|FOR RELEASE: April 10th, 2005|
By BRETT DEYO
FONDA, NY – Ask Jake Spraker why he tapped Bobby Varin as his driver for the 2005 season and he’ll give you a simple answer.
“He gives 100 percent every lap. Bobby drives his heart out.”
Varin emphatically affirmed Spraker’s words Saturday afternoon at Fonda Speedway, using his home track advantage to win the 50-lap McDonald’s “Ice Jam” feature. The event served as race one of the Race of Champions Dirt Modified Tour’s North region point battle.
The Sharon Springs, N.Y., talent collected $4,000 for the historic triumph, etching his name in the record book as the first-ever RoC Dirt Modified Tour winner. A huge sun-splashed crowd took in the inaugural event at “The Track of Champions.”
“This is great,” exclaimed a visibly enthused Varin, who teamed with Spraker, owner of Jake Spraker Used Cars and Trucks in Johnstown, N.Y., during the off-season. Varin, the ’00 Fonda champion, fielded equipment on a limited budget at Ric Lucia’ s facility last year.
“I couldn’t have picked a better way to start out with a new team and a new series. What a day!”
Varin rolled off sixth in Spraker’s JPM big-block powered No. 1J, but Mitch Gibbs emerged as the dominant force early on. Running against the outside cushion, North Norwich, N.Y.’s Gibbs powered from fourth to second on lap four, he then drove by polesitter Gus Schmidt on the fifth circuit to grab the lead in turn two.
Piloting Lance Kenyon’s big-block No. 22G, Gibbs accrued a straightaway advantage while Varin slipped into second on lap seven.
Shortly thereafter, Varin, 34, joined Gibbs on the topside in a cat-and-mouse lead battle. As the leaders diced through heavy lapped traffic, Varin made his presence felt. He trailed Gibbs by only three car-lengths when A.J. Romano slowed on lap 23 to necessitate the caution that changed the complexion of the race.
“I knew I needed to get out front because my car wasn’t handling just right,” Varin said. “I felt like I was gaining on him before that caution, but I couldn’t get close enough in the traffic to make a serious run.”
When Gibbs opted for the outside on the double-file restart, Varin put his years of Fonda experience to work. Timing the green perfectly, he was able to sweep by Gibbs in turn three.
“Knowing what you can pull off on restarts,” Varin offered. “That’s the advantage of running here weekly.”
As Varin led, 16th-starter Alan Johnson methodically moved forward in the Jeff Rudalavage-owned No. 14J. Using Morrison small-block power in the Bicknell, Johnson cleared Gibbs following a lap-24 restart to claim second.
The Middlesex, N.Y., veteran immediately chipped away at Varin’s lead, running around the inner hub of the fairgrounds half-mile. By lap 37, Johnson had erased the advantage completely, making a bid for the lead entering turn three.
However, Johnson encountered a blockade in the form of Bobby Vedder, who hugged the preferred inside groove. Before Johnson could clear Vedder, Varin adjusted his line to match the changing track conditions.
“I moved down in (turns) one and two,” Varin recounted. “The bottom of one and two started taking rubber, but I was able to stay on the top through three and four. The car wasn’t exactly too my liking; it was tight through the center and loose off, so I had to use all of the racetrack.”
By lap 40, Varin’s lead stabilized and he drove to the biggest victory of his career since the Oct. 2003 Eastern States 200 at Orange County (N.Y.) Fair Speedway, during his stint with the H&H team.
The win was obviously a morale booster for Varin, but he was reluctant to take the credit.
“This is a good car,” he said of the mount, a 2004 Bicknell that was driven by Alan Johnson at The New York State Fairgrounds and Eastern States at OCFS last autumn. “Everything on it is brand new. I just have to thank Jake and Nancy Spraker for the opportunity.”
Johnson, 47, finished roughly a half-straightaway back in second. He picked up the $500 bonus as the first small-block across the line. It marked his second runner-up finish for the Rudalavage team this year. Johnson trailed Brett Hearn at Hagerstown (Md.) Speedway on March 20.
“He (Varin) gets around here,” Johnson said. “He can drive this place better than I can. It helps being here every week.
“It would have been a better race without the lapped traffic. On the bottom, I was good, but I couldn’t run up top like he could to get around the slower cars. I can’t complain about it.
