As a promoter and a driver, Brett Hearn got just about everything he could have asked for at last year’s “Big Show 4” at Albany-Saratoga Speedway — a standing-room only crowd, a race that fans talked about for the rest of the year and a second-place finish.
Let’s see what “The Jet” can pull out of his hat this year.
“Big Show 5,” part of the DIRTCar Super Series, returns to Albany-Saratoga on Tuesday night with an increased purse that should boost the car count.
Most 100-lap DIRTCar series races pay $6,000 to win, but through sponsorship from Mike Sowle of Sowle Tractor Trailer Repair Services, Tuesday night’s race will pay $9,711 to win, and each heat race winner will receive $500.
Hearn, who promoted the first three “Big Shows” at Orange County Speedway in Middletown, has yet to win one of his own races, but that doesn’t mean he’s sitting back and letting the competition take home the top prize.
“Winning would be nice, but winning as a promoter is more important,” he said.
In addition to the Sowle sponsorship money, Morris Ford will be sponsoring a Dash for Cash, which will pay $500, and it should also be mentioned that “Big Show 5” is officially “Big Show 5, presented by Recovery Sports Grill.” The dash for cash will feature the top five drivers in DIRTCar points against the top five in points at Albany-Saratoga.
There will also be money available for fans. When fans enter the gates, they’ll have the opportunity to fill out a ballot, picking their choices for the five fastest drivers in time trials. Any fan who picks all five correctly, and in order, will take home $500.
In addition to the 100-lap modified feature, the DIRTCar Pro Stock Series will be running a 75-lap feature. Rob Yetman, who has four wins at Albany-Saratoga this season and who finished fifth in Monday night’s series race at Cornwall, will be out to defend his home turf against the series regulars, most who have never turned a wheel at Albany-Saratoga.
“It’s been a while since we’ve had the series traveling on this side of the border,” said Yetman, “so I’m really looking forward to it.”
Grandstand gates will open at 4 p.m. Tuesday, and an autograph session with many of the modified drivers is scheduled to be held from 5-6. General admission is $24.
It’s Lape Night
Before “Big Show 5” takes over Albany-Saratoga, the track will be holding Dave Lape Night tonight, honoring the modified driver who is retiring at the end of the year after 50 seasons of competition.
Lape was one of the top drivers at Albany-Saratoga Speedway in the early 1980s, chalking up 19 of his 24 career victories from 1981-84. He won his only modified championship at the Malta track in 1982. That season, he also tied the track record of 12 wins in a season, which had been set by Jack Johnson, and has since been tied by Hearn.
Lape has also been to victory lane at Albany-Saratoga in Jack Ryan’s car, and in 2003, he won a 100-lapper while driving for Andy Romano.
But a lot of fans forget (or simply aren’t old enough to remember) that Lape also ran an asphalt car at Albany-Saratoga in the early 1970s. He started running at Albany-Saratoga in 1971, when he was competing for the NASCAR national modified point championship, and ran as many times as he could to pick up points, and he registered his only asphalt victory at Malta on July 14, 1972.
Because of injuries sustained at Fonda Speedway a couple of weeks ago, Lape won’t be able to race tonight, but he’s going to have an autograph session, will be bringing out two of his old cars and assorted memorabilia for display, and will also have his new T-shirts for sale.
Sowle will also be making his presence felt tonight, kicking up the winner’s shares of the purses — $2,500 for modifieds, $1,500 for sportsman, $800 for pro stocks, $240 for street stocks and $250 for novice sportsman. In additions, the leaders on laps seven and 11 in each feature will receive a $100 bonus.
The rest of the story
If you’re wondering why Sowle seems to be obsessed with the numbers 7 and 11 in his bonuses, his son, JaMike, drives the number 711 modified, and drove to his first modified victory at Albany-Saratoga last Friday, which had old dad pleased as a peacock, especially because JaMike held off Hearn.
“That win at Malta was better than winning the championship at Glen Ridge,” said Mike Sowle. “We had a second-place finish at Fonda last year, and a fifth-place finish last Saturday, so he’s doing pretty well at Fonda, too.”
JaMike has nine career victories at Glen Ridge, and won the modified championship in 2012.
Mike Sowle has been a long-time sponsor of area dirt track racing, putting his name on the side of cars driven by Bob Niemitz and Mike Romano, just to name two, but has been particularly active since JaMike, who began racing slingshots at the age of 13, moved up to a modifieds.
Sowle will also be kicking up the purse Saturday night at Fonda, where the modifieds will run for $3,000 to win, the 602 sportsman winner will receive $1,500 and the pro stock winner will win $850. The night will also feature a fireworks display.
We have a battle
Early in the season, it seemed like just a matter of time before Kenny Gates broke the track record for career pro stocks victories at Fonda Speedway.
After winning four features last season, the West Winfield driver only needed two to break Todd Hoffman’s record of 51.
But Gates has been winless so far this year, and now, Kenny Martin Jr. is getting in on the action.
Martin recorded his second straight victory last week at Fonda. The victory was the 48th of his career, and obviously, winning never gets old, because Martin climbed out of his car and went up to the starter’s stand to wave the checkered flag at the crowd.
“We’ve got this car going good again, and I think we have a chance to win the Hondo Memorial coming up in a couple of weeks,” he said after the victory.
Gates got his first win at Fonda in 1997, and through 2012, had won at least one feature every season except 2005, when he had nine second-place finishes. He’s also a four-time champion at Fonda.
Around the tracks
Matt Sheppard won Monday’s DIRTCar 358 series race at Cornwall, but was later disqualified because his spec heads didn’t meet porting requirements.
Sheppard was fined $4,000 and lost 100 points.
But the disqualification actually came on a technicality. According to internet reports, the heads had been inspected on other occasions, and were deemed legal. However, those inspections had been visual. Now, DIRTCar has a tool to measure the heads and Sheppard’s were found to be slightly off. Don’t be surprised to see that kind of disqualification happen again, unless all the drivers on the series get new spec heads.
Joe Williams of Scotia suffered a heartbreaking loss at Devil’s Bowl on Sunday. He had a huge lead in the closing laps of the modified feature, but starting losing air in his left rear tire as he was negotiating lapped traffic. Jessey Mueller caught Williams on the last lap, and beat him to the finish line by a nose.
Because the Bowl ran on Sunday after getting rained out Friday, Ken Tremont Jr. made the trip to Vermont, but only finished 15th.
A flat tire also ruined Stewart Friesen’s Night at Fonda Saturday. He was running third on the final lap of the modified feature when the tire went down, dropping him to 12th.
Ronnie Johnson got the win at Fonda and dedicated the victory to his father, Jack, who has been in failing health recently. “The way Matt [DeLorenzo] and Stewart have been running lately made us step up our game,” said Johnson in victory lane after the race.