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Riverhead Raceway: Rogers drives from last to first

Defending NASCAR Modified champion Tom Rogers Jr. of Riverhead and his team plotted out strategy Saturday afternoon in Riverhead Raceway’s pit area. The game plan worked to perfection as Rogers won his first feature event of 2016 after starting last in the night’s 40-lap feature event. It was only the fifth start of the season for Rogers, who is on the road to recovery after some early-season health concerns.

The two leaders, Ken Darch and Howie Brode, heard Rogers, who raced his way from 13th to third, approaching them. Brode made a bold move in an effort to take the lead and contact was made, with Darch spinning and Brode riding up and over the leader’s hood. With Darch done for the night and Brode being sent to the rear, Rogers was in front for the 30th lap restart with championship leader Shawn Solomito second.

Rogers was able to thwart Solomito and take the green flag. Later, Rogers proclaimed his team’s game plan had worked to perfection.

“We decided this afternoon instead of using up our tires in the heat race that I’d take the green and pull into the infield,” he said. “We knew that would start us last, but with a 13-car field we felt we could march towards the front.”

He said saving the 11 or 12 laps on his tires might have put him over the top. “On that last caution I looked over at Shawn’s right rear [tire] and it was pretty used up,” he said. “I knew our strategy worked out just like we hoped it would.”

Rogers wasn’t the only winning driver in the family on the night. His daughter, Ashley, won her division in the Big Wheel Race.

Solomito of Center Moriches, the runner-up, enjoys a healthy 42-point lead over Dave Brigati of Calverton in the points standings. Kyle Soper of Manorville placed third, Brode of East Islip and Brigati completing the top five.

The 25-lap Late Model event turned out to be a marathon, with numerous caution flags slowing the race. When the dust settled, former multi-time Charger champion Eric Zeh of Selden celebrated his first career win in the division. He was followed by second-place Jack Orlando of Calverton and third-place Kevin Metzger of Massapequa.

One of the first driver to sign up for the new Modified Crate class during the offseason was former Blunderbust standout Terry Stiles of Rocky Point. On Saturday he enjoyed his first win in the class, taking a 25-lap event. Dylan Slepian of Dix Hills came in second before veteran Dennis Krupski of Calverton took third.

Ken Hyde Jr. of Mastic Beach scored his third Figure Eight win of the season, a hotly contested 15-lap race. In order to claim to his eighth career triumph, Hyde held off Roger Maynor of Bay Shore, who was second. Tom Rogers Jr. placed third.

After missing the early part of the season because of leg surgery, Tommy Walkowiak of Ridge took full advantage of a rare pole starting position to win his 58th career Blunderbust feature and first of the year. Tim Mulqueen of Levittown was second and Tom Pickerell of Huntington third.

Prior to the season, John Beatty Jr. of Merrick decided to return to his racing roots, purchasing a INEX Legend Race Car. That decision paid dividends Saturday when Beatty won a 20-lap feature. He topped Vinny Delaney of Holtsville for the victory. Greg Harris of Riverhead was third.