By MIKE MALLETT
FONDA, NY – All season long it has been about two drivers with the Lucas Oil Empire Super Sprints (ESS). Steve Poirier, a three-time champion, and Chuck Hebing. The two veteran Sprint Car aces have battled atop the ESS standings for much of the 2011 racing season and on Saturday night at the historic Fonda Speedway they each took center stage once again. The two drivers accounted for 14 wins in 27 series events in 2011.
Poirier, of St. Mathieu de Beloeil, PQ., captured his eighth series victory of the season while Hebing’s finish earned him enough points to capture his first career series championship. Poirier ended up finishing only seven points back to Hebing in the final tally.
Poirier was a gracious runner-up finisher in Victory Lane.
“Congratulations to Chuck Hebing on the championship,” said Poirier. “All year we’ve had fun running together and pushing each other to the front. At the end of the year he was a bit better than us.”
Hebing had issues late in the 25-lap event which nearly cost him his first ever title but he held on to earn enough points by finishing in 13th position at the checkered flag.
“In that feature we made it a little close there at the end,” said Hebing. “We actually lost the handle on the car I don’t know if we broke a shock or something. It was definitely a tough year and it was a great competition with Steve (Poirier) and his gang. We are great friends on top of that. It was a very good year if he wasn’t winning I was winning. Tonight was one of our worst finishes. It was a heck of a good year and I need to thank my sponsors and my car owner Ron Wilkins. It was a good year.”
A small consolation for Poirier however was that he did take the SUNY Canton Series title over Hebing with his win at the “Track of Champions”
In the feature event, Kevin Ward Jr. and Jeff Cook paced the field for the start of the race. Cook got the early jump and led the way for the first three circuits. On lap four Poirier made his move on the outside of turns one and two and completed the pass in turns three and four to assume the race lead with Cook now second.
By lap seven, traffic was an issue for Poirier as he was forced to alter his line on several occasions in an attempt to get through. While he navigated through traffic, local favorite, Jessica Zemken was on the move from the tenth starting position and up to third.
Just prior to the halfway point on lap 12 the caution was displayed as Dave Wickham slowed and stopped on the back straightway. This negated Zemken’s pass to take second from Cook putting her back to third for the ensuing restart.
Poirier raced away from Cook at the green while he fended off challenges from Zemken and Cory Sparks. As laps clicked off Poirier again found himself in traffic with Zemken now closing in after she moved back into second on lap 17.
The final caution of the event was a red flag period on lap 19 when Russ Bennett got upside down in turn two after making contact with the outside wall. Now Zemken was able to pull alongside Poirier for the restart.
Once all the cars were re-fired and the green flag was displayed, Poirier used the clean air to his advantage pulling away from Zemken in the final few laps as she struggled to get up to speed after the final restart.
Zemken settled for a runner-up finish in her Tony Stewart Racing #1Z. She was hoping to return to her home track and score a victory but admitted in Victory Lane she struggled on restarts getting going.
“We were close but not close enough,” commented Zemken after the event. “Those restarts really killed me. The motor really wouldn’t take off at all. It took me two or three laps to really get going and we were definitely better on the longer runs. We had a good car and I always love coming back here and tonight we’ll have to take a second place finish.”
Cook, of Antwerp, N.Y., capped off 2011 with a podium finish. He led the early part of the race before giving way to Poirier. He admitted he should have stayed on the top of the race track instead of giving Poirier the outside and preferred lane.
“Right from the get go I should have stayed on the top,” said Cook. “I was going to the bottom in one and two and that’s where Steve (Poirier) got me. Then Jessica (Zemken) got by me and I figured I better stay up on the top rather than go back to the bottom. This is the best run we’ve had at Fonda and I’m happy with the night.”
Bobby Varin once again was successful in his Sprint Car endeavors as the Modified veteran came from the seventh starting position to grab fourth and Sparks, of Edinburg, N.Y., concluded his best ESS season to date with a fifth place finish at the final checkered.
Rounding out the top ten were Kevin Ward Jr., who secured fourth in the final points, Lance Yonge, Jason Barney, Alain Bergeron and the young Josh Pieniazek.
ESS/Fonda Notes: A field of 25 sprints for the final show of 2011 with Fonda regular Dan Ody making his first ESS start ever aboard he Bob Russell owned #99…Ody actually made the A-Main starting grid after Brandon Warner made contact with another car during the four abreast salute which broke his front end…Jason Herrington and Jami Russell has problems after their heats and didn’t make the B-Main…Big news announced was that Lucas Oil has signed on to return as the ESS tour sponsor for 2012…ESS concluded their season with a big year end cookout and clam bake that saw a huge gathering attending.
Lucas Oil ESS/SUNY Canton A-Main – Steve Poirier, Jessica Zemken, Jeff Cook, Bobby Varin, Cory Sparks, Kevin Ward Jr., Lance Yonge, Jason Barney, Alain Bergeron, Josh Pieniazek, Tommy Wickham, Shawn Donath, Chuck Hebing, Patrick Vigneault, Kory Gurney, Matt Tanner, Dave Wickham, Dan Ody, Russ Bennett, Paul Habeck, Mike Stelter, Dylan Swiernik.
Lap Leaders – Cook 1-3, Poirier 4-25.
Did Not Start – Brandon Warner
Did Not Qualify – Jami Russell, Jason Herrington.
Car Mate Custom Built Trailers Heat 1 – Sparks, Yonge, Ward Jr., Pieniazek, Vigneault, Habeck.
Car Mate Custom Built Trailers Heat 2 – Hebing, Varin, Warner, Cook, Gurney, Tanner
Car Mate Custom Built Trailers Heat 3 – Zemken, Donath, Barney, Poirier, Bergeron, T. Wickham.
Dover Brake and Clutch/Cobra Coaches Dash – Hebing (Hebing ties Poirier for Dash Title).
Engine Research B-Main – Stelter, D. Wickham, Bennett, Swiernik.
Added Starter – Ody.
Westward Painting Corp. Halfway – Poirier $100
WestFront Construction Hard Charger – Zemken (8 pos.) $50
Ohsweken Speedway Winners Bonus – Poirier $50
Mohawk Racing Parts Pick 5 – Sparks $50
Car Mate Custom Built Trailers – Sparks, Hebing, Zemken $25
HG Associates Fast Time – Poirier (17.214) $25
Final Lucas Oil Empire Super Sprints Points – 1. Chuck Hebing 2281, 2. Steve Poirier 2274, 3. Shawn Donath 1938, 4. Kevin Ward Jr., 1871, 5. Cory Sparks 1860, 6. Jeff Cook 1671, 7. Lance Yonge 1603, 8. Matt Tanner 1441, 9. Michael Parent 1362, 10. Alain Bergeron 1323.
The Lucas Oil Empire Super Sprints are brought to you by: Lucas Oil, Northwood 2 Construction/LaSalle Motorsports, SUNY Canton, 730 Truck Stop, Hoosier Racing Tires, Les Constructions Ultra, Westward Painting Corporation, Fondations 4 Saisons, Car Mate Trailers, The National Parts Peddler Newspaper, WestFront Construction, Cobra Coaches, The Ohsweken Speedway, Mohawk Racing Parts, Engine Research, Brodix Cylinder Heads, Riverside Bar and Grill, Coffrage Daniel Lampron, Jasmin Peloquin Sport, FX Chevy and many, many associate sponsors.