Stock car racing: Victory at Bridgeport surprises even Varin
Usually, the only green associated with Easter is the grass, if it’s warm enough, or Peeps (do they come in green?)
But for Bobby Varin, the green was cash.
Varin put some green into the coffers of his new team, and into his own pocket, as well, when he won the Race of Champions 60 Over Special Saturday at Bridgeport Speedway in southern New Jersey.
The race, which paid $6,060.60 to win, was a tribute to the late Doug Hoffman, who had some of his best years driving the 60 Over big block.
Varin did an incredible job in the Atlas Trucking car, which he will campaign on Saturday nights at Orange County Speedway in Middletown this season. Despite starting 19th, he managed to avoid carnage, as well as a rash of flat tires, and got the win when leader Stewart Friesen ran out of gas on the final lap of the 60-lap feature.
“I think I only led about 300 feet,” said Varin earlier this week.
Varin and Friesen were the only two drivers in the field who didn’t have a flat tire in the feature, and that was on Varin’s mind.
“To be honest, I wasn’t even trying to win,” said the multi-time Fonda Speedway modified champion. “Never, at any point, did I think I was going to win. I just wanted to get to the end without getting a flat tire.
“When I got up to seventh, I was hoping the checkered flag would come out before I got a flat, and wound up 30th. When Danny [Johnson] got a flat, and I moved into second, all I could think was that I was going to get a flat, and still finish 30th. I was just trying to survive.”
Varin said he just followed “. . . the Brett Hearn philosophy. Slow and steady, and keep moving forward.”
The Atlas Trucking car is just one of several that Varin will be wheeling this season. He had become friendly with Eric Petruska, whose family owns the car, when they were racing together, and
after Varin met Mike Petruska, Eric’s father, at Selinsgrove Speedway last season, “things just came together.”
Varin said it won’t be easy for him to drive past Fonda Speedway every Saturday on his way to Orange County. Fonda Speedway was where he started his career and where he’s had some of his most memorable nights, but he knows it’s time for a change of scenery.
“The memories have become tainted the last couple of years,” said Varin, who had a run-in with promoter Ric Lucia last season concerning an incident in the pits, which led to Varin being suspended for a race. “I think it’s better if I go away for a while.
“I’ve got a lot of fans at Fonda, and to me, the biggest problem is the people I’m leaving behind. But my fans can still see me at Glen Ridge.
“Let’s face facts. Even with the problems I’ve had with the management at Fonda, I still haven’t been [finishing] as good at Fonda in the last couple of years. If my results were better, I might have to swallow my pride and stay, but the last two or three years, I haven’t been going as well as I want to there.”
Varin, who will be driving one of the Nelson Racing cars at Glen Ridge when that facility opens, will be heading to Big Diamond tonight to drive for Tom Umbenhauer, and then will be at Fonda on Saturday, back behind the wheel of the Atlas Trucking car, when the Track of Champions kicks off its season with Ice Jam.
Breaking the ice
Area race fans will finally get the chance to see live racing Saturday with the annual Ice Jam at Fonda Speedway. The 40-lap modified feature will pay $4,000 to win. The racing card will also include 602 sportsman and pro stocks, while warmups will be held for the other divisions.
Gates open at 2 p.m,, with racing at 4.
Lucia, who is beginning his 17th season as the promoter at Fonda, hasn’t even given cancellation a thought.
“The only thing that will stop us from racing is if we have a downpour,” he said earlier this week. “The track is good, flat and smooth, which it has to be at this time of year. If you try to do more, it will rip up the track and you end up with a lot of broken race cars.”
Returning the track to the condition it was in before the Mohawk Valley was flooded by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee in 2011 has been a slow, tedious process, according to Lucia.
“No one realizes just how much damage the floods did,” he said. “It was devastating. And it wasn’t just the condition of the track itself. We had to rebuild a lot of our cooking equipment, and we had to buy some new stuff, and this year, we’re building new walls on some of the concessions stands because of the water damage they sustained last year.”
Lucia has put together another ambitious schedule this season. The World of Outlaws late models will pull into the track for the first time ever on June 19, and Sprint Cup driver Tony Stewart will return on July 28 when the All Star 410 Sprints highlight the racing card.
“We’ve done some more prestigious things the last couple of year, and they’ve gone reasonably well,” said Lucia. “I wouldn’t have brought Tony back if I didn’t think it would be a worthwhile endeavor. But now, everyone else is jumping on the bandwagon, so we’ll have to see how it goes over this year.”
No, it’s not the raffle. It’s the milestone.
When Dave Lape pulls into Fonda Saturday, it will mark his 50th consecutive season of racing at the Track of Champions. He’s also made it very clear that this will be his final season of competition. Fonda, as well as Albany-Saratoga and Utica-Rome, will be holding special Dave Lape Nights to honor the Hall of Famer.
But Lape isn’t the only veteran at Fonda. General manager Marty Beberwyk will be marking his 50th season as a racing official this year. I don’t know about anyone else, but that seems like a long time to listen to drivers griping.
Around the tracks
u Glen Ridge was originally scheduled to begin its season this weekend, but new promoter Pete Dmitraszek has pushed back the opener until April 19. The track will return to its Friday night racing slot this season, and will again have the modified division as its premier class.
u Anyone know the last time Varin campaigned his own car? That would have been the 2004 season, when he ran a TEO car that he later sold to Jimmy Davis.
u Veteran Lebanon Valley driver Brian Berger has established a special fund in honor of JC Flach, who was killed in a logging accident last summer.
The fund will be used to pay a bonus to any first-time winner in the big-block modified division. The fund was originally established at $3,000, and any first-time winner will receive a $500 bonus.
u Bobby Hackel IV, who won the budget sportsman championship at the Valley last season, will be moving up to big blocks this year.
u Lebanon Valley has scheduled a test-and-tune session for 3 p.m. Saturday, while Albany-Saratoga will be holding practice on Sunday, April 14.
u Friesen will make Albany-Saratoga Speedway his Friday night home this season, driving the Jake Spraker-owned 1J. Friesen and Spraker teamed up in mid-June last year and never finished out of the top four at Albany-Saratoga, recording three wins, three seconds, three thirds and a fourth in 10 starts.