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Larry Ott: Freedom’s comeback making progress

Freedom Speedway promoter Troy Shuknecht was wearing a big smile midway through the race program last Friday at the Delevan dirt track facility. It was not a smile that went from ear to ear but it was a smile none the less.

In baby-step fashion, Freedom has made slow progress in rebuilding its stock car program after it was dormant for three seasons. It has been a struggle thus far to get cars and fans.

Friday however, Freedom enjoyed the best grandstand crowd and car counts of the young season, which is now five races old.

A total of 62 cars in six divisions and a crowd of about 700 spectators came to Freedom. While a bit short of Shuknecht’s goal, Friday’s totals did represent some progress.

“The crowd tonight is better then we’ve had,” said Shuknecht. “The grandstand here holds 1,200 and tonight I guess there is about probably 700 here. Everything is coming along good. We’re getting more and more cars. Everybody has to support us like we’re trying to support them. There’s been progress here and it’s better then the last few years when this track was sitting here doing nothing.

“The goal for the rest of this season is simple – to just keep trying to get more cars and people here. I just like racing and I want everybody else to like racing too. After tonight my smile is getting a little bigger.”

The Crate Late Model field was strong with 20 cars and the Sportsman field of 14 was very respectable. The three other weekly class car counts will need some work. The 360 Late Models had just eight cars, the Street Stocks nine, and the Mini Stocks four. The visiting Mid-State vintage car class added seven cars.

For the most part, the early season track surface problems have seemed to disappear as Friday’s track was pretty smooth and racy with just a small bump in Turn Three. The track officials, headed by race director Jeff Gardner did an efficient job of keeping the race program rolling along. The 7 p.m. race program finished shortly after 10 p.m.

Gardner made good and efficient use of the one-way radio communication system to instruct drivers during the running of the races as far as where he wanted them to lineup for restarts and other instances when he needed to communicate to them.

“Everything went pretty smooth tonight,” said Gardner. “I’m really happy with the car count in the Crate Late Models. It continues to be averaging 20 cars. That’s awesome. We just need to get the rest of the car counts up and hopefully that will happen here in the near future. The track held together pretty good tonight. It was a little dry at the beginning but we watered it at intermission and it seemed to work out pretty good.

“The drivers have been responding pretty good to our directions on the track. We just need to do more advertising to get the word out.

“We’re putting on a good show and the crowd’s coming so we just got to get a few more cars and we’ll be fine and looking good.”

Racing highlights Friday at Freedom, Tony Pangrazio’s victory in the 30-lap $1,000-to-win Sportsman headliner. Pangrazio fended off noted racer Billy Van Pelt to score the win. It was the first career Sportsman victory for Pangrazio, who last won five years ago on the asphalt in the Super Stock class at Wyoming County International Speedway.

When asked about his big victory Friday, Pangrazio responded, “I needed this win and I needed it bad.”

Brady Wonderling reigned supreme in the Crate Late Model 20-lapper which included a wild 11-car pileup in Turn Four on lap 3. No one was injured. Wonderling was driving the Ricotta Racing entry owned by fellow racer Doug Ricotta.

Pit stops

• After not racing at all in the Western New York Super Rod Association in 2013, Elma’s Jeff Gregoire won in the WNYSRA’s season-opening drag race May 31 at Empire Dragway in Leicester.

Gregoire was driving the 1993 Chevy S-10 pickup truck owned by Jim and Jamie Stoneman. During eliminations, Gregoire defeated a stout group of racers including John Cira, Jon Jablonski, Tommy Allen and Jon Pellicane.

“Obviously this would not have been possible without Jim and Jamie’s truck,” said Gregoire. “I’d also like to thank Phil Harnden and Jason Oldfield of the WNY Super Rod Association for all their hard work in putting this series together.”

A solid field of 19 cars participated in the opener. Gregoire will be seeking his second consecutive victory when the WNYSRA reconvenes June 28 again at Empire Dragway.

• Bauer Racing, featuring Bob Bauer Jr., and his Top Sportsman GTO and their primary sponsor K-100 Fuel Treatment will unveil a new graphics scheme on the car during the Eighth annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals during Independence Day Weekend at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio. The scheme will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the K-100 product.