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Larry Ott’s WNY Auto Racing: Leaty passes on some secrets to Emerling

For many decades, retired asphalt Modified standout Jan Leaty has witnessed much as a driver, racing father, car owner, crew chief and mentor. Leaty has competed against the best in local and national competition, whether from behind the wheel or from the pits as car owner and crew chief.

Leaty knows what it takes to be successful in this difficult sport. Simply, he has seen it all.

A few seasons ago, after stepping away from the cockpit, Jan mentored his son, Mike Leaty, who has gone on to enjoy a solid asphalt Modified driving career.

Three years ago Jan took a very young Patrick Emerling under his wing and began educating the Orchard Park.

Not only has Jan been successful in molding Emerling’s driving career but based on the results of the last two seasons, Emerling has earned an asphalt Modified driving master’s degree.

Jan enjoyed one of the more remarkable nights of his career Saturday when both cars he currently owns raced to top four finishes in the Race of Champions Asphalt Modified Tour 27th Annual Tommy Druar/Tony Jankowiak Memorial 110, at Lancaster National Speedway and Dragway.

For the sixth time in 12 Race of Champions events in 2016, Emerling won with Mike Leaty placing fourth.

Emerling won this same event a year ago. Included in Emerling’s six 2016 Race of Champions triumphs are three at Lancaster plus the “Thunder in the Hills 100,” at Holland Motorsports Complex, July 9.

Emerling has also won four Sportsman class races this season at Lancaster as well as the NASCAR Pro Modified/Sportsman George Decker Memorial 75, July 30 at Holland. His season has been stellar.

“He’s really developed as a special talent,” Jan Leaty said of Emerling’s progress. “He’s a really nice, well-spoken kid. He’s easy to work with. He’s got talent.”

On Saturday, Emerling held off a very determined Chuck Hossfeld by a car length for victory in what turned into a race of contrasting pit strategies. Emerling ran all 110 laps without making a stop for a tire change while Hossfeld went pit side on lap 54 for a tire change.

Despite having the older tires, Emerling found a way to keep Hossfeld at bay.

“Tonight’s strategy was in flux,” said Jan. “We didn’t know what we were going to do but that’s the way it played out. We worked together on strategy and saving tires and some of the things I’ve learned that I can pass on to Patrick. It works out for him. It’s a real lot of work keeping two cars ready to come to the track and be competitive like that, but we’re learning a lot from doing it that way too so it’s been good.

“Tony Jankowiak and Tommy Druar were both personal friends of mine along with competitors. I’ve won this race a couple times and I was very proud of it and I’m glad Patrick was able to also.”

Jan won the Tommy Druar/Tony Jankowiak Memorial in 1995 and 2007.

“Jan has meant a great deal to my career,” Emerling said in Victory Lane. “He taught me a lot and the Leaty family are great racers but they’re also class act people. They’re the kind of people you want to be around. I owe a lot to them. Together we just make a great team.

“Last year we figured out how we should be running and this year we wanted to go for more wins and then the championship. This year we’ve already met our expectations with that.”

Emerling, who leads Hossfeld in Race of Champions points with just three races remaining this season, explained Saturday’s no tire change pit stop strategy.

“We took a gamble,” he said. “We know these tires last pretty well on those longer runs. We played the track position game and tried to ride it out and we had that track position at the end.”

Hossfeld exited his car after the race and briefly complained of Emerling’s driving style over the final lap.. He offered a brief objection but did not explain his specific issues.

“I don’t have a whole lot to say, to be honest with you, about the way I was raced by (Emerling),” said Hossfeld. “I’m just sick of it, that’s all.”

When told of Hossfeld’s objections, Emerling was surprised.

“All I did was try to protect the bottom there,” Emerling said. “The best way to pass around here is the bottom. I was hanging around the bottom. I gave him the top and I didn’t move my car around for him. I tried to make myself tough to pass but I didn’t intentionally try to stop him from racing me. I like Chuck.”

Daryl Lewis Jr. enjoyed an Race of Champions career-best third place run Saturday.

Despite his young career, Emerling is now tied for seventh on the Race of Champions all-time win list with T.J. Potzrebowski and J.R. Kent.

Also at Lancaster Saturday, NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Ryan Preece of Berlin, Conn. – fresh off a solid 15th-place finish in the Xfinity Series race Friday at Bristol – came to Lancaster to drive the Frank Booker Jr.-owned asphalt Modified. Longtime veteran crew chief Trey Hoddick, along with his son Todd Hoddick, assisted the Booker team.

Despite never having raced at Lancaster before, Preece acquitted himself very well, leading the Tommy/Tony race early. After making a pit stop from second place on lap 74, Preece raced back through the field to fifth before finishing ninth.

First timers

Several drivers enjoyed their first feature wins of the season last weekend including: Nick Joy, 358 Modifieds, Ransomville; Steve Lewis Jr., Sportsman, Ransomville; Nick Snayczuk, Crate Late Models, Genesee; Brian Bellinger, Sportsman, Genesee.


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