Niagara Indoor Series report 2002-01-25

Wollaber Wins Second TQ Indoor Feature on Wild Night at Niagara Falls (Niagara Falls, NY) Eighteen-year old Dave Wollaber from Ransomville, NY, showed that his win in the January 5th race in the Bobcat of Buffalo Niagara Indoor Midget Series was...

Wollaber Wins Second TQ Indoor Feature on Wild Night at Niagara Falls

(Niagara Falls, NY) Eighteen-year old Dave Wollaber from Ransomville, NY, showed that his win in the January 5th race in the Bobcat of Buffalo Niagara Indoor Midget Series was no fluke by capturing his second win in a row in the Vinnie Christiano owned No. 22, in a tense duel with series point leader and ISMA star Greg Furlong from Hannibal, NY, on Saturday night, January 26th at the Niagara Falls Convention and Civic Center. The win came before a large crowd that witnessed the wildest night in the seventeen year history of the series, which saw five cautions, two red flags, and plenty of disintegrated foam blocks in the 50 lap A Main, the heats, and even the dash, some of them terrifying to watch. The good news was that nobody was seriously injured in what surely was a night to remember.

A sign of things to come was a multi-car pile-up in the second turn of the first lap, which necessitated a full restart. Colin Turnbull, starting on the outside of the front row, took the lead over Wollaber, who started on the pole. He had done the same thing on the aborted first start. Wollaber explained. "On the original restart I knew the outside was the place to be, but three or four of them were getting by me, so luckily I got another whack at it, and then I went right up to the outside." A caution on lap four saw Turnbull, from Cambridge, Ontario, leading Wollaber, Furlong, fast timer (for the second race in a row) Lou Cicconi from Aston, PA, and Mark Sammut from London, Ontario, to the line for the restart. Two laps later Cicconi went up in the air as he hit the back of the Furlong machine while racing for third. "I had Furlong set up on the outside and he bicycled," explained Cicconi. "I went over him." That brought out another caution and relegated Cicconi to the rear for the restart.

The order at the front was now Turnbull, Wollaber, Furlong,Sammut, and the No. 90 of Dave McIntosh from London, Ontario. It stayed that way through a lap 12 caution when Cicconi, who was making a mad dash from the rear, spun in turn four, and also a lap 19 caution for a spin by the No. 79 of Bobby Crawford from Sutton,Ontario. On lap 21, Wollaber, who had been stalking Turnbull, got inside going into turn four and after going side by side down the front straightaway, assumed command going into turn one, taking Furlong with him into second.

One lap later the first red flag flew when young Stewart Friesen from Niagara-on-the- Lake, Ontario, and a former winner of this race,crashed head-on into the foam blocks guarding the first turn wall, blowing them apart. The blocks did their job,however, as Friesen was unhurt in the scary looking incident.

On the ensuing restart, Wollaber lead Furlong, Turnbull,Sammut, and McIntosh, The order stayed that way until a lap 34 caution, which saw the No. 75 of Don Zrinski from Piscataway, NJ, spin in turn four, collecting heat and "Dash for Cash" winner Mel Raab, and Crawford in the process. Raab's No. 93 was through for the night with front end damage.

The order remained the same for the restart with Wollaber and Furlong breaking away and engaging in a real dogfight at the front. Turnbull stayed with them for several laps before dropping back. Then, on lap 42, there occurred one of the most spectacular and dangerous looking crashes in the history of the series. As Turnbull was rocketing down the back straightaway, his car blew a radiator hose, and he immediately spun in the spewing coolant and slammed into the omnipresent foam blocks full speed. The No. 90 of McIntosh, the No. 6 of Sammut, and the No. 75X of Cicconi also spun in the water and slammed into the Turnbull car, already pinned to the wall. None of them had any time to react before they made contact at a frightful speed. "The hose just blew. I heard it pop," related Turnbull. "The water took everybody out. We hit the back end into the foam and then it was just bang, bang, bang, like everybody else coming into you. I think the foam helped," added Turnbull, who was miraculously unhurt, as were the other drivers. "It blew foam right to the roof (of theConvention center). It must have taken some of the impact. There's no doubt. We're all right, but I think we're going to be building a new car. Actually I came off and I walked over here and I just wanted to sit down. My legs felt a little bit (sore) from hitting in the cockpit, but I feel fine."

Sammut noted, "As soon as I saw the smoke we were around in a circle. The car picked up speed going in. It was just one of those things, the wrong place at the wrong time. Our car wasn't really that bad. I'm fine. It just kind of surprised me after I got turned around and saw more cars just coming and coming.

Cicconi observed, "As soon as the car hit the water it just took off. I'm fine." Thus, what looked like a horrific accident with certain injury turned into a testament for the safety of the cars and the wisdom of installing foam blocks, which watched over the scene in mute silence though blasted into smithereens by the careening machines. A little help from the Almighty might have played a role as well.

