A year ago Max Blair needed a bit of luck to defeat Dave Hess Jr. in the United Late Model Series event at Freedom Motorsports Park. On Friday, Blair needed no such shift of fortunes as he dominated the evening to score the triumph in the ULMS Ron Baker Memorial 30.
In the process that night, Blair scored a hat trick of sorts by first breaking his own track record in qualifying, then winning his heat race and finally outrunning Hess in the featured Baker race.
A year ago during the ULMS visit to Freedom, Hess, while leading, appeared destined for victory until getting trapped behind a lapped car in the late going that opened the door to Victory Lane for Blair. Blair took advantage of Hess’s misfortune and rocketed by for the win.
This year, with the tables turned and Blair leading Hess in the waning laps, no lapped traffic-induced drama would strike Blair. He simply outran Hess to score the comfortable triumph.
Blair’s victory was not a surprise to anyone in attendance at Freedom as the 27-year-old Centerville, Pa.,-based driver has simply dominated the Southern Tier/Northwest Pennsylvania Super Late Model circuit this season.
“I think I have 12 or 13 wins so far this year but I’m not positive,” Blair said.
Blair started third in the 17-car ULMS field Friday and got involved in an early race battle with pole sitter and early race leader Brady Wonderling. As Blair pursued Wonderling, Hess was working his way up from his eighth starting position, moving into third following a lap three restart. The trio soon got involved in an entertaining joust that was interrupted by another caution on lap four.
Once the race went back to green, Blair and Hess both made aggressive moves that saw them engage in a three-car, three-abreast battle down the backstretch with Wonderling that saw Blair successfully execute what would be the winning pass when he sailed by Wonderling for the lead. Following another restart on lap six, Hess worked by Wonderling on the eighth circuit to move to second. In the waning laps Hess tried in vain to catch Blair but Blair proved too quick down the stretch and did not tangle with lapped cars. Hess settled for second, seven car lengths back.
“Brady has been running really good,” Blair said. “Brady and I are really good friends so it was a lot of fun to get to race with him for the lead like that. I enjoy racing up here. My wife’s family is from around here so it makes it a lot of fun.”
In the later laps of the Baker Memorial Friday, Hess also found himself occupied in a battle with a hard-charging Greg Oakes, who had spent the race systematically moving through the field from his ninth starting spot. Oakes finished third.
“I think we had a car to race with him (Blair) at the beginning but we seemed to fade at the end,” Hess said. “I hated to hope for lapped traffic problems for Max tonight like I had here last year but of course it was in the back of my mind and I wish I could have been closer to him near the end to appy more pressure to him and force the issue a little more and maybe he would have made the mistake.”
In the ULMS time trials Friday, six of the 18 drivers who took time ran quicker then the former Super Late Model track record on Freedom’s one-third mile dirt oval set a year ago at 15.166 seconds by Blair. Blair reset his own Freedom record Friday posting a lap of 14.053.
Some of the credit for the impressive lap times goes to Freedom-promoter Bob Reis and his track prep staff. A year ago Freedom, located in Delevan, was suffering track surface conditions problems but corrective measures including a new track surface has paid positive dividends.
“It’s 100 percent better,” Blair said of the new surface. “It would have been better yet if we didn’t get all the rain we’ve gotten. Considering the weather they’ve had and still have that kind of track, they did one heck of a job.”
When asked, based on his dominating 2017 season, what he plans to do for an encore, Blair responded in understated fashion, “I don’t know. Its been a pretty good year so far. We’ll just keep on rolling and see if we can keep it going.”
Reis was extremely happy with the ULMS show Friday. A full grandstand was on hand. Reis spoke about the success of the show by cell phone on Saturday morning as he was in his truck in the parking lot of a local bank depositing a nice check that resulted from Friday’s affair.
Reis does not release attendance figures but said that Friday’s crowd was the largest he has had since he purchased Freedom three years ago, eclipsing his previous best crowd, the 2015 Baker Memorial, by about 20 patrons. In 2015, the Baker Memorial was run by the Crate Late Models.
“I want to deposit this check before it bounces,” Reis said laughing. “ I was hoping the track would be okay with all the rain we had the other day. But we never got as much rain down at the track as we got up in Buffalo. I went to the track Thursday like at 4 in the afternoon and I expected it to be flooded and there was quite a bit of water around it and the grass parking lot behind the main grandstands was like a swamp. I worked on it all day Friday to try to get it packed in decent and it turned into being a pretty good track.”
Friday’s success also produced some much needed momentum because Freedom had rained out the previous two weeks and was off on June 23 for college graduation weekend. Freedom last ran June 16.
“Friday was huge because we hadn’t raced in a month mainly due to a lot of rain and iffy weather that kept the fans away,” Reis said. “Even yesterday we had a little bit of rain in the morning and a crappy looking forecast and yet thankfully our crowd was spectacular for the ULMS. I can’t ask for more then that.”
The ULMS returns to Freedom Aug. 18.