It is nothing new to see Randy Hall in a Victory Lane at a Southern Tier dirt track. So it was a very familiar sight when the Olean driver ended up in the winner’s circle Friday at Freedom Motorsports Park. The triumph, however, came with a big twist.
For many seasons Hall’s wins and championships have come driving an IMCA-style E-Mod which has open wheels on the front end. Friday’s win was achieved in Hall’s new class of choice the RUSH Crate Late Models which sport full-fendered bodies.
Hall’s win was achieved just a week before next Friday’s all-important Ron Baker Memorial at Freedom. Hall is currently in his first full season of RUSH Crate Late Model driving.
“The first ones always the toughest to get out of the way,” said Hall. “Hopefully they’ll come easier now.”
According to Hall, retirement was looming until he got a call from another car owner Terry Suppa with an offer to drive Suppa’s crate car.
“I think we have six or seven races in this year so far,” said Hall. “Chad Ruhlman was driving for Terry last season. He needed to step away. I was actually going to be all done and Terry called me. It was a good opportunity. I couldn’t refuse so here we are at it again. I want to win the Baker Memorial next week and it definitely helps to have run good tonight.”
Baker was a local racing legend who died last December 9 of a heart attack at age 78. He drove race cars in various classes from 1957 until August 2010 when he retired and turned the wheel of his car over to Ward Schell. Baker was well liked and respected.
Schell, who now is a teammate of Hall on the two-car RUSH Crate Late Model team owned by Suppa, was also racing Friday at Freedom. Schell is proud to have driven for Baker.
“It was a pleasure driving for Ronnie,” said Schell. “When he gave me the call to drive for him I was more than honored to go. I had three tremendous years with him. We had a championship together (McKean County) and wins and it was fun to do.
“I have many great memories of Ronnie. He was a tough competitor, even as a car owner. We’ll be here next week for Ron’s memorial race and I’ll be hot on it for a victory. It will be a real honor to race here next week and I hope we can get it for him.”
Following his death, Baker’s No. 74 car was purchased by long-time racing veteran and friend Mike Wonderling, who was also raced at Freedom on Friday night. Wonderling usually sports his own No. 18 n competition, but this season he is racing the No. 74 on the side panels of the former Baker machine.
“I bought the car off the Baker family,” said Wonderling who resides in Scio. “They ask me if I’d run Ron’s car number for a year and I told them I’d be honored to do something like that for Ron Baker. He’s a legend everywhere.”
Wonderling took the time Friday to recall a personal Baker racing story.
“He may not like this memory,” said Wonderling laughing. “One night up here when we had the 360 Late Model cars, we were parked by each other. That night we were out there in the feature race and I was running the top. My car was running really good. Ron was on the bottom and about halfway through the race he slid up in front of me and I came in wide open and dumped him. He hit the infield and broke his rear end. They black-flagged me, which they should of.
“After the race I had to go down and park right beside him and explain that it was an accident. He really didn’t talk to me for a week or so but he got over it. Our family has been good friends with him for years. He actually even had a high school fling with my aunt years ago and he knew everyone in my family. Fans will still see that No. 74 all season long in a tribute to Ron and his family.”
New Freedom owner Bob Reis was rewarded Friday with his largest car count of the young season with 79 cars pitside that included a strong field of 21 RUSH Crate Late Models. Tony Pangrazio turned in a stellar performance winning the Sportsman race after starting deep in the pack, 11th.
The RUSH Crate Late Models also completed their race on Friday that was postponed by rain at Freedom on May 15, with John Waters emerging as the victor. David Pangrazio claimed his third consecutive Freedom Rear Wheel drive Mini Stock victory. The Front-Wheel race Friday was won by Brad Shepard with Josh Wilcox (Pure Stocks) and Al Brewer (Street Stocks) also winning.
• Local drag racing fans should note that Lancaster National Speedway and Dragway will showcase the Pro Mod Shootout Tuesday at 6 p.m. Pro Modified drivers Mike Janis, Mike Stawicki, Randy Jewell, Bruce Boland, Sam Christian, Jack Grainy, Ron Szewczyk and Bob Bauer will compete in the $5,000-to-win event. A Box-No Box drag race will also be held.
• Friends of Auto Racing (FOAR Score) Fan Club president Paul Faleski is home recovering from a serious car accident he suffered Thursday. Faleski was discharged Saturday from ECMC. According to Faleski he suffered general body soreness but has no broken bones or other injuries.