Marne, MI : Chris Perley drove to his fifth straight ISMA win at the Berlin Raceway Saturday night but it wasn’t a walk in the park for the Rowley Rocket. Mark Sammut jumped into the lead after a lengthy race stoppage which saw Johnny Benson Jr. pretty much destroy his new 21 super after a hard hit into the wall bringing out a red flag situation. John’s car erupted into flames and Benson was taken to an area hospital for treatment. When the race resumed with one lap down, Mark Sammut moved quickly into the lead. It took Perley until lap 37 to get by the Canadian driver who is looking for his ISMA first. The win was Perley’s first of the young season making him the third different winner in three outings.
Perley replayed his night. “We guessed tonight that the track was going to chew up tires so we were going to have to be really, really tight or really lucky. Sammut looked like he was perfect. As the race went on he was getting a little too snug and he couldn’t turn it. He left me the bottom. I was having trouble clearing lap cars because I was really loose and then my brakes fell off or something. I couldn’t really crowd a lap car because I had no brakes and I’d run into him. I finally cleared lap cars and went after Mark. But every time I got close to him, I’d get really loose. I didn’t know if I was going to make it. Then he slowed up just a little and gave me the bottom and I got lucky. This one probably should have been Mark’s. Thanks to my crew who never give up and to all the fans who came out to watch.”
Sammut was content with his second top five finish in two days. “Finishing second to the number 11 is just like winning in ISMA. I guess it’s the same. The car was really good at the start and we were out there. I didn’t even expect it to be that good. The farther I went, the tighter the car went. We got into the traffic and it held me up. It wasn’t anything intentional. The car was just going away. The restarts were actually helping me because for two or three laps we had a good car again. It just wasn’t our night to beat the 11. I’m happy with the run.”
The third place finisher was another Canadian seeking that elusive first timer. Mike Lichty was able to close in on Sammut in the waning laps but did not have enough to pass.
Mike said at the podium, “We just didn’t make the correct adjustments for the feature. The track loosened up pretty good. It was unfortunate to see Johnny go to the hospital after that crash.”
During the track cleanup, the Lichty team made a decision. “We just said we’re one lap in, we might just as well come in and make our adjustment. The car was decent afterward, but still a little loose. I would have liked to have made that adjustment earlier and run the whole 50 laps that way. Starting sixth, I think we would have been pretty good. This is a tricky race track. You’re always hard on the right rear. As I said we just didn’t adjust properly. My hats off to the crew. Can’t say enough about them. Thanks to everyone for coming out tonight.”
The shorter than normal ISMA field due to attrition from the previous night’s Toledo event, was led to the green by Bobby Haynes and Larry Lehnert with Haynes leading the first circuit. But a devastating crash stopped the race for almost an hour when Johnny Benson Jr. climbed the wheel of the Lehnert 92 while attempting a pass and ended up smacking the wall on the motor side so hard that the fuel line was cut on the 21. The fuel cell performed perfectly. A huge ball of fire erupted from the car, which was quickly extinguished by the Berlin safety crew. The ambulance personnel on the scene attended to Benson who was taken to an area care center for medical attention.
Excerpt from the Berlin Raceway website. "Benson Sr. said. “The car’s driver side hit the wall hard, and it’s a testament to the Hans (head and neck safety) device and the safety seat in the supermodified car that held him in place so well. I have to commend the safety crew and ambulance crew at Berlin Raceway for their quick response - they did their job well, putting the fire out quickly and taking care of Johnny.”
Benson Sr. said the fuel line was cut in two when it was pinched between the rear axle and the frame. The alcohol-based fuel that these supermodified cars use burns blue and very hot, and Benson managed to come out of it with barely any burns due to the quick response by the safety crew. The frame of the car was not bent badly, and all of the safety aspects of the car held up well, which allowed Benson to escape without major injuries."
Mark Sammut grabbed the point when the race resumed and immediately tried to put some distance on the pack, which he did by the fifth circuit. Jeff Holbrook, Bobby Haynes Jr., Danny Lane and Mike Ordway Jr. trailed closely.
