Column By: BOBBY CHALMERS / RPW – WEST LEBANON, NY – Saturday night’s Big Block Modified feature in West Lebanon, NY will forever be remembered for the pass heard round the Valley.
However, there were plenty of other storylines in those 30 laps that made Saturday night’s main event one to remember.
Kyle Sheldon and his #42 Racing Team struggled on opening night to 14th place finish. On Saturday night, they wanted to avenge that and have a solid run. Mission accomplished.
The East Nassau, NY driver started in the fourth position and brought his PMC race car home in the seventh. While that’s an improvement from week one, Sheldon feels like he and his team left something on the table.
“We had a good night but it sucks when you go backwards,” Sheldon said. “All-in-all, though, I can’t complain. The car was a lot better than last week.”
The 42 team had plans to compete this year with a brand new PMC chassis. Those plans are still in the works, but it’s been delayed to start the 2022 season. With that, they brought out last year’s car to begin this season until the new one is ready for action.
“It seemed like we were good early on, but the car started to go away near the halfway mark,” he said. “Alex (Thomson, team owner) is working his butt off, and we made big gains. However, we were running old tires with the older car and it just went away.”
Any idea why?
“I felt like the car was really good early but then began to loosen up on us,” he said. “It’s almost like the tires sealed over and we were just hanging on until the end. We were very fortunate to finish where we did.”
Any idea on how long it’ll be before the new piece comes out?
“Alex is working hard to get the car done,” he said. “We’re hoping very soon, like maybe within the next month.”
Brett Haas’ team ran from the lowest of lows to highest of highs and back to lows on Saturday night.
First, in his heat race, the Pittsfield, MA native finished one spot out of a qualifying spot. That meant he’d start 18th in the feature event.
With 29 laps of green flag racing, Haas drove to eighth and was looking as if he’d have a solid finish. However, it was all for naught as an oil line came apart with one lap remaining, ending his night.
“There was absolutely no warning,” Haas said. “That line, in particular, was brand new before warm-ups and, go figure, it was the one that broke. I’ve never seen one explode from the fitting like that before. We just needed it to hold together for another half mile.”
Even though he didn’t finish, Haas and his team were very happy with how their car ran during the main event.
“Our car was good all night, but definitely was the best in the feature,” he said. “My dad (former racer Adam Haas) was nervous after the heat. I told him not to panic. The car was good. There just wasn’t any reason to force the issue to get handicapped in the heat.
The team had the Bedell powerplant out of the #55 by 8am on Sunday morning. It will be checked out by the engine builder as a precaution.
“Dan Bedell already has the engine,” he said. “Hopefully, he’ll give us the good news that everything is okay, but we still have another engine as a backup if need be.”
Olden Dwyer looked like he was on his way to having a good night. Dwyer won his heat and started the feature inside of Mike King on the front row.
The second-generation pilot was running solidly in the show position when he was forced to pull off with overheating issues.
“This motor just overheats,” Dwyer said. “I really don’t get it. It’s an internal issue we’ve been having with this engine. It just really sucks because our car was pretty good.”
After finishing 16th on opening night, a top five or even a too 10 finish would have been a big step in the right direction for the Dwyer Motorsports team.
“I felt like as if we were a top five car for sure,” he said. “The car was the best it’s felt so far any time it was on track. I was very happy with it, and once we figure out the motor issue, I think we’ll be able to compete for wins.”
If there was a driver who needed to finish every lap on Saturday night, let alone get a decent finish, it was veteran driver Paul Gilardi.
Gilardi has been snake bit so far this season. After putting together a new Bicknell car, and freshening the team’s two engines, as the field lined up for the second feature of 2022, the driver with seven career Big Block wins had yet to take a competitive lap.
Motor issues sidelined the primary engine in pre-season practice and the back-up had a head gasket fail during early evening warm-ups on opening night.
After working diligently to get the engine back in order this week, a bad skip to begin the night derailed any chance Gilardi had of running his heat race.
That didn’t faze the veteran from Pittsfield, MA as he started 21st and drove to just outside the top 10 at the finish.
“We should be good with things now,” Gilardi said. “We have something to build on with running all 30 laps. The car was the same at the end of the race as it was on the first lap.”
Running the new car, was Gilardi pleased with its performance?
“The motor ran good and the car was just a little snug entering the corners,” he said. “We’ll make some small adjustments and be better next week. I’m just glad we had a good feature and can start to fine tune it.”
Probably the biggest story that many haven’t heard about happened in early night warm-ups.
That’s when 358-Modified racer Ray Hall Jr.’s #72 came to a sudden stop at the end of the frontstretch.
Unfortunately, the driveshaft (which runs right between the driver’s legs) exploded, went through the transmission cover and into Hall’s left leg.
That impact put the driver in extreme pain and the hot lap session was immediately red flagged while safety crews worked to extricate him from the car.
Hall was transported to Albany Medical Center where he stayed overnight. Doctors performed surgery on Sunday morning to repair a broken tibia in his leg.
According to Ray’s wife, Kelly, he now has a metal rod from his knee to the end of the bone. However, everyone’s hoping that with this, he’ll be able to have a faster recovery time.
All of us at RPW wish Ray a speedy recovery and hope he can make it back to the track very soon.