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Larry Ott’s WNY Auto Racing: Race comes up a bit short

There is no doubt that Patrick Emerling overcame adversity and drove a smooth calculated race to win the Sunoco Race of Champions Asphalt Modified Tour Holland 97 Saturday at Holland Motorsports Complex.

The problem was the race was supposed to be the Holland 100. Following a race that disintegrated into a caution-plagued exercise in confusion, promoter/director Andy Harpell made an on-the-spot decision and called the race complete during a lap 97 caution period.

This coupled with an earlier sudden mid-race change in caution lap procedures by Harpell became a big factor in the race along with the great drives turned in by Emerling as well as Andy Jankowiak and George Skora III, the second and third place finishers respectively.

The decision to eliminate the final three laps of the race was the second of two spontaneous calls made by Harpell during the race.

The race agenda called for all 100 laps of the race to be run under green flag conditions but following one of the numerous caution periods that nearly ground the event to a halt, Harpell informed the teams that caution laps would count toward the race total from that point to the checkered flag.

After the red flag was displayed on lap 92 for a serious accident on the backstretch, the field went back to green with Skora III leading ROC point leader Emerling and defending race winner Jankowiak. Emerling moved by Skora III on lap 93 and Jankowiak moved into second a lap later.

With the stage set for a dramatic late race joust between Emerling and Andy Jankowiak, the all-too familiar caution flag waved again on lap 96 and, deciding he had seen enough, Harpell ordered the checkered flag to be waved on the next lap and just like that the race was over.

Harpell said that the numerous caution periods in which it took far too long to realign the field as drivers returned from pit stops coupled with the lateness of the hour prompted both decisions.

“At the end of the event obviously we’re trying to get the whole race in but after the last caution prior to this final caution I did tell the spotters and teams that we can’t have another yellow in this deal,” said Harpell. “The track owners wanted it finished. They needed it finished due to the curfew and when that last caution happened I had to do what I did.”

Holland general manager Tim Bennett added, “Technically, what Andy Harpell meant is that we don’t actually have a curfew at Holland. We have what we consider self-imposed time constraints. We have been here for many years and we work hard to be community responsible and end our racing at a reasonable hour out of consideration for the residents who live in our community. This past Saturday was tough when the race was not yet over and it was around 11:30.”

Emerling was understandably very happy with the win but he, too, was a bit bewildered and disappointed that he did not get a chance to race Jankowiak head-to-head over the last part of the race due to the stoppage.

While running fourth, Emerling had to make two pit stops during a lap 36 caution period but then drove his way gradually to the front.

“I was expecting a couple more laps and I was surprised the race ended short,” he said. “I was hoping to go a couple more laps. It was a great win for me and coming from the back was just awesome. I can’t be anymore stoked.

Emerling's victory was his second on the Race of Champions tour this season. He is the current point leader.

While giving full marks to Emerling for his victory, Andy Jankowiak was livid at officials after the race and declined to comment. His crew chief and uncle, Jake Jankowiak, explained the team’s issues.

“We thought they were going to go 100 green flag laps and had we known that they were suddenly going to count cautions then that would have changed our pit strategy but other than that Emerling won,” he said. “Not having all those cautions tonight would have been the big thing.”

The Race of Champions brought a large field of 30 cars to Holland and when the race was under green flag conditions Saturday, the racing as very competitive.