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Harpell gives Sportsman racers a shot

When the Race of Champions (ROC) Asphalt Modified Tour visits Western New York this month with stops at Dunn Tire Raceway Park and Holland NASCAR Motosports Complex, tour director Andy Harpell is coming with a bonus in hand for this area's Sportsman racers.

The ROC Modifieds race in a 75-lapper Saturday night at DTRP. Also, after an absence of a few seasons, the ROC returns to Holland on June 30.

While the ROC series has long featured Modifieds with four-barrel carburetors, this season Harpell is allowing two-barrel Sportsman cars to compete with the Modifieds in the ROC as well.

The result is that the Sportsman drivers who campaign weekly at DTRP as well as the NASCAR Pro Modifieds that race at Holland are eligible to compete in the ROC races. Harpell is awarding a $500 bonus to the highest finishing Sportsman driver at each stop on the ROC tour. There is also a separate point fund for the two-barreled contingent at season's end.

The idea of allowing the two- barrel Sportsman type cars to compete in the ROC races was first showcased when the ROC raced at DTRP's US Open event last September.

"Tony Hanbury drove a two-barrel car at the US Open last year and he was racing on used 13-inch tires he got from Chuck Hossfeld," said Harpell. "At one point he was running as high as fourth in the race. We could only imagine how much quicker Hanbury's car might have run with new tires.

"After the US Open, Tony Hirschman, one of the best Modified racers of all time told me that Hanbury had to be using a four-barrel to be that competitive against the Modifieds but he was not.

"I had already pretty much decided before the US Open last year that I was going to allow two-barrel cars for this season but that US Open event was to me the confirmation that the concept works."

For those drivers who do not participate in the two-barrel challenge, DTRP is running a weekly 35-lap sportsmen feature.

The four-barrel Modifieds must weigh a minimum of 2,650 pounds while the Sportsman cars have an option to weigh no less then 2,575 or 2,525 depending on a rules options choice. Also ROC Modifieds run 13-inch tires while Sportsman utilize 10-inch tires. While the ROC series runs American Racer brand tires, Harpell says the Sportsman can run their own weekly tires and tire brands in the ROC.

"The Sportsman type cars look just like the Modifieds and the big difference is that the bottom end of the Sportsman engines are more stock and of course they use the two-barrel carb," said Harpell.

"The main reason why we are allowing the two-barrel cars is two things. First we needed to make things less expensive for the teams and secondly our tour is so competitive. The top 12-14 Modified teams on the tour for the last several years are among the best Modified drivers anywhere.

"So for the underfunded teams, they're not doing too well and felt like they were just banging their heads against the wall. The fun for them went out the window and was gone. Now through the two-barrel program they maybe can be more competitive and make extra money with less racing expenses.

"So far this season our first two races of the year have been on the bigger horsepower tracks so the two-barrel cars have struggled somewhat but when we come to the smaller tracks like Dunn Tire and especially Holland, this should make it much better for the two-barrel cars."

The concept also helps to curb falling car counts within the Modified ranks. The fields are larger when the Modifeds and Sportsman cars run together.

The concept is very similar to the world of northeast dirt track racing where both the ROC dirt series and the Northeast organizations allow small block 358 Modifieds to run with the big-block Modifieds at stops on the Super DIRT Series. In fact, Matt Sheppard, sporting a 358 engine, beat the big-block racers in a Super DIRT Series event last August at Merrittville Speedway.

There were a combined 28 cars at each of the first two ROC asphalt races, in Owego and Oswego.

T.J. Zacharias has been the top two-barrel finisher at each of those first two ROC events in 2012 placing 21st at Shangri-La and 16th at Oswego.

Since the final appearance of the ROC series at Holland about five years ago, area fans have been hoping for the series return to Holland's high banks but Harpell and Holland general manager Tim Bennett did not get a deal done. This season a partnership in which Harpell shares in the promotion of the race and assumes some of the financial risk and rewards has opened the door.

"When I present the ROC Weekend at Oswego, I lease the track and run the race myself," said Harpell. "I also lease tracks for some of my ROC dirt series events. For the Holland event, Tim and I have become partners to make it happen. This is a good opportunity for both of us. It will show him that our series is a great product and in the future he can promote future ROC races on his own, confident that it will work for him.

"For now I was willing to partner with him for this year's race because I believe in our product and I am willing to assume much of the financial responsibility because I believe the Holland race will be successful in all areas that it needs to be."

Also noteworthy for Saturday will be the appearance of Sege Fidanza, the all-time Modified race winner at the Lancaster track. Fidanza retired from Modified racing three years ago but will be back competing in a car owned by Rick Kluth.