After number of near-misses, Bublak back on track at Fonda

Three difficult losses on the final lap of the 602 sportsman feature at Fonda Speedway last season h

Some losses are harder to forget than others.

Last season, Robert Bublak Jr. was beaten on the final lap of the 602 sportsman feature at Fonda Speedway on three occasions by John Scarborough, who went on to win the track championship.

The memory of those defeats stayed with Bublak over the winter months, even though he had recorded his first career win on the Night of Features program in August.

When Bublak lost to Mark Mortensen on the final lap of the 602 sportsman feature on opening night this year, the memory of the defeats from last year came back to haunt him again.

“Mark beat me by a couple of feet, and it was so close that all I could think about was, ‘Oh, no, this isn’t going to happen to me again this season, is it,’ ” Bublak said. “John and Mark have both been racing at Fonda a lot longer than I have, as 2010 was my first full season there, and to be honest with you, as frustrated as I was about getting beat, I really did learn a lot.”

Last Saturday, the bad memories were all forgotten, as Bublak recorded his first win of the season. The win Bublak moved into second place in the points standings, 26 behind Mortensen.

“I am really excited about the win,” Bublak said. “We were at a point where we were struggling and fell back to fifth in points, but hopefully, now we are back on our ‘A’ game.”

Bublak’s father, Robert Sr., , who died in 2006, worked on Jeff Yasinsac’s car in the past and more recently, helped Mike Ballestero. Although his father tried to steer him away from racing, it was something that Bublak always wanted to do.

“Dad never raced himself, he just loved to work on race cars, and all he ever wanted to do was to see the drivers of the cars that he worked on be successful,” Bublak said. “I was just a little runt in the garage and grew up there with my father and Mike [Ballestero], who had a great bond with each other.”

At age 15, Bublak started his racing career in a four-cylinder car at Albany-Saratoga Speedway, where he won five races.

“I kind of cheated the system a little bit, starting out at such an early age,” he said. “Although I did get five wins, I never really took it seriously back then.”

Bublak was the winner of the first-ever mini-stock race at Glen Ridge, after the track was converted from a go-kart track.

“After a year off, Todd Ryan built me a motor and I moved up to the limited [street stock] division at Albany-Saratoga, where I managed to get a win,” Bublak said. “I raced an open-wheel car there, as well, but never managed to get a win at Malta in one of those cars.”

In 2009, Bublak bought Erik Nelson’s car and got back on his feet, winning a feature at Devil’s Bowl in the sportsman division. His current car is the 2007 Bicknell car that Joe Williams won the Mr. DIRT Sportsman title with.

“The car sat in a barn for awhile, but last year, we decided to pull it out and give it a try,” Bublak said. “Joe gave me a good starting point to use, as far as a setup goes, and it is by far the best car that I have ever had. We actually talked about getting a new car, but Mike [Ballestero] said this car runs pretty good, so let’s use that.”

The crate motor in Bublak’s car isn’t anything new, either, as it was purchased new in July 2009.

“We maintain it very well, and don’t neglect it,” he said. “Both the car and the motor feel real comfortable to me.”

Bublak owns his own race car and the motor, but his racing efforts are funded by Ballestero, along with some help from Lenny Weiss, who buys tires for Bublak.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for Mike and Lenny, who came out of nowhere and have helped me out,” Bublak said. “Kevin Randall, who came over from Mike’s car, has been around for over 10 years and is my only help on the car, but says that he will always be with me, having fun racing.”

Recently some additional help with setups and other things have come from another competitor at Fonda Speedway, modified driver Jim Davis who has seen his share of success at Fonda with eight wins in the modified division, 11 feature wins in the open sportsman division, and sportsman track championships in 2000 and 2002.

“Jim has known me since I was in diapers,” Bublak said. “He helps out Cody Bleau, as well, and he is awesome. Jim told me to come over to his garage some time because he wanted to help me get back on track when I was struggling so bad earlier this season. He has helped me with setups, how to sipe and grind tires, and is the most laid-back guy who races on a tight budget just like I do.”

Bublak plans to finish out the season at Fonda and then maybe travel around to some of the big shows at the end of the season, including Syracuse. He has been racing at Utica-Rome with his crate motor against the open motors, but did that just to get seat time and learn. Now that he is second in points at Fonda, his plan is to stop running at Utica-Rome and concentrate on Fonda.

Next season may be a different story, however.

“Last year, we went to Syracuse and weren’t 100 percent, but this year, we hope to get a new crate motor to use there and then use it next season at Fonda in our current car,” he said. “Then, if we get another car, we may put Mike’s open sportsman motor in the other car and run that at Utica Rome.”

Since the death of his father five years ago, there have been times when it has been difficult for Bublak to go to the race track, but memories of his dad keep him going there.

“It is hard for Mike to come to the track since he and my father were so close, and very difficult for me as well,” Bublak said. “I used the No. 27 on my car because it reminds me of my dad, and it is where my heart is. My dad knew everyone at the race track, he gave me a good name, and I cherish everything that I have not only in racing but in life as well. I talk to my godfather all of the time and he always tells me that my dad would be proud of me for what I am doing now and that is what keeps me going.”

First win for Hackel

Bobby Hackel IV picked up the first asphalt NASCAR Modified victory of his career last Sunday at Devil’s Bowl Speedway. Hackel, 16, is following in the footsteps of his grandfather, who campaigned his mini-stock all over the country in the 1970s and 1980s, and father, who had a successful sportsman career.

The win moved Hackel, a rising senior at Columbia High School, into second place in points, just 10 behind Ron Proctor, at the Bowl, and he sits third in points at Albany-Saratoga, behind Williams and Proctor.

Weekend schedule

Tonight, Albany-Saratoga Speedway will be holding its Midseason Championships, with double points awarded in all classes. Starting time will be 7.

Also tonight, Glen Ridge Motorsports Park will be in action with a regular show in all divisions, along with the Empire Super Sprints. Starting time there will be 7:30.

At Fonda Speedway on Saturday, a reg­ular show in all divisions is on the racing card, along with the Midstate Antiques and NESCOT. Starting time there will be 7 p.m.

The feature at Lebanon Valley Speedway Saturday will be a $5,000-to-win King of the Track Eastern States qualifier. Brett Hearn, who already had two wins under his belt, is the current points leader with 456, while Ken Tremont Jr., who is still looking for his first victory, is 22 points behind Hearn.

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