CANADIAN MARK SAMMUT CLAIMS FIRST CAREER HY-MILER WIN
By Carol D. Haynes
Photos by Jim Feeney
Sandusky, OH – London, Ontario’s Mark Sammut finally won his first and second winged ISMA features in 2009 after more than a decade of trying. He finished runner-up in ISMA points at year’s end. But, 2010 had not gone as well as the 78 team would have liked. In the first five races of the ISMA season, their best finish had been a sixth, that is until Saturday night’s 33rd annual Hy-Miler Nationals at Sandusky Speedway. Sammut took the early lead, lost it to fellow Canadian Mike Lichty and then quietly stayed with the 84 until he was ready to reclaim the point. On lap 77 Sammut pulled alongside Lichty. The duo ran side by side until turn four when Sammut plucked the Hy-Miler prize. It was Sammut’s race to lose now, and for the final 22 laps he held on for the biggest win of his supermodified career. He also became only the second Canadian to win the prestigious Hy-Miler race; the first being Dave McKnight in 2001. Sammut recapped his road to victory.
“This is something. We had a really bad car all weekend long. We kept messing with it
and messing with it. Finally before time trials today we thought it was coming around so we just pushed it a bit in that direction. We had a decent run in time trials. We had a decent run in the heat. I knew then that if we could stick with it we’d have a good car at the end of 100 laps. And we did. It was great.
“I had a touch more when Mike went by me. I knew I couldn’t go that pace and have anything left at the end so I just kind of let him go. I was just hoping I’d get some breaks and get back to him. If we didn’t, there was nothing I could do about it. As it turned out it worked out perfect. We were right where we wanted to be at the end of the race!
How did this win rank in his long career that has included numerous TQ midget wins and championships over the years?
“I was beginning to wonder if we were ever going to win another race, let alone a Classic. To put my name on the same list as some of the guys that have won this race, whether Canadian or American, like the Shoe, Doug Heveron - the list goes on and on - is unbelievable. To be put in the same category with all those guys is amazing.
“I have to especially thank my family. They put up with this all summer long – working on the racecar, going to the races almost every weekend. And the there are my sponsors. They have been with us for what seems to be forever. Curry Steel Erecting, he’s my biggest one and has been for years and years. Wells Foundry and Mobile Striping and Sweeping – they’ve all put us here and if it wasn’t for those three guys we wouldn’t be doing this at all. I have to thank them.”
The race concluded with a series of strange events, some of which helped Vernon, CT driver Rob Summers get to his second runner-up spot in the two races run on Saturday. With six laps to go, Summers was fifth, but by the checkered he was second as several cars ahead of him had or were running out of fuel.
Summers acknowledged the fact in victory lane. “It was quite a race. I was really surprised to finish where we did. We were fighting a hanging throttle for most of the race. The throttle was giving me a real headache. The car was set up good. Eric Lewis helped us out today. He was a real big help. Brian Allegresso, Doc, Caswell, Russ Wood, JWJ, Jeff Holbrook – all those guys. Two seconds - it was a great weekend!”
Third place finisher Jeff Locke acquired the podium spot on the last lap when Mike Lichty’s 84 began to fade gasping for fuel. Locke, in only his second year of competition in the big block supers was very happy.
“What a great race. I’m glad the fans stuck around. This is an awesome place to come to. There’s a lot of tradition and it’s a real honor to be in the top three on the podium here tonight. I have to thank Richard Witkum. He had to stay home this week and I know he’s wishing he were here right now. But, we did it. I’d like too thank my father obviously. I wouldn’t be here without him. He believed in me when not a lot of people did. So that’s the reason I’m here. The car is starting to run better. R&R Competition Engines builds awesome motors with awesome horsepower. This is unbelievable. I love it.”
To say that there was a full day of racing at Sandusky Saturday would be an understatement. Starting with the rained out 40-lapper bright and early at 10:30 am and ending with the last checkered 12 hours later, there was something for everyone.
Twenty-eight cars took time trials for the Hy-Miler with several – Bob Dawson, Justin Belfiore, Kyle Edwards. Michael Barnes and Brandon Bellinger experiencing problems prior to the start of qualifying. For the second day, Dave Shullick Jr. claimed the top spot on the list of 18 locked into the heats with a 14.493, bettering his Friday time.
Heats went to Jim Paller for his first ever ISMA checkered, Lichty and 4-time Hy-Miler winner Russ Wood with no consi necessary due to several cars dropping by the wayside with blown motors or other problems.
