Column By: MIKE TRAVERSE / RPW – MIDDLETOWN, NY – As the worldwide pandemic raged on during 2020, New York State was subjected to some of the strictest lockdown rules in the country. It was difficult to get any kind of organized activities going. And of course, that included racing.
When tracks were finally given the ok to have racing without spectators, many tracks decided to remain closed. Other tracks held some racing events, but the financial hit was tremendous. Many tracks, including the Orange County Fair Speedway, cut their season short.
This threw into doubt as to whether a 2020 edition of the granddaddy of all end of season races, the Eastern States 200 would be held. Many thought that the consecutive streak of Eastern States events was going to end at 58.
But with the assistance of local officials, a 2 day Eastern States Weekend was held, capped of by Mat Williamson’s win in the 59th running of the Eastern States 200.
As for 2021, the Eastern States Weekend is back to a 4 day format. And with additional events, the weekend is as jammed packed as it perhaps has ever been.
Action gets underway on Thursday, October 21 with the 2nd Eastern States Weekend Parade Around Town.
“The traffic pattern and route will be the same as last time,” said OCFS General Manager Doug Dulgarian. “We will head up Wisner Ave. and turn right onto route 211. We head down 211 back to Carpenter Ave. and back into the fairgrounds. Because it’s a Sportsman day, the majority of the cars will be Sportsman. But we’d love to have Street Stocks and any other racers who would like to participate join us and get their sponsors some exposure around town. The parade is being sponsored by the Orange County Chamber of Commerce.”
Later in the day, Street Stocks will be in action with their ESW event with qualifying and their 20 lap feature. Sportsman qualifying will also be held with group time trials, heat races and last chance qualifiers completely setting the field for Friday’s Sportsman 50 laps.
“The Sportsman field will be set on Thursday, so only qualified cars will have to return on Friday. Their pit passes from Thursday will be honored on Friday so it will be lighter on their wallet. The same with the Street Stocks, they can just get a Thursday admission but they have the option of buying a weekend pass as well,” Doug said.
Friday, October 22 is going to be an extremely busy day at the House Of Power. In addition to the 50 lap Sportsman event, the Short Track Super Series returns for the first time since 2019 with a non points event. The STSS feature will be a 50 lap event.
The Modifieds will have their time trials with the top 6 locking into the 200. Modified heats will be held and then comes a new event added to the ESW schedule, the Longshot Race which will be 25 laps.
“If you haven’t won a Modified feature anywhere in 2021, you need to check in with us. If we deem you eligible, you’re in. It’s a 25 lap race,” Dulgarian said.
Following the $5,000 to win Sportsman 50 lap feature and the STSS qualifying heats, another different event is going to take place, the Will Cagle Race of Champions.
“Chris Larsen wanted to give Will some props and respect, It will be a 24 lap invitational race paying $5,000 to win. Chris gave us a list of drivers to invite who have either won Eastern States and are still racing or anyone who won at the mile,” Doug said. “It looks like it will be a good race. Will is going to be here for the weekend along with Gary Balough, Buzzie Reutimann and David Reutimann.”
The Short Track Super Series $5,000 to win 50 lap feature tops off the busy Friday of racing.
“When the plans for the Friday STSS race were complete, Brett Deyo referred to it as returning home and we are glad to have them back,” Dulgarian said.
On Saturday, October 23, the 358 Small Block Modifieds and USAC Wingless Sprints take center stages for their ESW races.
“The USAC guys were last here on July 2nd of 2020. And it was a great show,” Doug said. “We are looking forward to having them back at Eastern States Weekend.”
Also on Saturday, the pole position and other up front starting positions for the 200 will be up for grabs in the Race For The Pole 12 lap race which will consist of the top 6 from the time trials plus the Modified heat winners. This finishing order from the race will set the top 12 starting spots.
The $20,000 to win 358 Small Block race will complete the busy Saturday portion of ESW.
Sunday, October 24, will see the Pro Stocks back in action for the second time this season after several year’s of absence. They will be competing in a 25 alp feature,
“The Pro Stocks were a hit when they were here with the Late Models. For that reason, they were invited back,” said Dulgarian. “They did a nice job and they were well supported. Jordan Sheehan did a great job organizing the program. the competitors and such.”
The opening ceremonies will feature Mimi Lazzaro preforming the national anthems. The Lazzaro name is well known in Eastern States lore as Mimi’s dad, Lou Lazzaro won perhaps the closest 200 win in the race’s history. In the 1978 200, Lou barely held off Kevin Collins as his gas tank was about bone dry.
And then it’s time for the $40,000 to win 60th annual Eastern States 200.
The 200 features a bit of a different format this year. For the first time in the race’s history, a mid race caution is going to happen.
At lap 100, the caution will come out for about 8 laps. The cars will keep circulating the track. Racers have the option of pitting and not losing any laps. Cars that pit under this caution will return in the same order as they entered the pits. The pitting cars will fall back behind the cars that stayed out and chose not to pit.
One of the ideas behind this idea is to help out the teams that do not want to invest in an expensive quick fill refueling system.
“By doing this, we maintain the integrity of the true 200 lap race with the fuel stop, tire stop that we have always had,” Doug said. “But if you are a team that doesn’t want to put in a $5,000 quick fill system for one race, you can still compete by having this break.”
It will be most interesting as the race reaches around lap 70 or so to see what the strategy will be for the teams. Do they pit early and risk losing a lap or take advantage of the mid race caution? We shall see.
So there you have it. Six divisions with nine feature races over 4 days. The House Of Power will be rocking with activity from October 21-24. And there are plans in place for many other cool activities for fans all throughout the weekend. More on that in my next column.