After winning back here on Labor Day weekend Jan Leaty of Williamson, NY made himself the favorite to win the 57th Sunoco Race of Champions on Saturday night at the Oswego Speedway. Leaty made the pre race odds makers look like geniuses as Jan’s game plan of how to win this race worked to perfection.

Leaty who started on the pole pitted for tires on lap 134 and used the late pit stop strategy to perfection as he took the lead from Wilbur Hebing with an outside turn three pass coming down to complete 183. Then Leaty had to hold off the relentless challenges of Matt Hirschman over the final eight laps to secure the $10,000 win. Hebing slipped back to third with JR Kent coming home in fourth and Chuck Hossfeld ending up in fifth.

“ This is a nice little place to have 50 miles from home “ said Jan who also won the first RoC race at Oswego in 1996 when it was moved to here from Flemington. “ We’re really lucky as I have a good group around me, my team they gave me a great pit stop and that was the difference in the race. If Matt would have gotten out in front of me things would have been totally different. We’re a team as we all work hard together and I’m fortunate. “

Jan started on the pole but never got the lead as outside pole sitter Pete Brittain got the jump on Jan and he followed Pete for the first 133 laps. “ I was probably being too honest on the start as I wanted a good fair side by side start “ said Jan. “ He ( Brittain ) got a jump on me by a few feet and that was all it took. I ran him a little harder than I normally would run a guy because of all the lap money this race pays. I think if the race would have stayed green I would have wrestled the lead from him. But the yellow came out on lap one and he was just ahead of me at the line. That translated into about thirteen grand ( in lap money ) for him. “

Jan followed Brittain for the lead for the first 133 laps and at times it seemed that Jan was using his strategy. “ I tried him but not all the time. But there were times I was watching him and he looked a little more vulnerable. I would pull up and take a look to just keep the pressure on him. The cars were just too even and I had Matt sniffing my tailpipe so I had to be careful about making a bold outside move. So it kind of boiled down to an inside move and I couldn’t get him so I had to be a little careful not to wear out my stuff as I really didn’t know when I would be pitting. “

Jan spoke about his race strategy going into the race. “ Our race strategy going into the race was to pit at halfway. But what happened was that a whole big group of cars pitted on lap 72 and also on lap 80. There was another caution on lap 106 and we decided not to pit then because it was only 23 laps after they all pitted. My hope was that we could get another 20 to 25 hard laps out of the tires before I had to pit and the pit like at lap 140. That is where I was blessed as I got a caution right when I needed it. At that time I was starting to fade and the guys who already pitted had a significant running time on their tires that they pitted for. Plus the field was thinned out pretty good at that time too. I tried the same exact pit strategy a few years ago and we didn’t get a caution until very late in the race. This time we got a caution when we needed it and they guys put me in a position to get to the front. “

When the race went back to green on lap 136 Leaty moved to the outside groove with Hirschman right on his back bumper. Jan moved into fifth on lap 165 and into fourth on the next lap with Hirschman in tow. “ I moved right to the top after the pit stop “ said Jan. “ I knew Matt was right behind me so I didn’t want to leave any real openings for him and I zig zagged through there pretty good and I actually got away from him ( Hirschman ) for a little bit. “

Jan almost had his race come to an end on lap 170 coming out of turn four. When right in front of Jan Jim Storace who was second and Earl Paules who was third got together with a lap car racing for the show position. The contact that Jan avoided placed him in second behind leader Wilbur Hebing.

“ I saw it so live I can still see it “ says Jan recalling the incident. “ Paules tried making a move to the inside and pushing the lap car up and into the guy on the outside. Sure I could see the sparks and basically I was off the gas and then Paules went up and Storace came down and I said don’t collect me, don’t collect me. Sure enough I got through it, things could have gone totally different there and we could have been in a pileup. When things are going your way you got to have that too. “

“ First off in my mind I didn’t want to give him ( Wilbur ) any false confidence by riding behind him too long so I made an attempt and attacked him for the lead right away. He was kind of slipping and I was more afraid about hooking wheels and wrecking. So I let him settle down a little and then started working him again and the one time he slipped coming off of two there and I just committed myself to the outside and got the wheel up on him there in turn three, that’s my deal. “

Jan had one last challenger for the win and that was the driver who was in his rear view mirror all night long. “ I saw him ( Matt ) coming and I said my car is still good and I’m going to run the bottom and if he can get by on the outside I’ll give him that lane. He made a couple of cracks at it but we were still good then. “

Jan finished up talking about winning his second RoC title and the kind of year he is having. “ This has been a special year as we’ve been very, very good. We’ve been able to win RoC races at Spencer and two of them here. Very happy with the year as we’ve able to run good anywhere we’ve raced this year. I had one other year like this one and that was in 1989. This year just like the one in 89 I can do nothing wrong and I have had years where I can do nothing right. “

For the second year in a row second generation driver Matt Hirschman ended up a disappointing second in the biggest race of the year. “ Last year it was aggravating to finish second with the way it turned out. This year we just got beat “ said the soft spoken driver.

Matt started third and stayed there until pitting for his tires. When the race resumed Matt was like glue on the back bumper of Leaty as they motored through the field to the front. Several times they would be even at some point on the track but Matt was never able to get clearly by Leaty.

“ We were just as fast as Jan, maybe faster, or equal. But we followed him the whole race and I just couldn’t get by him “ recalled Matt. “ We pitted at the same time, he beat us out of the pits, and his crew did a good job getting him out in front of me. There were a couple of times where he went low and I went high and he went high and I went low. Every time I couldn’t quite fill the hole and I wasn’t going to jeopardize both of our cars. The difference of winning and losing was getting ahead of him. “

Matt felt that a bobble on lap 180 that cost him a position was possibly the difference in the race. “ I got outside of him ( racing for second ) and it ended up not working as I got too wide. I had to lift up out of it or I would have run her into the wall. Where I lost the ground is when Jan got by Wilbur ( lap 183 ) as I needed to be there at that time to try and go maybe a different direction to get by him. “

Matt summed up his evening by saying. “ I just needed at some point during the feature to get by Jan and I didn’t do it. As I don’t come to this race to finish second. “

“ We’re happy with a third as that was two of the best who finished ahead of us “ said third place finisher Wilbur Hebing who started sixth. “ If that caution didn’t come out ( lap 170 ) I think I had something for them. Because the car was tight enough where I could drive it hard and get away with it there. “

Hebing who pitted on lap 72 for tires worked his way up to seventh when the yellow came out for Erick Rudolph and Eric Beers who both crashed hard into the turn two wall while racing for fifth. When the pits opened for pit stops during this yellow flag period the top four cars of Brittain, Leaty, Hirschman, and Lee Sherwood all pitted and this handed the lead to Hebing.

Following the resumption of the race on lap 144, Hebing took off like he acted like he wanted to run away from the field and hide. “ My crew asked me how the car felt and I said it felt good so we decided to go ahead and try to run away from the field. We were doing that until the caution came out ( lap 170 ) . Then the car was too tight and it took too many laps to get going again. I didn’t want to screw up Jan or Matt so I let them go and we ended up third which we’re happy about. “

Qualifying for the 47 Modifieds saw Matt Hirschman set quick time in time trials with a lap of 17. 738. Heat races were won by Paules, Rick Kluth, Tommy Farrell, III, and Woody Pitkat while Chris Finocchario won the consi.

JR Kennerup/RoC PR