By DINO OBERTO
(LEHIGHTON, Pa. 4-3-16) With the testing now over at Mahoning Valley Speedway, the attention turns to April 9 and the much ballyhooed season opening “Break-The-Ice-75” featuring the Ferris Mowers Race of Champions Asphalt Modified Series Fueled by Sunoco vs. the Mahoning home track stars.
On Saturday the final Test and Tune was held and by all indications with the impressive number of Modifieds that came out to practice, the upcoming opener will make Mahoning Valley Speedway the hotbed for asphalt Modifieds.
Not only was there the usual show of the locals, but a strong group from outside the area pulled in to get all important track time in preparation for next week’s lid-lifter.
“It’ll be a good show and I’m glad to have seen all these outsiders come down for Test and Tune,” said 2015 track champion Earl Paules.
“It definitely makes it better for us regulars because we know we have an advantage with the race track and they’ll stir things up a little bit. They won’t be running exactly where they should be running and that will make it interesting.”
Over two days of testing Paules brought out four cars. He ran two of the four while Lou Strohl and SpeedSTR standout Mike Bednar took laps in the others.
“We’re ready and I worked all winter. It didn’t even feel like I stopped but when I know that the level needs to be stepped up I step up the level with them,” added Paules.
“I never say, ‘OK that’s good enough.’ We weren’t good enough last year. We were fortunate enough to win the championship but we need to get better throughout each night, right from the heat races and right to the end of the feature.”
As Paules and a host of weekly regulars begin their season, the same goes for the RoC Tour and with Mahoning serving as their opener it brought many of them to the track for the first time during Test and Tune.
“This was a lot different than anything that I am use to. It was very important for us to be here today because I feel had we not come down then it would have been a tough time making the show. I need all the seat time here I can get,” said RoC steady John Wilbur, who had legendary George Kent along to aid with the set-up.
“Hopefully I get a good draw but it will be a very tough race that’s for sure. It’s a bullring and it’s going to be a great show. I’m excited about coming here for the opener.”
Another newcomer to Mahoning was Ryan Rypkema. The New Yorker spent all day learning and getting acclimated to the circular quarter mile. The more laps the better too as steadily lowered his times nearly each time on track.
“It was fun out there today and definitely different than anything else I’ve experienced but I like that. It’s something out of the norm,” said Rypkema.
“I have mixed feelings about the RoC coming here to Mahoning Valley. Many of us on the RoC Tour have never been here before and I think that the home track boys definitely have a huge advantage. But I also think that will show just how good some of the guys on the RoC Tour really are and we can be competitive here.”
Roger Coss closed out 2015 with the biggest race ever held at the track, 150-lapper that paid a record $6000. It was also his biggest feat in racing. But, as the most recent winner Coss knows that this time around the odds will be tough to make a return to where he left off.
“(Engine builder) Pete Morgantini always tells me you’re only as good as your last race. Once everyone shows up next week it’s a whole new season. I won here last year at Octoberfast but right now all the focus is on Opening Day and getting the job done,” offered Coss.
However, after running most of last year on the RoC Tour, he sees Mahoning as a great shot to win with that group.
“I do because I have a lot of laps here,” bottom lined Coss. “Last year was the first time I was at all of the RoC (Tour) tracks but here at Mahoning I’m a lot more comfortable and it’s home to me.
“Like everyone has been saying it’s going to be tough just to get in and that’s going to be the first hurdle to get over. After that we have to see how the race plays out. 75 laps can go quick here but we’re ready to go.”
The “Break-The-Ice-75” is not only about the RoC going against the Mahoning guns. Modified hot-shoes from New Jersey are also coming in including stalwart Anthony Sesely and others who can easily play a spoiler.
Knowing that qualifying will be intense, promoter Floyd Santee has decided that to be as fair as possible to all teams he has added a Modified B-main.
In the likely event that 40 or more Modifieds are on hand, a 30-lap race will be held for the non-qualifiers and pay $800 to win and $100 to take the green.
“With the turnout we’ve had just in the past two Test and Tunes plus another day of pre-season testing lined up for tomorrow, (April 3), we can foresee this first race on April 9 as being a smash hit,” said Santee.
The winner of the Break-The-Ice-75 will earn $2800, $1500 for second and $200 to take the green. 26 cars will qualify for the feature. All others, provided there are 40 cars, will then compete in the $800 to win 30-lap B-main.
In the event of inclement weather the make-up date will be on Saturday, April 23.
Also on the program will be the Mahoning Valley Late Models, Street Stocks and Hobby Stocks.
On Opening Day 2016 pits open 10:00 a.m. followed by Modified inspection at 11:30 a.m. Sign-in takes place from 1:00 – 2:15 p.m. Heat racing will begin at 4:00 p.m.