The 4th Turn: May 11, 2023
~ By Tom Boggie
When Albany-Saratoga Speedway rained out last Friday night, I figured it was going to be a slow week.
Boy, was I wrong.
In the last week, four things occurred that I thought I would never see this season.
Here are the headlines (in no particular order of importance), and then I’ll get into the explanations.
1 – JR Heffner won the opening-night big block modified feature at Lebanon Valley Speedway.
2 – Brock “Bam Bam” Pinkerous notched the first RUSH Crate Late Model Series win of his career.
3 – Derrick McGrew Jr. won the sportsman division of the “Battle at the Bullring” at Accord Speedway.
4 – A promoter withheld the winner’s share of a racing purse.
OK, let’s start with Heffner. I didn’t expect him to win the opener at the Valley because I thought he had retired.
Didn’t he announce last summer that he was stepping out of the cockpit “full time” to mentor John Virgilio, who replaced Heffner as the full-time driver of the A. Colarusso-sponsored big block? Obviously, things must have changed over the winter, as both Virgilio and Heffner had rides last Saturday night, Virgilio in the primary car and Heffner in the back-up.
Virgilio qualified for the feature, but never got to take the green flag because of a faulty fuel pump. Heffner also qualified, and overtook Kyle Sheldon late in the race to get the win and the $4,000 top prize.
Heffner made it clear after the race that Virgilio is the primary focus of the 74 Racing team. But heck, how can it hurt Virgilio’s development if Heffner is out on the track with him, getting a by-the-seat-of-his-pants feel of the racing conditions, instead of watching from the pits?
So much for that retirement.
Now, on to “Bam Bam.” When it was announced during the winter that Pinkerous, now 13, was heading out on the RUSH Crate Late Model Series, I figured his father, Paul, was just doing anything he could to push along “Bam Bam’s” career. The young Pinkerous didn’t exactly set the world on fire last season, which was his second year in the highly competitive sportsman division at Albany-Saratoga. He became the youngest driver to ever win an open-wheel feature when he sat in victory lane on May 6, and had a couple of other top-five finishes, but by the end of the year, he was also involved in racing 358 modifieds, taking a shot at the Super DIRTcar Series and planning his late model career.
Last Saturday, he made his first appearance ever at Stateline Speedway in Busti, N.Y., won his heat, drew third for the feature, and had the lead coming out of the second turn on the first lap. Three cautions in the 20-lap feature gave the second-place car of John Ferry the opportunity to get underneath Pinkerous and rattle him a bit, but “Bam Bam” showed a lot of poise and skill and came away with the win, making him the youngest feature winner in the history of Stateline.
Next up, Derrick McGrew Jr. On Tuesday, he hauled to Accord Speedway in Ulster County and won the 25-lap sportsman feature at the “Battle at the Bullring” and got a check for $1,500. After all the motor problems the McGrew team has had in the last two seasons, I wasn’t sure if Derrick Jr. was ever going to win another race.
After an incredible limited sportsman season in 2018, when he won 17 races and two track championships, he moved up to sportsman in 2019, and then graduated to big blocks in 2020. But engine woes have continually plagued the low-budget team, and this season, McGrew is competing with the sportsman again. With dedicated support from Chad Gregory at Next Generation Roofing, the McGrew team never gave up, just kept digging, and got back into victory lane on Tuesday night.
The 15-year-old McGrew will be making his Menards ARCA Series debut on May 19-20 at Flat Rock Speedway in Michigan, but I’ll have more on that topic next week.
Now, about that promoter not paying the winner. As longtime radio personality Paul Harvey used to say, “Now, the rest of the story.”
The promoter is Mike Bruno of Devil’s Bowl Speedway. The driver is his son, Johnny, who chalked up the first sportsman/modified win of his career last Saturday night. Johnny Bruno is heading south to continue his education at Central Florida University, and his race last Saturday will probably be his only time at the Bowl this season. So, rather than give his son the winner’s payout of $3,000, Mike decided to split it up between the other 30 cars in the field. Nice gesture.
AROUND THE TRACKS
Rain also washed out activities at Glen Ridge Motorsports Park last Sunday. On Friday night, I talked to promoter Ray Sefrin about his decision to add 358 modifieds to the weekly program at the Ridge this season.
“We’re just trying to draw some of them down this way,” he said. “It’s not that big a purse for those guys, and hopefully, it will help us draw some more fans. I’ve got 23 confirmed (using air quotes around confirmed), but I’ll be happy with 14.”
That’s exactly how many he got last Sunday before the rains came, drawing most of them from the North Country area.
Speaking of the North Country, Albany-Saratoga regular Mike Arnold went to Airborne Park Speedway in Plattsburgh last Saturday and won the limited sportsman feature. That was the first time he had ever raced at the track.
Peter Britten, who won the opening-night modified feature at Albany-Saratoga, also won the opener at Canandaigua last Saturday.
Tim Hartman Jr. began his quest for a second straight sportsman crown at the Valley by winning the opening-night feature last Saturday.
The modifieds were also in action Tuesday at Accord, with Matt Sheppard getting the win. The top area finisher was Marc Johnson, who finished 13th after winning one of the Last Chance Qualifiers.
Rain also cancelled the Super DIRTcar Series race on Sunday at Orange County Speedway, delaying the comeback of Hall of Famer Brett Hearn and his new prototype TEO chassis.
Speaking of Hall of Famers (I seem to be stuck on the phrase thinking of), Ken Tremont Jr. was one of the inductees into the New York State Stock Car Association Hall of Fame last Sunday at ceremonies held at the Fonda Speedway Museum. Is that the Old Professor’s third or fourth induction? I’ve lost track.
The modifieds will be competing for $3,000 to win Friday night at Albany-Saratoga, and Meltz Lumber has increased the purse for both the pro stocks and street stocks.
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