Mother Nature, astounding car counts and great action for two days didn’t disappoint the stars in the cars and fans in the stands at the 70th running of the Presque Isle Downs & Casino Race of Champions this past weekend.
Lake Erie (Pa) Speedway was the site and when you have 316 unique entries from 240 cars for an event, it gives a glimpse of the support and respect the RoC holds. Being the second-longest running event, with the Indianapolis 500 first, also bodes well for what it means to win a RoC feature.
The event most fans came to see was the 250-lap Modified feature. With 32 Ground Pounders taking the green flag, pit strategy and track position were the keys to success. You know it’s a big-deal event when Daytona 500-winning Crew Chief Tommy Baldwin brings his No. 7ny out to race, and attends the event to oversee his team.
Like much of the weekend, few cautions slowed the pace of the race. This meant teams conducting live pit stops on the infield for fans to see became paramount.
In the early going, favorites Patrick Emerling and Matt Hirschman got caught up with another car coming off Turn 2 resulting in them losing coveted track positions. Quick trips to the pits sent both drivers out to try and salvage what they could.
Salvaging isn’t in the demeanor of both those drivers as they both started to make their way through the field. Hirschman was biding his time and made up for lost positions. Emerling started to come on later in the race via several pit stops for adjustments.
In the end, “Money Matt” Hirschman earned his moniker taking a record eighth Modified 250 victory, and sixth consecutively.
“We were very close to having damage early that could have very well put us out of the race,” Hirschman said in Victory Lane. “Luckily, I hit the car in front of me square and it destroyed the front bumper. So, for the rest of the race there was no taps coming from me.
“I had to try eventually get out front with a clean nose because it wasn’t safe for me in the back of the pack to maybe bump a little. It seems each one of these (wins) keeps getting tougher, which they should.
“We’re making history, but records are made to be broken. Good luck trying to beat this one (said with a smirk).”
Emerling rallied to finish second, with young Austin Beers third, Austin Kochenash fourth and Baldwin’s entry driven by John McKennedy rounded out the top-five finishers.
The other open-wheel division, Sportsman, had 49 cars show up to qualify for the Crown Royal 54 Tribute to Joe Reilly. With 28 cars starting the feature, the action was incredible in heats and B-mains for teams attempting to make the race. There were battles for the lead, top-10s and mid-pack positions in the feature through all laps.
In the end, Andy Jankowiak claimed the Crown Royal trophy with George Skora III in second, Mike Leaty third, Darryl Lewis, Jr. fourth and Jake Vernon rounding out the top five.
With 48 Super Stocks entered, 20 cars had to go home in order to set the 28-car field. In the end, it was Tommy Krawczyk earning the victory and RoC Super Stock championship at the checkered flag. Joining him in the top five was Tommy Barron, Josh Hunter, TJ Cochrane and Jason Dieter.
A special race to honor multi-champion NASCAR Late Model driver Rick Wylie was won by a driver who hauled up from Mooresville, N.C. to claim the checkers.
It was Jerrick Johnson winning the RoC Late Model race for the second-consecutive year, with Sam Fullone, Patrick Emerling, Brandan Marhefka and multi-time champion Dave Heitzhaus claiming top-five finishes.
Street Stock action didn’t have a shocking winner as Rich Sharpe won his third RoC Street Stock event taking the lead early. Following him across the stripe was Brian Hoffman, Tim Welshans, Nik Welshans and Chris Powers.
TQ Midgets had two features, with one run on Saturday and the Harry Macy Memorial run on Sunday. Bobby Homes swept both events handily to earn the seasonal RoC and NYPA championships, as well.
The 4 Cylinders had a mini-Speedweek as they competed on Friday in a Dash for Cash, then a race on Saturday and the Butch Palmer Memorial 32 on Sunday.
With 40 cars showing up to run, 10 had to go home when the green flag waved over the 30-cars fields on Saturday and Sunday. And, they didn’t disappoint going three and four-wide around the 3/8-mile speedway. Briar Dils won Saturday, and Jason Anasiewicz took top honors on Sunday.
NOTE: A big congrats to RoC Director Joe Skotnicki, the staff and officials for running a smooth show and handling all that goes on during a weekend of this caliber. It was great to see short track action like it was in all divisions, and an even greater response from teams and fans to support this historic event.
It was announced on Sunday the RoC will return to Lake Erie Speedway next year on Sept. 24, 25 and 26. So, circle that on the calendar for 2021.