Story By: TOM BOGGIE / ALBANY-SARATOGA SPEEDWAY – MALTA, NY – Matt DeLorenzo put the finishing touches on the portrait that is his championship season by driving to his fifth win of the year Friday night in the 35-lap NAPA Modifieds feature at Albany-Saratoga Speedway.
Following his win, DeLorenzo paid tribute to Hall of Famer Dave Lape, who died Wednesday at the age of 75.
“This win is for Dave Lape,” said DeLorenzo in victory lane. “He was one of the guys I watched when I was growing up, him and C.D. (Coville). Our prayers go out to Jackie and her family.”
Because the points season for the NAPA modifieds had ended the previous week, drivers drew for heat race positions, and then had a heads-up start for the feature, which put DeLorenzo fifth on the starting grid.
Jack Lehner started third and went right to the front, but his lead was short-lived. DeLorenzo went under Matt Depew to take over second on lap three, then went right to the top and rocketed past Lehner to get the lead in turn two on lap five.
The first 21 laps were run under green, allowing DeLorenzo to open up a comfortable lead, but after Depew stopped in the fourth turn to bring out the yellow, Lehner used the subsequent restart to move back in front.
On that restart, Delorenzo picked the inside, saying later, “I thought it was better down there.”
Obviously, it wasn’t. Once Lehner went back out on the point, DeLorenzo moved back to the top and on lap 25, passed Lehner for the second time to regain the lead.
Jack Speshock, who was looking for his first win of the season, took over the No. 3 spot after the restart and found his rhythm in the outside groove, moving by Lehner on lap 28 and setting his sights on DeLorenzo.
Lehner dropped out of the battle on lap 32 with mechanical problems, and although Speshock was gaining ground on DeLorenzo, who was running a tight inside line, DeLorenzo actually began to pull away from Speshock again in the last three laps.
“I thought I had a shot,” said Speshock. “Once I got into a rhythm, the car was really good on top.”
“My car was really good on the bottom,” said DeLorenzo, who earned $3,000 for his win. “I don’t know if the tires cooled off or what after the caution. But then I found something.”
Marc Johnson, Keith Flach and Mike Mahaney completed the top five. Mahaney also won the Four States Enterprises Dash for Dash, worth $200, overtaking Lehner coming out of the final turn in the four-lap dash and winning by .031 seconds.
The highlight of the night was the 34-lap Autism Awareness race for the Eastwood Detailing Pro Stocks, Organized by pro stock driver Jordan Modiano, the race paid $3,555 to win, the largest pro stock payday in the history of the speedway, as well as bonus money for the lap leaders. The race was a benefit for the Autism Society Greater Hudson Region, as well as @BringOnTheSpectrum.
The 34-lap feature also a heads-up start, with Luke Horning on the pole after winning the first heat.
The first caution flew before the first lap was completed, and starter Rich Peterson’s arm got a workout, as a total of nine caution periods marred the race.
But all those cautions, especially late in the race, only keep building the drama.
Horning led the first 20 laps, picking up $2,000 in bonus money and for many of those laps, he had Rich Crane, who had started on the outside of the front row, running alongside his door. In fact, on lap 18, Crane drifted out in the second turn and banged into the side of Horning’s car. But both drivers retained their positions.
Three laps later, Crane got a huge run coming out of the second turn and took the lead away from Horning.
Chad Jeseo and Nick Stone soon joined the front two and the racing really heated up, but the top groove seemed to be going away. Stone, running as low as he could on the inside in his Utica-Rome car, moved into second on lap 26, but Crane was starting to pull away.
Another caution on lap 30 bunched the field, and on that restart, Jeseo got under Stone for second. The caution flew again on lap 33, and while the field slowly went around the track, it became apparent that Stone had a flat left front tire.
The field only got in one more lap before Mike Baker brought out the final caution with one to go. The subsequent restart never occurred, as promoter Lyle DeVore said “We’re staying yellow,” just as the front duo of Crane and Jeseo started to pick up speed.
Crane quickly let off the gas, and was hit from behind by Stone, which started a chain reaction in the fourth turn. Somehow, Stone managed to keep the left front tire on the car, and on the last restart, Crane held off Jeseo for his second straight win, with Stone third. Horning hung on for fourth, while Chucky Dumblewski came across the finish line fifth.
“What Jordan put together tonight is really amazing,” said Crane in victory lane. “I’m going to give all the money back to his charities.”
With his lap money, Crane won a total of $4,855.
Michael Ballestero won a battle with Travis Witbeck to win the 25-lap Northeast Paving & Sealcoat Sportsman feature. Ballestero, 63, a former three-time sportsman champion at Malta, hadn’t been to victory lane at the Great Race Place since Sept. 5, 2008. He began the season as the winningest sportsman driver in the history of the speedway, but has since relinquished that distinction to 2022 champion Tim Hartman Jr.
Ballestero set the early pace, but gave up the lead to Witbeck on lap eight. But rather than throw in the towel, he kept digging, moved up a lane to find better grip, pulled even with Witbeck to complete lap 17, and then regained the lead on lap 18.
