Karl Hehr was back at New York International Raceway Park on Friday for the resumption of the Tommy Druar/Tony Jankowiak Memorial 110, but only as a spectator and not behind the wheel.
Hehr, a Race of Champions Asphalt Modified Series competitor, is recovering from injuries suffered at NYIRP in an accident Aug. 17, just six laps into the Tommy/Tony race.
"It's good to be back here," Hehr said.
Hehr was involved in a frightening crash that took down part of the front stretch wheel fence. Fortunately, a few minutes after the incident, Hehr walked gingerly to the ambulance and was transported to the hospital, where he underwent surgery later that week for back-related issues.
Hehr is a popular veteran campaigner who also suffered a bad wreck about a decade ago at NYIRP, the track formerly known as Lancaster Speedway, but resumed his driving career after recovering from injuries from that accident. In the aftermath of this most recent serious accident, Hehr has decided to retire as a driver.
"Everything's going good," Hehr said. "I'm getting along. Everything's getting better every day and I feel decent. I've got to go back to the surgeons next week and get X-rays again, but I think everything's going good. I think I'll be fine.
"As far as me being a driver, I just want to put it out there right now that I am now retired as a driver. I might do something down the road for something else but that won't be driving. I'm out here supporting this weekend. I just want to thank everyone who gave me well-wishes the last few weeks and the track's safety crew. It meant a lot."
Hehr's weekend got even better Saturday. Hehr served as the crew chief for the two-car Western New York-based Hoddick Racing Sprint Car team. The team's drivers scored a one-two finish in the Canadian Sprint Car Nationals held at Ontario's Ohsweken Speedway. Alden's Scott Kreutter won the race followed by North Tonawanda's Matt Farnham. Hehr celebrated with them in Victory Lane.
Matt Hirschman captured his fourth career Tommy Druar/Tony Jankowiak Memorial 110 on Friday. Patrick Emerling finished second.
U.S. Open victors
The U.S. Open continued Saturday and Sunday.
On Sunday, Emerling rebounded from Friday's race by pulling away from the field late to defeat Andy Jankowiak, Mike Leaty, Matt Hirschman and Chuck Hossfeld in the Race of Champions Asphalt Modified Series U.S. Open 125. Emerling also won this race in 2016.
"My car was absolutely perfect today," Emerling said. "I had a runner-up finish here on Friday. I wasn't too happy with that. We changed shocks, springs and many other things since then and the car was faster and just more awesome today."
Also Sunday, Eldon King III outpaced Danny Knoll Jr. by three car lengths to capture the U.S. Open Late Model 30. It was King's first career U.S. Open triumph.
"My car was really good," King said. "Danny was very good and I had to keep a close eye on him in the final laps."
Rich Sharpe came from deep in the pack Sunday to win his fourth consecutive U.S. Open Street Stock 30 event and his fifth in the last six years.
"Everybody made changes to their cars after the rain delay, but we didn't and obviously it worked," Sharpe said.
Hossfeld emerged victorious in Saturday's ROC Sportsman Series Joe Reilly Memorial Crown Royal 54. With the victory, Hossfeld broke the tie he held at eight with Andy Jankowiak for the most career U.S. Open feature race wins. Hossfeld has won the Sportsman feature the last four years. He also has five U.S. Open Modified wins.
"To be at the U.S. Open and win is great," Hossfeld said. "I know that Andy has the majority of the fans here, but I do love the competition and the nine wins means a lot."
Joe Mancuso drove by T.J. Cochrane on lap seven to claim the lead and held off Tom Krawczyk and Jake Wylie on a late race restart to earn his fourth career U.S. Open Super Stock race triumph, prevailing in the John Julicher Sr. Memorial 30 on Saturday.
"I'm stunned," Mancuso said. "I never thought I would get a chance to race in one U.S. Open race let alone win four of them."
Also Saturday, Bobby Holmes drove past Kyle Hutchinson and Dave Wollaber to assume the lead on lap 14 in the ROC TQ Midget Series 25-lapper and then proceeded to keep a hard-charging Jankowiak and Wollaber at bay to claim victory. It was Holmes' second career U.S Open win.
Josh Schosek led every lap from the pole to defeat Charles Palmer and Dave Brunka to record victory in the ROC 4-Cylinder Dash Series U.S. Open Butch Palmer Memorial 25 on Saturday.
Stock car program returns
Track management announced that it has extended the agreement with ROC director Joe Skotnicki, allowing him to again operate the stock car program at the track in 2020. Next year's NYIRP stock car schedule is expected to be released in November.
During the U.S. Open, the ownership group unveiled a new track LED lighting system that was installed over the last few days.