History was made this past Friday evening when the first green flags of a new season were thrown in the small Southern Erie County hamlet of Holland. While race engines have been heard at the high-banked asphalt oval that has been located there for nearly 60 years, this was the first races to be conduced at The Track at Hillside.
For those who may be confused, The Track at Hillside has previously been known for the last 58 years as Holland International Speedway.
This season the facility that opened its 59th campaign Friday has a new operator, local businessman Daniel J. Hutchinson, who renamed the NASCAR-sanctioned facility. Along with a slate of seven race nights of stock car competition this season on the track's long-running traditional Saturday, Hutchinson has also added a six-race slate of Friday night shows; last Friday was the first of those.
For the first time out of the box, Hutchinson and his race staff, which included many new officials, ran a organized program with just a few normal opening-day glitches. A small grandstand crowd of around 300 showed up along with 45 race cars comprised of nine SST Modifieds; nine Street Stock 8's; 13 Street Stock 4's and 14 NYPA TQ Midgets.
Buffalo's Nick Johnston is the new track manager for Hillside. He gave a quick evaluation of last Friday's opener.
"I thought our first night went smoothly," Johnston said. "It was a trial-and-error type thing. I think it was good to see what is all involved in a race night. There's a lot of room for improvement. But I was extremely pleased with the drivers' great attitude and their acceptance of the new management. Also the respect they had for each other.
"I thank all our officials. They were amazing in helping me. They all showed up and did their jobs well. We had enough race cars here to put on a good show. I do expect some headaches throughout the year. It's all the little glitches that start to come to the surface when you have the people at the track and you hear them talking. We also have a lot of construction projects going on at our facility and I hope the fans can understand. It may seem that it's worse but all the improvements to the facility will be worth it for the fans."
History will show that Patrick Emerling was the victor of the first SST Modified race of the new era, dominating last Friday's 40-lap contest. Emerling has had a fantastic start to his 2018 campaign, also emerging victorious in the ROC Modified Queen City Clash 75 on May 12 at Lancaster Speedway.
Emerling's biggest dilemma last week was whether he would be at Hillside in the first place. Emerling also races on dirt Friday nights in the Outlaw Modified class at Freedom Motorsports Park and their season opener was also last Friday. Emerling chose Hillside.
"It was a really tough decision," Emerling said. "I wanted to help out Matt Druar at Hillside. He's running and I wanted to help him out and get him going pretty good. Also, my car chief's son Ed Hawkins is racing here, too, so I wouldn't have probably had the crew to go to Freedom.
"It was really a toss up. I need to get my dirt car going better and need more dirt-track experience more than anything. I will try to make it up and run a couple extra dirt shows somewhere. I don't think I'm going to run full time here at Hillside but when we have a Friday or Saturday off and we don't have an asphalt Modified race elsewhere I will love to come down here and have some fun."
Hillside's season continues this Saturday witha new start time of 4 p.m. this season.