Ballestero went to to record his 33rd career win at Albany-Saratoga. Witbeck finished second, followed by Andrew Buff, Hartman Jr. and Zach Buff.
David Zelker started on the pole and led flag-to-flag to pick up the first win of his career in the 20-lap Haun Welding Limited Sportsman feature. “This in my first win anywhere,” said Zelker in victory lane. “It feels awesome.”
Fourteen-year-old Chris Crane Jr. finished second and locked up the division championship. Mike Arnold, who was second in the points race, finished third, with Dakota Green fourth and Mike Parodi fifth.
Jeff Meltz Sr. had to relinquish his Lake Auto Parts street stock championship, but went out with a bang, driving to his third win of the year in the 15-lap feature Friday night. Meltz, who started sixth, needed most of the feature to catch leader Matt Mosher, and took the lead coming out of the fourth turn on the final lap after a heck of a side-by-side battle.
“I didn’t think I’d be able to get him, but it worked out in the end,” said Meltz.
Jason Samrov, running a complete season at Albany-Saratoga for the first time, finished ninth, but that was enough to give him his first championship at the historic Malta track.
Elmer Montville ran his winning streak to four races in the 15-lap four-cylinder feature, while Chris Duffney, who finished 10th, had the first single-cam car across the finish line. David Frame had already wrapped up the dual cam championship prior to Friday night, while Robert Garney finished 11th overall to come away with the single-cam title. It looked like Tim Meltz was going to get the single-cam title when Garney was involved in the wreck on the second lap and had to go to the rear of the field, but Meltz lost the rear end of his car on lap six, allowing Garney to secure the title.
Albany-Saratoga Speedway will by idle on Sept. 16 before returning for the two-day Malta Massive Weekend on Sept. 23-24.
MODIFIEDS: MATT DELORENZO, Jack Speshock, Marc Johnson, Keith Flach, Mike Mahaney, Jeremy Pitts, Peter Britten, Jessey Mueller, Brian Calabrese, Rob Pitcher, Ronnie Johnson, Rich Ronca, Robert Bublak Jr., Ken Tremont Jr., Jack Lehner, Matt Depew, Brandon Daley, Ryan McCartney, Kenny Aanonsen Jr., Don Ronca.
SPORTSMAN: MICHAEL BALLESTERO, Travis Witbeck, Andrew Buff, Tim Hartman Jr., Zach Buff, Dylan Madsen, Mike Coffey Jr., Drew Cormie, Cody Ochs, Michael Wagner Fitzgerald, Derrick McGrew Jr., Jeff Washburn, Nick Lussier, David Baranowski Jr., Tyler Rapp, Elliot Lussier, Jon Miller, Fred Proctor, Brendan Gibbons, Chris Jakubiak, Taylor LaPlante, Jim Osgood, Dan Grignon, Gerard LeClair, Tommy D’Angelo. Ron Proctor, Scott Bennett, Greg Snyder, Floyd Billington.
PRO STOCKS AUTISM AWARENESS: RICH CRANE, Chad Jeseo, Nick Stone, Luke Horning, Chucky Dumblewski, Zach Seyerlein, Jason Casey, Shane Henderson, Jordan Modiano, Kim Duell, Justin White, Burton Ward, Jay Casey, Jaxson Ryan, Chris Stalker, Devon Camenga, Ivan Joslin, Mike Baker, Ken Allen, Beau Ballard, Josh Coonradt, Zach Daniels, Phil Difiglio, Brandon Emigh, Rob Yetman, Doug Sheely.
LIMITED SPORTSMAN: DAVID ZELKER, Chris Crane Jr., Mike Arnold, Dakota Green, Mike Parodi, Craig Wholey, Dylan Grogan, Ron Delease, Taylor Wason, Brent Bouplan, Ashton Pierson, Wesley Sutliff, Dan Seguin, Nick Auspelmyer, Scott Fitzgerald, James Galarneau, Joey Miller, Joe Smith, Chase Zimmer, Nick Arnold, John Santolin, Steve Busch, Phil Arnold, Tanner Coon.
STREET STOCKS: JEFF MELTZ SR., Matt Mosher, Mark Burch, Nick Napoli, Josh Samrov, Ray Pierre Jr., Josh Hemming, Bill Thwaits, Jason Samrov, Dan Madigan, Cordell Younger, Jimmy Duncan, Levi Bombard, Al Relyea, Damian Ward.
FOUR-CYLINDERS:ELMER MONTVILLE, Slappy White, Adam Montville, David Frame, Matt Bukovan, Joe Duncan, Josh Ramsey, Justin Ramsey, Allana Jordan, Chris Duffney Jr. (first single-cam finisher), Robert Garney, Jake Fowler, Nick Hamden, John Mason, Jordan Terry, Damon Anderson, Matt Tedrow, Anthony Blancha, Chyanne Garney, Tom Meltz, Tim Meltz, Olivia Swinton, TJ Marlitt, Brittany Ladd, Brendan Lauzon, Wayne Russell.