Riverhead, NY May 5th
By Bob Finan
Kyle Soper of Manorville could not have dreamed of a better way to get his 2018 Riverhead Raceway season underway as the rising driving talent won both the 40-lap NASCAR Modified and 25-lap Late Model feature events during the Cinco de Mayo opening night NASCAR Whelen All American Series program Saturday evening. For Kyle his NASCAR Modified triumph was his 6th career triumph, second for current car owner Wayne Anderson while the Late Model win was the 7th of his career with all those wins coming for car owner Rob Pelis who he combined with to win the 2017 championship.
A healthy 22 cars signed in for opening night in the NASCAR Modifieds with 21 taking the green flag for the main event with veteran Dave Brigati moving to the early race lead chased by Vinny Biondolillo. After Biondolillo chased Brigati for eight laps Kyle Soper who started from the third spot made an inside pass off turn four to move to the challengers role. Also on the move was John Fortin Sr. who made his way to the top three before the 10-lap mark from his 6th starting berth. Soper would wind up tailing Brigati for only two laps before Fortin made his way under for second with an inside pass off the fourth corner. John wasted little time making his bid for the race lead as he and Brigati raced into turn three on lap 12 with Fortin slipping by to become the new race leader when the field started the 13th circuit.
Just one lap after surrendering the lead to Fortin early race leader Brigati lost another spot when Kyle Soper came calling for second on lap 14. The fight for the lead would settle down from laps 15 through 35 as it seemed Fortin would be on his way to victory seeming to ward off the hard pressing Soper. A late race caution flag on lap 35 would change the complexion and outcome of the race as Fortin and Soper lined up side by side for what would be a 5-lap dash for the cash. When the green flag waved Fortin’s machine got loose exiting the fourth turn allowing Soper to inch his way to the late race lead. John tried to charge back to attempt reclaiming the race lead but in the end Kyle Soper in the Eastport Feeds Chevy would prevail in the lid lifter.
“This is pretty cool” Soper admitted in victory lane, “I want to thank John for racing me clean all race long, he had a stout car and we might have caught a break late in the race” When quizzed about driving such an iconic the race winner added “it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and I can’t thank Wayne & Joette for having the faith in me and the Corwin family of Eastport Feeds who also firmly behind us”.
John Fortin Sr. of Holtsville had to settle for second in his Long Island Truck Parts machine, “the car just got too free on that last restart but the kids knew we were here tonight”. Vinny Biondolillo of Farmingville was third in the North Fork Sanitation Chevy, his first L.I. effort for new car owner Joe Ambrose. John Fortin Jr. of Holtsville charged his way from 20th to a fourth place finish while David Schneider of Northport completed the top five after starting 14th.
Earlier in the program the 25-lap Late Model race Kyle Soper and Chris Turbush would wage a side by side battle for the ages that got the opening night crowd on holding their collective breath. Turbush off a rare pole starting berth moved to the early race lead chased at first by Scott Kulesa who dominated the pre-season testing. Kulesa’s run for the win ended as quick as it started with a spin off turn two on lap 3. That chain of events moved Jeremy McDermott in his new ride to second and the former multi-time champion went to work on Turbush for the race lead. However lap 9 found Kyle Soper making his way by McDermott to assume the challengers role and wasting no time Soper threw his car alongside leader Turbush just one lap later in a bid for the lead. A side by side duel ensued and lasted for the following 10-lap as the fans watched on. Unfortunately going down the backstretch on lap 20 the duo got together with both cars getting out of shape. Third place runner Ken Matlach tried to go to the outside of the two unruly cars by contact was made sending him hard into the turn three exit gate. During the caution period Turbush, who already had his rear bumper cover come loose was sent to the pits as that damage became worse in the lap 20 contact. Kyle Soper who never stopped would assume the race lead in the RP Landscaping Chevy and over the final five laps of the tilt would hold off teammate Scott Kulesa of Georgetown, Ma who made his was back after his early race spin to claim runner-up honors. Jeremy McDermott of Riverhead would round out the podium in the Staria Automotive Chevy.
