Story By: TOM SKIBINSKI / LAND OF LEGENDS RACEWAY – CANANDAIGUA, NY – The first weekend of September marked the last night of points competition at Land Of Legends Raceway and it was just one more drama-filled six-division program producing yet another historic ‘Saturday Spectacular’ at the hallowed half-miler.
After scattered rain drops delayed show time one-half hour, eager racers and their fervid fans were primed for some new memories to be made and old ones relived in the double-points finale presented by Prouty’s Bar & Grill.
Feature race action began with ’21 Eldredge & Sons Scrap Recycling Street Stock champion Jimmy Grant blasting from 10th to first in just two laps to grab a personal best ninth win and retake the title from all-time LOLR division winner Mike Welch.
Veteran wingman Bobby Parrow then charged to victory in the MighTea Boba 305 Sprint Car A-Main although it was teen supreme Jordan Hutton securing runner-up status to capture his first-ever points championship anywhere.
Up next a breath-taking battle between top-two titans Marc Minutolo and Frank ‘Bubba’ Burnell unfolded with second-generation wheelman Minutolo crossing the line third behind Burnell and Lloyd’s Contracting Hobby Stock race winner Nate Peckham to hold on for the coveted season title. Needing to place no worth than seventh in the Stirling Lubricants Sportsman finale that followed, Zach Sobotka settled for ninth yet weekly rival Matt Guererri could only muster fifth to afford Sobotka high point honors for a second straight season. Up front however, it was Greenley George keeping all the boys at bay as she led the entire distance to become the first female in track history to claim a Sportsman feature.
Despite neither prize money nor a championship belt up for grabs in the season-ender for Maguire Ford of Canandaigua New Legends Sportsman contenders, first-year driver Brad Sawyer edged Eastern New York invader Kirsten Swartz in her first-ever fairgrounds foray to enjoy an inaugural trip to victory lane. Not to be outdone in the 30-lap Pepsi Big-Block Modified main, a pair of storied siblings rekindled days of old in true paint-trading fashion before Danny Johnson out-dueled older brother Alan Johnson and then held off upstart Alex Payne to take his first checkered flag in five years at LOLR. Sixth-place finisher Justin Haers nailed down his third straight Big-Block medal the week prior.
Despite a brief rainfall over the Ontario County Fairgrounds beginning at 6 o’clock, the first event of the month kicked off soonafter with the fourth and final induction ceremony of the season as long-time Land Of Legends racer Darryl Ruggles was honored as the 20th driver to find his rightful place on the growing Wall of Fame. He joined Big-Block stalwarts Charlie Rudolph, Joe Plazek and Vic Coffey in Canandaigua’s most distinguished Class of ’23 on this special occasion.
A winner in LOLR’s four primary classes, Ruggles is the only driver in track history to garner feature race victories in Big-Block Modified, Sportsman, Street Stock and Sprint Car competition. Following in the tire tracks of his late brother Gary Ruggles with support from older sister Debbie and her husband Skip Hance, Darryl turned trackside right after graduation from Newark H.S. in 1984. Debuting aboard a 6-Cylinder Camaro, his first two wins would not come until the ’89 season, his final summer in Canandaigua’s Expert stock car division.
After carrying over his trademark #48jr. into the open-wheel ranks he added 10 more checkered flags along with the 1994 Canandaigua Sportsman points crown. Continuing to persevere, he began the new millennium posting a pair of Big-Block triumphs and when the decade came to a close he had found more success contending weekly in a micro-sprint at Paradise Speedway in Geneva.
In 2012 the 305 Sprints were introduced to Canandaigua fans on a part-time basis and the following year these wild winged machines secured full-time status on the weekly card. After traveling out to Nebraska to purchase a pair of Eagle cars, Ruggles returned home to install a powerplant just in time to finish second in the 2013 season-opener. Eight wins later the Hopewell hotshoe was celebrating the season championship. And now in 10 years of re-writing the record book, Ruggles has racked up an all-time track high 47 A-Main wins and adorned an unmatched total of seven 305 track titles.
