Column By: BOBBY CHALMERS / RACE PRO WEEKLY - WEST LEBANON, NY - Patience. That was what Chad Jeseo has needed for more than a year. However, the Jeseo / PMC project finally proved fruitful for the Scott Hamlin-owned team Saturday night at Lebanon Valley as “Big Bad Chad” parked his RC Concrete #25 in victory lane.
After several seasons running Teo Pro Cars, the team made the switch to PMC Chassis’ for 2017, and patience finally paid off this week. Jeseo was good last season but never grabbed a checkered flag. That all changed on Saturday night with an impressive win at their home track.
The Averill Park, NY driver took the lead from pole-sitter Denny Soltis on a double file restart just before halfway, powering to the inside as they headed through turns three and four. From there, Jeseo knew he had to keep his head about him if he wanted to seal the deal.
“Patience in this class is absolutely key,” Jeseo said. “A couple times I had a run on Denny and I just got a little too anxious and spun the tires a little bit. I said to myself, just sit back, relax, breath and eventually you’ll be able to prevail if you’re patient enough and have a better car. That’s what we had tonight and I can’t thank the guys on the 25 team enough.”
Jeseo, who collected his third career feature event win on the night, knew once he got out into clean air it would be hard for anyone to pass him, as long as he kept his head about him.
“I knew if I kept it straight, and smooth and just put down good laps, it’d be hard for someone to show us a nose with the way the track was tonight,” he said. “It looked like it was going to be either the very bottom or very top and I took the top and committed to it every lap. It was a little bit tight getting in on a couple of laps, but I kept my head about me and the car was absolutely flawless tonight. I can’t thank Bobby Gile enough for that.”
Ironically, two of Chad’s biggest supporters, Mike Hurley from RC Concrete and team owner Scott Hamlin were both missing from the Valley Saturday night due to other commitments.
“I wish Mike was here to help us celebrate this win,” Chad said. “Neither he or Scott are here tonight, but for those guys to support this deal means so much. Those along with David Rifenburg from Cedar Peaks, Mike Slauson Automotive, VanBuren Farms, Wait’s Garage, PMC Race Cars, PFC Brakes and everyone that helped put the effort forth to get us here. Hard work and determination pays off and it did for us tonight.”
For second place finisher Kolby Schroder, Saturday was a nice rebound after a 14th place run last time out. The Steve’s Auto Repair #98 started fifth but it took a good portion of the feature to get to the front.
“We weren’t the best when we unloaded tonight,” Schroder said. “There wasn’t much on the car we didn’t change tonight, but all the adjustments made it way better then when we got here.”
Patience was a main concern for Schroder as well, as he had to keep his head about him if he wanted to move forward and be able to contend for the win.
“On a track like this, when fighting through traffic, you just had to be really easy on the throttle,” he said. “A little too much and you’d spin the tires and get them hot. In turn, that would force you to take a couple laps to cool them down enough to make a charge again but we got through and were able to bring this car home second. We’re all very happy with that.
Rounding out the top five on the night was the Valley’s newest weekly addition to the field, Ronnie Johnson, defending champion Brett Hearn and Wayne Jelley, still sporting the paint scheme honoring his brother, Butch.
Hearn’s #20 Teo Pro Car sounded as if it was starting to lay down in the closing laps of the event, but the Sussex, NJ driver made it to the checkers. Good thing, because as soon as he took the car to the scales post-race, steam began pouring out of the engine compartment.
As the crew pushed it to the pit area, you could tell the machine had run hot for some time. However, getting another top-five finish, in the end, may be what helps Hearn secure his seventh track title, in a row.
After engine troubles on opening night for the Small Block Modifieds, JR Heffner was able to use patience (there’s that word again) to pass leader Brandon Pitcher near the one-third mark of the event and went on to take the victory Saturday.
Heffner, who teamed with Steve Hough for Small Block competition this season, never faced any real challenges after that, but getting to the lead was difficult.
“The 17 (Pitcher) did a good job,” Heffner said. “He was running well and I just wanted to be patient to see what would develop during the race. Once I was able to get by, we just kept going and we had good corner speed which helped to carry us down the straightaway.”
The car, which was a former machine from the Brett Hearn stable, looked to be on rails all the way to the checkered flag.
“I really have to thank Steve (Hough) for everything and Brett (Hearn) for this car,” he said. “It’s a really good piece with a nice set-up under it with the Bedell horsepower, all of our sponsors and everyone for making this happen.”
Opening night winner, Andy Bachetti, drove his Jim Winchell-owned #17 from 14th all the way to the runner-up spot at the finish. Pitcher held on for third with Jason Herrington and Brett Haas rounding out the top five.
Herrington’s fourth place is even more amazing knowing the problems he faced for a good portion of the feature event.
“We started 12th and by lap 12, my brake began to fade,” he said. “By lap 14, I lost my brakes completely. We completed ran the last 10 laps with no brakes at all, but hats off to my crew and everybody that help me tonight. Our car was awesome tonight. We’ll get her fixed up and will be looking for a victory very soon.”
It was a great night for Scott Hamlin Snap-On Tools-sponsored cars on Saturday night as both Jeseo and Heffner carry the logo. It was a clean sweep of all the top three divisions at the track Saturday as Rick Duzlak, caring the logo on his quarter panels, parked his #29 in victory lane for the first time in 2018.
Duzlak fought hard with pole sitter Tommy Dean and Nick Hilt for most of the race but was able to hold off all challengers to take the win.
“I liked this track tonight and the car was hooked up perfect,” he said. “I want to thank Bobby Gile for setting this thing up. It was an absolute dream to drive tonight.”
Once out front, Duzlak had to hold off the fierce challenges of Hilt, and endure a caution with just a couple laps left before he could seal the deal.