There is no better way for a driver to introduce a new sponsor to their race team than with a trip to victory lane in their very first race together which is exactly what 25-lap Eagle Auto Mall Modified Crate winner Justin Brown of Manorville did. When the race got the green flag Justin Brown in his SEDHI Inc. Building & remodeling Chevy broke out to the early race lead while 2017 Rookie of the Year Michael Rutkoski made a bold first lap move to come from third to second under outside pole sitter Jay Hansen. For the duration of the race Rutkoski filled the mirror of Brown and at times rode right up on the buck bumper of the race leader but was never able to make that one big run he needed to make a pass for the lead. Brown, who won once in his first year in the class last season hit his marks and didn’t let Rutkoski’s constant pressure to rattle him driving off to the race win. Rutkoski of Mattituck had to settle for second in the Buzz Chew Chevy machine with Jay Hansen of Calverton driving to an impressive third place tally in the Long Island Center For Recovery Chevy.
Defending Figure Eight champion Tom Rogers Jr. of Riverhead got his title defense off on the right foot, literally. Drawing the lowest pill number when entering the track in the afternoon Rogers was on the pole for the 15-lap main event in his Keith Repp owned Chevy Coupe. Right from the throw of the green Tom left little doubt as to who the class of the field was as he zipped to the race lead with teammate Eric Zeh making a bold first lap move to come from fourth to second while Scott Pedersen sat third behind the team cars. Prior to racing car Repp noted his 2017 sponsor did not return to the team and things might be tight this season. Well his drivers made sure the lions share of the prize money would land in Keith’s pocket with Rogers driving off to his 36th career win over Zeh of Selden who still seeks his first win in the class. Pedersen of Shirley was third in the Benny Vecchio owned Chevy.
For the 20-lap Blunderbust main event the two drivers ranked third and fourth on the all time win list lined up on the front row with defending champion Tom Pickerell (4th with 20 wins) on the pole and Jack Handley Jr. (3rd with 21 wins) to the outside. Over the past five seasons Handley has dominated the opening night action in the class and 2018 would prove to be no exception. After Pickerell led the first circuit Handley came roaring to the outside of the race leader off turn four to take over the lead on lap 2. Once his Liccardi Builder Chevy was out front there was no looking back for the soon to be St. John’s University graduate as he drove off to his 22nd career triumph. Jack’s next win will know him for second on the all time win list with Fred Rodgers of Aquebogue. Jim Laird Jr. of Riverhead could only watch the Handley-Pickerell show from a close third where he’d finish in the Poolsmith Inc. entry.
“The Real Deal” Mark Stewart of Riverhead was another driver taking advantage of his pole starting spot for the 20-lap Super Pro Truck feature as he drove off to his 14th career win moving the teenage driver into sole possession of 5th on the all time win list. While Stewart raced his Flemington Furs Chevy to the race lead at the drop of the green Jimmy Rennick Jr. made a bold first lap move payoff moving from his 4th starting spot to second as the race begun. Rennick could only watch as Stewart pulled away and soon he’d have a challenger of his own in defending champion Dave Brigati who made his way from sixth to third. Lap 12 after a fierce side by side battle Brigati was able to slip by Rennick for third but it would be too little too late as Mark Stewart was already long gone. Brigati of Calverton was second in the Covino & Sons Towing Chevy while Rennick of Howard Beach finished third in his Sonny’s Collision racer.
“Big Money” Richie Davidowitz of East Moriches was yet another top driver in his class starting from the front row for the 20-lap INEX Legend Race Car feature and he took full advantage racing to his 15th career win, third on the all time win list. When the green light winked on to start the race Davidowitz got the measure of Jeff Otto Jr. who started from the pole to take the race lead. Otto early on kept the leader in his sights but as the race moved along Davidowitz in his Tony Power machine started to pull away in route to the milestone victory. Otto of Deer Park was second over the line in his Designs For Vision racer with veteran Jim Sylvester of Massapequa third with his Oval Speed Unlimited machine. This week the INEX Legends will run a tribute race, a 30-lap time trial affair in honor of Dan Jones of Blue Point Auto Body who passed away days before opening day. WMT championship contender Justin Bonsignore announced Saturday the winners share was at $1,000, a figure right up the alley for the opening night race winner “Big Money”.