Mark Sammut sat outside of Ben Seitz as the field lined up to start the 33rd running of the Hy-Miler Nationals. The sky, unfortunately, was darkening and once again threats of rain played a key role in the events unfolding. Sammut wasted no time in taking the initial lead and Mike Lichty soon tucked in behind.
Jim Paller brought out the first of too many yellows on lap 9 and joined Michael Barnes and Craig Rayvals, already in the pits. Jim would come back but not for long.
Mike Lichty tried to battle by Sammut on the restart to no avail but he’d get another chance 3 laps later when the 19 of Trent Stephens brought out the second flag.
Dave Shullick Jr., the day’s fastest man, moved into third on this restart but the two Canadians out front pulled away to their own battle. Behind Shullick a torrid race was developing between Ben Seitz, Russ Wood, Johnny Benson Jr. and Charlie Schultz.
A scary moment for leader Sammut came on lap 20 when he brushed slightly with a slower car he was about to lap. No harm came of the move and Sammut continued his lead but not for long as Lichty was about to pounce. On lap 23, Lichty got around the 78 as the pair approached a lap car.
Lap 26 saw a yellow for Charlie Schultz, who had to be considered a strong contender for the win. Mike Ordway Sr. also pitted here having problems with the Miller 1. He returned at the tail.
Leader Lichty took off trailed by Sammut, Shullick Jr., Seitz, Benson, Wood, Randy Burch and Lou Cicconi and the race was able to maintain a fast flow until two consecutive yellows flew on lap 33 which put Schultz, Dave Shullick Sr. and Mike Ordway Sr. all out of the race due to mechanical ills.
On the restart of lap 33, Shullick Jr. dove past Sammut and headed for leader Lichty, but by lap 40, Lichty was able to pull away a bit until on lap 41 when Jon Henes hit the wall in four sending fluid onto the track. With 40 completed laps, refueling took place. Concern was now developing as to what the weather was going to do. The sky was beginning to light up in the distance. The hot, humid day was predictably going to produce more rain. When, was the question. Eleven more laps would complete the race according to rules. The decisions here, as to how much fuel to load, may have made critical to the race’s finishing order.
The green flag produced some scurrying for position behind Lichty and Shullick as Sammut had Randy Burch, who had started 18th, hot on his tail. Russ Wood looked to be playing the Hy-Miler game to his liking as he now moved into fifth around Seitz, Benson and Rob Summers. Cicconi and Tim Ice were right behind this trio.
Lichty and Shullick crossed the line at the halfway mark several car lengths head of the seven-car train behind them. The race was over if the rain came now. But it held off.
On lap 60, the 08 of Kyle Edwards slowed and was trying to dive into the pits just as the leaders approached creating one scary moment. But everyone got by cleanly and Edwards was pushed in
On the restart, it was Lichty, Shullick Jr., Sammut, Burch, Wood, Seitz, Benson, Summers, Ice, Cicconi and Locke. Moments later, a huge gasp went up from the crowd as the 61 of Shullick Jr. slowed and headed into the pits off turn 4, out of contention. The lower shaft in the rear end had broken, costing Shoe II a possible double victory. Car owner Clyde Booth said later, “We should have changed that after the wreck at Toledo and we didn’t. You change everything you think you should but just missed it. But, that happens.”
Now an onslaught of yellows flew fast and furious as position mattered on every lap as the skies lit up. On lap 63, fifth and sixth place runners Ben Seitz and Johnny Benson collided, sending Seitz into the inner rail, a massive puddle and out of the race on the flatbed. Benson was able to pit and re-enter.
Another collision occurred on the restart when the 49 of Cicconi and 37 of Locke brushed in 2. Both restarted but Randy Burch’s pass of Mark Sammut for second was negated in the process.
Green fell, but was followed by yellow as the 08 car was pushed onto the speedway and was unable to remain started.
Finally, after three attempts, the next restart stuck and Lichty led Sammut and now Burch to the green. On lap 64 Johnny Benson called it a night and pitted.
Another long green streak saw Lichty and Sammut pull away again while Burch held off Wood, Summers and Ice. Not many cars had survived this long.
All eyes were on the front pair now as lap after lap Sammut tried to get by Lichty and finally on lap 77, Mark made the pass off turn four to become the last leader the 100-lapper would see. He immediately put his foot into it putting a lap car between his 78 and Lichty’s 84.
