Two weeks ago, when Hornet driver Jeff Szafraniec took the checkered flag at Holland NASCAR Motorsports Complex, he celebrated in Victory Lane with his Dice Racing teammates.
During the usual scene that occurs in Victory Lane, Szafraniec took the winning moment to a much higher and meaningful perspective when he proposed to fellow driver and teammate Samantha Lutz.
Dice Racing is comprised of Hornet drivers Szafraniec, Lutz, Samantha's father Bill Lutz and Ben Russo. Szafraniec leads the Hornet standings at Holland by a scant three points (481-478) over Chris Powers. Szafraniec will try to seal the deal during Holland's 2012 Budweiser Championship Night divisional season points finale Saturday. Szafraniec also has won the last two Holland races.
“Two weeks ago it was Driver Appreciation Night and I knew our whole family would be there,” said Szafraniec. “So I decided that if I won that week I would propose to Samantha. If I didn't win, I would hold off to the championship night because our family would be there that night, too. Fortunately I won the race on driver's night and it worked out perfectly.
“I first met Samantha in high school at Hutch-Tech in Buffalo. We've been going out for eight years now. I thought it was time to solidify our relationship. She picked out the engagement ring two years ago but I've been paying on it and I finally could afford to get it earlier this year.”
Szafraniec is riding the momentum of a Holland Hornet hot streak.
“We're on a two race winning streak,” said Szafraniec. “As of last Saturday, I've won seven races at Holland this season. I'm leading the points by three but because double points are on the line this Saturday that is only one position on the race track.”
The current winning streak is not the only one Szafraniec has enjoyed this season at Holland. On opening night he won and, after suffering a ninth-place run the next week due to a mechanical problem, he would then reeled off four straight wins at Holland. At midseason he suffered a serious accident that put his car in the shop and forced him to use fellow racer Jennifer McCool's car for two weeks.
After top-five runs both weeks, he got his trusty Honda back and has picked up the pace in recent weeks.
Samantha Lutz is a steady competitor and has fond memories of her recent Victory Lane surprise.
“I had no idea that he was going to propose to me there,” said Lutz. “I was shocked. As a team, when one of us wins we all go to Victory Lane to celebrate with the winning teammate. After the victory photo was taken, Jeff came over to me and popped the question.”
For the record, she said yes.
As far as racing is concerned, Lutz has had a strong 2012 effort. “I was second in points for awhile and even led the points for a week,” she said.
“Then I had three bad weeks in a row. My car kept getting wrecked and now I'm seventh in points. When it comes to racing, I try hard to pass my teammates just like I try to pass any other driver.”
When Lutz and Szafraniec's big moment came, Bill Lutz was on his way back to the pits to get ready to compete in the night's Figure-8 race; he has won once in this class in 2012.
“I wanted to be there because I knew ahead of time what Jeff was planning to do,” said Bill Lutz. “I'm happy for them.
“As far as my Hornet season has gone, it's been up and down. I've been getting banged around a little bit. Nothing you can do but fix it and come back the next week. I'm really proud of Samantha as well as Jeff and Ben. They may be teammates but I'm racing to beat them,” Bill Lutz added.
Russo has won a Hornet race at Holland this season and is third in points. Bill Lutz is sixth in the Hornet points parade.
Many may think that due to the fact that Szafraniec is trying to secure the point title in the finale Saturday, that the rest of his Dice Racing teammate may go out with the sole mission of trying to block other competitors from getting toward the front, in a sort of defensive posture, to try to help Szafraniec. Bill Lutz says, “no way” that will happen.
“If Jeff is to win the championship, he has to do in on his own,” Bill Lutz said. “There will be no blocking or playing defense to try to help Jeff out. We're all going for a win. If one of us beats Jeff this Saturday, hopefully it won't cost him the championship but we'll see.”
Szafraniec must also overcome the cruel ghost of his racing past: He was leading the Hornet point standings going into the final night of Holland's 2010 season and did not do well that evening, losing the title.
Season champions crowned for 2012 last Saturday at Stateline Speedway in Busti are: Dutch Davies, Super Late Model; Dan Nocero Jr., Super Sportsman; Justin Carlson, E-Mod; Steve Kania, Limited Late Model; Damien Bidwell, Crate Late Model; Chris Withers, Street Stocks; Chad Bender, Super Challenger.