When the debris was cleared, and new blocks installed, 8 cars from the original 21 took the green for the restart on lap 42, with the accident claiming the cars running third, fourth, fifth, and sixth. Wollaber led Furlong, Wayne Turnbull from Paris, Ontario, Glen Halbing from Fairlawn, NJ, and Chuck Hossfeld, from Ransomville, the former Crafstman Truck Series driver, substituting for Vinnie Christiano Jr., whose wife had a baby. It was Hossfeld's first experience in a TQ. Wollaber chose a middle line to keep Furlong at bay. The veteran tried everything he could to get by the youngster, but Wollaber, showing a maturity beyond his years, was able to fend off every advance and claimed a well earned victory. Wollaber was still in awe of his accomplishment after the race. "This is unbelievable. It hasn't really sunk in yet. Two in a row. It was unbelievable to win one." He then explained his strategy as the race progressed. "I waited for him (Turnbull) to mess up. I just rode around right on his bumper, and then he got a little loose. I could see him getting a little loose coming out of four, getting right up by the wall. So I figured I'd stay a half lane down or so, and then he got real wide the one time and I had room to get in there." Once he got into the lead he had Furlong to contend with the rest of the way. "I knew he was there. I felt him in the corners. He got me sideways a couple of times. I had to protect the bottom. Going into the corner I was running the middle and then I would cut it down to the inside tires, so unless he got me going in, which he almost did a couple times, there was no way he could get around."

Furlong, who has never won the title, but came within five points once, was asked if that played into his late race strategy against Wollaber. "Usually when I get into the feature, if I have chance to win, I don't care about points. I want to win. You know what I mean. Everybody does. I was just going for the win, trying to get around him without hitting him or moving him out of the way." On lap 47, Furlong made a hard move and almost lost it. He explained, "He ran a good line. He was right in the middle. He didn't give me the bottom and he didn't give me the top. I was trying everything, and I was just waiting for him to slip up. He just ran an awesome race. I felt if I got on the outside and showed him a wheel I could get him. I was stuffing it on the outside and it just bicycled on me bad. I thought it was going over there for a minute. I just turned it to the right and got it back down."

Third place finisher, veteran Wayne Turnbull, witnessed the carnage ahead of him on lap 42 that vaulted him into third. "I saw the water flying. I saw the whole thing blow up. It looked like water blowing out of the hose. I couldn't believe all those guys getting in it. I was going to go to the infield, but I realized there was room on the inside of the track." As for the rest of the race, he laughinglyadded, " I only passed guys when they were crashing."

ATQMRA president Glen Halbing continuing his fine showing in the series, finished fourth, with Hossfeld holding on for an impressive fifth, giving car owner Vinnie Christiano two top five cars on the night.

The 25 lap B Main saw Norm Mcleod from Cheektowaga, NY, take the top spot after starting second, but the real story of the race was Chuck Hossfeld. After starting eleventh in the race, and spinning out midway through the event, he suddenly made an amazing charge through the field, passing Joey Payne and Warren Mahoney on the final straightway to finish second. The remarkable feat had the crowd cheering as Hossfeld from nearby Ransomville made his determined move to the front. Mcleod, Hossfeld, and Mahoney transferred to the A Main, while Payne, who looked to have the final transfer spot locked up, wound up on the DNQ list.

The heat races produced two earlier incidents, which could have turned into disasters. In the first heat, Bill Mislin from Tonawanda, jumped the tire of Dan May as he was attempting to pass. The car leaped into the air going toward the first turn, hit the wall and the catch fence, flipped end over end, hit the foam blocks protecting the first turn wall and then barrel rolled, coming to rest on the track. It looked like injuries would be certain, but Mislin emerged unscathed from the wreckage. He explained later. "I went outside to pass May, but he didn't see me and he pulled out to make a pass on another car. We touched and that was it. I closed my eyes after the first flip because I was getting pelted with rubber, so I really didn't see what happened after that."

The second equally startling incident occurred in the third heat when the No. 7L of Dan Lawrence from Amherst jumped the tire of Bob Reis from Elma and shot straight into the turn one wall at full speed. The car hit the foam blocks which launched him through the catch fence and turned him slightly sideways. At the first impact Lawrence inadvertently jammed his foot on the accelerator and the car shot sideways when the spinning tires made contact with the wall, throwing the car back onto the track. Again, by some miracle, Lawrence escaped this devastating crash uninjured.

Even the Ace Collision "Dash for Cash," won by Mel Raab, turned into a "Dash for Crash," as Don Zrinski slammed head-on into the third turn foam blocks when he jumped a tire and got airborne, rendering his brakes useless. He struck hard, but again, thankfully was unhurt, and after replacing the entire right front of the car,returned to start the feature. Add to that a flip by James Friesen during time trials, and you can see what a strange night it was.

