On a night when New York International Raceway Park celebrated the opening of a new ownership era at the track formerly known as Lancaster National Speedway, Alan Fletcher reminded everyone of the track's rich drag-racing history.
Fletcher, who has raced at Lancaster on his motorcycle since 1986, and by his count owns 13 Bike/Sled titles there, won again Friday, besting the fast snowmobile of Lucas Salemi.
Fletcher's win was accomplished during the track's 2019 IHRA weekly drag racing points season opener. It was the first event run under the ownership duo of local businessmen/drag racers Mike Swinarski and Vito Antonicelli, who purchased the facility April 30.
The new owners were rewarded with 177 drag-racing vehicles in the pits Friday, a big improvement over the 148 that participated in the 2018 opener.
Fletcher has raced at NYIRP through many management, track name and ownership changes over his career. He was appreciative of the new owners recent track-grinding efforts to make the drag strip surface smoother.
"It's great to win the first night with new track owners," Fletcher said. "I love it. I was just testing and tuning and playing around out there and I ended up winning. They made the track smoother. I had no problem all night long with the track. My bike ran the same number every pass.
"I moved up here from Illinois in 1986 and I've been here ever since. I began racing in Illinois in 1974. I think the new owners are going to do a good job. They're both racers so they both know what people want."
Both Swinarski and Antonicelli were pleased with the opener, despite a few normal minor kinks. Swinarski competed in the Top class but suffered a mechanical failure, which ended his night very early. Antonicelli did not compete, choosing to concentrate on the night's operational matters.
"We had a lot of cars here tonight," Swinarski said. "I just have to fix my car but that's no problem. I broke the header. I just got to weld it up and it will be fine."
Antonicelli was equally pleased with Friday's event.
"This has been a very big day for us," Antonicelli said. "I'm very impressed with everybody that came out to support us. I hope they all come back a few more times. I hope the track was good enough for them. It was a great night.
"It was the staff and all my friends that made tonight happen. I couldn't have done it without them. I haven't had this big a smile on my face since I married my wife Sylvia. I don't think anything went wrong tonight. Actually, I wish we had a couple more hours of sunlight but we've got to do what we've got to do.
"We got a lot accomplished in the near month since we bought this place and we need about another month to catch up with more details. I can't believe what we've accomplished in the short time we've owned the track. My wife has been up very late every night and I think what we can accomplish in the future will be very impressive."
When Antonicelli found out that Swinarski's car broke down, Antonicelli injected some light-hearted humor into the conversation.
"He blamed it on me because he said I had him working too hard here at the track so he didn't have a chance to work on his race car," Antonicelli said while laughing. "What can you do?"
Canadian racer Joe Passero won his second consecutive Top 8 race held at the Lancaster track dating back to last year's season finale. The wins represent a rebound effort by Passero following a recent health complication.
"I was very worried that this track wasn't going to open this year but I'm glad we're here," Passero said. "I had a hernia all last summer and I couldn't get out racing. By the time I finally got out, it was late and I came to the last event of last year here and that was it. I ended up winning that night and tonight."
In other racing Friday at NYIRP, Chris Scarlata was victorious in both the Buffalo Street Outlaw 6.50 and BSO 5.50 classes. Moe Alfaqih was best in BSO Outlaw Street. Pete Maduri Sr. captured the TNT Super Series class. Derrick Kovach claimed Street. The Top and Mod class eliminations were not completed due to curfew.
NYIRP continues its IHRA weekly points season on Friday. The six-race, limited stock car campaign commences June 27.