Column By: RYAN LOEFFLER / RPW – FONDA, NY – As the Modified season enters the “big money” stage of 2023, race teams are preparing to get the most out of their cars night in and night out.
Fonda Speedway’s $ 53,000-to-win Fonda 200 was the highest-paying Modified race of the year and in the field Saturday night was East Greenbush’s Bobby Hackel.
The KillerCrate 97 team was kind enough to let me cover their Friday and Saturday nights at the Fonda Fairgrounds and get a deeper look into one of, if not the biggest, weekends of their long season.
Bobby started seventh in heat two on Friday night and at the end of the 15-lap qualifier was sitting fifth, putting him solidly in the 200.
“I think if we used softer tires like some of our competitors we could’ve passed some more cars,” Hackel said. “The harder compound didn’t come in until the end.”
Hackel was closing in on Bobby Varin’s #18 in the closing laps of the race.
Although missing out on the top 3 for a redraw spot in Saturday’s 200 lapper, Hackel was content with how the car performed and hoped to have an edge with the harder compound American Racer tires.
The fourth-generation standout started Saturday’s main event in the middle of a hornet’s nest 41-car field in 18th but had a plan of attack.
“The Fonda 200 is like a game of chess,” he said. “We just want to stay in contention. Hopefully we can stay out of trouble through the first 100 laps and work towards a top 10 spot to set us up for the latter half of the race.”
Early in Saturday’s action, the track was fairly single groove throughout the 602 Crate Sportsman heats and Modified last chance qualifiers. Hackel hoped the track would be multi-groove so he could pass cars and be able to run up front.
In the feature, Hackel stayed true to his word, staying out of trouble and making his way up to the top 10 by the time Joe Kriss’ yellow flag flew on lap 41.
Another yellow on lap 70 allowed Hackel to jump up to sixth position after many front runners like Alex Yankowski, Tyler Dippel and Billy Decker were involved in a multi-car incident.
Tires started to become a concern for many race teams as drivers such as Mat Williamson, Demetrios Drellos, and Marc Johnson. Each driver suffered flat tires in the first half of the race while running towards the front.
Hackel’s run from 18th continued as he found himself in the top 3 as the race crept towards halfway behind the 9s of Matt Sheppard and the 44 of Stewart Friesen. On lap 93, he looked to take the lead using lap traffic to his advantage but the yellow flag flew once again.
Friesen pitted from the lead while Sheppard and Hackel stayed on track to battle it out for the $200 bonus for leading at lap 100.
Driver 97’s night looked promising after showing top 3 speed through the first half of the race and his team was hoping to get to the 150 lap mark before “flipping the switch.”
At the break, after entering the hot pit, Hackel and company swapped their used rear American Racers for a new set. With concern of tire wear and degradation throughout the field, Hackel decided getting new tires was the better option rather than keeping track position and gambling on wear. He restarted the race in 10th.
A bad restart on lap 106 left the front stretch blocked due to a massive multi-car pileup, forcing the likes of Decker, Drellos, Ronnie Johnson, Mike Mahaney and Rocky Warner into an early retirement while Hackel skated by.
A long 40+ minute red flag period ensued before the 200 got back underway.
Unfortunately, Bobby’s night would end shortly there after. On a lap 117 restart, the 97 was stuck on the top side of a three-wide situation exiting the second corner. Racing room quickly ran out for Hackel as he hopped the right front tire on Alex Yankowski’s #84, sending him hard into the outside wall and ending his night.
After the race, Hackel was disappointed but happy with how his team performed.
“It’s all a part of the deal,” he said. “We ran good but those are the breaks.”
While the unfortunate end to the Fonda 200 throws the rest of his 2023’s racing plans up in the air, Hackel mentioned possibly running the Short Track SuperNationals 15 at Afton Motorsports Park on October 6-7, the $50,000-to-win Speed Showcase 75 at Port Royal Speedway on October 13-14 and Hard Clay Finale at Orange County Fair Speedway on October 20th.
However, that’s all to be determined as Hackel posted on social media after Saturday’s race that the Fonda wreck most likely put an end to their Modified season, but who knows.
Hackel thanks everyone who made this season up to this point a success and is grateful for the team around him.