Auto Racing: Solomito ‘picks’ his way to opening-night victory

Saturday night’s season-opening NASCAR Whelen All-American Series 35-lap Modified feature event did not disappoint the race hungry fans that turned out at Riverhead Raceway. Nor did it disappoint Timmy Solomito.

The Islip driver scored his fifth career victory, using a lapped car as a rolling pick to take the lead with five laps remaining in the contest.

Chris Young roared out front at the throw of the green flag from the pole with Solomito slipping under Ken Darch for second on the first lap. Given the history between the tested tough veteran Young and the up-and-coming Solomito from last year, fans sat on the edge of their seats waiting for the fireworks to explode. Instead of fireworks what they wound up being treated to was a barnburner of a race as Solomito hounded Young every inch of the way, waiting for the right moment to make his move.

That moment presented itself as the leaders started the 30th lap racing towards the first corner. The duo quickly closed on Frank Saladino’s lapped car. Young moved to the outside of Saladino, while Solomito slipped underneath, using Saladino as a pick. Suddenly they were three wide racing off the second corner and as they entered the third turn Solomito and Young next to each other with Solomito holding the preferred inside lane.

After exiting his car, Solomito was greeted by NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee Jerry Cook, who said, “That was some good, old-fashioned NASCAR Modified racing we just witnessed.”

Young of Calverton had to settle for runner-up money. The fast-closing John Fortin of Holtsville was third. Dave Brigati of Calverton and Justin Bonsignore of Holtsville completed the top five.

Chris LaSpisa walked through the pit gate with one goal in mind Saturday afternoon: win the 25-lap Late Model feature for fellow racer Ken Alfano’s wife, Julie, who passed away after a battle with cancer earlier in the week. When the checker flag waved it was mission accomplished. LaSpisa scored his fourth career victory and giving the Alfano family an emotional boost.

LaSpisa, who raced the final few races of 2010 as Alfano’s teammate, led the entire distance. Following him to the finish line were runner-up Peter Eriksen of Baldwin and third-place Roger Oxee of Peconic.

Mike Mujsce of Westhampton Beach appeared to be on his way to victory lane in the 15-lap Figure Eight feature until a late-race restart with just three laps to go interrupted his plans for the night.

Musjce quickly moved out front at the drop of the green flag with Ken Hyde Jr. shadowing him for the first 11 laps of the race before he was passed by Arne Pedersen on Lap 12. A quick yellow flag waved, setting up a dash for the win between Mujsce, Pedersen and Hyde. On the first attempt at a restart, Pedersen suddenly stopped at the intersection, drawing another yellow, which left Mujsce, Hyde and Tom Rogers Jr. sitting in the top three. When the green light came back on, Rogers made his move, racing from third right into the race lead and eventual win. It was his 17th career win. Mujsce was second. The defending champion, Scott Pedersen, claimed third.

Chris McGuire of Shirley topped the 20-lap Charger main event to earn his 12th career main event win. Jeremy McDermott of East Stroudsburg, Pa., came in second, ahead of Erin Dumicich of East Quogue, who was third.

In the 20-lap Blunderbust feature event, Tommy Walkowiak of Ridge notched his 44th career victory after a hard-fought battle with rival Tom Pickerell. Ed Mistretta of New Hyde Park was second and Rob Bader of Holtsville third.

In a non-stop, 20-lap Super Pro Truck main event, Chris Turbush of Riverhead made a mid-race pass for the lead stand up to score the victory. Frank Dumicich Sr. of East Quogue had to be content with second place. Lou Maestri of Deer Park made a late-race charge to finish third.

The 2010 Legend Race Car champion, Kevin Nowak of Medford, began his title defense by winning a 20-lap race. Timmy Solomito of Islip was second, with third going to Justin Strumpf of Selden.

The busy night of racing concluded with a 75-lap, eight-cylinder Enduro, which also provided a great battle for the lead between the eventual winner, Dominic Ranieri of East Northport, and Walter Stroud of Yaphank. Anthony Pizzo of Ronkonkoma took second.