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Larry Ott: Car builder-racer ‘Pokey’ set to run again

In auto racing circles the term “pokey” is usually not associated with positive on-track race car and driver performance. That is unless you are teamed up with local car builder Rob “Pokey” Pocobello who has constructed many race cars or parts over the years that have brought their drivers many race victories and championships. In this case “Pokey” means fast.

Pocobello will again be present this Saturday trying to spin more mechanical magic in the pit area of Lancaster National Speedway and Dragway, when the Gunnville Rd. race facility opens its 2016 stock car campaign at 2 p.m.

Wearing many hats in local racing, Pocobello, of Orchard Park is the proprietor of RJP Motorsports and is also a car owner, car builder and part time driver.

“I actually build all the axles and transmissions for probably about 50 percent of the stock car and drag racers at Lancaster as well as 50 percent of them for all the other race teams at other tracks in the area, both asphalt and dirt,” said Pocobello. “I also built five Street Stock division cars for Lancaster stock car drivers this year, Dennis Landos, Mike Dalfanso, Jeff Whalen, Mark Annis and myself.”

Pocobello currently owns two race cars. The first, a Super Stock, will be campaigned in both the Race of Champions Super Stock and New York State Super Stock Series by driver veteran Tommy Reese. The second entry will be a car convertible to either Super Stock or Street Stock competition. The car will be driven by Scott Wylie when racing as a Super Stock or by Pocobello or others in Street Stock events.

“I’m kind of getting out of the driving side of things,” said Pocobello. “I’m mainly still involved in the sport because my dad (Joe Pocobello) still loves to be at the shop and be involved. I started in this sport when I was 18 and I’m 43 now so it’s been about 25 years of this stuff.”

Rob Pocobello has captured many races behind the wheel of a race car and finished second in the now defunct NASCAR Pro Truck class points at Holland Motorsports Complex in 2002. Last season he was involved in two local track championships as his parts were in both the car of “Big 10” Super Stock Series champion Jake Wylie and Lancaster Sportsman winner Mark Pennell.

All this is not too bad for a man nicknamed “Pokey.”

“Actually that nickname was originally given to my uncle who we called Uncle Pokey,” laughed Pocobello. “When he died, that name went downhill through the family until it stuck with me. It’s all good.”

Flaig remembered

The local racing community has spent the last few weeks remembering Eggertsville’s Dick Flaig, 80, a true local racing legend who died in Florida on March 27, while under hospice care. Flaig is one of the four greatest drivers in Holland Motorsport Complex history.

Flaig is a five-time Holland premier division champion, having co-authored a New Car division championship he shared in 1968 with the late Eddie Anchor. Flaig also earned Holland NASCAR Late Model titles in 1975, 1976, 1984 and 1989. He additionally amassed five Perry Speedway championships and garnered many other race wins at various tracks behind the wheel of his familiar No. 33 orange and white Genesee Beer Wagon sponsored cars.

Flaig was born March 29, 1935. His racing career spanned from the 1960s until 1989. He was inducted into the Friends of Auto Racing (FOAR Score) Fan Club’s Hall of Fame in 2001 and has been named one of the FOAR Score club’s top 25 drivers in Western New York auto racing history. After retiring as a truck driver in 2000, Flaig relocated to Florida.

In an article that appeared in Western New York Racing in recent years, writer Dan Hall wrote about a race run years ago at Perry Speedway that involved Flaig as well as Holland’s greatest driver and recent Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame inductee Art Clark.

“One of the most exciting races took place at Perry in 1972,” said Clark. “I had just wrecked my car and was not going to put it back together. Dick Flaig called me and offered his backup car. I drove it the next week and Dick said I could finish the season with the car. He told me to go ahead and make any changes that I want. I worked on the car and won the feature at Holland the next week.

“Towards the end of the season, Perry had Twin 50’s. I won both of the races. The second race was side-by-side racing for the last 25 laps. Flaig and I battled for the win. I finally got a nose in front for the second win of the day. That was a very gratifying race.”

Flaig held both Clark and that race in high regard as well.

“Art had just wrecked his car at Cayuga and I let him borrow my backup car,” said Flaig. “Art took it and set it up to his liking. The second race of the Perry Twin 50’s, Art sat on the pole. I led three quarters of each lap but a bump in Turn Four caused me to lift and Art would take the lead. There was only a few laps left and it dawned on me that there was nothing I could do about it. Art won and I finished a few inches back. I remember the size of the trophy he won, the smile on his face and the lipstick on his face!”

While Clark and Flaig competed and won in other divisions at Holland over the years including when the track was dirt, when it comes to wins achieved in Holland’s asphalt NASCAR Late Model division from 1971-2002, Flaig ranks a solid third in feature wins with 53, trailing only Clark with 82 and Rick Wylie with 60. Flaig’s first career Holland asphalt NASCAR Late Model victory came May 15, 1971 and his last Sept. 9, 1989.

Flaig’s legacy can ultimately be found in the large numbers of fans and supporters who wore his team’s t-shirts and jackets each week to Holland Speedway.

He was a true hero to them and was a major reason they kept coming back to Holland and other track for many decades.

Racing on the radio

Local racing radio shows set for 2016: “Fast Track” hosted by Dave Buchanan, WGR Sports Radio 550 AM, Sundays, 11 a.m.; “The KB Speedway Report”, with Doc Richards and Dave Sully, WWKB/ESPN 1520 AM, Saturdays, 8:30 a.m. and Ken Hangauer Jr’s “Motorsports Journal,” WXRL, 1300 AM, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, 8:30 a.m.