By FRANK CATIZONE
MIDDLETOWN, NY – Jeff Heotzler Sr. carved another notch into his racing belt at the Orange County Fair Speedway last Saturday night as he drove to his 52nd career Modified victory at the historic track in the 30-lap main event.
Heotzler, who has struggled throughout the early season, feels he may have finally hit on something good as he took control of the race from the second lap and never looked back.
“Finally, I think we might have something here,’’ said Heotzler. “We’ve been working to get the right set-up for this car and really missed on it a week ago with the new track surface. But I think we’re finally pointed in the right direction.
“I really felt comfortable in the car tonight, and hopefully, this is just the start of some better results this season. I’m hoping I can make a few more visits here (victory lane) before it’s over.’’
Heotzler, after starting on the pole, surrendered the lead to Kirk Horton at the drop of the green and raced in second for one lap. However, he powered past Horton following a second-lap restart and never looked back.
John Lieto and Chris Shultz, meanwhile, were staging quite a battle for second place as the race progressed, but never really challenged Heotzler. Shultz pressured Lieto in the latter stages and took advantage of a 29th lap restart to move into second.
Lieto settled for a third-place effort with Jerry Higbie, who started 15th in the 25-car field, following with an impressive fourth-place drive. Gary Edwards Jr. rounded out the top five with Horton, Brendan Finley, C.G. Morey, Anthony Perrego and Tommy Meier rounding out the top 10.
Perrego, meanwhile, opened defense of his Small Block Modified championship with a commanding victory in the 25-lap main event – the division’s first program of the 2018 campaign after several rainouts.
Perrego, after starting fourth, powered ahead of Craig Mitchell with an outside pass going down the backstretch on the fourth lap and was control the rest of the event as he finished well ahead of Mitchell when the checkered flags were waved from OCFS starter Jerry Enright.
Brian Krummel, who has returned to OCFS after a brief haitus, and Allison Ricci staged a fierce battle for third place with Krummel coming out ahead. Ricci pressured Krummel throughout the event.
Tommy Meier raced home in fifth place with John Ferrier, Michael Storms, Edwards, Chris Stevens and Tyler Boniface rounding out the top 10.
Jesse Leiby continued his torrid hot streak in Sportsman competition as he picked up his third victory of the season in the main event, which was shortened to 13 laps because of the time curfew.
Leiby, after starting 15th in the 24-car field, took advantage of several early cautions to quickly move towards the front. He grabbed first place from Corey Cormier off the second turn on the third lap and remained there to the finish for his 12th OCFS career triumph.
Greg Sleight followed in second place with Matt Shultz, and Cormier following. Patrick Murphy, who took the checkered flag in fifth, was disqualified during the post-race inspection for racing with an illegal gear ratio.
Bob Jashembowski picked up his second victory of the season in the Rookie Sportsman 15-lap feature as he finished ahead of Rich Eggers, Jeff Higham, Jimmy Leiby and Michael Giuliano.
Jashembowski, who will be forced to move into the Sportsman division with another win, wrestled first place away from Rich Eggers between the third and fourth turns on the 11th lap. He then pulled away to the finish.
Jim Maher drove to his third straight victory in the Street Stock 15-lap feature, but it didn’t come easy.
Wayne Taylor, who was the race’s only other leader, gave Maher all he could handle as the two drivers battled right to the end.
Maher, who notched his 22nd career OCFS triumph, took first place away from Taylor on the fourth lap. But Taylor, who was looking for his first win in many years, refused to give up and nearly grabbed the lead back on more than one occasion.
Charlie Donald watched the two-car battle ahead of him as he finished in third place with Joe Scheffold and Jim Hajkowski rounding out the top five.
Modified Feature Finish, 30 Laps: 1. Jeff Heotzler, 2. Chris Shultz, 3. John Lieto, 4. Jerry Higbie, 5. Gary Edwards Jr., 6. Kirk Horton, 7. Brendan Finley, 8. C.G. Morey, 9. Anthony Perrego, 10. Matt Janiak, 11. Tommy Meier, 12. Matt Hitchcock, 13. Chris Whitehead, 14. Danny Creeden, 15. Jimmy Horton, 16. John Ferrier, 17. Donnie Wilson, 18. Brian Krummel, 19. Rich Eurich, 20. Stan Frankenfield Jr., 21. Joey Falanga, 22. Bob McGannon, 23. Craig Mitchell, 24. Rick Laubach, 25. Danny Cronk.
Small Block Modified Feature Finish, 25 Laps: 1. Anthony Perrego, 2. Craig Mitchell, 3. Brian Krummel, 4. Allison Ricci, 5. Tommy Meier, 6. John Ferrier, 7. Michael Storms, 8. Gary Edwards Jr., 9. Chris Stevens, 10. Tyler Boniface, 11. John Finley, 12. Patrick Reiser, 13. Jesse Leiby, 14. Scott Flammer, 15. Joe Bonetti, 16. Frank Doty, 17. Anthony Falanga, 18. Joe Conklin, 19. Frank Venezia, 20. Tyler Treacy, 21. Tom Hindley, 22. Zack Vavricka, 23. Shane Jablonka, 24. Danny Creeden.
Sportsman Feature Finish, 13 Laps (time curfew): 1. Jesse Leiby, 2. Greg Sleight, 3. Matt Shultz, 4. Corey Cormier, 5. Jared LaBagh, 6. Jeff Hulseapple, 7. Paul Hyde, 8. Jimmy Johnson, 9. Joe Conklin, 10. Dan Morgiewicz, 11. Tommy Vigh Jr., 12. Danny Carlough, 13. Troy Arnold, 14. Lem Atkins, 15. Milton Mann, 16. James Cronk, 17. Tyler Pirone, 18. Connor Otten, 19. Joe Bonetti, 20. Mike Bull, 21. Howie Finch, 22. Bobby Flood, 23. Mel Schrufer. Disqualified: Patrick Murphy (illegal gear ratio).
Rookie Sportsman Feature Finish, 15 Laps: 1. Bob Jashembowski, 2. Rich Eggers, 3. Jeff Higham, 4. Jimmy Leiby, 5. Michael Giuliano, 6. Ryan Macartney, 7. Mike Orlando, 8. Dylan Smith, 9. Anthony Horton, 10. Jeff Jones, 11. Anthony Sisco, 12. Chris Raser, 13. Keith Johannessen, 14. Brian Durbin, 15. John Farrisier. Disqualified: Russell Crotty (weight), Pat Mann (illegal carburetor).
Sportsman Feature Finish, 15 Laps: 1. Jim Maher, 2. Wayne Taylor, 3. Charlie Donald, 4. Joe Scheffold, 5. Jim Hajkowski, 6. Bob Sleight Jr., 7. Rob Taylor, 8. Nick Giardini, 9. Emerson Cargain Sr., 10. Ron Constable, 11. Chickie Bruntfield, 12. Mike Vigiletti, 13. Ryan Modiano.