Along with 61 victories chronicled in Canandaigua’s premier classes, Ruggles also noted his less publicized feature race wins came on the same half-miler in two Micro-Sprint specials, also doubling up with Figure 8 trophies collected during the annual Ontario County Fair festivities. While following the CRSA circuit around the state, 2020 tour champion Ruggles has scored 11 wins to stand among the Top-10.
Saturday night’s Sprint Car show ended Ruggles win streak at 11 consecutive seasons, at the same time beginning a new chapter for Hutton after his first title run.
“Honestly, I think (title) means more to my parents that have been stressing out this year and going into tonight,” remarked Hutton post-race as the third-year driver needed to finish fourth or better in the 20-lap 305 A-Main to wear the crown. The 18 year-old Hannibal hotshoe settled for second, his ninth Top-5 tally in 10 events, after scoring five wins during the 2023 Canandaigua campaign.
“I tell you what, its been unbelievable. Four years ago I was one of you guys sitting up in the stands watching these races wishing I could. Never even thought I’d get a win out here and to be track champion is just phenomenal. This team has really grown during the year, more people helping out and more fans reaching out. Still think we’ve got more growing to do.”
First-year driver Dustin Sehn paced the field early before Randy Years swept high out turn four to force the first lead change five laps in. Parrow was even faster on a lap 10 restart, bolting by for the final exchange up front at the midway point. Ninth starting Hutton remained patient yet persevering, cracking the Top-5 halfway through then reaching third with five to go.
Rookie Blake Warner spun low out of turn two while running fifth to incur a second caution on lap 17 before runner-up Years suddenly ducked pitside with mechanical woes. Parrow left nothing to chance in the final three-lap dash to the checkers, opening up a comfortable 10 car-length advantage over new champion Hutton.
“Have to thank Tommy Fletcher (owner) first, he’s kept this deal going,” noted Parrow, following his third win of the season. His second straight triumph steering the #80 Seneca Meadows-Re/Max Revolution-Fletcher Racing/Shaw entry gives him 10 career at LOLR and also earned him a $250 Speed Connection bonus.
“I seen that (Years) switched lanes and took the top side which was definitely the preferred line. To come out and get a good restart was definitely what made it. The car was good all over. We actually came from the bottom and had a lot of good runs down there. This car was really working great all over tonight.”
Ever-improving Matt Rotz finished third ahead of 16th-starting John Smith, Johnny Kolosek and James Layton, who placed behind only Hutton, 546-505, in the final point standings.
Already with three Sportsman feature wins under his belt this season, Sobotka barely broke into the Top-10 although another consistent finish ultimately rewarded him with the coveted crown.
“Feels good to get two (titles) in a row at Land of Legends,” stated Sobotka, after matching Parrow in the double-digits win column at Canandaigua with 10. “I was looking at Matt’s number on the scoreboard seeing where he was. Saw him like 5th or 6th hanging around there. Thought I didn’t really have much to lose so I just had to go to the top and not lift. A couple cars in front of me got bottled up on the bottom so it kinda played in my favor there to be on top.”
“It was a tough race, those last few laps trying to get by everybody. But it was a good race track, there was 3-wide racing all through which made it hard to pass. Feel like I had a lot better car than where I ended up tonight,” added Sobotka, who also claimed the points title at Brewerton Speedway the night before.
On this night no cars were better than second-generation racer George as the young Western New York woman from Wilson led all 25 laps to capture the $750 main as well as the hearts of all those that witnessed the milestone performance.
“Feels awesome, I’ve been working toward this all year,” shouted George, 18, after becoming the fourth new Sportsman winner this season to make it 128 drivers reaching victory lane at the fairgrounds since the class debuted in 1987. A three-time Legends Spt winner last season with four more triumphs taken at Genesee Speedway in Batavia, her father Scott George logged his lone LOLR victory in a Sportsman Series stop staged in September of 2004.
“I flipped earlier this year and thought ‘oh no’ but we finally did it, oh yeah. At the end I was thinking just don’t spin out. This is amazing, have to thank my family and Eldon Payne for all the tips and tricks. If my grandparents were still alive and able to see this they would be ecstatic,” exclaimed George, who led only a single lap and posted one Top-10 feature finish coming into Saturday.
