There’s nothing like a $10,000 payday to get a driver back on track.
That’s how Bobby Varin was feeling Tuesday morning, after winning the Victoria 200 at Utica-Rome Speedway on Memorial Day night.
“I don’t know what it is about those sail panel races at Utica,” said Varin.
What it is is that Varin dominates them. He won the New Yorker 100 in 2010 and 2011, and now has won two straight Victoria 200s (note to Utica-Rome management: I know it’s still the Victoria 200 for historic significance, but it’s only 100 laps. Let’s be accurate).
Until Monday night, Varin hadn’t really been setting the world on fire. He’s got back-to-back wins at The Ridge, but both came against 11-car fields, and he still hasn’t won a race at Fonda Speedway, where, he admits, “I’ve had some crappy runs.”
But there he was Monday night, in victory lane and hoisting that $10,000 check over his head.
“That was a new Bicknell that we were saving for that race,” said Varin Tuesday. “We got a second to Pat [Ward] on Sunday night [in the 30-lap modified feature that kicked off Victoria 200 weekend] and won with it yesterday. Sometimes, you jump in a new car, and it makes such a difference.”
Varin’s victory spoiled a great run by Jimmy Davis of Ballston Spa. Davis set a torrid pace, as the 100-lap feature was run without a caution until lap 79. But Varin was able to run him down through lapped traffic, and actually moved into the lead just before the only caution came out, ironically for Davis’ teammate, Jason Rood. That put Varin back into second on the restart, but he went by Davis to get the victory.
“I had gotten Jimmy just before the caution came out, just as we passed the start-finish line,” said Varin. “I was surprised when the yellow came out and I saw the other No. 18 parked off the fourth turn.
“I by no means had a perfect car. The car was very difficult to drive. When it gets hooked up so well, it’s tough to steer it and the man-ueveribility goes away, which made it tougher in lapped traffic.”
Varin and car owner Dave Cruickshank have also tried to tame two new Bicknells at Fonda this year, but they’re still looking for the right setup.
“I think we’ve finally got the first one figured out,” said Varin. “We haven’t been bad, but we just haven’t been racking up wins at Fonda. Last Saturday, I got a flat early in the feature, but I think I could have won that one.”
Varin said that one of the problems he’s faced at Fonda this season has been a changing track surface.
“The track conditions last week were completely different than the first four weeks of the season,” said Varin. “For the first month, the track wasn’t the track we raced on last year, but now, it seems to be coming around.
“I think that’s why Stewart [Friesen] has been so good. He didn’t have a specific setup that he went with for Fonda that he knew would work week in and week out, like guys like me, Ronnie [Johnson] and Matt [DeLorenzo] had. It’s tough to go away from what you know worked before at Fonda, but we made some changes, and I think we’ll be OK. When you’re not running as well as you should be, and you’re taking a 10th-place car and trying to make it into the top five, that can take a toll on your confidence.”
Confidence definitely wasn’t a problem Monday night.
It’s in the bank
For those who think that $10,000 goes into Varin’s pocket, think again.
“That money’s back in New Jersey [with Cruickshank],” said Varin. “I’m lucky that he gives me a good, solid race car. I don’t race for a percentage. If I need anything, all I have to do is ask, but I don’t ask for much.”
It was an emotional day Sunday at the DIRT Motorsports Hall of Fame, with the induction of Jack Johnson and car owners Carole and Alton Palmer. Johnson didn’t make the trip but sent along a prerecorded video, and his son Ronnie accepted the award for him.
Carole and Alton Palmer were honored with the Gene DeWitt Owners of the Year award. Palmer’s Service Center in Howes Cave has owned and sponsored cars for 36 years, and their stable of former drivers includes the Fonda Speedway triumverate of Johnson, Dave Lape and Lou Lazzaro.
“This award is beyond our wildest dreams. I didn’t think it would ever happen to us,” said Carole Palmer after the ceremonies. “We have sponsored excellent drivers over the years and just can’t believe this is happening to us.”
But it’s always a good thing when people like Carole and Alton Palmer are recognized for their efforts, because they are the backbone of dirt track racing.
Time for a change
The big experiment at The Ridge begins this weekend, when racing changes from Friday to Sunday.
To make things interesting, Mike Sowle, owner of Sowle Tractor Trailer Repair and a longtime friend and sponsor of promoter Mike Romano, had opened up his wallet to put some serious money on the line.
On Sunday, the modifieds will be running a 50-lap feature for $2,711 to win and the sportsman will have a 50-lap feature, paying $1,000 to win, which is more than double what any other track in the Capital Region pays for that division.
The winners’ payoffs on June 10 will be $2,000 for modifieds and $750 for sportsman, and on June 17 will be $3,000 for modifieds and $750 for sportsman.
After the three-week experiment, Romano and co-promoter Jake Spraker will reassess their situation at The Ridge.
Sowle’s contribution is commendable, but it might skew the car counts for the next three weeks. With that much money on the line, Romano and Spraker are sure to draw more cars. But what happens on June 24, if they decide to stick to Sundays, but drop back to a regular purse?
Only time will tell.
Around the tracks
u Varin will be trying to make history Sunday at The Ridge. In the nearly eight years that modifieds have been running at the track, no driver has ever won three features in a row. And if a lot of outsiders come in Sunday looking for some of Sowle’s money, Varin’s quest will become that much harder.
u Jessica Zemken won last Saturday’s Empire Super Sprints feature at Fonda. She’s won sportsman features and a 360 sprint feature at the Track of Champions, but Saturday’s victory was her first in an ESS car at the old fairgrounds.
u Ron Proctor and Leon Gonyo won the Twin 20s at Devil’s Bowl last Friday. Proctor’s win was his first of the season, and moved the defending track champion into the points lead.
u The Ronca brothers both came away with top-five finishes in last Friday’s modified feature at Albany-Saratoga Speedway. Don Ronca followered winner Brett Hearn across the finish line while Rich, who was the only other leader of the feature, came across the stripe fifth.
F For those who haven’t been paying attention, Andy Bachetti (Jack Johnson’s son-in-law), who spends his Saturday nights at Lebanon Valley, is a perfect 6-for-6 at Accord on Friday nights, and there’s some darn good drivers in that field.
u Rob Pitcher picked a perfect time to end his victory drought at Lebanon Valley last Saturday. Pitcher started on the front row and went on to win the 30-lap modified feature, taking home $3,000 in the Maynard Forrette Memorial. The win was Pitcher’s first at the Valley since 2003.
u Dan Older drove to his first career pro stock win at Albany-Saratoga last weekend. Older is a graduate of the limited/Renegade division at the Malta track. “We’ve been working on this since the beginning of the year, and slowly getting better and better,” he said after the win.