After a soggy spring start, the local auto racing season finished in high gear. Here is a track-by-track review of those drivers who earned championships.
Once again the Lancaster Modified champion was Sege Fidanza, who by successfully defending his Modified title is now a six-time champion in the class. He garnered six wins this season, including the New York State Modified Series 75-lapper June 15.
Bob Straus claimed his first Late Model title. Joe Carbone captured the Late Model US Open 75-lap special Sept. 29, his division's biggest race. Rick Kluth recorded five feature wins and won the Sportsman title.
Veteran John Durso, on the strength of four wins, claimed Street Stock honors. Ken Murawski, with three victories in Strictly Stocks, and Dave Lewczyk with a dozen in Trucks also emerged as champions.
The biggest event of Lancaster's campaign was the nationally televised ASA Late Model Pontiac Excitement 300, held Aug. 4 and won by Joe Nott.
Lancaster's drag racing champions are: Bill Elekes, Super Gas; Bob Runge, Super Pro; Joe Urbino, Pro; Greg Kerl, Heavy; Dave and Steve Weller, Street; and Alan Fletcher and Brian Ihrig, Bikes.
Lancaster will honor its stock car champions at its awards banquet Nov. 16 at the Pendleton House, 6886 S. Transit Road in Lockport, and its drag racing titlists Nov. 15 at the same location.
Holland's new NASCAR Pro-Truck class was a big success with approximately 20 trucks racing each night. Brian Hoffman is the track's first truck champion.
Holland is adding a 3,000-seat grandstand for next year, raising its seating capacity to 11,000.
Defending NASCAR Late Model champion Rick Wylie won his fifth title. He also won the Budweiser 100 on Labor Day weekend. Matt Alix defended his NASCAR Pro-Modified crown and will move up to the Late Models in 1997.
Winning their first titles were Tom Reece in NASCAR Chargers, Jon Wilmore in Figure-Eight and Craig Orr in Enduros.
Dave Dion won the NASCAR Busch Grand National North 150 on May 25 and Jerry Marquis claimed the NASCAR Featherlite Modified Tour special July 27.
Holland will honor Hoffman, Wylie and Alix on Nov. 15 at the Radisson Hotel on Genesee Street. The other divisional champions were toasted last Saturday.
Joe Plazek and Danny Johnson emerged as co-champions of the DIRT 358 Modified class. Johnson also won the SKOAL Racing Super DIRT Series Summer Nationals on July 2.
The annual World of Outlaws Sprint Car appearance was twice postponed by rain and will be rescheduled next June with rain checks from this year's date to be honored.
Joe Stefanski won the Pro-Stock championship and Chad Brachmann captured his first in the DIRT Sportsman. Cory Sawyer is Street Stock champion. Lance Yonge was victorious in the Empire Super Sprint Special on Aug. 16.
Despite an offseason, non-racing back injury, Pete Bicknell secured his 11th Merrittville DIRT 358 Modified title. Some of these titles were accomplished in the DIRT Modified class that preceded the 359 Modifieds.
Bicknell had surgery shortly after the season and is recovering. Billy Krull won the DIRT Sportsman points title, Ken Sargent the Pro-Stocks, Mark Edwards the Mod-Stocks and Rob Morningstar the Street Stocks.
Around the tracks
Genesee Speedway winners were: Rick Newton, his first, Sportsman; Jerry Bently, Super Stocks; Vic Beherns, Street Stocks; Gary Byerly, Mini-Stocks; Jim Gabriel, the 50-lap Sportsman Genesee Super Series event, Sept. 7, and with it Genesee's Mr. Sportsman of Western New York crown.
Perry Speedway winners were: Steve Siraguse, Modified Sportsman (Perry promoter Doug Chapman is dropping this class next season due to expense reasons); Jim Mazur, Super Stock (third straight); Rob Stromecki and Norman Lee (co-champs), Street Stock; Steve Ott, Dwarf Cars; Art Logsdon, IMCA Modifieds; Ron Hall Jr., Mini-Stocks; and T.J. Shaw, Pure Stocks.
Gasport Speedway winners were: Cliff Warner, DIRT Sportsman; Ron Reece, Pro-Stocks; Mark Edwards, Mod-Stocks; Shane Martel (for the fourth straight year), Street Stocks; Dave Plyley, Pure Stocks; Shani Bliech, Women in Racing; Mike Button, the DIRT Sportsman All-Canadian race Aug. 4.
Freedom Raceway champions were: Ed Carley, Super Stocks; Scott Pangrazio, IMCA Modifieds; Steve Ott, Dwarf Cars; Lance Davey, Street Stocks; Wayne Adamczak, Pure Stocks; and Nello Paolucci, Mini-Stocks.
Mark Sammut won an exciting last-race duel with Keith Dempster to win the Castrol Can-Am Midgets championship and end Dempster's run of four straight outdoor titles. Can-Am President Harry Macy is now sole promoter of the Niagara Indoor TQ Midget Racing Series after a split with co-promoter Emily Casey a few weeks ago. Dates for the three-race series, to be held at the Niagara Falls Convention Center, are Dec. 7. Feb. 1 and March 8.
Champions of the Western New York Region of the Sports Car Club of America's Solo II season are: Blake Long of Amherst, overall, and John Shurmatz of Cheektowaga, novice. Joel Solly of Kenmore won the first Ken Kaiser Memorial on Sept. 28 at Batavia Motor Speedway at which more than $700 was raised for Cystic Fibrosis.
Indy Car owner Dick Hammond, who died earlier this month, gave this area a hometown team to root for at the Indianapolis 500 as well as on the USAC Sprint Car trail. But he is being remembered more for the many contributions he made to this area's racing scene. His support of Lancaster and Holland Speedways and other tracks, as well as his many race and driver sponsorships, were his greatest gifts to many. He kept the Friends of Auto Racing Fan Club alive with financial assistance in its early days. Hammond never boasted about the good he did for the sport, but he was proud of it.
This is the final Western New York Auto Racing column of the season.