Smoker "smokes" to spectacular victory at Little Valley. (Little Valley, NY) In a race that lived up to every syllable of pre-race hype, Ron Smoker from North Boston, NY, scored one of the most exciting victories anywhere, any time, passing ...
Smoker "smokes" to spectacular victory at Little Valley.
(Little Valley, NY) In a race that lived up to every syllable of pre-race hype, Ron Smoker from North Boston, NY, scored one of the most exciting victories anywhere, any time, passing leader Kevin Bolland from New Brighton, PA, at the finish, with his motor seemingly on the verge of blowing up, in the 30 lap BRP Big Block Modified Tour event at Little Valley Speedway on Saturday, September 21st. With the championship on the line and a reading of 0 on the oil pressure gauge for the final three laps, Smoker, who led Bolland by eighteen points going into this, the final event of the season, swapped the lead several times as smoke billowed from the rear of his car. Finally, in the fourth turn of the final lap, he got some good bite on the outside and nipped Bolland by half a car length at the checkered flag, a finish which had the capacity crowd at Little Valley near hysteria.
Jim Rasey from Sothington, Ohio, took the early lead over Jeff Schaffer from Fombell, PA, and Smoker in the early going, but Smoker moved immediately into second and took the lead following a lap four caution, passing Rasey on the backstretch. Bolland, who has been on fire lately, darted into third by lap six and the crowd could sense something special was in the making.
On lap eight, veteran DIRT Modified pilot, Chuck Hebing, spun in turn four while fighting for third, bringing out the yellow once more. When the race resumed, Bolland battled Rasey for second, finally slipping into the runner-up spot on lap ten and setting out after Smoker. He drew up on him one lap later, but then drifted high in turn four on lap twelve and lost ground. A caution on lap sixteen for a spin in turn four set up the situation Bolland wanted, a nose to tail restart, as he seemed to be faster than Smoker at this stage of the event.
Sure enough, when the race resumed Bolland put his No. 777 into the lead as Smoker slipped high in turn one. They rode that way for several laps, and it appeared that Bolland was in command, as Smoker couldn't make any headway in his pursuit. A final caution flew on lap twenty-two, for a spin in turn one, setting up the final amazing sequence of events.
On the restart Smoker began to pressure Bolland, as whisps of smoke began to emanate from the rear of Smoker's No. 62R. On lap twenty-five, with the smoke increasing, Smoker powered past Bolland to take the lead. Then the two exchanged the lead several times as Smoker went high in turns one and two, allowing Bolland to get under him, with Smoker returning the favor in turns three and four.
Entering the final lap Bolland led, with the badly smoking 62R gamely trying to stay with him. Everyone expected the engine to let go, but Smoker threw caution to the wind and made one final bid as he and Bolland exited turn four. With the crowd on its feet and smoke pouring out of the rear of his car Smoker made one final charge to the outside and was less than a car length ahead as he and Bolland crossed the line.
After the race, Smoker explained his mindset, "My oil light came on with three laps to go. I said, 'Well, I'm going for the win, so whatever happens happens,' and it hung on. I shut it down on the last lap (the cool down lap). I was watching the red light, but Kevin was running a good race. I knew I had one last shot at him. I was better out of four, and he was better off the bottom out of two. It just was a good race. It worked out."
Bolland explained the last frantic lap, noting, "I thought we had him covered there. He found some extra margin between the guard rail and the car. We bumped a little bit coming up the front straightaway there; we just came up a little short." Of the smoke coming out of the 62R, he added, "Maybe that was my Godsend coming in there for me, and maybe it was going to take care of him. Ronnie really did a good job. We come up from ninth place starting position. Seeing him start up there in fourth, I knew we had our work cut out for us. It was a great race."
Remarkably, when Smoker's car was taken to the pits after the race, it was discovered that the engine was in no imminent danger of blowing up, as everyone expected. The lack of an oil pressure reading was due to a leak in the line leading to the gauge, which was the also source of the smoke. It was determined that there was no damage to the motor, which still had plenty of oil in it, a huge relief to Ron and his crew.
He had an inkling that the situation wasn't as dire as it seemed because of the way the motor was acting. He explained, "What tipped me off is one thing. I've had them go before with loss of oil pressure and you don't have much time. You're lucky enough when the oil light comes on to get them shut off before you start hearing noises. I didn't hear any noises, it wasn't losing power, it wasn't losing any of that stuff. I knew something was weird, but I said, 'I'm going to run it to the end.' Fortunately it held together."
