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Larry Ott: Skora and Emerling check big wins off Modified bucket lists

After coming close to a first career victory in the Race of Champions Asphalt Modified Series, George Skora III finally blew that door down when he scored an emotional and convincing win in the  Tommy Druar/Tony Jankowiak Memorial 110 which ended early Sunday morning  at Lancaster National Speedway and Dragway.

Earlier in the week, Patrick Emerling, after trying for the last few seasons to get a victory on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, finally earned that elusive checkered flag when he dominated the Whelen race in Bristol, Tenn., last Wednesday to score the big win.

Just prior to the start of Lancaster's 6:30 p.m. race start time on Saturday evening, a brief rain storm soaked the track and a long delay ensued to dry the speedway. Racing began at 9 p.m. on  Lancaster's inner oval with the  4-Cylinder feature. After another hour delay, Lancaster's larger outer oval was ready and the Street Stocks ran their feature. The Modifieds then ran their time trials and the Tommy/Tony race finally got the green flag just before 11:30. Skora crossed the finish line at 12:15 a.m. Sunday.

For Skora III, it was worth the wait. The victory also represented a big comeback of sorts for Skora III, who  was involved in a heavy accident July 22 in the Thunder in the Hills 100 at Holland Speedway that caused extensive damage to his car. The team has been rebuilding ever since.

"Finally we got that monkey off our back," Skora III said. "What a day. We got the car back together from Holland. We had to skip the Chemung race. I figured we'd get this thing back together and come back and give the Tommy/Tony race, the US Open and the Lake Erie 250 all our devotion.

"You know I've been racing my whole career from Go-Karts and you dream of a moment of getting a Modified tour type win and I finally did it. It means a lot, especially for my dad. It's really special for him. I'm a ROC winner and I like the sound of that."

Skora III began the Tommy/Tony race in 12th position, dropped back a bit as Emerling was leading. On lap 33, Bobby Holmes passed Emerling for the top spot. Under caution, Skora pitted on lap 40. From there Skora III launched his run toward the front of the field.

On a lap 71 restart, Skora III restarted sixth behind Holmes, Andy Jankowiak, Mike Leaty, Emerling and Scott Wylie. Then a huge moment occurred at the front of the field on a scrambled restart with Emerling getting ricocheted into the outside wall as Leaty spun out. Jankowiak also received some accident damage.

Officials banished Holmes to the rear of the field for an improper restart. Also going to the back of the pack was Jankowiak who visited the pits for quick repairs, Leaty for being involved in the caution and Wylie who chose to make a pit stop. Skora III found himself inheriting the lead over Tommy Catalano. When the race resumed Skora III ran his fastest laps over the remaining distance to score the win over Catalano and a rebounding Jankowiak.

Skora's team made key mid-race adjustments Saturday.

"The car was off to start the race," Skora III said. "I was loose. I came in and pitted. We changed the right rear tire and dropped the stagger. We put wedge in it and just rode until the caution started bringing more cautions. I don't know what happened there on that crazy restart whether Bobby (Holmes) jumped it and Andy (Jankowiak) got sideways trying to keep up with him but they made contact and Pat (Emerling) took the brunt of it hitting the wall. Hey, you got to be lucky sometimes, too, in order to win these races. It's just not about having a great car. I finally had both come together."

Skora III, of Eden, appeared to be in the catbird's seat June 30 at Lancaster when he was leading the Race of Champions Ol' Boy Cup 60 when mechanical failure ended his night on lap 53 with the checkered flag in sight. He has run well in many other ROC events over the last year but victory was proving elusive until Sunday.

"We've run well all year long here at Lancaster so to finally get one is really special to me," Skora III said. "Also to win a memorial race named after two great drivers, Tommy Druar and Tony Jankowiak means a lot."

George Skora Jr., a retired racer who had much success in his career including the 1984 Holland NASCAR Charger championship, relished his son's victory celebration.

"We've been running good here," Skora Jr., said. "Every time we've been here we've been competitive but tonight was great. We were leading the Ol' Boy Cup and broke a rocker. We had to rebuild after Holland and we skipped Chemung but we wanted to do well tonight in front of the home crowd. I'm proud of George."

Despite his race ending crash Saturday, the Emerling team is still savoring their victory at Bristol. The Orchard Park drive has won numerous Race of Champions races and took last season's ROC championship but had never won a NASCAR Whelen Modified race but had been close on a few occasions. He dominated the Bristol affair, winning the Coors Light pole award and leading all but two of the 150 circuits. Emerling's previous best Whelen finish was a second at New Hampshire in 2015.

"That was a really good day at Bristol," Emerling said. "I only ran a handful of laps in practice and I was fastest and then I was at the top of the charts in qualifying. Then in the race I had a really good race car that just stayed really consistent for us. I was able to maintain the lead and kind of pulled away toward the end. I've run at Bristol in the past a handful of times. My first year down there I had a fifth. I've had a few top fives down there. That's one of our good places.

"Bristol is very fast. We run in qualifying a 14.5 (seconds) at 132 miles per hour around Bristol's half mile. It's the fastest track we run. That track is nothing like anything else we run. It's a big deal to finally get a NASCAR Modified win. We've been closing in on it. Now we got it."

 

 

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