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Lehner Tops Albany-Saratoga Thriller

MALTA, N.Y. — Jack Lehner won what was arguably the Albany-Saratoga Speedway’s most enjoyable DIRTcar modified feature in years Friday night, besting Demetrius Driellos and DIRTcar legend Brett Hearn in front of a crowd that was up and cheering for most of the 35-lapper.

With Ronnie Johnson on the outside of the front row and the semi-retired Hearn inside row two, smart money was on one or the other claiming the win.

Johnson staked his claim early, as he stayed alongside pole-sitter Scott Huber through turns one and two on the green, then drove off the turn two banking and took command down the backstretch.  

Meanwhile, Hearn had settled into fourth but picked off Huber to stand third when the event’s first yellow flew on lap 11 for a Marc Johnson spin.

Hearn was ready for action when the green reappeared, disposing of second running Jeremy Pitts and starting a series of runs on Ronnie Johnson.  He was even at the flagstone at the halfway point but Johnson then turned up the wick and edged away slightly.  But what he didn’t know was that big trouble was coming behind them as Drellos and Lehner were making a madcap dash through the field from 15th and 17th, respectively, and had just cracked the top five.

Lap 22 brought the night’s second and last caution when a backmarker spun in turn four, closing up the field again and setting the stage for leader Johnson’s demise.

Drellos blew under Hearn for second on the restart but Hearn built up enough steam in the outside lane to drive back around the youngster in turn four, then dive to the bottom to seize the lead from Johnson at the other end of the three-eighths-mile speedway.  Then, with many resigned to the fact that Hearn would add to his track leading win total, Lehner found another gear and drove under Drellos on lap 23 and then two laps later blew by Hearn for the lead.

“It seemed like I was the only one who could make up ground on the bottom,” declared the lanky redhead. “That left the lane open for us. Demetrious helped me march to the front, as he’s great at opening holes, then all of a sudden I was second and thinking Brett Hearn is a legend and the greatest of all time in our division. I was thinking of that and that I might possibly pass him for the lead.  What a thrill that was!”

Action continued right to the checkers, with Lehner almost going over the turn one banking when he got into the turn too hot trying to run the outside around the only lapped car he caught, then Drellos made a last-lap pass of Hearn to seize second from the veteran.

“It was strange the way the race went down,” offered Drellos.  “I was only mediocre on the bottom but I might have been the best on the top. Jack’s been good all year and I knew that every time I went outside to pass somebody, I was leaving the door open for him.  But I had to do it.”

“That was fun,” offered Hearn as he unbuckled, a big grin on his face.  “They were both better than we were but not by much.”

David Schilling turned in another strong run to show fourth at the checkers, with 24th-starting Peter Britten making another run from the tail to claim fifth. Matt DeLorenzo led a second five that included Ronnie Johnson, Mike Mahaney, Ryan McCartney and Justin Stone.

Local star Brandon Emigh notched a $1000 win over the DIRTcar Pro Stock series invaders, clawing his way to the front and then holding off Jason Casey, Kim Duel, Beau Ballard and invader Devon Caring in a crash-marred 30-lapper featuring great racing between the many cautions.  

Cody Bleau claimed the Sportsman finale by inches over division kingpin Tim Hartman Jr., who made his usual charge from deep in the field but needed another lap to dispose of Bleau.  Mike Benson, making a return to competition after a 20-year layoff, was a strong third.