James Michael Friesen stood in his pit spot following the opening stock car event of the season at Ransomville Speedway on Friday night and was a bit overwhelmed by the events that unfolded for him.
Just an hour earlier, in a race night that he was not absolutely sure he was even going to make and with a self-described low racing budget and aging car, Friesen managed to win the 25-lap Sportsman feature. He also paid an emotional tribute to his late grandfather, Stan Friesen, in the process.
James Michael Friesen took off from his eighth starting position and needed just eight laps to run down and pass a trio of hard charging drivers upfront — Jesse Cotriss, Scott George and Don Spatorico — to take the lead and never looked back in scoring an impressive victory over Cotriss.
Stan Friesen was the longtime promoter of Ransomville who died of cancer in December at age 79. During Stan Friesen’s stock car driving days many years ago, he sported the No. 52 on his car, the same number that his grandson carried on his car Friday.
“This one was definitely special,” the younger Friesen said. “It was a hard winter losing 'Pops’ so it felt good to get a No. 52 car back up on top of the board.”
Friesen’s ability to race is dependent on his budget and his ability to find time away from his day job.
“We’ve just been picking away,” Friesen said. “It’s an old car, probably by far the oldest car in this pit area. That’s for sure. Doug Gordon and a lot of other guys help me out and we decided to come out tonight and I’m happy that we chose to because the car was hooked up.
“After I took the checkered flag tonight I was still in the moment. I couldn’t believe I passed some of the guys I did tonight to win. Then I thought about my grandfather, and it made the win all the more special.”
Chad Brachmann, the 2011 Ransomville Speedway 358 Modified champion, has gotten off to a his best start of a season during his long 358 Modified career. After winning races at Lernerville Speedway in Sarver, Pa., a few weeks ago and the season opener April 27 at Merrittville Speedway, his tide of positive momentum continued Friday at Ransomville.
Brachmann took off from his outside pole position and pretty much dominated the 30-lap main event for the win.
“So far this is the best start of a racing season in my whole career,” Brachmann said. “It probably ranks right up there with my Sportsman days and I’ll take it.”
Noteworthy was the fact that only 18 358 Modifieds came to Ransomville Friday. This was the fewest for a race there in a few years. Last season’s opening Ransomville race saw 31 cars participate on opening night, and a last chance B-Main had to be run to qualify the field.
358 Modified car counts locally are down to start the season on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border. Twenty-five cars came to Merrittville but that was down from the 31 in the 2012 season opener. About five cars were from other tracks in Canada where the season has not begun yet. Normally these drivers will not be at Merrittville on a weekly basis once other tracks open. Last Saturday, an even smaller field of 21 358 Modifieds came to Merrittville.
Brachmann said that two 358 Modified drivers have left to pursue Sprint Car careers and that Boyd MacTavish has dropped down from the 358 Modified class to the Sportsman this season. MacTavish did run in the Sportsman event at Ransomville on Friday.
Also, Danny Johnson informed Ransomville officials last winter that he would be racing at Ransomville but was a no-show Friday. Internal issues within Johnson’s team apparently are finding him set to race elsewhere.
Pete Bicknell, who is Merrittville’s owner and drives a 358 car at both Ransomville and Merrittville, believes that the still sluggish economy is most likely a major problem as well on both sides of the border. The quality of racing is still solid at both tracks, with many talented drivers in the weekly 358 Modified fields.
The program that is an unquestioned success at Ransomville is the entry level 4-Banger class, which had a whopping 31 entries competing on Friday.
One notable person taking in the racing Friday at Ransomville was veteran racer Jipp Ortiz, who retired this past winter after many season winning races and championships in various classes.
“It was a lot of hours in the shop, and I had done it long enough that I decided to retire,” Ortiz said.
“I’m trying to stay clear of getting back involved right now. Todd Burley and Chuck Hossfeld have talked to me about helping advise their teams.
“I love the game, and I enjoy working on cars, and I will maybe do something next year with either Todd or Chuck, but for now I’ll just sit back, relax and enjoy watching the races.”