JON MCKENNEDY CLAIMS HIS FIRST STAR CLASSC CROWN IN CONVINCING FASHION
By Carol D. Haynes, ISMA PR; photos by Jim Feeney
Epping, NH – The only thing that could have kept Chelmsford’s Jon McKennedy from winning the Star Classic Saturday night was the possible rain looming in the distance. But the weather held off and Jon, who had diced back and forth with Rob Summers for the lead for much of the 150 lapper until Summers’ demise on lap 105, took off to lap most of the remaining field by race end. His win of the 48th running of the prestigious Classic was the biggest of his career. McKennedy, after numerous modified achievements, had chosen to run ISMA full time in 2013 and the decision gave him one of the most rewarding wins of his life.
Said Jon from amidst the huge throng of well-wishers who streamed onto the quarter-mile asphalt track after the race, “It feels good to finally win the Classic. This race brings some of the best drivers around and to say I won one is awesome. I’ve been so close at times … I think I finished second twice …and I never could get the win and tonight I finally did. Those last thirty laps seemed like 200 laps. I couldn’t wait for it to get over. The car ran really good. We got fast time today. At the beginning of the race we were a little tight. Robbie caught me off guard there when he got behind me in traffic. But when I got back in clean air the car was just awesome.
I want to thank all the guys and the sponsors, Power Mist, Tower News, LH Wheeler Trucking, And, a big thanks to Paul Dunigan Jr.- this is his car. I’m a lucky man to get to drive it. Without him this wouldn’t be possible. This is a great team to work with. I don’t really think this win has sunk in yet.
I think that red flag helped with the heat cycle. Before that I was real tight going in. I was trying to make it turn with the rear brakes. I think at one point I actually lost my brakes. So the red flag was definitely in my favor. I could deal with the car after that. After the red it was a whole different car again. I’d just like to say this is a really big win. This is a really big race. There is a lot of great talent here tonight. A lot of great cars. I’ve raced a lot of years now and in a lot of long distance races. This is definitely one of the toughest to win. It’s tough with 150 green flag laps and with as fast as these cars are. There is a lot of g-force on the body. And you start to get a little fatigued at the end. If you had told me when I was a little kid, I always wanted to win the Star Classic and now I have.”
Another career high came when second-generation driver, Jeff Abold pulled into victory lane in second. “This is the best car I ever had. I have to thank my dad, Larry, my grandpa, everybody there. They gave me the far best car I’ve ever had in a supermodified. And this is my best finish here. Every time we bring the car out here I always seem to have a great run on these short tracks especially at Star. This is definitely my favorite track on the ISMA tour.”
Jeff, who also campaigns a NEMA midget mentioned his plans for the rest of the year. “We’ll run the last race at Oswego Speedway next week and at Thompson we’ll be running the NEMA midget. Hopefully we’ll have the new car we purposely built for Oswego get going for next year. We’re looking forward to it. It’s going to be a long winter but we’ll see what we can do. Thanks to everybody here for coming out and supporting us.”
Joey Payne finished what possibly was the toughest race out there for a driver, in third. The Jersey Jet described it this way, “We had our hands full tonight. The car was good all day long. Then in the race the wing strut broke. I could see it flopping around. I knew it was raining and I just wanted to get to halfway in case they cancelled the race. I was still hanging in the top three, top four. For 145 laps I drove the car sideways sometimes as it was wicked loose. The car was getting worse and worse but I have a lot of laps around this place and I know how to make a car go pretty good. When these wings become fixed, it puts a lot of drag on the car. We didn’t have a lot of straightaway speed and I think I wore the tires out because it was putting so much drag on the car. I never give up. A lot of guys would have pulled off the track but the wing like that. Some guys under the red said I should pull off. You don’t beat somebody like that. If you want to beat them, you beat them on the track and not by having them go in the pits.
“I have to thank Howie Lane and the guys. Two weeks ago they asked me to drive this thing and we were running real good at Oswego and something broke on the car. To come back tonight and get a top three is awesome. We hung in there and caught lap traffic at the end. I caught Louie and was right on Jeff. I thought I was going to get them both in that one shot. Howie needed a good run. I needed a good run. It’s been a rough season for me. I’d like to thank the Webber family for putting this race on. I’d just like to say to the fans, you have to support your local tracks. These guys are keeping these races going and without the fans, there a lot of tracks going my the wayside.”
The top sixteen cars were locked in via time trials with the top 12 of those handicapped using the ISMA money won system. Jon McKennedy set a torrid 11.015 lap, with Jeff Locke second fastest with an 11.197. Lou Cicconi (11.22), Ben Seitz (11.288) and Chris Perley (11.370) in the top five. A ten car consi was slated to fill the 22-car starting field (with two options available), when the threat of rain changed plans. The consi was scrapped and the remainder of the field filled by time trials. Several cars, the 2 of Emhoff and the 94 of Rayvals scratched from the line-up leaving 25 cars to take the green.
Joey Payne and McKennedy led the way to green with Payne taking the early shift at the point, but McKennedy grabbed the lead on lap 6 and began his onslaught of the field by lapping his first car before lap 10 on the small New England bullring.
Moving quickly up to challenge McKennedy however was Rob Summers with Lou Cicconi, Payne and Chris Perley staying well in sight.
Summers stuck his 74 on the 79 bumper by lap 30 and each lap saw Rob try McKennedy high and low with success coming on lap 35.
