Story By: TOM BOGGIE / ALBANY-SARATOGA SPEEDWAY – MALTA, NY – Keeping in accordance with the upcoming New Year’s celebration, it’s time to sing Auld Lang Syne to the 2022 racing season at Albany-Saratoga Speedway, and what a season it was.
From a nearly rain-free schedule to Matt DeLorenzo’s first modified championship ever at the historic facility off Route 9 in Malta, Albany-Saratoga Speedway again lived up to its nickname of “The Great Race Place.”
Here are some of the people and events that made the 2022 campaign memorable.
MATT DELORENZO: Matty D. wasn’t even going to run a full schedule at Albany-Saratoga in 2022, instead planning to take some weekends off to watch follow his daughters’ traveling softball teams. But once he started winning, that plan went out the window. Of his five wins, the most memorable came on the night of July 15. Coming back from one of his daughter’s tournaments in Maryland, DeLorenzo got caught in a traffic jam on the New Jersey Turnpike and made it to Malta just in time to jump into his modified. But when the night ended, he had his third victory of the year. “I drove eight hours from Maryland to get here,” he said after the race. “I wasn’t going to give up.”
THE SPORTSMAN DIVISION: Talk about parity. During 2022, 17 different drivers sat in victory lane, including Tim Hartman Jr. On June 19, he won his 33rd career feature, moving him to the top of the all-time win list in that division. He ended the season with three wins and his fourth track championship, making him the first sportsman driver with four titles. Some of the other winners during 2022 were 12-year-old Brock “Bam Bam” Pinkerous, who sat in victory lane on May 6; Ron Proctor, who won the feature June 10, one night after celebrating his 69th birthday; and 63-year-old Michael Ballestero, who was first under the checkered flag on Sept. 9. It was Ballestero who had his record for career wins broken by Hartman Jr.
ANOTHER RECORD-BREAKER: Hartman Jr. wasn’t the only driver to set a record for career wins. Rob Yetman became the winningest driver in the pro stock division when he racked up his 27th career win on April 22, breaking the record of 26 held by Hollywood Joe Santoro. Yetman extended his record to 28 later in the season.
THE WEATHER: Promoter Lyle DeVore had to cancel a projected April 1 start, and practice on April 10 was also rained out, but once the season got rolling, there was no stopping it. The only cancellation came on May 27, when the forecast called for heavy thunderstorms early in the evening. DeVore pulled the plug early, but the storms never materialized. After that, Devore ran off 17 consecutive race nights, just missing the record of 18 straight set in 2012. If the track hadn’t rained out on May 27, there would have been 24 consecutive nights of racing. But those 17 straight nights put a lot of wear and tear on race teams. Consider this. The DeLorenzo team also raced on 17 consecutive nights at Fonda! They didn’t have a Friday or Saturday night off from May 28 until Sept. 15. After DeLorenzo wrapped up the championship at Albany-Saratoga, his brother Mike, who was his crew chief, said, “There were times I just wanted to say the heck with it.”
FLAT TIRES: Flat tires came into play on two different race nights. The first came on June 24, when Mike Mahaney ran the majority of the 71-lap Super DIRT Series race with a flat left front tire. Mahaney caught the jersey barrier on the inside of the track early in the race, but he went on to win the top prize of $7,500. “I was more concerned that it was going to come off the rim. But at least the rubber stayed on, and I could still handle it,” said Mahaney. “I just had to make sure I didn’t get into the barrier again.” Five weeks later, on Stan ‘Da Man Night, James Meehan was leading the special 32-lap feature when he nearly spun out between the third and fourth turns, trying to hang on with a deflating left front tire. That flat tire allowed Demetrios Drellos to get his first win of the season, and dropped Meehan to fourth. “I was ready to finish third,” said Drellos.
LONG TIME COMIN’: Proctor’s win in June was his first victory at Albany-Saratoga since 2011, when he was running an asphalt modified; Ballestero’s win in September was his first victory at Malta since 2008. But the driver who ended the longest span between victories was Dan Madigan. Madigan won the street stock feature on July 22, marking his first trip to victory at Albany-Saratoga since the 2007 season, when he was racing a pro stock.
THANK GOODNESS FOR TRANSPONDERS: Madigan was also involved in the closest finish of the season. On Aug. 26, he beat Al Relyea to the finish line in a photo finish. Computer scoring had Madigan picking up his second win of the year by a margin of .004 seconds, which is literally the blink of an eye. “I was worried that Al’s transponder was farther ahead on his car and he was going to get the win,” said Madigan in victory lane.
AUTISM AWARENESS NIGHT: Pro stock driver Jordan Modiano deserved a Promoter of the Year award for the show that he put together on Sept. 9. Getting sponsorship money right up until race day, the event wound up paying $3,555 to win and also included bonus money. Rich Crane used a late restart to win the feature. His total payout was $4,855, and he donated the entire amount back to Modiano’s charity.
THEY DON’T CALL HIM SUPER MATT FOR NOTHING: Matt Sheppard, the winningest modified driver in the Northeast in 2022, turned a lousy night into a $10,500 payday on Sept 24, when Albany-Saratoga concluded its season with the two-night Malta Massive Weekend. Sheppard missed the redrew for the first time during the 2022 Super DIRT Series, and had to start 15th in the 100-lapper. After local favorite Adam Pierson dropped out with engine problems while leading the race on lap 84, Sheppard ran down leader Billy Decker with four laps to go and came away with the victory.
The roster of champions during 2022 included DeLorenzo, Hartman Jr., Chad Jeseo (pro stocks), 14-year-old Chris Crane Jr. (limited sportsman), Jason Samrov (street stocks), David Frame (four-cylinder, dual cam) and Robert Garney (four-cylinder, single cam). Congratulations to them all.
As the rock band Poison so aptly stated in one of their biggest hits in 1988, “…ain’t lookin’ for nothing but a good time, and it don’t get better than this.”
DeVore is putting together another ambitious schedule for 2023, with a warm-up session scheduled for April 7 to get everyone fired up for Opening Night on April 14.