A victorious Mike Leaty wasn't the only one sporting a large smile Saturday night at Dunn Tire Raceway Park. Flashing equally big ear-to-ear grins were Ralph Galluzzi and Tim Packman.
Leaty was very excited about scoring his first career DTRP win in the Race of Champions Asphalt Modified Tour 75.
Galluzzi, DTRP's promoter, and Packman, president of stock car operations, were celebrating the fact that the ROC event drew the largest stock car crowd in several years at DTRP, which nearly filled all of the grandstand.
Galluzzi was so delighted by the fan turnout that prior to the ROC main event he stood on the front stretch and announced: "As a thank you to all of you for coming tonight, I am offering all of you fans free grandstand admission for our July 14 stock car program."
Packman was delighted, saying that Satuday's crowd "was all about people getting back to their track like it once was."
Leaty took advantage of a collision between Chuck Hossfeld and Matt Hirschman to score the win.
On lap 73, Hossfeld was leading, but Hirschman was breathing down his neck. Leaty was third, about five car lengths back. Over the last few seasons, Hossfeld and Hirschman have been involved in controversial on-track incidents with one another. On Saturday, it happened again.
On that lap, Hirschman, after looking on the high side a lap previous, dove low coming down the front stretch and attempted to get underneath Hossfeld. The two came together, colliding and spinning in Turn 1. Leaty inherited the lead and held it to the checkered flag.
"I know their history," Leaty said of Hossfeld and Hirschman. "They're both really good drivers. Chuck had a good car but was out of tires and Matt had new tires and he was coming and I knew that was a recipe for a wreck and that's what happened.
"I was in the right place at the right time. This wins means a ton. This is my fourth career Modified win overall. I've won at Oswego, Spencer, Chemung and now Dunn Tire, so I pretty much circled the wagons as far as tracks in our area."
The ROC tour visits Holland for a 100 lapper next Saturday, but Leaty is running a very limited schedule due to the expense of building a house and will not be racing at Holland.
Instead he will be assisting fellow competitor Patrick Emerling in the pits that night.
Not surprisingly, Hossfeld and Hirschman had conflicting views on their big race-changing incident.
"I don't think he was going to let me go around him on the outside," Hirschman said of Hossfeld. "So if I had enough to go under him that was going to be my move. I was coming down the front stretch and I had enough on him but he squeezed me so tight that he ended up taking us both out."
"We should have won that race," said Hossfeld, who injured his hand in the incident. "I gave Hirschman the total outside and he just put his nose where it wasn't going to work. We held him off the best we could."
This season, ROC tour Director Andy Harpell has put the series on a much harder compound American Racer brand tire, opting to drop the much stickier (but more expensive) Hoosier Tires that were used in seasons past. The decision has been a source of much debate among the ROC drivers.
"I'm excited about these tires," Hossfeld said. "These tires have thrown the series for a loop and I knew Dunn Tire [Raceway Park] would be a place that there could be passing. With these tires making it harder to drive, the cream's going to rise to the top.
"It's not as easy on the outside as it used to be. We came from the back a couple times. The good guys will make their cars better on these tires. I think Andrew [Harpell] is good at adjusting things. This is a learning curve and everyone is in the same curve. We‘ve gotten better on the new tires."
"I would say that this was the best race of the year we've had with these tires," Hirschman said. "We had a flat tire and it seemed like a lot of guys had flat tires, which definitely says there is some sort of issue because I've never seen flats like that here before."
"The tires maybe earned a C-plus grade tonight," Leaty said. "They're not great but we all got the same thing to work with."
Sege Fidanza, DTRP's all-time Modified winner, returned to Modified racing at DTRP Saturday after a nearly three-year layoff and placed a solid fourth in the Rick Kluth-owned car.
This season Harpell is also allowing two barrel Sportsman a chance to run in the ROC asphalt tour events, with the top finisher among the two barreled cars collecting a $500 bonus at each race.
A total of 18 Modifieds were at DTRP and five two-barrel drivers — Bobby Holmes, Mike Fiebelkorn Jr., Tony Hanbury, T.J. Zacharias and Mike Odwanzny — participated to bring the 75-lap starting field to 23.
"We were a little slower than them but we stayed out of trouble," said Holmes, the top finishing two-barrel driver. "We hung back and tried staying out of everyone's way and we did the right thing and came out of it with a decent finish. I'm pretty happy."
DTRP will showcase a unique program Tuesday night at 7, when the Dirt-On-Asphalt Challenge featuring dirt track 358 Modifieds and Sportsman racing on asphalt takes center stage. The four-race series for 2012 includes two races apiece at Airborne Speedway and DTRP.