Block Modified point championship (By the way, congrats to him and his wife, Abby, on the birth of their son).

Wayne Jelley came home fourth with point leader Andy Bachetti rounding out the top five. Unofficially, the top three of Bachetti, Marc Johnson and Haas are now separated by just 28 points with just the events of August remaining.

Saturday night was double features for the 358-Modifieds, with one a made-up event from the rainout on July 3rd. Jason Herrington took the lead from fourth-place starter Ryan Larkin with 17 laps complete and looked to be on his way to his second win of the season.

Herrington did cross the finish line first but was later disqualified in post-race technical inspection. That gave the victory to Larkin.

“To be honest, this isn’t the way I wanted to get the win,” Larkin said. “There was no way I was going to catch Jason as soon as he got by me. His speed was too much on the straightaways, so I just gave up on him and kept myself in position to get the best finish I could and we were in position when everything went down.”

There was only one caution in the event. Did Ryan feel like he had a car that could win?

“I knew I had a fast car,” he said. “This car felt as good as our other Bicknell chassis that we totaled a few weeks back. It felt similar and after I got the lead on the opening start when (Ray) Hall and Alan Houghtaling slid up the track in turn one, I saw the opening I needed and we took off.”

Larkin did take off and if not for the lap 12 caution for an incident between Brandon Lane and Brian Sandstedt, Larkin may have been able to fend off all challengers and win the feature outright.

“This car is very good and I’m confident that we’ve got a strong piece,” he said. “When the caution came out, I lost track of the momentum I had. I got to thinking too much about who was behind me. I just need more seat time as I made a few mistakes. However, I believe we could have held Jason off if I had stayed on the bottom.”

Technically, the person who then finished in the runner-up spot was Joey Coppola. If you see the driver climb from the car, it was Kolby Schroder who filled in for Coppola in the event. The #94 charged to a second place finish with Ray Hall Jr. coming in third. Chris Curtis and Andy Bachetti rounded out the top five.

Fifth wasn’t going to be the best 358-Modified finish of the night for Bachetti, however. The “Wild Child” made quick work of the field in the regularly-scheduled main event, taking the lead near the halfway point, and never looked back, going on to take his third win of the 2021 season in the division.

“I just had to search around a little bit during the first part of the feature,” Bachetti said. “You just have to figure out how to get these under-powered engines to go around this place. Once you get in a rhythm, and get them freed up, that’s the key.”

Bachetti was extremely quick to give all the credit for the victory and how good of a season he’s having in the Small Block ranks to the crew that prepares his car.

“The Carlotto family keeps this car at their house and work with my brother, Greg,” he said. “They do a phenomenal job for me and my Big Block team works hard as well. This is a total team effort and hats off to everyone.”

Chris Curtis was the man out front until Bachetti took the lead. The Green #4 was running consistently on the top to catch the leader, as Curtis was running a lower line. However, to make the move, Bachetti went to the bottom to make the pass.

Think he surprised him?

Chris is a good kid and he had a great run tonight,” he said. “As soon as he gets a little more seat time with these Small Blocks, and the Big Blocks, he’ll be a hell of a racer.”

Curtis was passed by the #94 for second in the official rundown when the 24-lap main event was over. However, this time, the record books will show that Kolby Schroder was the driver. Rules stipulate that a driver can only have one feature event substitution a season and for Joey Coppola, that was the first feature.

In the night cap, Schroder gave the car a whale of a run to bring it home in the runner-up spot. That gave the Coppola team a pair of second place finishes on the night which was had Joey’s dad and the team all smiles when all was said and done.

Brandon Lane and Ray Hall Jr. completed the top five.

In the DIRTcar Pro Stock feature event, Jason Meltz held off a determined Chad Jeseo to grab his second win of the 2021 season on the Valley’s high banks.

After struggles last week which saw the pilot of the #51 relegated to a last place finish, this was a big shot in the arm as he fights for his first Pro Stock Championship.

“The last thing you wanna see on a restart when you’re leading is Chad Jeseo right next to you,” Meltz said. “However, I knew if I held my cool, and kept it on the top I shouldn’t have a problem. You never want to see him next to you, though.”

Meltz had to fend off the point leader Jeseo since a lap 7 restart but he was able to do so, lap after lap, to score the victory and make up four points on “Big Bad Chad.”

“I want to give a shout out to Chad for racing me clean,” he said. “He does all the time and tonight was a great race with him. I knew on the last lap he was going to be underneath me and sure enough he was.”

Jeseo nearly captured his third win of the 2021 season but had to settle for the runner-up spot with Jay Fitzgerald having another strong run this year at the Valley to come home third.

Last week’s winner, Zach Seyerlein, drove to fourth at the finish with Steven LaRochelle rounding out the top five.

Dylan Fachini, Rocco Procopio and John Devine were victorious in the three Pure Stock feature events with Doug Howe (Dual Cam) and Bradley Batho (Single Cam) taking checkers in 4-Cylinder competition.

