anyone wanted to see Patrick Emerling race on an oval in this area, they eight had to go to Lancaster Speedway, Holland Motorsports Complex or Wyoming County International Speedway, all local asphalt tracks. Now, Emerling is hitting the dirt.
After excelling the last few seasons in both the Modifieds as well as the Sportsman-type cars, last fall Emerling decided he would begin his dirt-track racing career this season. He has entered the weekly Outlaw Modified class at Freedom Motorsports Park in Cattaraugus County. The Outlaw Modified division, along with Emerling, will debut Friday night in Freedom’s season opener.
Following the 2016 campaign at Delevan track, promoter Bob Reis decided to oust the RUSH Crate Late Models as Freedom’s headline class due to poor car counts. After much deliberation, Reis announced that a class new to Freedom, the Outlaw Modifieds, would become the track’s s top class.
While he will still actively campaign this season on the asphalt, Emerling is looking forward to the challenge ofracing on dirt.
"The dirt racing is bigger here in this area like Western New York and Central New York," said Emerling. "To run really competitively in the asphalt Modifieds, we have to run the ROC series and than we run the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, which is the most competitive series you can run in asphalt Modifieds. The problem for us is we’re just not located in the right area centrally speaking to run the NASCAR Whelen Tour, which runs most races in the New England region. We’ve got to drive seven hours just to race. The ROC gives us the chance to run a few local races and we’re more centrally located for the ROC, but then there’s only 14 races so we started thinking about doing something different.
"The dirt racing scene in my opinion has way more competitive guys. I think the competition level on dirt … is a lot higher than in any series I’ve ever run before. We can run against some really competitive guys locally at dirt tracks here and just three or four hours away. So this is something I’m looking to do."
The Outlaw Modifieds at Freedom this year will be allowed to run either big-block or small-block engines and can use sail panels on the rear of the bodywork to create added downforce. Also, competitors will be able to choose either American Racer or Hoosier brandtires.
Along with Emerling, who will utilize a small-block engine, others expected to make up the Outlaw Modified field include New York drivers Ron Cartwright Jr., Brian Sage, Randy Chrysler, Ray Bliss and Tony Pangrazio. Among the Pennsylvania contingent will be Kyle Fink and Brad Rapp. Canadians Scott Wood and Shayne Pierce are also expected to join the fray.
To help acclimate himself more quickly and efficiently to the rigors of dirt racing, Emerling has recruited an ally in his camp - retired FOAR Score Hall of Fame Modified standout driver Todd Burley. Burley has claimed many wins and championships at various dirt tracks over the years as well as an asphalt Modified title at Lancaster in 1998.
"Todd’s been a really big help," said Emerling. "I haven’t really been around dirt ever so I know nothing about anything that you do as far as preparing the tires, grooving them and all that stuff. I don’t know much about the cars or the way that you read the track or even much about how you drive these cars. So it’s good to have a guy like Todd, who is an experienced guy to help with the learning curve. He will shorten up my learning curve."
Emerling drove in his first career dirt track Modified event April 30 at Utica-Rome Speedway in Vernon.
"It went pretty well for us," said Emerling. "We went up against the best of the best and I wasn’t looking to light the world on fire. I made some laps and passed some guys and it was good. I think it seems more difficult to drive a car on dirt but that’s probably just because we’ve been doing the asphalt stuff for quite awhile.
"Driving asphalt cars has become second nature for me. So when I’m running a dirt car for the first time and they drive completely different – such as you’re supposed to slide sideways more on dirt – it’s just going to take some getting used to. Towards the end of the race at Utica-Rome, I was starting to figure it out a little bit." Emerling placed 16th in the 24-car field.
Fans will find it most interesting to see how both Emerling and the Outlaw Modified program fare throughout their maiden seasons at Freedom.
On two weather related notes: Holland’s stock car practice, set for Saturday, has been cancelled due to wet grounds. Lancaster’s rain-postponed May 6 stock car program has been rescheduled for May 25 at 7 p.m.