Photo by Bob Hockenbrock
BY DREW PELLMAN
PORT ROYAL — To win sprint car races, especially big shows that feature strong fields of cars, you need lots of things to go right. First and foremost, you need a fast racecar and a driver that’s plenty capable of handling it. And if the last couple of years at Port Royal Speedway has proven anything, it’s that the No. 39M is not at all short on speed and Anthony Macri can certainly get it done behind the wheel at the Juniata County half-mile. The other necessity? Well, a little bit of luck won’t ever hurt.
On Thursday night, the good fortune Macri needed came during his heat race. Under the All-Star Circuit of Champions format, each heat winner — as well as the fastest qualifier that transfers through the heat race — earns a spot in the All-Star dash. With 49 cars signed in for competition, the dash is what sets the top 10 starting spots for the 30-lap feature. Tyler Courtney was the fastest qualifier in the second heat race, meaning he had a one-way ticket into the dash if he could simply stay in the top four of the heat. Unfortunately for the All-Star point leader, he fell to fifth which knocked him out of a dash spot in the process. Enter Macri, who by way of his second place heat finish, was now the big beneficiary due to also being the second fastest time trialer in the heat. In an instant, the Dillsburg driver went from starting the feature outside the top 10 to hoping for a dash redraw pill that would start him in the first few rows. He got it in the form of starting position number three, and then was able advance one spot in the dash itself to line himself up on the outside of the front row for the main event.
Wisconsin’s Bill Balog — who earned the pole by winning the dash — quickly jumped out to the early lead in the feature as Macri and Gettysburg’s Danny Dietrich battled for second. Dietrich managed to maneuver his No. 48 past Macri on the second lap, but that would be short-lived as Macri quickly bounced back to re-take the runner up spot just a few circuits later. From there he set his sights on Balog, who was beginning to get into lap traffic for the first time. It didn’t take Macri long to pounce, making the move to take the lead coming off the second turn eight laps into the main event. A few laps later, Dietrich followed suit and set his sets on Macri, while Indiana’s Justin Peck was becoming the third driver to get involved. Peck got by Balog for third on lap 11. Some other drivers to make noticeable moves toward the top five as the race was winding down were Logan Wagner and Mike Wagner. They both disposed of Balog’s No. 17B, and Logan was also able to do same to Peck, taking the third spot with less than 10 laps remaining.
At the front, however, Macri went unchallenged for the majority of the second half of the race, and earned $8,000 for his efforts — not a bad way to kick off the Tuscarora 50 weekend! Dietrich and Logan Wagner crossed behind Macri to round out the podium, while Justin Peck and Mike Wagner settled for fourth and fifth respectively. Sixth through 10th went to Justin Whittall, Gio Scelzi, Rico Abreu, Lance Dewease and Brent Marks.
Balog, Cory Eliason, Lucas Wolfe, Dietrich and Jeff Halligan won the five heat races. Courtney was fast timer with a 16.371-second lap, and then also won the B-main. Zach Hampton won the C-main. As mentioned earlier, Balog also won the All-Star dash.
The PASS 305 sprints concluded the evening, and a familiar driver ended up taking another Port Royal Speedway victory. Garrett Bard earned the honors with a pass of Zach Rhodes in the closing laps, just a few circuits after race-long leader Drew Young was forced to retire from the race with a mechanical failure.
Mike Melair finished third, Ken Duke was fourth, and Jeff Weaver rounded out the top five. Heat winners for the 45 cars in attendance were won by Bard, Rhodes, Justin Mills and Scott Frack.
Action continues tonight (Friday) with the “Night Before the 50” for the 410 sprints — their final tuneup before the $60,000-to-win Tuscarora 50 on Saturday night. Last year, Daryn Pittman scored the victory in the Friday night event aboard the Swindell SpeedLab No. 39. The super late models will also join the card.