MODIFIED FEATURE RESULTS ( 30 LAPS) 1) J.R. Heffner* 74 2) Kolby Schroder, 99 3) Brett Haas, 55H 4) Wayne Jelley, X 5) Andy Bachetti**** 4 6) Marc Johnson* 3J 7) Kenny Tremont Jr, 115 8) Paul Gilardi, 87X 9) L.J Lombardo*** 35 10) Ryan Darcy* 21 11) Brian Berger, 60 12) Chase Dowling 9 13) Eddie Marshall, 98 14) Kyle Armstrong, 11A 15) Chris Curtis 35B 16) Josh Marcus, 91M 17) Mike King, 55K 18) Bobby Hackel IV 97 19) Kyle Sheldon, 42S 20) Olden Dwyer, 88JR 21) Dan Humes 0 22) Timothy Davis 7T 23) John Ruchel 7 24) Kenny Aanonsen Jr 42A

SMALL BLOCK MODIFIED FEATURE RESULTS (20 LAPS) 1) Andy Bachetti*** 4 2) Kolby Scroder 94S 3) Chris Curtis 35C 4) Brandon Lane, 33 5) Ray Hall Jr, 72 6) Ryan Charland, 10C 7) Ryan Larkin* 39 8) Frank Harper, 25 9) Kim Lavoy* 3 10) Montgomery Tremont 115 11) Sean Mandel 66P 11) Mark Pullen 30 12) John Lutes JR. 21L 13) Alan Houghtaling, 250 14) Olden Dwyer* 88JR 15) Mike Sabia 7S 16) Kevin Petrucci 24 17) Brian Sandstedt, 12S 18) Jason Herrington* 1

SMALL BLOCK MODIFIED 7/03/2021 FEATURE RESULTS (24 LAPS) 1) Ryan Larkin* 39 2) Joey Coppola 94 3) Ray Hall Jr, 72 4) Chris Curtis 35C 5) Andy Bachetti** 4 6) Ryan Charland, 10C 7) Olden Dwyer* 88JR 8) Kim Lavoy* 3 9) Frank Harper, 25 10) Brandon Lane, 33 11) Montgomery Tremont 115 12) John Lutes JR. 21L 13) Alan Houghtaling, 250 14) Mark Pullen 30 15) Sean Mandel 66P 16) Mike Sabia 7S 17) Brian Sandstedt, 12S 18) Kevin Petrucci 24 19) Jason Herrington* 1

PRO STOCKS FEATURE RESULTS (20 LAPS) 1) Jason Meltz** 51 2) Chad Jeseo,** 25 3) Jay Fitzgerald* 56 4) Zach Seyerlein* 33 5) Steven LaRochelle* 178 6) Nick Hilt** 17 7) Doug Olds 73 8) Johnny Rivers* 14J 9) Dave Stickles* 55 10) Zach Sorrentino, 54S 11) Brian Keough 311 11) Tom O’Connor 52 12) Tom Dean, 413 13) Shawn Perez, O9

PURE STOCK # 1 FEATURE RESULTS (8 LAPS) 1) Dylan Fachini* 35 2) Jeff Meltz SR.**** 5X 3) Craig Coons, 133C 4) Keri Vandenburg* 89 5) Ray Royals 6 6) Jethro Rossman, 48 7) Ryan Brown* O10 8) Franklin Smith, 76 9) Brian Walsh*** 43

PURE STOCK # 2 FEATURE RESULTS (8 LAPS) 1) Rocco Procopio*** 62 2) Janai St. Pierre** 18 3) Jim Dellea, 77 4) Colby Kokosa** OOK 5) Chris Calabro 3C 6) Chris Brown, OO9 7) Peter Huntoon, 3 8) Scott Morris, 84 9) Aaron Fachini 122F

PURE STOCK # 3 FEATURE RESULTS (8 LAPS) 1) John Devine*** 24 2) Dave Striebel JR. 73 3) Rob Partridge**** 22 4) Chris Stalker**** 177 5) Dave Striebel 273 6) Shawn Perez, O9 7) Katarina Foster 10 8) Chris Murphy, O11

4 CYLINDER DUAL CAM FEATURE RESULTS (15 LAPS) 1) Doug Howe* 12D 2) Garrett Biagiarelli, 343D 3) Steve Burbank, 22D 4) Jim Guertin, 7D 5) Lucas Ballard** 54D 6) Helina Yeno 313D 7) Frank Twing SR. 501D 8) Jon Shepard 39D 9) Robert Miner 710D

4 CYLINDER SINGLE CAM FEATURE RESULTS (15 LAPS) 1) Bradley Batho* O7s 2) Tim Meltz** 515S 3) Gary Malloy SR., 69S 4) Joe Wolfe 777S 5) Joey Batho, 7S 6) Althea Roy 35S 7) Austin McDonald 4S

 

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