After spending the entire 2017 Long Island Vintage Auto Racing Series vintage car season chasing Don Howe and watching him go 5 for 5 on the year, Jim Kelly of East Moriches was determined he was going to end Howe’s win streak in 2018 and he did indeed taking the 15-lap LIVARS event. Mark Miller paced the first five laps of the race before he was overtaken by Kelly on lap 6. One lap later Howe made his way by Miller for second and the former five time NASCAR Modified champion at the track went out and reeled in Kelly. Getting to Jim was one thing, passing him would be another as Don made a couple of bids for the lead all of which were thwarted to Kelly who took the win in his East End RV Pontiac. Howe of Water Mill and Miller of Hauppauge were second and third.
NASCAR Modifieds: 1. Kyle Soper 2. John Fortin Sr. 3. Vinny Biondolillo 4. John Fortin Jr. 5. David Schneider 6. John Beatty Jr. 7. Dave Brigati 8. Tom Rogers Jr. 9. Eddie Brunnhoelzl III 10. John Baker 11. Dave Sapienza 12. Craig Lutz 13. Brad Van Houten 14. Roger Turbush 15. Chris Young 16. CJ Lehmann 17. Dan Jivanelli 18. Howie Brode 19. Eric Zeh 20. Cory Midgett 21. Sal Accardi Jr. DNS-Dylan Slepian (engine)
Late Models: 1. Kyle Soper 2. Scott Kulesa 3. Jeremy McDermott 4. Chris McGuire 5. Ray Minieri 6. Chris Turbush 7. Kevin Metzger 8. Darren McCabe 9. Ken Matlach
Modified Crates: 1. Justin Brown 2. Michael Rutkoski 3. Jay Hansen 4. Peter Bertuccio 5. Dennis Krupski 6. Mike Albasini 7. Terry Stiles 8. Jack Orlando 9. Scott Pedersen 10. Cary Rogers 11. AJ DeSantis 12. Scott Pedersen 13. Chris Rogers
Figure Eights: 1. Tom Rogers Jr. 2. Eric Zeh 3. Scott Pedersen 4. Tom Ferrara 5. Ken Hyde Jr. 6. Vinny Delaney 7. Brian Hansen 8. Johnny Vullo Jr. 9. Charles Macwhinnie 10. Gary Fritz Jr.
Blunderbusts: 1. Jack Handley Jr. 2. Tom Pickerell 3. Jim Laird Jr. 4. Cody Triola 5. Bill Wegmann Sr. 6. Tim Mulqueen 7. Jarrett Campbell 8. Alyssa Paprocky 9. Russ Jansen 10. Joshua Creel 11. Brian Midgett Sr. 12. Brandon Hubbard
Super Pro Trucks: 1. Mark Stewart 2. Dave Brigati 3. Jimmy Rennick Jr. 4. Lou Maestri 5. Mike Albasini 6. Sean Glennon 7. Eddie Schutze 8. Frank Dumicich Jr. 9. Tom Sullivan 10. Frank Dumicich Sr.
INEX Legend Race Cars: 1. Richie Davidowitz 2. Jeff Otto Jr. 3. Jim Sylvester 4. Mike Alcaro 5. Vinny Delaney 6. Brad Van Houten 7. Allan Pedersen 8. Eric Hersey 9. George Tomko Jr. 10. Jerry Curran 11. Jonathan Parsons 12. Ray Fitzgerald 13. Mike Van Houten Jr. 14. Mike Benton 15. Joe Sedotto 16. Stephen Coleman 17. Silas Hiscock Sr. 18. Riely O’Keefe 19. Scott Cheslak 20. Ed Cheslak DNQ- Jeffrey Farruggia Jr., Steve Woytysiak, Pat Moore, Rich Bruan, Matt Brode