Stock car racing: ‘Big Show 4’ lived up to its billing
Anyone who watches “Storage Wars” knows that Darrell Sheets like to talk about the “wow factor.”
There was definitely a “wow factor” at Albany-Saratoga Speedway Tuesday night, when the track hosted the Brett Hearn-promoted “Big Show 4.” From a standing-room-only crowd to an incredible 100-lap feature, “Big Show 4” had it all.
Even though he finished second to Bobby Varin, Hearn couldn’t stop smiling after the race.
“We knew we were going to get a good crowd,” said Hearn, who held the first three Big Shows at Orange County Speedway in Middletown. “We were worried about car count, but that turned out to be perfect, and we were worried about putting on a good show, but I think we covered that, don’t you?”
That’s an understatement. Hearn and Varin put on an edge-of-your seat show for 90 laps, ducking in and out of traffic, bobbing and weaving, each looking for an advantage that never came. Varin took the lead on lap 77 and stuck to the bottom, while Hearn keep cranking on the high side and when lapped traffic got involved, there was no margin for error.
Just for a little more excitement, someone started dropping oil on the track with about 15 laps left, making the surface even more slippery.
“I was better on the long runs,” said Varin. “The lapped traffic was very tough. It made it tough to race, because you had to pick your spots.”
“He was giving me the outside, but I just couldn’t get that little extra I needed to clear him,” said Hearn.
Varin’s victory was just his second ever at Albany-Saratoga, and the other one also came in a 100-lapper, on Aug. 24, 2001, when he put Jim Bobar’s car in victory lane.
This time, Varin was behind the wheel of the Andy’s Service 97, owned by Andy Romano. That’s Varin’s normal Sunday night ride at The Ridge, but it wasn’t the car he had planned on bringing to the Big Show.
“I had the 00 [the big block he drives on Saturday nights at Fonda Speedway] all ready to go Monday night, and when I fired it up about 11:30, the motor had a knock in it.
“I called Chris Sweeney [who does most of the maintenance on Romano’s car] and said, ‘Find out if Andy wants to go to Malta tomorrow night and have him get back to me.’ ”
“I hadn’t planned on going. I was going to stay home,” said Romano. “But after Chris called me, we changed the tires, changed the shocks and got here about 3 o’clock.”
Even then, the car needed some tweaking.
“It was loose during hot laps,” said Varin. “But we kept tightening it up as the night went on. John Bakizonus made the right calls.”
The victory was also Varin’s second big payday of the season. Earlier in the year, he earned $10,000 for winning the Victoria 100 at Utica-Rome Speedway.
“I love long races, in general,” he said. “In 35-lap races, sometimes, you can’t get into a rhythm. In the longer races, driving ability, tire maintenance, things like that come into play more.”
Varin then used one sentence to sum up what just about everyone who was at Albany-Saratoga Tuesday night was thinking.
“It was an amazing night,” he said.
Mike Romano and Jake Spraker, co-promoters of The Ridge, will be sticking it out for the rest of the season, but don’t expect to see them back next year.
Romano and Spraker met with brothers Jim and Jeff Hayes, who own the speedway, earlier this week to discuss their plans for the rest of the season.
“We didn’t want them to think we were going to go in and yank our stuff out,” said Romano. “They said they’ve had some people call them and ask about taking the track over. If they have somebody interested, we’ll sell them our stuff and they can slide in and keep the track going. But Jake and I are going to stick it out for the rest of the year.”
According to Spraker, it would take about $100,000 to cover the cost of equipment that he and Romano have put in over the last three years.
The New York State Stock Car Association will be holding a special in-season induction ceremony Saturday night at Fonda Speedway. The three new inductees will be Jack Johnson, the winningest driver in the history of Fonda Speedway; Dave Cruickshank, the owner of the Dover Brakes-sponsored 00 that Varin drives at Fonda; and the late Jack Blackwood Jr., who worked as the crew chief for Ernie Gahan when Gahan won the NASCAR modified national championship in 1966 and who went on to become the head flagger at Fonda.
The induction will take place during intermission.
Stewart coming to Fonda
Fonda Speedway officials have announced that defending Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart will be at the track Thursday to compete in the All-Star 410 sprint show.
Stewart is also scheduled to compete at Brewerton on Wednesday.
These little excursions away from NASCAR are nothing new to Stewart, who loves to race on any surface. He raced at The Ridge two years ago, and earlier this year, jumped into a helicopter after the Sprint Cup race in Dover to make it to Utica-Rome in time to race a sprint car.
Around the tracks
Following a protest Saturday night at Lebanon Valley, the motor in Bobby Hackel IV’s budget sportsman went through a thorough inspection Tuesday and was found to be perfectly legal.
Rob Yetman decided to take a little trip last weekend, heading to Canada for the DIRTcar Pro Stock Series races in Quebec. The trip paid off, as he won both 50-lap features, at Autodrome Granby and Autodrome Drummond.
Jimmy Phelps broke the track record at Albany-Saratoga Tuesday night, turning a lap of 15.680 seconds during time trials.
Ken Tremont Jr., who picked up $3,000 for his win Saturday night at Lebanon Valley, really struggled Tuesday night at Albany-Saratoga, running the car he campaigned last year at Utica-Rome. After failing to qualify through his heat, Tremont had to run the consy, started 29th in the field and was 16th at the finish.
“We keep bringing this car out because we think we can cure it,” said Tremont, sarcastically, after the consy.