It held together long enough to deliver the championship to Smoker in his first full year on the circuit to the delight of his family and the partisan crowd that was there to root him on.
In the companion feature, the 20 lap event for the Empire Super Sprints, Rick Wilson from Joyceville, Ontario, made it two wins in two nights (he won Ransomville's 360 Sprint Open on Friday), coming from seventeenth to capture his second ESS win and ninth win overall for the season. The secret to his win was tire choice and setup help from his good friend, sprint car standout Freddie Raymer. He explained the tire situation, "I've got a hard tire on there. That's a 38, that's real hard. Most of the guys had 33s on, some had 23s, thinking that the dust was going to come on to the black, and it gets slippery. I went to the hard tire and cut it and hacked it every which way and said, 'Look, it's either gonna go or not. If it goes we're going to the front. If it doesn't, I might as well just pull in. When they first pushed us off, I went into the corner and the car nearly tipped over. I said, 'Oh, we're good, because it stuck hard.'"
Wilson took the lead from Alain Bergeron on lap eleven after a strange set of circumstances beset race leader, Erin Crocker, who took the front after a lap four caution. The rookie sensation looped her car, but stayed on the gas and kept going, losing two spots in the process. At almost the same moment, the yellow flew when the No. 61 of Bubby Kerrick slowed in turn one with a flat tire. Crocker assumed that she had caused the caution and, when nothing was said, she stayed in line in third for the restart, when in reality she should have been put back in the lead. Inexplicably, ESS rules say that you have to protest your alignment if you think it is incorrect. Since Crocker didn't realize until later that she hadn't caused the caution, she didn't protest, costing herself the lead, and possibly the win. It would seem that in fairness, ESS officials should have done the right thing and set the field up correctly, rather than to wait for a driver to complain before acting, and then doing nothing when no protest was made.
Bergeron and Mike Lux were the benefactors of the scoring snafu, and restarted one-two, but Wilson, restarting fourth, blew into second when the green flew, and took the lead a short time later. He was essentially unchallenged for the rest of the race. Bergeron finished second, followed by Lux, point leader Mike Woodring, and Doug Emery to round out the top five.
In other action, Bruce Miller from Wellsville won the 20 lap Super Stock Feature, taking the lead from Todd Rice from Eldred, PA, on lap fifteen, after lying seventh early in the contest, and surviving a lap eighteen caution when point leader Bill Holmes spun after contact with Doug Ricotta. Rice finished second, with Bob Dixon, Don Wagner, and Andy Miller completing the top five.
In the 15 lap Street Stock Feature, Jason Schoonmaker recorded his second victory in a row when he ran down leader Rick Tingue on lap fifteen and then cruised to the win. Tingue took second, with Rob Stromecki third, Chuck Pruden fourth, and last year's champ, Jim Kennerknecht, fifth.
In the final event of the night, Kenny Foster from Little Valley and Corry Allen recorded a dead heat for the win in the school bus race, with Wayne Osgood credited with second.
NOTES: Special tribute was paid to Super Stock driver Brock Young from Scio, who lost his life in an auto accident earlier in the week. A number of drivers placed No. 22 decals on their cars in honor of Young; Tim Dunham put the number 22 on his car for the evening; and the cars paraded with the "missing pole position" before their feature race as fans observed a moment of silence.There were 137 race cars and school buses in the pits, by far the largest turnout of the yearDuring the evening a number of racing legends were honored as part of the Open Cockpit Reunion, originally scheduled for June 14th , but postponed by rain. Among those honored were Doc Hoctor, Hugh Darraugh, Vern Harriman, Joe Russo, Bob Miley, Bud Johnson, Fran Pezzimenti, Jim Schaffer, and historian Lou Ensworth..With Dick Barton taking the late model title two weeks ago, the remaining classes crowned their champions this night, with Bill Holmes from Chaffee claiming the Super Stock title, Wayne Mohawk from Irving winning the Street Stock crown, and Kenny Foster from Little Valley celebrating his third school bus championship in a row. Lyle Sherwood from Ulysses PA, ran a small block in the BRP event and emerged with a fine fifth place finish against his high powered brethrenErin Crocker, who will try her hand at Silver Crown racing next year, dazzled the crowd with a dominating performance in her ESS heat, winning by almost a straightawayIt was the final event of the 2002 season at Little Valley, which went out in style with packed grandstands and the massive car count.