A long green stretch was advantageous to the London, Ontario driver out front but movement throughout the field saw Chris Perley coming up past a number of cars to move into third behind Jeff Holbrook. Lane, Ordway Jr., Russ Wood, Haynes and Lichty headed up the line racing behind.
As Perley and Holbrook dueled for second, Sammut added a couple lap cars for insurance between his 78 and the challengers. Perley took second on lap 16 and now hunted for Sammut, but by the midway point, Sammut had a three-lap car cushion. Holbrook fended off Russ Wood, Ordway Jr., Lichty, Lane, and more as he tried to keep third.
A quick spin by Danny Lane brought out the yellow to slow things down on lap 32, something Sammut did not need. Only two cars separated Sammut and Perley on the green.
Methodically, Perley crept up on the leader Sammut, getting by the lap cars. On lap 36 he was within shooting distance but because of lack of brakes he wanted to make the pass without incident. “I had to creep up on him. He slowed just a little, and I went by. I was lucky. I should have spun out going by Mark.”
Now the Rowley driver moved to a comfortable lead, and did what he’d done the previous four visits at Berlin, head for victory lane. Back in the pack, Sammut was safe in second when the counter ticked to 40 as Mike Lichty, Jeff Holbrook, Russ Wood, Ordway Jr. and Haynes still battled behind.
Ordway Jr.’s battle ended shortly thereafter when the 41 slowed and stopped on the front straight. The car was pushed in and the crew splashed in fuel, but that was not the cure. Lack of fuel was not the problem. The car would not fire and it was parked.
Straight green now finished up the race with Perley well out front of Sammut who was challenged by Mike Lichty to the end. Russ Wood was fourth and Haynes Jr. scored his first-ever ISMA top five at the checkered.
Russ Wood, the previous night’s winner, was content with his fourth place finish to complete a good weekend. “We had an awesome car in the heat race. In the feature we were a little too free. We didn’t get the car tight enough. We were kind of hanging on for fourth. We had a good weekend. All the cars are in one piece. We didn’t do too bad.”
Bobby Haynes Jr. ran the race of his short career to gain his first top five. “It was awesome. I think we had a better car than that. I spent half my time looking at my gauges. The car was having low oil pressure and I just wasn’t real consistent with my marks. On the extended green the car was great. The car was under me at the end when everybody else was slowing down. That’s what was important. I told my dad he gave me a top three-race car and with a little more experience on my part, it could have been there. This is great.”
Jeff Holbrook, Danny Lane, Jeff Abold, Rob Summers and Vern Romanoski finished up the top ten.
SUMMARY - ISMA Event #3 - JUNE 13, 2009 - BERLIN
Heat 1: Johnny Benson Jr., Jeff Holbrook, Jeff Abold, Bobby Haynes, Rich Reid, Jim Paller, Brandon Bellinger
Heat 2: Chris Perley, Mike Ordway Jr., Larry Lehnert, Rob Summers, Ben Seitz, Vern Romanoski, Dave Duggan
Heat 3: Russ Wood, Mike Lichty, Mark Sammut, Danny Lane, Michael Barnes, Craig Rayvals
ISMA 50: 1. Chris Perley (11), 2. Mark Sammut (78), 3. Mike Lichty (84), 4. Russ Wood (29), 5. Bobby Haynes Jr. (44), 6. Jeff Holbrook (35), 7. Danny Lane (9), 8. Jeff Abold (05), 9. Rob Summers (97), 10. Vern Romanoski (5), 11. Craig Rayvals (95), 12. Ben Seitz (88), 13. Rich Reid (55), 14. Dave Duggan (51), 15. Mike Ordway Jr. (41), 16. Michael Barnes (70), 17. Jim Paller (64), 18. Brandon Bellinger (02), 19. Larry Lehnert (92), 20, Johnny Benson Jr. (21).