Eleven Years of Effort Ends in Victory Lane for Rusty Smith by Jim Blacroch
RoC Racer Wins at Wyoming County
Rusty Smith of Oxford, N.Y., has been a fixture with the DART Race of Champions Modified Tour for many years. He has always been competitive, brought good looking machines to the race track, but until this past Sunday afternoon he struggled to find his way to victory lane.
The Mods came out to play on Father's Day at Wyoming County. (Ken + Bev Dippel Photos)
After 11 years of trying, the 29-year old pilot finally broke the ice holding off a charging Matt Hirschman to capture his first ever RoC victory on a tricky Wyoming County International Raceway (NY) surface this past Sunday afternoon.
“This feels good,” offered Smith from victory lane. “We’ve been trying to a long time, I started racing with the Race of Champions Tour when I was 18 and I’m 29 now, so it’s been 11 years and we finally got the breaks we needed to win one. It really does feel good.”
John Markovic of Bethlehem, Penn., beat Mike Leaty to the point and led the first 43 circuits before young Erik Rudolph of Ransomville, N.Y., took over in the one of the DeLange Racing Pizza Log entries.
It was also 43 laps before the first yellow flag of the day flew when Phil Slater and Pete Brittain got together exiting turn two to bring out the yellow and expose one of the
challenges of the day, which was the track breaking apart, primarily in turn four. Another quick caution, just four laps later on lap 47 saw several cars head to the pits for tire changes and adjustments including Smith and Hirschman, who each changed a right rear tire.
On lap 53, the wildest incident of the day occurred when T.J. Potrzebowski made a move to the inside of Ricky Kluth entering turn three, while both were running inside the top ten. Potrzebowski’s machine jumped a wheel on Kluth’s and shot him into the air and eventually into the wall as he leap frogged Kluth’s machine. Early race leader, Markovic was also collected in this incident.
With the track’s condition constantly changing throughout the late stages of the event, Smith and Hirschman darted through the field, eventually to claim the top two spots with just 14 laps remaining as Rudolph, who led until lap 61 began to fade.
Phil Slater (#72) and Pete Brittain (#44) get together early in the race.
Hirschman went to work on the high side of the speedway as Daren Scherer worked his way to third, but couldn’t really close on the lead duo. Hirschman worked his way to the outside of Smith, inch-by-inch on lap 70 and then got side-by-side with Smith exiting turn two on lap 71, but the caution flew eliminating Hirschman’s bid for victory when Chris Zacharias spun in turn one.
Hirschman made one final bid coming to the checkered flag but it was to no avail. Smith held on for the victory with Hirschman second and Scherer third, his best ever RoC finish. Brittain recovered for fourth and Billy Putney survived to finish fifth.
Putney, Phil Slater and Mike Leaty won the qualifying races.
SMITH’S WEARY VICTORY
On Saturday night Smith and his crew were racing at Mountain Speedway near the
Poconos and had to deal with a rain delay that set them back on the clock. They arrived
at home around 2:30 in the morning and were back at it at 5:30 in the morning to be on time and ready to compete at Wyoming.
“The ride home will certainly be better then the ride here,” laughed Smith. “Everyone was kind of on each other all day, it was hot outside and everything was just kind of pushing everyone to the edge, but winning will make it a lot easier to enjoy the ride home.”
Smith, who started 17th, seemingly rode around for much of the first part of the race until it came time to make a pitstop, get a new right rear tire and then race his way back to the front.
“You can definitely race and pass here, but the track conditions make it tough sometimes,” offered Smith. “So we just tried to take care of everything knowing we were going to pit. Matt (Hirschman) did the same thing as we did. Usually, we are able to get into the pits pretty quickly, but today we were like the fourth or fifth car in. The guys did an awesome job though and we got out first. It was that track position that helped us win the race today.”
After the tire change, Smith worked his way through the field with Hirschman in tow, to eventually take the lead on lap 61. After Smith took the lead, he primarily kept his mount on the bottom of the race track by design.
“The conditions were worse last year, but it was like a skating rink on top off of turn four
especially,” explained Smith. “I knew if I gave him the outside he would need a dually to stick out there and I just didn’t want to give him too much room, but we raced clean. When he got alongside me I just gave him room and I wasn’t too worried because I didn’t think he could complete the pass through three and four because of the conditions of the track. It was a good race for both of us and it was fun. It’s great to finally win one of these races.
Smith reflected on his years of trying to get to victory lane in RoC competition and remembered to thank his supporters.
“We’ve been fast before,” smiled Smith. “We’ve finished second plenty and other times, things have just happened that took us out of the running. We’ve had the fastest car before and now to capitalize on it feels great. It’s been a long time coming now I hope the second one doesn’t take as long. We’ve got so many people that support what we are doing. This just feels great. Blue Ox has been with us forever, Al Smith and all of the guys on the crew, I know this means a lot to them. We’re definitely going to enjoy that ride home.”