As if to prove that this night was somehow tinged with fate, the always exciting kart competition chipped in with an inordinate number of flips of their own. There was one in the micro sprint feature, four violent flips in the stock light feature (three on one lap), and two in the Jr. Sportsman Feature. Again, remarkably there were no serious injuries. Doug Kirik from Waterford, PA, who flipped in the Jr. Sportsman event appeared to have been injured when he rolled his kart in turn two, but after several minutes, he was lifted to his feet and left the track under his own power. A profile in courage was provided by Zachery Linsell from Wind Gap, PA, who rolled his kart in the same race and then climbed back into the righted machine and rejoined the field.

The kart winners were Larry Stolzenberg from Burt, NY, in the Stock Heavy, Chris Winnen from Wattsburg, PA, in the Stock Light, Mike Adderly from Watertown in the Stock Medium, Erick Rudolph, with his third straight in the Junior Sportsman, and Cody Geldart from Mossley, Ontario, taking his third in a row in the Micro Sprints.

Notes: No one, including those who have been to all seventeen years of indoor competition at the Falls can remember a night with this number of violent crashes and flips. The track was no better or worse than it has been in the past, so the reasons for the goings on remain a mystery.Greg Furlong has a 38 point lead over Dave Wollaber going into the final race in the series. There were thirty-two TQs in the pits. Twenty-nine took time, while thirty ran in the heats..Twenty-one started the feature.Jack Hewitt, who had driven the Dick Mahoney owned No. 79, was in Florida for a sprint car race, so Bobby Crawford drove the car in his absence. Hewitt is expected back for the final event on March 9th..Series point leader Furlong had some anxious moments when he sheared off the nut holding the left rear wheel on the car during practice. Since it was an older model, no one in the pits had a spare. Eventually BRP produced one from their Niagara Falls shop, so Furlong could participate. He time trailed with no practice and a guessed setup. Being the pro that he is, he set third fastest time despite his problem.Former champion Mike Tidaback from Little Falls, NJ, was at the Wall Stadium Awards Banquet and didn't make the show, but will be back for the finale.If anyone had any doubts as to the effectiveness of foam blocks in preventing injury, those feelings would be dispelled if they saw them in action on this night.. There were a remarkable 75 karts in the pits, up from the 63 from the previous event..The progeny of ace modified driver Pete Bicknell ran in the Junior Sportsman event. Kristen Bicknell drove the No.888 to a respectable sixth place finish, with her proud father rooting her on.

TQ Midget Feature Finish: (50 laps) Dave Wollaber, Greg Furlong, Wayne Turnbull, Glen Halbing, Chuck Hossfeld, Warren Mahoney, Jared Turnbull, Colin Turnbull, Mark Sammut, Dave McIntosh, Lou Cicconi, James Friesen, Bob Reis, Mel Raab, Bobby Crawford, Don Zrinski, Stewart Friesen, Dan May, Ryan Bartlett, and Norm Mcleod. DNQ: Bob Watkins, ScottNash, Bernie Kotarski, Justin Mapes, Joey Payne, Wade Litt, Bob Holmes, Mike Stahl, Bill Mislin, and Chris Hettinger.

Current Point Standings: (After three of four events) Furlong- 415, Wollaber-377, Colin Turnbull-348, Mark Sammut- 340, Dave McIntosh- 293, Glen Halbing- 285, Jared Turnbull-279, Warren Mahoney- 260, Dan May- 249, Wayne Turnbull- 245, Lou Cicconi- 236, James Friesen- 225, Wade Litt- 217, Mike Stahl- 214, Dan Lawrence- 202, Mel Raab- 196, Bob Reis- 171, Vinnie Christiano Jr.- 154, Scott Nash- 118, Bob Watkins- 118, Bill Mislin- 112, Jack Hewitt- 109, Chuck Hossfeld- 108, Ryan Bartlett- 104, Mike Tidaback- 94, Don Zrinski- 87, Bernie Kotarski- 85, Joey Payne- 66, Justin Mapes- 66, Bobby Crawford- 65, Stewart Friesen- 61, Norm Mcleod- 46, Pat Pontello- 25, Bob Holmes- 19, Link Smith- 10, Chris Hettinger-0.

Top Ten Point Fund Payouts: (To be awarded after the final event on march 9, 2002) 1st (plus Castrol Cup)- $1700, 2nd- 1525, 3rd-1300, 4th-1200,5th-1100, 6th- 925, 7th- 825, 8th-700, 9th 625, 10th- 575.

-nm/ds-

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Series Midget
Drivers Chuck Hossfeld , Jack Hewitt , Erick Rudolph , Dan Lawrence