“The thing that hurts us running a small-block is the qualifying. To come out of here second, I’m pretty happy.”
Johnson added that he plans to enter RoC events for the Eynon, Pa.-based team throughout the summer.
Jerry Higbie Jr. of Slate Hill, N.Y., charged from 22nd to finish third in his family-owned Precision-powered Bicknell No. 97. The 32-year-old OCFS regular took over the final podium position five laps from the finish.
Higbie shelved his primary car after hot laps when he discovered a severe miss in the engine. He pulled out his back-up car and sustained a flat tire in heat race competition that forced him to qualify via the consolation.
“I think we were steady throughout,” Higbie said. “It didn’t matter where the guy was in front of me, it seemed like I could get around them high or low. That’s how good the car felt.
“It was pretty awesome. I’m glad I can be ‘the show’ at sometimes.”
Tony Pepicelli of Princetown, N.Y., finished fourth after starting 19th and Gibbs, who led laps 5-23, rounded out the top five.
Ronnie Johnson, Willy Decker, Jeff Trombley, Alton Palmer and Schmidt completed the top 10.
Fifty-eight cars entered the event. Heat winners included Erik Nelson, Mitch Gibbs, Bobby Varin, Ronnie Johnson, Gus Schmidt and Ryan Odasz. Tony Pepicelli, Ray Zemken and Bobby Vedder topped the consolations.
FONDA NOTES: Was the first RoC event a success?
“Absolutely,” affirmed Fonda general manager Marty Beberwyk. “I was happy with the car turnout (58) and there was a good fan turnout. I only saw a few seats in the bottom rows. Granted the weatherman helped us out, but this was a big boost for the series.”….
Two horrific-appearing accidents marred the third consolation. The first occurred on lap three when Jim Davis made contact with Ronnie Holmes, sending Holmes into the outside wall in turn one, roll cage first. Holmes walked away, but was finished for the day.
The second incident came on a latter attempt to complete lap three (after the caution had been displayed). CVRA regular Derrick McGrew hopped Bobby Vedder’s right-rear tire entering turn three and slammed the end of the outside tire barrier, sending him flipping. McGrew was uninjured….
Mitch Gibbs held the lead for 18 laps, but it took one off-key restart to begin his decline back to fifth. “We had a little stumble,” Gibbs said. “The carburetor stuttered on me, like four or five times. That allowed him (Varin) to get out on me.”….
The Race of Champions Dirt Modified Tour visits Utica-Rome (N.Y.) Speedway on Sun., May 8 for a 66 ˝-lap contest. For the teams that did not qualify at Fonda, there will be a “Non Qualifiers Race” at U-R offering two spots into the feature field….
Penn-Can (Pa.) Speedway will host the Race of Champions Dirt Sportsman Tour on Sun., April 24, featuring a 40-lap, $1,000-to-win main event….“Ice Jam” Feature Finish (Race of Champions North Region Race No. 1): BOBBY VARIN, Alan Johnson, Jerry Higbie Jr., Tony Pepicelli, Mitch Gibbs, Ronnie Johnson, Willy Decker, Jeff Trombley, Alton Palmer, Gus Schmidt, Brian Weaver, Dave Camara, Elmo Reckner, Erik Nelson, John Marsh, Ryan Bartlett, Ray Zemken, Jamie Christian, Bobby Vedder, Billy Osta, J.R. Crouse, Ryan Odasz, Jack Johnson, Randy Snyder, A.J. Romano, Ken Hanson, Dave Lape, David Van Horn Jr. Did Not Start: Matt DeLorenzo. Did Not Qualify: Tony Farone, Steve Akers, Chris Ostrowsky, Ed Harris, Jamie Christian, C.V. Elms, Eric Mack, Derrick McGrew, Jeremy Matthies, Tim Hindley, Mario Clair, Ronnie Holmes, Mike Fusco, Jeremiah Munson, Paul Kinney, Dave Zona, Dustin Purdy, Mike Kolka Jr., Jerry Pennock Jr., Jim Davis, Chris Shultz, Craig Hanson, Jason Barney, Bill Wilson, Cass Bennett, Donnie Wetmore Jr., Rodney Hunsinger, Rich Ricci Jr., Mike Colsten.