By FRANK CATIZONE
MIDDLETOWN – Much of the drama during Eastern States Weekend the past few seasons has centered around modified racing stars Brett Hearn and Stewart Friesen.
Both drivers have treated the Orange County Fair Speedway to some exciting moments with their driving styles on the track as well as some unlikely outcomes at the scales during their post-race inspections.
Hearn, the winningest driver in OCFS history, was stripped of a win two years ago when he didn’t make weight following an apparent victory in the Small Block Modified 100-lap championship race. It cost Hearn the winning prize of $15,000.
Friesen, the reigning titlist in this 100-lap race, rode home with what appeared to be an impressive victory behind the wheel of C.G. Morey’s No. 14M small block modified Saturday night. But, like Hearn following the 2016 edition of this race, Friesen forfeited his triumph when he was 10 laps light over the scales.
So, when Hearn charged off the fourth turn towards victory lane, the crowd went into a frenzy with a chorus of both cheers and bows. The talented 60-year-old driver has now picked up 305 career wins here – but not too many have come this way.
“I’ve been on the other end of these decisions in the past,’’ said Hearn. “It’s nice to have one finally go my way. I think Stewart was about 11 pounds light, but he was driving a different car and they probably didn’t account for the weight difference.’’
Friesen, who was offered a ride in Morey’s car when his own racer broke in warm-ups, was truly the class of the field during the event. The popular Sprakers driver jumped into first place at the drop of the opening green and never relinquished the lead to the checkered flags.
Hearn, who started in seventh place, drove among the leaders throughout the race and moved past Anthony Perrego for second place on the 37th lap. An incident involving Gary Edwards Jr. with 40 laps completed enabled Hearn to sit outside of Friesen for the ensuing restart.
But Friesen was able to build a cushion over Hearn when racing resumed and was able to stay well ahead as the event entered its final quarter. Hearn then began chipping away at Friesen’s margin and actually pulled inside of Friesen on the 85th lap.
“I started pushing the car with 20 laps to go and actually was able to get underneath him,’’ explained Hearn. “But I just didn’t have enough push to close the deal. I was conserving my tires until that point and it almost worked.’’
But that was the only shot Hearn really had at grabbing first place. Friesen was able to push out his lead once again and finished well ahead of Hearn when OCFS starter Jerry Enright dropped the checkered flags.
However, that all changed in the pit area as controversy struck once again at the scales and provided Hearn with another shot at the elusive $10,000 bonus by winning both this 100-lapper and this afternoon’s 57th annual Eastern States 200.
“I’m looking forward to get another shot at that sweep,’’ said Hearn. “We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.’’
L.J. Lombardo was credited with a second-place finish following Friesen’s disqualification with Matt Sheppard, Brian Krummel, Tommy Meier, Jerry Higbie, Peter Britten, Allison Ricci, Marc Johnson and Yan Bussiere following.
Small Block Modified Feature Finish, 100 laps: 1. Brett Hearn, 2. L.J. Lombardo, 3. Mat Sheppard, 4. Brian Krummel, 5. Tommy Meier, 6. Jerry Higbie, 7. Peter Britten, 8. Allison Ricci, 9. Marc Johnson, 10. Yan Bussiere, 11. Ken Tremont Jr., 12. Gary Edwards Jr., 13. Donnie Elliott, 14. Tyler Dippel, 15. Randy Green, 16. Joe Bonetti, 17. Tyler Boniface, 18. Matt Janiak, 19. Mike Sabia, 20. Brett Haas, 21. Jimmy Phelps, 22. Anthony Perrego, 23. John Ferrier, 24. Frank Venezia, 25. Michael Storms, 26. Bob Hentschel, 27. Shane Jablonka, 28. Ronnie Johnson, 29. Tim Hindley, 30. Patrick Reiser, 31. Andy Bachetti, 32. Tom Hindley, 33. Rick Laubach, 34. Chris Stevens, 35. Craig Mitchell. Disqualified: Stewart Friesen (weight).