Smith finished third at Mountain on Saturday night.
HIRSCHMAN SECOND AGAIN AT WYOMING
Matt Hirschman of Northampton, Penn., has a bright future ahead of him in the motorsports industry. The sky is the limit for the youngest son of multi-time NASCAR Modified Champion, Tony Hirschman, and when the Matt races on the Race of Champions Tour, you can see the pride in his Father’s face. Sunday one untimely caution kept the young Hirschman from reaching his ultimate goal of victory lane, but after the race he was still smiling.
“I like racing here,” offered Hirschman from victory lane. “I just wish they could come up with a solution that would keep the track together, I know they are trying and keep working at it and I’m sure they’ll get it, but the track is great for racing on. There are definitely two grooves and you can pass.”
Hirschman had to start 12th after the redraw and it dictated his strategy and approach to the race.
“Sometimes a pitstop doesn’t really help you because you need track position and other times, like today, that one tire can make a big difference,” explained Hirschman. “Here it makes a big difference and you can see it. It was just the way the cautions fell that kept us from reaching victory lane. We tried, that’s for sure. When I got up next to Rusty coming off of turn two, I need we had a chance, but then the caution flag flew and it just broke our momentum and there just wasn’t enough time to get to build the
momentum we needed to complete the pass. We’ll just have to take second and go to Wall next week and see what happens there.”
Before the Wall race, Hirschman will compete on Thursday night in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour event at Thompson International Speedway in Connecticut where he is currently third - just five points out of the lead.
LEATY – SHOULD HE HAVE PITTED?
Mike Leaty of Williamson, N.Y., another second-generation modified racer, started on the pole after winning his qualifying race on Sunday and finished 8th, but a faulty radio communication system and a second guess on whether or not to pit had his Father, Jan, feeling a little bit disappointed on Father’s Day.
He might have been tired, but Rusty Smith earned the center spot of the podium at Wyoming County.
Matt Hirschman works traffic with his #60 ride.
The DART Race of Champions moves back into Central Region competition with the ‘Brawl at Wall’ this coming Saturday night at the high-banked 1/3-mile ‘Jersey Shore’ facility. Last season’s RoC event at Wall fell victim to inclement weather conditions. For more information visit www.wallspeedway.com for more information and directions to the track.
RACE REPORT RACE OF CHAMPIONS DART ASPHALT MODIFIED TOUR NORTH REGION RACE #1
WYOMING COUNTY SPEEDWAY
1.) Rusty Smith
2.) Matt Hirschman
3.) Daren Scherer
4.) Pete Brittain
5.) Billy Putney
6.) Rick Kluth
7.) Erick Rudolph
8.) Mike Leaty
9.) John Markovic
10.) Todd Smith
11.) Chris Zacharias
12.) Matt Clemens
13.) Doug Reaume
14.) Bobby Holmes
15.) Phil Slater
16.) JR Swansbrough
17.) TJ Potrzebowski
18.) Lee Sherwood
19.) Ron Smith.
LAP LEADERS; Markovic ( 1 – 43 ), Rudolph ( 44 – 61 ), Ru. Smith ( 62 – 75 )
DART MACHINERY AWARD $1,100 VALUE SET OF HEADS; Potrzebowski
GATER RACING NEWS DRIVER BONUS DRAW $500; Slater
HOOSIER RACING TIRE HARD CHARGER AWARD; Ru. Smith ( 17th to 1st )
HOOSIER RACING TIRE HARD LUCK AWARD; Potrzebowski ( 5th to 17th )
NEXT RoC DART RACE; Saturday June 23rd – Wall Township Speedway – Central Region Race # 3
“I wish we could have got Mike into the pits,” stated the elder Leaty. “I think we could have gotten him a better finish.”
Mike Leaty explained with a smile, “Our radios were messed up and I don’t know if pitting would have made it any better or not. I guess it would have, but we won’t know. The car is in one piece and we can roll it in the trailer, that’s first and foremost. Sure, we want to win, but we also have to keep the big picture in mind and that’s running as many races as we can and making as many laps as we can. I really enjoy racing the modified and to do it with my Dad and my Grandfather here is just awesome. We have a lot of fun together and that’s what this is supposed to be about.”
KEEPING TRACK OF THE TRACK AND CAR COUNT
18 DART Race of Champions Teams (Ron Smith put Rusty Smith’s backup car into the field to bring it to 19 cars) made the trip to Wyoming County for Sunday’s 75-lapper under hot and steamy conditions, which made the track a bit tricky as the asphalt tore up under the stress of the modified rubber. Unfortunately, the track was forced to cancel the second of it’s SST Modified Features for the afternoon due to the track conditions. Bill Mislin of North Tonawanda, N.Y., won the afternoon’s first event. Promoter Jim Majchrzak and his crew will continue work on the facility’s asphalt and hopefully have a better solution for when the DART Race of Champions Tour returns to the facility in July.