For more than two months, Danny Knoll Jr. and Sege Fidanza competed for the Lancaster Motorsports Park Modified season point crown. Fidanza prevailed. Knoll has one more chance, however, to win a championship of sorts this year at Lancaster.
Sunday's Modified 125 will headline this weekend's 13th annual NAPA US Open Weekend, an event that is the area's largest two-day asphalt stock car show. The Modified 125 is the third and final leg of Lancaster's new three-race Northeast Mr. Modified Series, which is a separate point contest from the recently completed regular-season points battle.
Knoll and Fidanza are tied after the first two Northeast series races. Fidanza won the Budweiser 100 in June and Knoll the Tommy Druar Memorial Modified Summer 50 in August.
"Sege and I were consistently the fastest two cars at Lancaster all year," said Knoll, driver of the Knoll's Mobil North Troyer Modified. "If either of us wins the 125 we'll be guaranteed at least $13,000 Sunday. That's because the race win pays a base purse of $10,000 and the Northeast deal pays $3,000 to that champion."
Knoll scored four wins this season at Lancaster, second only to Fidanza's eight. Fidanza won the first four races of the season while Knoll took longer to get his car set up properly.
"When I stopped being pig-headed on what I thought the car needed and actually started to give the car what it really needed, then I started to go faster right away," Knoll said of his early season slow start. "I can be stubborn at times. Sometimes that's good. This time it was bad."
Those in the racing community also knew that Knoll had other things on his mind including the health of his father, veteran racer Danny Knoll Sr. The elder Knoll died of cancer in August and that development has dimmed what has been a banner season for his racing son.
"My father's death has put a damper on the whole season," Knoll said. "I finally have my best year in Modified racing and the guy that I most want to share it with is not here. He was also my partner in business. It's tough to enjoy any part of life right now.
"I guess I can always look back and be proud of all the local and national racing championships that my father won. I'm grateful and fortunate that we had all those racing weekends together. He died Aug. 10 and I went out the next night and tried so hard to win the race for him. My number is 17 and his was 71. After he died I took the roof from his car and ran it on mine."
One week after his father's death, Knoll won the Tommy Druar race and paid an emotional tribute to his father in victory lane. Now the younger Knoll spends time developing the racing careers of his two children, Danny III (8) and Kristy (6), who race Go-Karts at Ransomville Speedway. It reminds Knoll of when his father coached him about race driving as a youngster.
Knoll Jr. began his driving career in a Modified in 1987 but changed to asphalt late models at Holland the next two seasons. He then hit the road for the next several seasons, racing on both the American-Canadian Tour (ACT) and the American Speed Association (ASA) Late Model circuits.
He resurfaced in the Modifieds a few seasons ago and has also scored big wins in the Tommy Druar race in 1999 and the US Open in 1998.
"I still love the Late Models," Knoll said with a laugh. "I consider myself a Late Model driver trapped in a Modified race car."
Knoll is savoring the chance to run a longer race such as Sunday's 125, much the same way he ran many extra distance specials with ACT and ASA.
"In the usual 30-lap race we run, the idea is simple," Knoll said . "Just charge toward the front, shove anybody out of the way who is in the way and hope you win. There will be more time to be patient on Sunday, to use strategy and I'm confident toward the later stages that I will be up toward the front."
In addition to the posted purse money, lap sponsorships have been sold at $100 per lap. The money will be awarded during the race randomly by each lap to a driver running in the top 15 during that lap. Several laps have multiple sponsors. Hi-Way Garden Center will pay $1,000 to the leader of the halfway lap. All other divisions will run big-payoff races as well.
Pit gates open Saturday at noon with practice at 1 p.m. Heats begin at 6:15 p.m. Saturday's highlights include Modified, TQ Midget, NYS Strictly Stock, Cup Lites, Sportsman, Street Stocks and Late Model heats. A Mini-Cup exhibition and Mini-Stock exhibition, plus features for Cup Lites (35 laps) and the NYS Strictly Stock Championship $1,000-to-win 50 will follow.
Pit Gates on Sunday open at 10 a.m. with practice at 10:30. Non-qualifier races begin at noon. Features begin at 1 p.m. for Street Stocks, 30 laps; Sportsman, 30; TQ Midgets, 25; Late Models, 75; and the Modified 125. Drag racing Friday at 7 p.m.
Drag racers take to the grass
Local snowmobile grass drag racers Bill DiFranco of Niagara Falls and Mark Kilroy of Lockport won this past weekend at Seneca Lake.
DiFranco, who also drag races snowmobiles at Lancaster, won both days' 800cc Stock Single Pipe races while Kilroy was best in 1000cc Improved Stock. Both plan on running in the annual Emerling Chevrolet NYS Snowmobile Grass Drag Championships on Sunday at Firemen's Field in Marilla.
More than 100 racers representing seven states and Ontario will compete with 20 classes on the slate.
The event will begin at 10 a.m., rain or shine. Admission is $10 for adults and children under 10 are free when accompanied by an adult. Call 941-5192.
Spencer Speedway for sale
For years, many area drivers and fans have attended the Friday night NASCAR stock car racing and Saturday NHRA drag racing programs at Spencer Speedway, just northeast of Rochester in Williamson. The speedway appears to be changing ownership within the next few days.
Jim Polaski of Hilton is involved in negotiations to buy the facility from the Spencer brothers.
"I have $2.4 million of improvements already planned for next season at Spencer," Polaski said. "I'd like to get together with (Holland promoter Tim Bennett) and see if we can run many of the same classes next year with the same rules for both tracks. I plan on keeping the Modifieds as the headline division."
Janis on verge of title
Fred Hahn beat Mike Janis in the Pro-Modified finals of the IHRA Summit Drag Racing Series Autumn Nationals Sunday in Rockingham, N.C.
But Janis has the IHRA national Pro-Modified point championship nearly clinched with a lead of more than 300 points and just three races left.