At the drop of starter Scott Hixson’s initial green flag, George wasted no time putting her #26 Scotty’s Half Ass Bumper Service-Scott Stopa Attorney-Bud’s Apple Pie/Bicknell ride ahead of pole-sitter Justin Liechti. While the lead duo easily out-distanced themselves from the pack, the journey forward for top-two title contenders Sobotka and Guererri kept scorers reeling.
Still yet to register for an off-track driver’s license, George cruised home for the commanding eight car-length win over Liechti followed by Nick Root, Kane Bristol and Guererri. On the final points chart it was Sobotka out-gaining Guererri, 750-732, with Zach joining Matt, Kevin Long, Karl Comfort, Dan Wiesner and Dave Marcuccilli as the only drivers to capture consecutive championships over the past 37 seasons.
The 20-lap Street Street final first appeared rather anti-climactic as Grant only needed a start to garner high-point honors. That wasn’t the case for the Penn Yan pilot, however, as his mad dash from near last to first in just one mile was well deserving of a return trip to title town.
“Knew we had to come here, as soon as that green flag dropped I dropped the hammer,” beamed Grant, out-scoring two-time winner and Saturday’s runner-up C.J. Guererri, 824-724, in the final point standings. “I wasn’t taking ‘No’ for an answer, this car’s going to the front.”
Marc Minutolo seemed just as fast from the outset, darting from sixth to take an early advantage with just one lap scored. Oakfield invader Joe Dyrbala spun facing the wrong way high in turn three to bring an abrupt halt to the action to open the door for Grant on the ensuing restart.
Buckled into the familiar black #36 Nardozzi-Fratto Curbing-Washburn Excavating-Geneva Glass Chevrolet Camaro CRS Special, Grant edged under Minutolo crossing the line leaving only the race for second undecided. And that battle raged on for the distance with Guererri edging Welch under the checkers followed by Carl Johnson and Nick Dandino.
“The relationships I built with friends and family and the sponsors, its the people that really mean a lot to me,” added Grant, whose win in the 50-lap 4-Cylinder Enduro portion of the Ontario Co. Fair’s “Summer Smash” in July gives him an unmatched track mark of 10 in 2023. “All these people here, they’re more important than you’ll ever know so this (win/title) is just bad-ass. Its a blessing.”
While Grant controlled his Street Stock destiny, the battle for supremacy among long-time rivals Minutolo and Burnell in the Hobby class was coming to a climax as just 16 points stood between leader ‘Mr. Smooth’ and top trailer ‘Bubba.’ The passionate pair did not disappoint as they locked horns the entire way, finishing two-three behind Peckham with a final spread of 758-750 separating the two.
“Amazing, there’s no quit in this team, that’s for damn sure,” declared Minutolo, in the midst of celebrating his fifth LOLR stock car championship. It was a banner weekend for the Newark driver as he also claimed the Hobby division crown Friday at nearby Outlaw Speedway in Dundee. “I was a little nervous halfway through (race) but not as nervous as I was all week. I probably could’ve puked, crapped, blinked and farted at the same time, that’s how nervous I was all week.”
“Its an amazing feeling. Came out with this car halfway through last year, it was lights out then and again this year. Even though we started out hot I still felt it was kind of a struggle but we were consistent none the less. Ran into a few issues mid-year, just worked our butts off to get to this point.”
“Can’t thank my dad (Mike Sr.) enough, he’s the man, the reason I’m here. There’s a difference between mechanical knowledge and race knowledge and his race knowledge is what gets us where we’re at. I credit all my success to him,” added Minutolo, who ended the regular season with two Hobby wins and one in a Street Stock to give him 66 all-time at LOLR.
Blane Smith out-dragged front row partner Brighton Grant to lead off the 15-lapper while Minutolo and Burnell shared row three positions on the starting grid. Peckham began seventh in the 13-car field yet rolled past both on his way past Smith in a lap six surge.
Halfway through Peckham held a comfortable lead with Smith, Burnell, Tyler Burnell and Minutolo looking for a faster way around. Bubba grabbed second on lap nine while Minutolo overtook a fading Smith with a dozen laps down. Caution lights flashed on lap 13 when young Tyler nipped the uke tire down low entering turn one, with his stricken stocker ending up parked sideways high in the second cornert. Minutolo inherited third and three laps later cashed in for the championship crown, with Smith and Grant rounding out the final front-five.
