Patrick Emerling took the checkered flag in the Race of Champions Asphalt Modified Tour “Thunder in The Hills 100” Saturday at Holland Motorsports Complex. That is nothing new as Emerling has been the hottest driver on the traveling series. Saturday’s triumph was his fourth Race of Champions victory this season.
What was new was that for the first time in Race of Champions history at Holland, by rule, the teams were allowed no tire changes during the “Thunder in The Hills 100”. In the past teams could go to the pits during the race to get fresh rubber.
Hoosier worked in recent months with series management, led by owner/promoter Joe Skotnicki of Elma to try to alter their existing tire inventory to go longer distances. Based on recent races Skotnicki felt confident the tires would last 100 laps at Holland with no negative effects. He turned out to be correct.
“I want to stress that Hoosier did not develop a totally new tire here,” said Skotnicki. “We worked with them and we took a tire that’s been around and used in other series in the past and we figured out and chose a combination that we thought would marry the right tire compound of choice with a better sidewall construction and last over a longer distance in races. We’ve used this new tire configuration all season and this was its first use at Holland.”
As a result Saturday, teams had to use good tire management strategy. It also put more emphasis on a driver’s ability by putting the race back in their hands based more on driving talent than fresh tires. It also saved the teams much serious tire bill money.
As a by-product of the policy it helped lead to a much quicker-paced race because under cautions the field was not running many extra slow caution laps while teams made pit stops for tire changes. Once the cause of the cautions was cleared it was right back to green flag racing.
“I have a personal opinion that there is an urgency to entertain fans and that means shorter caution periods when possible and more green flag laps,” said Skotnicki. “So the combination of no-tire pit stops, electronic scoring to realign the cars under caution and counting caution laps during certain portions of the race moves the show along quicker for the fans.”
According to Skotnicki, only one driver, Chuck Hossfeld objected to the no-tire change rule, wishing that tire changes could have been made.
Emerling passed Jimmy Zacharias on Lap 86 to go on and score the win. Zacharias was second and Andy Jankowiak was third. All three approved of the no-tire change rule.
“Whatever the officials want to do that’s fine with me,” said Emerling. “As long as we are all on the same playing field that’s fine. You have to adjust to it and I think that’s what we did.”
With the Holland win, Emerling has scored four wins in eight Race of Champions events. He also won at Oswego and twice at Lancaster.
Zacharias enjoyed his upfront joust with Emerling.
“I liked this race a lot better than when we change tires,” said Zacharias. “It makes the drivers race instead of seeing who can stroke along the longest until they can come in for a fresh right rear tire and try to bull they’re way back through . I’m all for this no-tire change. It makes for better racing. You saw that tonight. Patrick and me were running ten laps, side-by-side for the lead and if we had tire stops you probably wouldn’t have seen that kind of racing.”
While Emerling and Zacharias started near the front of the 26-car field, fifth and eighth respectively, Jankowiak came from deep in the pack, 18th and was able to get to third place, proving that one can work hard all race long to get to the front and the Hoosier product will hold up.
“It saved me $200 bucks tonight and I got to the front,” said Jankowiak of the tire rule. Jankowiak approved the overall job that Skotnicki is doing in managing the series since he purchased it a little over a year ago.
“Joe’s going to do a great job with it,” said Jankowiak. “He’s the most brilliant mind that we have in our area as far as how to promote and make money at it and be successful. It will take a little bit of time but people will see that it’s going to be good.”
One of the more special moments in recent Holland racing history took place Saturday when Hornet division driver Michele Maltby became the third generation of her family to score a feature race win at the track. Michele joined her grandfather Floyd Maltby and father Ken Maltby as Holland winners.
Michele took the lead early and held off the strong challenges of Kathie Ricketson to score the emotional win in the 25-lap contest.
“This feels amazing,” said Michele, who has raced four years in the Hornet-type cars at Holland. “I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet. My car really wasn’t that great in the heat so we changed some things for the feature and I was just screaming in my car when I got that checkered flag. It means a lot to have my dad here with me. It’s a whole family affair here tonight.”
“I love it. I was just counting the laps down and saying ‘hang in there kid and do what I told you and you’ll be there.’ said Ken Maltby. “We’re all happy.”
Michele’s sister Nikki Maltby also races in the Hornet class.