If you are from Western New York and a racing enthusiast of any type, chances are that you've spent some time around Lancaster Speedway, which has gone through several name changes over the years and is now Dunn Tire Raceway Park. For Western New York track historians the track has been home to some great moments, some bizarre events and others that were just plain tragic, but somehow, it has always been in the news. Search the facility on the internet and you might amaze yourself.
This past Saturday, the _-mile race plant, located just minutes east of downtown Buffalo, played host to the Tommy Druar/Tony Jankowiak Memorial event. More than anything the event is a tribute to two of Lancaster's most shining stars. For those that don't know, Druar, a multi-time track champion, passed far too soon on the first night that Alex Friesen promoted the race track in 1989. Jankowiak had a crash at Stafford that took his life in the Spring of 1990. They were brothers-in-law and both were successful racers that raced on limited budgets, but performed at the highest of levels.
It was a fitting tribute, thanks to car owner Terry Zacharias, that Tony's son Andy and Tommy's son Matt were able to start the 50-lap dash on Saturday night. Andy Jankowiak is coming into his own as a racer after starting out in the Street Stock division at Lancaster, he has become a strong competitor in the SST division week in and week out. For Matt Druar it was his first time in a Modified, but his 4-cylinder efforts at Lancaster have produced several victories. It was one of those rare flash bulb moments.
In its heyday, through the 60's and 70's and into the 80's, Lancaster was a haven for the asphalt Modified set. It's always played the role as the track the furthest to the West that has provided a weekly home to the division and what a home it has been. All of the sports biggest names have raced there and some even made it there own personal play ground at times. Richie Evans called it home for a few seasons, Chuck Boos, the Treichlers, Geoff Bodine, the Rudolph family and Maynard Troyer used it to help vault his chassis business to the forefront of the division as well as piloting his own equipment to an incredible amount of victories.
It was somewhat ironic Saturday night when the checkered flag flew, journeyman Modified racer Jeff Hamman pulled into victory lane for the first time in his career in a car that closely resembled one of Troyer's 'House Car' paint schemes. He dominated like Troyer would have leading all 50-laps after starting from the pole. Troyer started a couple of times from the pole a lap down and somehow worked his way back into contention. That's when promoter Eddie Serwacki had the joint and was it ever jumping. Unfortunately, for us diehard stock car fans, these days, it seems as though the cruise night crowd has taken over when the gate is free and the grounds are laced with beer vendors, burnout pits and the popular Buffalo DJ's from 103.3 the EDGE Shredd and Ragan.
Other promoters that had successful runs at the place include Jim Vollerstein, Bill Moharsky and the late and very talented Alex Friesen. This is Galluzzi's second stint. His first was pretty good, then Jim Reid took over, but that is a story for another time, another day.
All of those folks are often talked about amongst the core Lancaster folks and that is probably why this past Saturday was so marquee in their memories. People of the past congregated to see their friends and 'watch the races'. Most of Tony J's crew was on hand, including Tony's brother Jake, who serves as crew chief for Andy and friend Karl Hehr. Families and sponsors of the Druar and Jankowiak names gathered in the open air suite area to cheer for their heroes on another Saturday night, but it didn't seem like just another Saturday night.
Last season Ralph Galluzzi, who holds the lease to the grounds right now, told the fans in attendance at the US Open (Lancaster's big season ending event) that he would be expanding the stock car schedule, but as August came and went, only six races were recorded out of many more that were effected by weather, but Galluzzi is a drag racing advocate and a business man. He doesn't come from the stock car set and doesn't have the loyal bloodlines to the Western New York scene. Enter race director Johnny Nelson and promotional director Lori Overdorf. Together, these two, have collectively worked their asses off to save the old girl, but Saturday you had to wonder. The weather, questionable again, brought a slim, late arriving crowd on one of the tracks bigger night that had already been rained out twice. It was the first time in several weeks that racers toured the _-mile oval.
Lancaster, no matter how you cut it, is an Asphalt Modified track, nothing else seems to draw there. Full-blown, tour type modifieds. 19 cars showed for a weekly show that pays better per lap than the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, sit down and do the math, however a few cars were not present, which is alarming, considering what is at stake. So called supporters of the division sat home, when and it's evident, in this day and age, tracks continue to struggle and close. In our world, too many racers and promoters, flatly just don't get along. In all hope, it wasn't the beginning of something different at Lancaster, but one has to wonder what Galluzzi may be thinking. 2009 hasn't been good.
Somewhere in all of there were plenty of positives. A new winner in Hamman, who was not overly excited in victory lane, but he was a new winner. Sege Fidanza, Lancaster's bad-boy, good-guy, flashy hard racer, who's visited victory lane more than any other driver at the track, claimed his 10th track championship and Andy Jankowiak scored the SST victory. So somewhere, Tommy and Tony were smiling down on the track that they once electrified.
“This place still has great racing,” explained Fidanza following the event. “You can race all the way around the place and because the surface is a bit weathered, the cars back up and you have to have throttle control. It's a driver's race track and it's just a great place to spend Saturday nights.”
It was cool to be at Lancaster - Dunn Tire Raceway Park Saturday night, amongst friends that are considered family. The racing was good, the people were outstanding, the time, some of us wished it stood still for just a few minutes more. Hopefully, it will and next August we'll be able to see all of our friends at this event again.
The real positive is there are more stories to tell from this night, stay tuned.
Tony Jankowiak/Tommy Druar Memorial Feature Finishes;
MODIFIED FEATURE FINISH (8/29/09): JEFF HAMMAN, Sege Fidanza, Chuck Hossfeld, Mike Leaty, Karl Hehr, Erick Rudolph, Billy Putney, Jimmy Zacharias, Tom McGrath, Andy Jankowiak, Wilbur Hebing, Mark Tychoniewicz, Bob Reis, Dave Wollaber, Chris Ridsdale, Matt Druar
Lap Leaders: 1-50 Hamman
SST SPORTSMAN FEATURE FINISH (8/29/09): ANDY JANKOWIAK, Nick Cappelli, Jerry Gradl Jr., Russ Gian, Frank Batista Jr., Mark Pennell, Patrick Emerling, Kevin Timmerman, Kyle Sharpe, Sherri Hogan, Steve West, Eddie Hawkins, Tom McGrath, Bobby Holmes, John Julicher Jr., Ed Schueler, David Tedesco DQ: Billy Burd
Lap Leaders: 1-4 Gradl; 5-18 Jankowiak; 19-35 Burd