“The car was working real good, just changed a few minor things, a little off-set,” said Peckham, 53, after putting his self-sponsored blue no. 90 Chevrolet Camaro in victory lane for the 15th time at the fairgrounds; his last coming exactly one year ago on Sept. 3, 2022. “Wayne Ellison helped me get a little better set-up for tonight. Was wondering about if we were gonna get it (win) done this year. Still have no sponsors so its me, myself and I that work on it most of the week. Good to have it pay off every once and awhile,” added Peckham, who first cracked Canandaigua’s winner’s circle in 2005.
The closest finish of the night came in the 12-lap Legends Sportsman race with every inch of the the six-mile affair needed to determine a winner as Sawyer and Swartz rubbed rails in the rare photo-finish among entry level racers.
“The hose came off so my visor fogged up and I saw the flag waving, thought it must be the checkers,” began Sawyer, as the first-year driver from Spencerport attempted to describe the last lap clash with Swartz that resulted in the closest finish of the season. “Was pumping my fist then cars came around me over there and I thought ‘crap,’ (race) must must still be going. I don’t know how I won that, we were banging wheels coming to the finish line.”
“Boy that was something else. I sat in the stands for the past 25 years and finally decided to jump into this. Can’t believe I’m here,” added Sawyer, still in search of sponsorship support for his winning #87s Bicknell machine although naming Sweet Marie’s Hot Sauce and WNY Welding Service as team contributors.
A first-timer at LOLR, Tyler Foster led a track record 12-car Legends field to the green and the Pendleton driver remained out front until lap 10 when Sawyer rocketed past rounding turn two up high. The last lap miscalculation by Sawyer forced a turn three traffic jam yet with veteran Todd Henderson closing in the scrum with Swartz over the final eighth-mile produced a mere 0.023-sec. margin as sparks flew between the leaders crossing under the finish line flagstand.
With a cool $3.000 awaiting the winner, the night’s ‘open’ Big-Block/Small-Block Modified final event was well worth the wait as the brothers Johnson went at it bumper-to-bumper while Payne kept it a three-car confrontation in the closing laps.
With a pre-race re-draw among the Top-4 qualifiers in a pair of heat races, outside pole-winner Payne led Derrick Podsiadlo at the start. ‘A.J. Slideways’ moved into second on lap seven then disposed of Payne on lap 13 as the ‘Doctor’ followed immediately after in Alan’s tire tracks. Making his first visit of the season, Andrew Smith slowed to a stop exiting turn three with the second and final yellow flag falling on lap 17.
It was game on for the ensuing single-file restart and younger brother Danny ducked under Alan to took take charge past the halfway point. Alex Payne sped past Alan by lap 20 while Zach Payne and Kevin Root diced for Top-5 spots. Alex shadowed Danny across the stripe to complete lap 28 but ‘Danimal’ immediately slammed the door shut entering turn one, ultimately resulting in a bent right-rear panel and narrow three car-length victory in the last event of the night.
“Feels really good, had a great race car today,” down-played Johnson, now 63, after parking the patented orange no. 27J Sunrise Insulation-Shakelton Auto & Truck Parts-Lanes Yamaha/Bicknell sporting a new Billy The Kid powerplant in the winner’s circle. His last LOLR win came in the Super DIRTcar Series 100-lapper staged July 5, 2018. “The car worked really good on the bottom, worked in the middle and worked on top. Just had a great hot rod.”
“And to get here to victory lane, we tried all season. So here we are, its awesome. Have to thank Tim Gibson from Sunrise for giving me this great ride here today and my son Tyler for giving me all the help he did here today. An awesome job,” added Johnson, a four-time Big-Block points champion at LOLR now with 82 feature wins.
Settling for second in another thrilling finish up front, Payne suffered from carburetor issues forcing him to run ¾ throttle most of the way while runner-up just a week earlier, the elder Johnson had a strong start yet once again faded at the end when it counted and is still in search of his first victory of the season anywhere.
