Keith Flach knew he was running out of time.
When stock car drivers check the calendar and see that Labor Day is just around the corner, they also know that the local racing season is quickly coming to an end, and Flach hadn’t completed his mission.
Flach had dedicated the season to his brother, JC, who was killed in a logging accident last September. Keith had replaced the number 43 on his car with JC’s 77J, and all Keith wanted to do was get that number back into victory lane.
That goal has been accomplished, and tears were falling all last weekend.
Not only did Keith Flach win one of the Triple 20s at Albany-Saratoga Speedway on Friday night, but backed it up on Saturday with his third career victory — and first since 2008 —at Lebanon Valley.
It was obviously nice to get the win at Albany-Saratoga, but the victory at Lebanon Valley was special. That’s where JC got his only win last season, and in the hierachy of families at the Valley, the Flachs rank right up there with the Tremonts, the Corellises and the Marshalls — the royalty of the speedway.
“Getting that first win at Malta meant a lot to me,” said the 27-year-old Flach earlier this week. “And getting one on Saturday was really great.
“At Lebanon, I was leading from lap six, and you could say I started to come unglued with about two to go. JC was definitely on my mind. He’s always on my mind.
“My brother was one of my best friends. We worked five days a week in our family business and raced together two nights a week. I think about him all the time, when I’m at work and when I’m in the car. I really think I might have driven the car too hard a couple of times because I really wanted to get his number back to victory lane.”
Until last weekend, the racing season had been good, but not great, for Flach, the third-generation driver who has followed in the footsteps of his grandfather, Johnny, and father, John, and found success on area dirt tracks. He had a handful of top-10 finishes at Albany-Saratoga, including a second to Ronnie Johnson on Aug. 2.
He had also been a consistent top-10 finisher at the Valley, but his consistent finishes usually kept him in the middle of the pack, in terms of handicapping, which led to more top-10 finishes.
“The season definitely didn’t go as we anticipated,” he said. “It hasn’t been terrible, but it could have been better. I really thought I would have won by now.
“We got off to a rough start. On opening night, I wrecked hard at the Valley. But after about the first month of the year, I had a fast car, but couldn’t get things to fall the way we needed them to. But the team just kept fighting, and we kept working on the car.”
Flach began the season with two new Bicknell chassis, but he quickly found that they didn’t respond like last year’s cars.
“We went off last year’s notes, but the tracks were slightly different this year, for some reason, and that hurt us early, because we couldn’t get a good baseline,” Flach said, “But then I started traveling around a little more, and that seemed to help me. Once we hit on a good baseline, we started running consistently.”
Flach’s victory at Albany-Saratoga on Friday night was the second of his career. His first came in 2010, when former promoter Bruce Richards decided to switch from a dirt surface to asphalt.
“It was just something to do that was different,” said Flach of his asphalt experience. “In 2008, I went to Plattsburgh to Airborne Park [another asphalt track] for the first time and we had fun up there, and it seemed to fit my driving style. I was usually in the top five or six whenever we went there. So when Malta went to asphalt, rather than take Fridays off, I figured we’d give it a try, and things went well. I think I finished third in points that year.”
But when Richards switched to crate motors for the 2011 campaign, Flach didn’t want to purchase another motor, so he stopped racing at Albany-Saratoga for the season.
He’a also had some success at Syracuse during Super DIRT Week. He qualified sixth in 2008, and finished ninth, but in the last couple of tries on the Moody Mile, he has struggled.
“We’ve been struggling to keep up with the chassis the last couple of years,” he said. “It seems like we try something different, and don’t catch up with the chassis until Sunday.
“But we’ve got some momentum now, and maybe we can keep it rolling until the end of the year.”
But the end of the year really doesn’t matter. What matters is that the 77J was back in victory lane.
Around the tracks
Although the winners get all the recognition, Jimmy Cottrell did a heck of a job in the Triple 20s at Albany-Saratoga last Friday. He finished second in two of the races, and had the best combined overall finish of any driver.
Albany-Saratoga will be holding its final point races for the modifieds and pro stocks tonight.
Bobby Varin chalked up his sixth win of the year last Friday a Glen Ridge Motorsports Park, tying the track record set by Randy Hotaling in 2006. Varin only has to start the feature tonight to earn his first modified championship at the Ridge.
Todd Stone swept the Twin 25s at Devil’s Bowl last Friday, giving him nine wins of the season. Neither victory came easy, as he started 12th and 13th in the features. In the second feature, he passed
defending track champion Ron Proctor coming out of the fourth turn on the final lap to get the victory. Joe Williams of Scotia followed Stone across the finish line in the first 25-lapper.
The Super DIRT Series will be heading to Rolling Wheels on Sunday for the Labor Day Classic Stars and Stripes 100. A third-place finish in the Mr. DIRT Track U.S.A. race at Lebanon Valley helped Brett Hearn open up a 45-point lead over Matt Sheppard, but he still doesn’t feel comfortable.
“I still feel like it’s pretty early,” said Hearn. There’s a lot to go.”