The first yellow flew one lap later as the leaders were entering a pack of cars and McKennedy slowed trying to get around a slower car. Summers pushed high, Cicconi, trying not to hit McKennedy, was hit in the rear by his teammate Perley, with Perley taking a hard left into the infield. Perley, who would pit on lap 48, said later, “When we had that incident in turn four it was like McKennedy stopped. I was climbing on Louie at the time so Louie checked up. I thought I can’t wreck him so I yanked it hard toward the infield but I still caught his left rear with my right front which didn’t hurt him but it broke the steering rack. I stayed out there afterwards trying to figure what was screwed up. My steering wheel was moving way too much. Everything was flexing under there. I said, I’m not points racing. I had a good car and I was moving forward at that point. But, I didn’t want to take a chance.”
Back underway, Summers was the new leader with McKennedy now the man on the leader’s bumper. Cicconi, Perley, Payne, Locke, Abold, Ordway Sr. and Moe Lilje were the main men right behind but Ordway soon slowed with a tire going down and pitted on lap 39.
A slowdown came on lap 42 when Tim Ice was off the track in turn three. Mark Sammut pitted here as did Lou LeVea Sr. Ice and Sammut would return.
Summers pulled away from McKennedy on the restart but right behind, with the rain a possibility, a freight train of powerhouses looked for that halfway mark at lap 75.
Mike Lichty, fresh off an Oswego Super Nationals win, saw his Star chances evaporate when the lower control arm in the left front broke bringing out the yellow on lap 48. It was here Perley called it a night also.
A couple minor slowdowns dotted the next few laps but the race settled into one “classic” barnburner with Summers, McKennedy, Cicconi, Abold, Payne, Locke and Lilje still racing and chasing around the quarter mile, weaving in and out of traffic.
The halfway mark came and went with Summers, McKennedy and Cicconi now using some of the traffic to gain some advantage.
Red flew for a hard crash that had seven-time Star Classic champion Russ Wood heading almost straight into the wall near turn four in the Soule Racing 32. Wood was later transported to the hospital with reported leg injuries.
Sixteen cars remained when the race resumed with five lap cars electing to take up the rear spots. This gave the top 11 a go at victory and McKennedy tried hard to reclaim the lead from Summers when the green fell but to know avail. On lap 90, however, he made the move stick and he was heading for new ground as Summers and the others fell back behind lap cars McKennedy was now putting two down.
Misfortune fell on Summers’ run on lap 105 when his car went up in smoke and fled the scene. There had been an oil leak when the refueling occurred under the previous red, but it was determined not to be a problem. It soon became one for the Vernon, CT driver looking for a first Star Classic win. Said Rob, “I can’t thank Brad and Mike Lichty, PATCO and Reed’s Salvage. We had a good run last week. I think we had the car to beat tonight. Under the red we had an oil line that was leaking. It got on the left rear tire and McKennedy got by me and then we lost the motor. It’s a bummer.”
Now, McKennedy was racing for the gold and no one was even close to stopping him, but out back, Abold, Cicconi, Payne and Lilje were still looking for podium spots. On lap 131, Cicconi, Abold and Payne were the guys to watch as they challenged each other. Two laps later, Abold came out in second, Payne third and Cicconi fourth and Lilje maintaining a strong fifth place run as leader McKennedy lapped at the tail car in the top five.
McKennedy easily passed under the double checkers for his first Star Classic win, with Abold, Payne, Cicconi and Lilje finishing the top five.
Cicconi joked as he and Payne walked toward the pits after the victory lane ceremonies. “It was a good run for me,” Cicconi said and then laughing, he continued, “I felt bad for Joey Payne and Howie Lane so I had to let them finish in front of me because Joey’s old and he’s gray. You have to realize I’m like a Cessna 310 and he’s a jumbo Jet.”
Moe Lilje, from Vickery, Ohio, made his first visit to Star Speedway a good one even though he came to Epping not even knowing what he was driving. “I started off the day just trying to get comfortable in the car. We definitely came along way as the first times we were on the track we struggled. That’s to be expected when you jump in a car you’ve never been in before and come to a track you’ve never looked at. We kept chipping away at it and had a pretty decent car for the race. We ended up with a top five and we’re pretty happy. I don’t know what the plan was behind the car switch. Brad called me the week before Oswego and wanted to know if I wanted to drive the car up here. They talked with Craig (Reed) and hashed out a deal so I got to race and to be honest I didn’t know which car I was going to be in until I got here. It didn’t matter.”
48th Running of Star Classic at Star Speedway. Sept. 7
Time Trials Top 16: McKennedy, Locke, Cicconi, Seitz, Perley, Payne, Abold, Duggan, Summers, Ordway Sr., Witkum Jr., Eric Lewis, Justin Belfiore, Lilje, Sammut and Russ Wood
Filling the field from time trials in order were Bobby Chartier, Mike Lichty, Tim Ice, Alison Cumens, Dan Bowes, Kyle Vanderpool, Mike Netishen, Dave Sanborn and Lou LeVea Sr.
Star Classic 150: 1. Jon McKennedy (79), 2. Jeffrey Abold (05), 3. Joey Payne (97), 4. Lou Cicconi (71), 5. Moe Lilje (8), 6. Eddie Witkum Jr. (21), 7. Ben Seitz (17), 8. Alison Cumens (39), 9. Jeff Locke (37), 10. Mark Sammut (78), 11. Dan Bowes (25), 12. Mike Netishen (55), 13. Tim Ice (65), 14. Dave Sanborn (24), 15. Robbie Summers (74), 16. Russ Wood (32), 17. Dave Duggan (51), 18. Eric Lewis (28), 19. Kyle Vanderpool (3), 20. Justin Belfiore (98), 21. Chris Perley (11), 22. Mike Lichty (84), 23. Bobby Chartier (47), 24. Mike Ordway Sr. (61), 25. Lou LeVea Sr.)
Burns Family Racing 17 Supermodified sponsored Hard Charger: Alison Cumens
Resource Alternative Energy Solutions Last Car Running: Dave Sanborn.