5th ANNUAL HAERS MEMORIAL CLOSES 2023 CANANDAIGUA CAMPAIGN
Just one more weekend of competition remains at Land Of Legends Raceway with the 5th Annual Gerald Haers Memorial taking center stage Fri. Sept. 15 & Sat. Sept. 16. The 2023 edition currently boasts nearly $90,000 in cash and prizes for top Big-Block Modified, Sportsman, Street Stock and Hobby Stock teams all contending in the two-day affair for a second straight year.
The 12th Les Whyte Top Gun Shootout headlines the Friday program, with this year’s $1,500-to-win 40-lap feature part of the Empire State Street Stock Series. Hobby Stockers will be chasing a $750 first-place prize in their own 25-lap main event, while the Top-6 drivers in three scheduled Stirling Lubricants GHM Sportsman Championship qualifiers are set to share $750 to close out opening day activity.
Named after the late LOLR Pro Stock champion and driver of the sleek Top Gun #1 machine, upwards of $1,600 in added lap sponsorship and special awards are also on the line in the Whyte Memorial tribute for area Street Stock chauffeurs. Carl Johnson is the defending race winner while Western New York invader Dave Schulz captured the inaugural title race in 1999.
The curtain finally falls on the ’23 campaign Sat, Sept. 16 with the “Haers 100” winner pocketing a cool $10,000 while last-place pays $1,000. Adding over $5,500 in post-race rewards for the Phelps Cement Products presentation, another $10G in lap money is also available along with $500-to-win Triple 20-lap qualifying heats.
The companion 40-lap Stirling Lubricants GHM Championship on Saturday rewards the winner with a lucrative $2,500 paycheck from the $8,700+ purse while $1,600 in bonuses further bolsters the overall pot heading into race day.
Erick Rudolph (Mod) and Kevin Ridley(Spt) shared the spotlight after scoring open-wheel wins in the 4th Gerald Haers Memorial last September, while Tyler Burnell joined Johnson in the winner’s circle when the full-fender frenzy ran a week earlier.
Pepsi Big-Block Modified(NON-POINT)
*Feature (30 laps): 1. 27j-Danny Johnson ($3,000), 2. 70a-Alex Payne, 3. 14j-Alan Johnson, 4. 34-Kevin Root, 5. 7z-Zach Payne, 6. 3-Justin Haers, 7. 42p-Pat Ward, 8. 19w-Justin Wright, 9. 11j-James Sweeting, 10. 132-Dalton Martin, 11. 21-Derrick Podsiadlo, 12. 7s-Torrey Stoughtenger, 13. 11n-Ricky Newton, 14. 7-Troy Sperring, 15. 88-Dave Allen, 16. 1-Andrew Smith, 17. 22g-Gil Tegg Jr., 18. 56-JT Sperring.
Heats (8 laps)
#1: Tegg, Z.Payne, A.Johnson, Sweeting, Root, T.Sperring, Smith, Stoughtenger, Allen(DNS).
#2: Martin, A.Payne, D.Johnson, Podsiadlo, Haers, Wright, Newton, JT Sperring, Ward.
Stirling Lubricants Sportsman Modified(DOUBLE POINTS)
*Feature (25 laps): 1. 26-Greenley George ($750), 2. 21j-Justin Liechti, 3. 30-Nick Root, 4. 31-Kane Bristol, 5. 12g-Matt Guererri, 6. 10-Karl Comfort, 7. 51-Tim Lafler, 8. 35-Nick Cooper, 9. 38-Zach Sobotka, 10. 7-Paul Guererri, 11. 113jr.-Frank Guererri Jr., 12. 9-Tim Baker, 13. 20x-Kevin Ridley, 14. 32c-Kasey Coffey, 15. 18h-Justin Henderson, 16. 7j-JT Sperring, 17. 23b-Timmy Borden Jr., 18. 34-Behr Grover, 19. 32-Carter Crooker, 20. 28-Mark Potter, 21. 31k-Kennedy Payne, 22. 35x-Greg Crooker.
Heats (8 laps)
#1: F.Guererri, Bristol, C.Crooker, Root, Sobotka, Coffey, Potter, Payne.
