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Larry Ott’s WNY Auto Racing: Hutchinson hangs on for win

One by one some of the New York/Pennsylvania Midget Association’s strongest competitors took their best shots at unseating Kyle Hutchinson from the lead in the Jerry Gradl Sr. Mini Indy Memorial 50 at Holland Motorsports Complex Saturday evening. The list included top runners Shawn Nye, Jonathan Reid and Dave Wollaber.

None could shake Hutchinson and in an exciting green-white-checkered flag finish, Hutchinson sped to a narrow win over Wollaber, who had beaten Hutchinson the prior week at Holland.

The Gradl event honored the memory of noted professional driver Jerry Gradl Sr., who was a long-time driver, car owner, businessman and sponsor who died January 20 at age 79.

The 50-lap race was run in two 25-lap segments with a 10-minute mid-race refueling break.

“It definitely wasn’t easy,” said Hutchinson, who drives for veteran owner John Casey. “They made it pretty hard on me, especially the last couple laps. Reid got into me a little bit there. I was lucky just to hang on to it. I really wasn’t looking for a green-white-checker there but I got the jump on the restart and made it work. It’s great to win the Gradl race.”

Nye took the lead on a lap five restart from Erik Musto. At the mid-race break the running order was Nye, Wollaber, Hutchinson and Reid. Late in the race, Hutchinson would eventually dive under Nye in Turn Three with five circuits remaining to gain the top spot as Nye began to fade with tire issues.

Reid moved to second and with a lap remaining as he attempted to pass Hutchison on the low side in Turn Two, slight contact ensued with Reid spinning out. The caution flag waved, setting up the green-white-checker finish with Hutchinson barely holding Wollaber at bay for the win.

Wollaber was disappointed that he couldn’t find a way to beat Hutchinson in their showdown in the final laps of the race.

“It was close but we missed the set-up just a little bit,” he said. “You got to be on the ball and the top five tonight were right on. I got one shot at him and he was just better than me. I knew he was thinking about last week and he was going to drive a little tentative and if I had a better car I definitely had a better shot.”

Reid gave it everything he had as well including the slight contact.

“Usually we don’t like to touch each other in these cars but for $1,000 bucks to win I gave it a little extra gas there and I kind of used “Hutch” up a little bit,” Reid said. “When we caught wheels I’m not sure if it just grabbed my wheel or what but it ended up going around on me. My car was fast. It stayed consistent for the 50 laps. I still feel good. I could go another 50 I think.”

Both Casey and Gradl Sr.’s son, Jerry Gradl Jr., had tears in their eyes in victory lane as they remembered their respective relationships with Gradl Sr. over many years.

“That was a great race and I couldn’t ask for anything better,” Gradl Jr. said. “I just lost my dad so it’s tough to talk about right now but he’s looking down and smiling.”

“To win this race is great, out of this world,” said Casey. “It was a great tribute to Jerry and our guy was the best tonight.”

Elsewhere, with just seven of the 18-race 2015 schedule remaining to be run at Freedom Motorsports Park, new track owner/promoter Bob Reis took the time this past weekend to evaluate his season thus far in 2015. It’s the first year he has been at the helm of the Delevan based Friday night dirt track.

“We’re doing OK,” Reis said. “We had a couple of weeks where the car and fan counts weren’t so good but overall things have been better than I expected. I took a flyer on a couple of special races. Surprisingly the night we had the Patriot Sprint Tour here wasn’t as good as I expected. We had enough Sprint Cars but the car counts in the support divisions were light that night and it was a light spectator count also.

“Then I had a Thursday special on July 2 featuring the GRIT Sportsman and the car counts that night were unbelievable. We had 105 cars in the pits that night for all the divisions combined and the crowd was great. The Friday before the GRIT event we had about 103 cars in the pits as well. That’s phenomenal.

“Every week I learn something new about doing this,” Reis continued. “I think the biggest thing I have learned is becoming aware of the importance of scheduling events, not just in what’s happening with other track’s racing events but how to schedule around many non-racing events like concerts and county fairs and things like that. Placing a race event at Freedom on the schedule on a night when something else is going on in the area, racing or non-racing can really negatively affect the crowd numbers.”

Reis said that he is currently in negotiations with Little Valley Speedway promoter John Charlesworth with the pair seeking to finalize a two night combined promotion Sept. 18-19. Freedom would run on Friday with Little Valley which is already scheduled to race Sept. 19, hosting the proceedings the next night. Reis explained that added bonuses would be available for drivers competing at both tracks, both nights.

“John and I are trying to work on this but I can tell you if we do it the two-night deal would definitely involve the Crate Late Models, Sportsman and possibly the 358 Modifieds who are already scheduled at Little Valley Sept., 19.

“I am also looking to finalize the details for an off-season awards banquet and I can tell you that unless the bottom falls out during the remainder of the season Freedom will be back again racing in 2016 under my direction.”

Issue not settled

Lancaster officials announced that Sportsman driver Kirk Totten has been disqualified from his Sportsman division stock car win on July 18 due to “unapproved tire alterations.” Jake Lyon was officially declared the winner.

Totten team spokesman Dean Kroll said Sunday that the team disputes the disqualification based on questions surrounding the post-check tire testing procedures, and they intend to pursue the matter.