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Larry Ott: Hanbury aims for U.S. Open repeat at Lancaster

Innovations Alex Friesen introduced at Lancaster Speedway and Dragway years ago have an impact to this day. Tony Hanbury knows as much.

Friesen first conceived of a multi-division stock-car race weekend becoming the track’s signature stock-car event. He gave birth to the U.S. Open Weekend in 1989, creating a race that every driver who races area asphalt tracks aspires to win during his or her career.

About a year later, Friesen accepted the foam-block soft-wall concept suggested to him by race supporter Bill Colton Sr. By placing thermal-foam blocks in the turns in front of Lancaster’s concrete walls, car damage and driver injury were minimized. The simple foam blocks were a forerunner to today’s more refined soft walls found at major super speedways.

Protected walls played an important role last October when Hanbury won the coveted Sunoco Race of Champions (ROC) Asphalt Modified Tour 125. The 27th edition of the race will be run this weekend.

“Last year’s U.S. Open started out rough for us,” said Hanbury, 31, of Orchard Park. “I was racing in the heat race and I was trying to get into the last redraw spot for the ROC 125 when I saw the white flag and knew it was the final lap. I tried to make a big effort to make the pass and when I got into Turn One, I spun myself out and piled backwards into the wall. It was a hard hit.

“Thanks to the foam-block walls, my car ended up not being as damaged as it could have been. We didn’t damage the chassis but had sheet metal and rear end parts damage. Without the foam blocks, though, I’m sure the damage would have been worse and our day would have been done right there. The blocks saved our day.”

Hanbury’s car was towed back to the pit area and the pit crew got the car race-ready in about two hours. Hanbury started the ROC 125 in last place, 28th, but after a pit stop for tires marched up into the top five.

“I was in the top five and I could tell that my car was running just as fast as the leaders because I was able to keep up with them,” Hanbury said. “With about 25 laps to go the leaders got into an incident and I got the lead. After that I knew I was faster than anyone left on the track and I went on and won the U.S. Open.

“It was so great to become a U.S. Open winner because the event has become so prestigious from the day it started.”

Hanbury will be seeking his second straight ROC 125 win during Sunday’s portion of the U.S. Open. Saturday he will be contesting for the win in the Sportsman 75 and possibly the Legend and Street Stock U.S. Open events if certain deals materialize.

Hanbury began racing in the Sportsman in 2000. In 2002, he added the asphalt Modifieds and Legend cars to his racing menu. His success has been great.

He won the Legend car title at the original Shangri-La Speedway in Owego in 2003. In 2004, he enjoyed a banner season, capturing both the Shangri-La Modified and the ROC asphalt Modified tour championships.

Hanbury emerged as the SST Sportsman Series titlist in 2005. He captured back-to-back Chemung Speedrome Sportsman championships in both 2007 and 2008, and claimed NASCAR’s New York State Championship both those years as well. He was a three-time victor of the Sportsman portion of the annual Race of Champions Weekend when the event was held at Oswego Speedway.

Hanbury is the nephew of fellow Sportsman racer Patti Pruitt and the boyfriend of Holland Motorsport Complex competitor Ashley Kirchberger. The pit crew of his Costy’s Energy Service/Morgantini Racing Engines-sponsored team consists of Tom Gush, Josh Schwenk, John Emms and Dick Weston.

Hanbury won the Aug. 22 Sportsman race at Lancaster and will make the Gunnville Road facility his racing home in 2016.

“I’ve had to make a lot of adjustments driver-wise this season at Lancaster because of the track repave they did this year,” Hanbury said. “I love the repaving, and because I am planning on running my Sportsman weekly at Lancaster next season, I need to also use this weekend’s U.S. Open to get a lot of good seat time to get ready for next year.

“Whoever is responsible for the management of Lancaster now has the place going in the right direction and the improvements there have been good and they seem to have the right people there now. ”

Hanbury will remain busy following the U.S. Open. He’ll compete during the first weekend in October in the Race of Champions Weekend, which has been relocated this season from Oswego to Chemung. Hanbury will then turn his attention to Columbus Day weekend and the Wyoming County International Speedway’s Fall Shootout.

The U.S. Open, which runs Friday through Sunday, encompasses eight divisions: the ROC Modifieds, Sportsman, Late Models, Super Stocks, Legends, Street Stocks, NYPAMA Midgets and 4-Cylinders.

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Recent champions crowned at Stateline Speedway were: Greg Oakes, Super Late Models; Jason Genco, RUSH Crate Late Models; Greg Johnson, E-Mods; Ryan Scott, Limited Late Models; Dan Nocero, Sportsman; Jason Covey, Street Stocks, and Andy Proper, Challengers.

lawrence_o_14075@yahoo.com