On lap 96, it appeared evident that Sammut was headed for his first Hy-Miler win. Randy Burch, in a strong run, nailed Lichty for second when all hell broke loose. First, Russ Wood’s 29 in fourth, slowed and pitted. He was followed by Burch and Danny Lane, who also moved in for a gulp of fuel.
By lap 97, it was Sammut, Lichty, Summers, Locke and Ice out front by virtue of some low fuel cells. But someone else up front was getting down to fumes – Lichty. He tried to hold on but couldn’t as first Summers and then Locke moved in for the kill. Lichty settled for fourth as Ice claimed fifth. During the victory lane ceremonies, raindrops began to fall, too late for some, but not enough to dampen Mark Sammut’s parade!
Fourth place finisher Mike Lichty was the first to admit he was praying for the drops to fall earlier.
“ First off, hats off to Sammut. That’s awesome for him to win. We were so good right from the get-go to probably lap 60 right when Sammut started closing in and got by us. Caution after caution after caution. I don’t know what happened to the tire but right after the last restart we just got so loose and we junked the tire. There is nothing left of the right rear. Man, I wanted to win this one so bad. And, we had the car for it. We ran out of fuel coming down for the line and Jeff Locke got us for third there. I don’t know. We’ll just try it again next year. I was thinking after half way, seeing the lightning and saying man, rain, rain. The bugs were so bad I lost tearoffs. I couldn’t see. It was a complete disaster for us. But, we’ll take it. A fourth this morning and a fourth tonight. There was something definitely weird with the track. Usually we never get loose here. When I got by Sammut at the beginning I noticed he set the car up tight. It definitely paid off for him. We’ll have to go back to the drawing board and see what we have heading for Delaware.”
Tim Ice had a bittersweet description of his fifth place, which he felt could have been a fourth.
“I thought I was pretty decent but on that last restart I got jumped before the green and then he (37) ran into my left front wheel on the way by. No one seemed to see that. It was on the rim the last lap. I lost a spot on that. I was lucky to finish. I guess you take your chances. Maybe I’ll have to do that someday. Earlier in the race when somebody jumped, they put him to the tail. That’s where the 37 should have gone.
“I still don’t think the track conditions were very good this weekend. This just isn’t what we used to have here normally. I think all and all it was a pretty good race. There was a lot of hard racing. It was hard to pass so you saw a few get together out there. I don’t think anything was deliberate, just hard racing. My thing was I got the nose wing bent up early and I got a little tight. I was still able to get in the top five and pull away from that bunch.”
Randy Burch, Russ Wood and Bob Magner were the last cars in the lead lap in sixth through 8th. Dave Duggan and Lou Cicconi Jr. rounded out the top ten, 1 lap down.
SUMMARY Saturday, July 24, 2010, Sandusky Hy-Miler
Fast Time: Dave Shullick Jr. 14. 493.
Heat 1: Jim Paller, Johnny Benson Jr., Lou Cicconi, Trent Stephens, Rob Summers, Bob Magner, Jon Henes, Danny Lane, Michael Barnes (dns), Justin Belfiore (dns)
Heat 2: Mike Lichty, Ben Seitz, Dave Shullick Sr., Mike Ordway, Charlie Schultz, Kyle Edwards, Craig Rayvals, Jack Smith, Dave Duggan
Heat 3: Russ Wood, Dave Shullick Jr., Mark Sammut, Tim Ice, Jeff Locke, Randy Burch, Bobby Haynes Jr., Gene Lee Gibson, Brandon Bellinger
33rd Hy-Miler Nationals. 1. Mark Sammut (78), 2. Rob Summers (35), 3. Jeff Locke (37), 4. Mike Lichty (84), 5. Tim Ice (77), 6. Randy Burch (52), 7. Russ Wood (29), 8. Bob Magner (41), 9. Dave Duggan (51), 10. Lou Cicconi (49), 11. Danny Lane (97), 12. Johnny Benson Jr. (74), 13. Ben Seitz (17), 14. Kyle Edwards (08), 15. Dave Shullick Jr. (61), 16. Bobby Haynes Jr. (44), 17. Gene Lee Gibson (0), 18. Trent Stephens (19), 19. Jon Henes (36), 20. Jack Smith (09), 21. Dave Shullick Sr. (8), 22. Charlie Schultz (7), 23. Mike Ordway (1), 24. Jim Paller (64), 25. Craig Rayvals (04), 26. Brandon Bellinger (02), 27. Michael Barnes (70)