Rob Pitcher Claims JC Flach Memorial, First Win Since 2012
On Saturday night, Lebanon Valley Speedway hosted the fifth annual J.C. Flach Memorial, run in honor of J.C. Flach, a former full-time Modified racer who died in an unfortunate accident at his house in 2012. Flach was remembered with a proper celebration capped off by the release of balloons.
Rob Pitcher started from the pole and staked out to a small lead. Kyle Sheldon was able to get past Denny Soltis for second and began to stalk Pitcher.
Unfortunately for Soltis, his night ended early. On lap 5, Soltis collided with Matt Pupello entering turn 1. Both cars spun and hit the wall. Chad Jeseo was also collected. All three drivers were done for the night.
Once the race restarted, Pitcher opened up a decent advantage on the pack. Meanwhile, Olden Dwyer and Kyle Armstrong were fighting for third. J.R. Heffner and Kenny Tremont Jr. were mired back in traffic and could not make much in the way of inroads.
Despite damage from the lap 5 crash, Hearn continued moving forward. By lap 11, he was ninth after starting 15th. Seven laps later, he was seventh, making steady progress.
At the front, Sheldon began to track down Pitcher in the final few laps. It appeared that Sheldon was faster, but he couldn’t quite reach Pitcher. The Chatham-based racer held on to take his first win in five years.
Pitcher was pleased with his night, but would have preferred that J.C. Flach were still out there racing with him.
“Tonight’s win has been a long time coming,” Pitcher said in Victory Lane. “We think about J.C. all the time when we’re out here. He’s really missed.”
Sheldon was second, followed by Kolby Schroder. Hearn ended up in fourth, followed by Brian Berger.
In Small Block Modifieds, Alan Houghtaling took the lead from pole sitter Sean Mandel on the first lap. Once in the lead, Houghtaling was able to open up a gap over the rest of the pack.
Meanwhile, Tremont was coming up through the field quickly. He was already up to fourth from 13th on lap 6. Aside from Tremont, the man on the move was Brett Haas. Haas cut a tire on the last lap of his heat race and was forced to start 18th as a result. Once the green dropped, Haas quickly moved up the order as well.
A couple of cautions due to spins by Brandon Pitcher helped keep the field close by.
The race was red flagged on lap 9 due to a big crash on the backstretch involving pole sitter Sean Mandel, Bryan McGuire and J.R. Heffner. McGuire's No. 6 ended up getting upside down. Everyone was ok, but only J.R. Heffner was able to continue was repairs in the pits
Ray Hall Jr. was very strong on Saturday night, but the cautions did not fall right for him. He was in position to make moves on Houghtaling for the lead twice only to have cautions come out and wipe it away.
On lap 11, Hall finally took the lead from Houghtaling. Unfortunately for Hall, Tremont was hot on his heels by that point. It did not take for Tremont to take the lead.
Houghtaling’s great night ended with a crash in turn 2 on lap 19, setting up a five-lap sprint for the checkers. Tremont simply pulled away on the restart to take the win.
Hall finished second while Brett Haas was third. Afterwards, Haas noted that the slick track played to his advantage. Heffner recovered from his spin to finish fourth, while Frank Harper was fifth.
The Pro Stock feature was marred by a first-lap crash. Contact was made exiting turn 4 that sent Nick Hilt into the wall. Hilt then spun across the track and created a melee. At least a dozen cars were collected, including such notables as Rob Yetman, Jay Corbin and Jon Routhier. Rick Duzlak explained after the race that he couldn’t see anything and had nowhere to go.
Following a long red flag, Rich Crane was able to get past pole sitter Dan Cote for the lead. Steven
LaRochelle was able to follow past. The younger of the Dalton, Mass.-based father-son duo spent much of the race pressuring Crane.
Rick Dempsey also made it through the crash, but later spun out and hit the wall in turn 3 to bring out another caution. While Dempsey was ok, the crash ended his night.
Behind the two leaders, Yetman was making his move back towards the front despite his car looking decidedly secondhand after the big crash. By halfway, he was back up to seventh and still charging. A caution due to a minor spin by Dan Cote brought the field back up together.
LaRochelle thought that he was a little stronger than Crane in places, but could not get by. Steven described the duel after the race as a back-and-forth battle. Despite being able to stick his nose to the inside on a couple of times, LaRochelle was never able to make anything stick as Crane won his first feature of the year.
Afterwards, Crane was quite pleased with his evening and his duel with LaRochelle.
"I knew Steven [LaRochelle] was fast tonight. Saw his times in the heat race, so I knew he was knocking on my door. The tires came in halfway through the race, but then the brakes started fading about that time as well. It was still really good."
Tom O’Connor kept his Chevrolet clean and crossed the line in third. However, O'Connor failed post-race tech and was disqualified. As a result, Yetman inherited third, followed by Jason Meltz and Chuck Towslee.