#2: Liechti, Lafler, M.Guererri, Comfort, Cooper, Grover, G.Crooker.
#3: George, Sperring, P.Guererri, Ridley, Baker, Henderson, Borden.
2023 Track Champion: Zach Sobotka
MighTea Boba 305 Sprint(DOUBLE POINTS)
*Feature (20 laps): 1. 80-Bobby Parrow ($500), 2. 66-Jordan Hutton, 3. 77-Matt Rotz, 4. 23-John Smith, 5. 10-Johnny Kolosek, 6. 14-James Layton, 7. d9-Dustin Sehn, 8. 48jr.-Darryl Ruggles, 9. 18c-Dan Craun, 10. 21b-Blake Warner, 11. 12g-Matt Guererri, 12. 33z-Sydney Wetherbee, 13. 18-Alan Buchanan, 14. 2-Randy Years, 15. 29-Tori Kaplin, 16. 121-Steve Glover, 10p-Nathan Pierce(DNS), 99-Adam DePuy(DNS), 17e-Ethan Gray(DNS).
Heats (8 laps)
#1: Layton, Rotz, Kolosek, Glover, Sehn, Warner, Kaplin, Buchanan, DePuy(DNS), Pierce(DNS).
#2: Parrow, Craun, Years, Hutton, Guererri, Ruggles, Wetherbee, Smith, Gray(DNS).
2023 Track Champion: Jordan Hutton
Eldredge & Sons Scrap Recycling Street Stock(DOUBLE POINTS)
*Feature (20 laps): 1. 36-Jimmy Grant ($500), 2. cj1-CJ Guererri, 3. 00-Mike Welch, 4. 87-Carl Johnson, 5. 57j-Nick Dandino, 6. 7d-Joe Dyrbala, 7. 22-Carl Cleveland, 8. 74-Darren Phippen , 9. 12-John Burritt, 10. 63-Mike Fellows, 11. 25b-Marc Minutolo, 12. 19-Chris Beyea, 13. 9-Aksel Jensen, 3-Patrick Hobbs(DNS).
Heats (6 laps)
#1: Johnson, Welch, Cleveland, Grant, Fellows, Jensen, Hobbs.
#2: Minutolo, Guererri, Dandino, Beyea, Burritt, Phippen, Dyrbala.
2023 Track Champion: Jimmy Grant
Lloyd’s Contracting Hobby Stock(DOUBLE POINTS)
*Feature (15 laps): 1. 90-Nathan Peckham, 2. 57b-Frank ‘Bubba’ Burnell Jr., 3. 25b-Marc Minutolo, 4. 55b-Blane Smith, 5. 36x-Brighton Grant, 6. 17jr.-Jamie Eldredge Jr., 7. 67-James Werner, 8. 11k-Dan Korpanty, 9. 22j-Randy Johnson, 10. 57jr.-Tyler Burnell, 11. 61-Daniel Kerrick, 12. 97-Kevin Schrader, 13. 25j-Justin Eldredge, 24k-Kevin Lloyd(DNS).
Heats (6 laps)
#1: Minutolo, T.Burnell, Ju.Eldredge, Grant, Werner, Schrader, Lloyd(DNS).
#2: Kerrick, Smith, Peckham, F.Burnell, Ja.Eldredge, Johnson, Korpanty.
2023 Track Champion: Marc Minutolo
Maguire Ford of Canandaigua New Legends Sportsman
*Feature (12 laps): 1. 87s-Brad Sawyer, 2. 24-Kirsten Swartz, 3. 18h-Todd Henderson, 4. 68-Tyler Foster, 5. 35x-William Erikson, 6. 23-Kyle Quigley, 7. 29g-Evan Gray, 8. 17t-Kyle Teeter, 9. 7j-Angel Sperring, 10. 20k-Kyle Ridley, 11. 57j-Bruce Batzel, 12. 51-Justin Sick.
Heats (6 laps)
#1: Quigley, Swartz, Sawyer, Sperring, Batzel, Henderson(DNS).
#2: Erikson, Teeter, Ridley, Gray, Foster, Sick.