“I was waiting for someone to show me a nose, but didn’t see anyone the entire race,” he said. “Tonight was fun.”
With support from Scott Hamlin, Gus Landaeta at AutoPart International (Pittsfield, MA) and other sponsors, Duzlak seems to have the right pieces to put together a good season in 2018.
“I want to thank all these guys on the crew that helped out tonight and all season so far,” he said. “Everybody that’s put their hands in this car this year, I can’t thank them enough. Scott Hamlin…Gus…everyone. They’ve given me the tools to do it and we’re going to do it this year.”
The win was extra special for Duzlak, who this week, made the announcement that a portion of the proceeds from his t-shirt sales Saturday night were going to the American Cancer Society in the name of his team and supporters. He’s hoping that the money will help in the fight to find a cure for Breast Cancer.
Duzlak has fought cancer in the past and is in remission currently, but it was announced Saturday that his sister, Carolee, is currently fighting Breast Cancer.
This win is something my family really needed, I think,” he said. “I'll say this it’s been a long year and a half all of us, with my dad’s health issues and now my sisters. She’s doing okay but started chemo Friday. I’m just glad I could win for her. She’s really happy and that makes me feel good.”
Duzlak doesn’t have plans of stopping there either.
“Our team just wanted to give something back,” he said. “I think we’re going to try and put something like that together for school bullying also. Hopefully we can do that over the next few weeks.”
Hilt brought his #17 home in the second spot followed by the #324 of Jason Casey. Rick Dempsey and Richie Crane rounded out the top five.
Cliff Booth, Zach Sorrentino and Jeff Kreutzinger took home the Pure Stock victories.
News & Notes…
Paul Gilardi had a good run going early in his heat race only to have a freak issue happen inside his #87x machine.
A piece of ballast (weight) came loose in the cockpit area and landed on his foot and the gas pedal. Gilardi had the wherewithal to hit the kill switch and pull the car in before things got worse.
It was an early night for Gilardi in the feature as he pulled in just passed the two-thirds mark of the race when something didn’t feel right under the hood.
After testing recently at the Valley with the a new car outfitting with Bicknell’s new rear coilover suspension set-up, JR Heffner decided to run the car in the Modified feature this week and it seemed to be okay for him on the night. He started ninth and after falling back a few positions, worked his way back up to garner a solid sixth at the finish. It was a great first run for the machine
While running fourth in the Small Block Modified feature, Kenny Tremont had a rod let go in the engine of his #115. 2018 hasn’t been the best start for the four-time 358-Modified track champion, but his team will get the ship headed in the right direction as the summer months roll around.
With Middletown off this week, Craig Mitchell headed to the Valley and ran a second car out of the Alan Houghtaling stable. Houghtaling wanted to see if Craig could help get their program and machines headed in the right direction.
Unfortunately, but drivers didn’t complete all 24 laps in the main event, with Alan finishing 16th and Mitchell 18th.
Richie Crane fought fuel pickup problems all night. The driver from Canaan, CT wasn’t sure if it was the fuel pump or what, but his team was under that machine from the time the car went pitside after the heat race until it lined up for the feature.
The team was rewarded with a solid fifth place finish at the end of the night…a great points night given how hard they worked.
Saturday MAY 26, 2018 - West Lebanon, NY - COUNTY WASTE & WHORLES FOOD PRESENTS - Modified Results (30 Laps) - 1) Chad Jeseo, 2) Kolby Schroder, 3) Ronnie Johnson, 4) Brett Hearn, 5) Wayne Jelley, 6) J.R. Heffner, 7) Kenny Tremont Jr, 8) Denny Soltis, 9) Kyle Sheldon, 10) Keith Flach, 11) Rob Pitcher, 12) Mike King, 13) Steve Hough, 14) Kyle Armstrong, 15) Andy Bachetti, 16) L.J Lombardo, 17) Brian Berger, 18) Jeff Sukup, 19) Paul Gilardi, 20) Josh Marcus, 21) Dave McFeeters, 22) Olden Dwyer, 23) Elmo Reckner, 24) Eddie Marshall, 25) Mike Keeler,
Small Block Modified Results (24 Laps) - 1) J.R. Heffner, 2) Andy Bachetti, 3) Brandon Pitcher, 4) Jason Herrington, 5) Brett Haas, 6) Frank Hoard III, 7) Kim LaVoy, 8) Steve Hough, 9) Frank Harper, 10) Brian Sandstedt, 11) Chad Pierce, 12) Olden Dwyer, 13) Bryan McGuire, 14) Timothy Davis, 15) Ken Tremont Jr, 16) Alan Houghtaling, 17) Ray Hall Jr, 18) Craig Mitchell, 19) Dillion Stuer, 20) Ricky Davis, 21) Brian Peterson, 22) Kenny Aanonson,
Pro Stock Results (20 Laps) -1) Rick Duzlak, 2) Nick Hilt, 3) Jason Casey, 4) Rick Dempsey, 5) Rich Crane, 6) Jon Routhier, 7) Dave Stickles, 8) Jason Meltz, 9) Jay Casey, 10) Tom Dean, 11) Don Collins, 12) Frank Twing, 13) Joe LaFlamme, 14) Doug Olds, 15) Ed Bishop, 16) Scott Kilmer, 17) Nick Arnold, 18) Brian Keough, 19) Scott Govertsen, 20) Rob Yetman, 21) Victor Hopkins, 22) Steven LaRochelle, 23) Jay Casey, 24) Tom O'Connor, 25) Nick Reilly,
Pure Stock #1 Results (8 Laps) - 1) Clifford Booth, 2) Dom Denue,3) Shawn Perez, 4) Adam Schneider, 5) Mark Dwyer, 6) Brian Walsh, 7) Greg DeCamp, 8) Karen Verhagen, 9)