Sportsman, Mike Gramolini started from the pole and outdistanced Lem Atkins to take the advantage. Frank Hoard Jr. moved up to second early, but didn’t quite have the pace to keep up.
Behind Gramolini, there was plenty of action. Early on, Jim Cronk hit the wall in turn 3 to bring out an early caution. After the restart, a number of drivers (Michael Sabia, Whitey Slavin, John Virgilio, etc.) were quite aggressive in moving up the order.
The pack closed back together when Kevin Ward spun on lap 10 to bring out a caution. By that point, Gramolini had a big lead over the rest of the field.
From then on, the duel was on. Rob Maxon was able to get by Hoard on lap 15 for second and immediately began to pressure Gramolini for the lead. Maxon lost his momentum in turn 2 with two laps to go and that was all Gramolini needed to take the checkers.
However, in post-race inspection, both Gramolini and Maxon were disqualified for compression issues. Third-place Hoard passed tech and inherited the victory.
While Hoard was happy with the win, he feels that he needs to improve.
"[The car] was a little bit tight, but it wasn't anything that I can't drive," Hoard said in the pits. "We gotta go home and do our homework to make it faster."
Whitey Slavin was second, followed by John Virgilio, Michael Sabia and Chris Lynch.
In Pure Stock Feature No. 1, Jesse Murphy had the pole in the race and drove off early on. However, his lead was curtailed due to a multi-car crash in turn 4 involving Tom Murphy, along with John Denue, Jordan Miller and Dave Stickles. Miller, John Denue and Stickles continued, but Tom Murphy was out. The crash ended his chances of three straight wins.
Stickles' Double Nickels showed no issues from the incident and quickly rose up to second behind Jesse Murphy's No. 013. Even while Stickles was pressuring Jesse Murphy, the two drivers were still pulling away from everyone else.
Doug Olds spun in turn 4 on lap 6 and was hit by Chris Murphy and Clifford Booth to bring out another yellow. Olds and Chris Murphy were out of the race. Booth continued, but had a right front wheel cambered at an uncomfortable angle.
Once the green came back out, Jesse Murphy was able to hold off the still charging Stickles over the final two laps to take the win. Behind the two leaders was John Denue in third despite missing a fender. Booth dropped to fourth and Miller was fifth.
Pure Stock Feature No. 2 saw Lou Gancarz start from the pole with Scott Morris stalking him. On the first lap of the race, smoke started coming out of the orange and blue No. 84. Despite that, Morris kept his foot in the accelerator.
On lap 5, Morris was able to get a run on Gancarz and took the advantage away, all while srounding the track in smoke. From there, Morris controlled the race and the local mosquito population to take his first win of the year.
Gancarz held on to take second, followed by Brian Walsh. Dennis O'Connor Jr. was fourth and Joe Wolcott was fifth.
Pure Stock Feature No. 3 started off with a bang. Zach Seyerlein and Mike Arnold started on the front row and managed to collide with each other in turn 2 on the first lap and spin.
The incident gave the lead to Jeff Kreutziger, who quickly lost his advantage to Dom Denue. Dom led as the snarling pack raced each other with vigor. This vigor can lead to trouble, and it did on lap 3 when Zach Sorrentino got loose exiting turn 4 and spun. The resulting crash collected Seyerlein and both Jeff Meltz Sr. and Jr.
Gary O'Brien continued his strong recent form with a charge to the front from ninth on the grid. Avoiding the incidents, he was able to get to the rear of Dom Denue by lap 5. It did not take long for O'Brien to take the lead away. Shortly afterwards, John Devine hit the wall to bring out another caution.
In the second half of the feature, O'Brien managed to hold the rest of the field at bay to earn his second points victory (third overall) of the year. Bill Deak Jr. ended up in second, followed by Ed Hatch with another consistent run in third. Jay Casey was fourth, followed by Jeff Meltz Sr. in his damaged Camaro.
Key Bank J.C. Flach Memorial Results (30 laps): 1) Rob Pitcher, 2) Kyle Sheldon, 3) Kolby Schroder, 4) Brett Hearn, 5) Brian Berger, 6) Keith Flach, 7) J.R. Heffner, 8) Eddie Marshall, 9) Olden Dwyer, 10) Paul Gilardi, 11) Steve Hough, 12) Kenny Tremont Jr., 13) Elmo Reckner, 14) Andy Bachetti, 15) Wayne Jelley, 16) L.J. Lombardo, 17) Chase Dowling, 18) Mike King, 19) Kyle Armstrong, 20) Denny Soltis, 21) Matt Pupello, 22) Chad Jeseo, 23) Kenny Aanonsen Jr., 24) Mike Keeler