Stock car racing: Varin missed big prize, but got nice consolation

Lately, it seems that if there’s a big race somewhere in the Northeast, Bobby Varin is there.

Bobby Varin should make up business cards that read, “Have helmet, will travel.”

Lately, it seems that if there’s a big race somewhere in the Northeast, Varin is there.

Last weekend, he was at Grandview Speedway in Bechtelsville, Pa., for the Freedom 76er. Now, this was no ordinary, big race. The 76-lap feature paid $50,000 to win, as the crown jewel in the track’s 50th anniversary celebration.

Varin wasn’t there in his regular car, the Dave Cruickshank-owned, Dover Brakes-sponsored 00. He was behind the wheel of a modified owned by Tom Umbenhauer.

If this was a fairy tale, Varin would have won the $50,000, but that didn’t happen. After battling with eventual winner Jeff Strunk, Varin, who started 20th, finished second, which paid $11,000, According to Varin, Umbenhauer generously gave him $5,000.

Not bad for a day’s work.

“In the first part of August, he [Umbenhauer] called me up and asked if I wanted to drive their car,” said Varin. “I drove it in the ROC race and was in the top 10 until I broke. So that was like a tuneup for the 76er.”

Having a strange car owner contact Varin isn’t out of the ordinary.

“I’ve had guys call me out of the blue to drive their cars probably 10 times,” he said. “I’ll drive for anybody.”

But Varin isn’t quite sure if Umbenhauer was happy with his performance.

“After the race, I had to go over the scales and then out to victory lane, and he’s coming down pit road, screaming like a lunatic, saying why couldn’t I pass one more car. I just smiled at him. I’ll still not sure if he was serious or not.”

Picking and choosing races on weekends has been something Varin has been thinking about “for the last three years,” but Cruickshank didn’t want to back away from a regular schedule.

But with Cruickshank adament about retiring after this season, Varin is looking at the future.

“If there’s a big race at Fulton, I’d like to go there,” he said. “If there’s a big race at Fonda, I’d like to go there. I think Saturday night racing is going to die out, or crates will become the top division, and there will only be big races for the modifieds.”

There’s a lot of money on the line at Fonda Speedway this weekend for the season-ending McDonald’s Weekend, and although Varin hasn’t been back to the Track of Champions after a disagreement with promoter Ric Lucia in July, he’ll probably return to the pits along the Mohawk River this weekend.

“If Andy [Romano, who fields a car for Varin] has the car ready and wants to go, I’ll drive it,” Varin said. “I can’t get ego get in the way of a good payday.”

With a big purse and an extra distance race, Varin, who is still recovering from a serious knee injury suffered in a sprint car crash at Utica-Rome, can’t be overalooked at Fonda this weekend. Already this year, he’s won the 100-lap New Yorker at Utica-Rome, which paid $10,000, the 100-lap Super DIRT Series Big Show IV at Albany-Saratoga ($6,000) and

50-lap The Night Before The Vic­toria at Utica-Rome ($5,000).

Going out with a bang

Fonda Speedway ends its season with a double-header this weekend as part of its 60th anniversary celebration.

Saturday’s racing card will feature modifieds, 602 sportsman, street stocks, four-cylinders and the Empire Super Sprints. The modifieds will be running 40 laps, with $4,000 to win. Racing will begin at 2 p.m.

On Sunday, modifieds, 602 sportsman and pro stocks will be in action. The modifieds have a 100-lap feature, paying $12,000 to win, and each heat race winner will earn $1,200. The 602 sportsman feature will pay $1,200 to win, with heat-race winners receiving $120, and the pro stock feature will also pay $1,200 to win.

All those 12s are in recognition of Hall of Famer Jack Johnson, the all-time winningest driver at the speedway who drove the 12A.

Racing on Sunday will begin at 4 p.m. The speedway will be honoring past and present drivers throughout the weekend.

Around the tracks

u Matt DeLorenzo won last Saturday’s modified feature at Fonda, his third victory of the season. Kenny Gates won the pro stock feature, giving him 50 career wins in that division, one away from tying Todd Hoffman for the track record.

u Albany-Saratoga brought the curtain down on a very successful campaign last Friday, with Bobby Hackel IV winning the 50-lap budget sportsman feature that highlighted the card.

The Eve of Destruction, which had been scheduled for Saturday, has been canceled, giving the track crew a jump on its resurfacing project.

u Todd Stone returned to his old stomping ground and won last Sunday’s season-ending Vermont 100 at Devil’s Bowl. Stone, who won the track championship in 2008, when the Bowl had a dirt surface, overcame a mechanical problem on lap 11 that left his car stopped on the track and brought out a caution. But his crew corrected the problems during a quick pit stop and he came from the rear to beat 17-year-old Jessey Mueller and Robert La­breche of Quebec, who was making his first apperaance ever at the track, to the checkered flag. Stone got the lead on lap 92 when Mueller’s right-front tire gave up.

Ken Tremont Jr, finished seventh, and track champion Ron Proctor was 18th.

In the 100-lap late model feature, Brent Dragon was awarded the win after a video review. The electronic transponder scoring had Chip Grenier across the finish line first, but when track officials reviewed the tape of the race, Dragon’s front bumper beat Grenier by about eight inches in the photo finish.

Owner Mike Bruno is already making plans for 2013.

“To be honest with you, we didn’t really know what to expect after our first town meeting last October, but the first real indication was when 30 dedicated race teams and a couple dozen die-hard fans showed up for practice on April 22 in a 25-degree wind chill with a touch of snow — that’s when we knew we really had a special group behind us,” Bruno said in an open letter on the track’s website.

“Asphalt racing wasn’t supposed to work at Devil’s Bowl, right? We are proud to be the ones who are helping to prove that theory wrong. All it takes is a little work and a lot of belief in what you’re trying to accomplish. We believe in our program, and thankfully, so do you. That means everything to us. We’re already working on the 2013 racing season, and we can’t wait to bring it to you.”

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