By Larry Ott
Special to The News
Andy Jankowiak found himself facing the challenge of holding off multi ROC champion/race winner Matt Hirschman in the finishing laps of the Sunoco Race of Champions Asphalt Modified Tour Holland 100 Saturday night.
Jankowiak already had overcome a pair of obstacles having suffered through a small cockpit fire as well as a near collision with the pace car just laps earlier. Utilizing steady and great driving over the remaining distance, Jankowiak was able to beat Hirschman by two car-lengths to secure the first ROC victory of his career.
The ensuing victory lane celebration was a special moment in Holland history with cheers, smiles, tears, handshakes and hugs from numerous well wishers.
The victory also completed a great comeback story. Jankowiak’s cars was heavily damaged in a violent accident in the last ROC event on June 7 at Elegant Builders Raceway Park in Lancaster.
Since then, Jankowiak and his team, who operate on a lower budget them most, put forth a spectacular effort to get their car ready for Saturday’s race.
“It hasn’t sunken in yet,” said Jankowiak. “It was just a matter of putting the whole deal together. We’ve been bad luck stricken. We almost got wrecked tonight by the pace car. It came flying out of the infield. The dashboard started on fire with 50 laps to go. I had a fire in the car with molten rubber falling onto my fire suit. I had to pat it out. I had to pull all the wires out and it kept running. So we tried to screw ourselves over but not today. It was ours.
“I’ve got so many good guys behind me that keep me going. I’m just so blessed.”
Jankowiak is the son of the late Tony Jankowiak, who was killed in a Modified race at Stafford, Conn., in 1990. All these years since the elder Jankowiak’s death, Andy’s uncle Jake Jankowiak has taken his young nephew under his wing and guided his racing career. Much love and devotion has also been given by Andy’s mother Debbie.
“This is awesome,” said an emotional Jake Jankowiak “I can remember when his dad (Tony) held off Jimmy Spencer to win a race here years ago. I’ll never forget it. I’ll take all the bad luck that we’ve had this past month to win this race.”
“This is unbelievable,” said Debbie. “This is great. I’m so proud.”
One can’t get a better endorsement then from Hirschman who is a talented and experienced Modified racing champion.
“I’m happy for Andy,” said Hirschman. “It’s a big deal to get a first win. I’ve been fortunate enough to win plenty, but I remember my first win. He did a great job tonight.”
Other locally based drivers who competed in the Holland 100 were:
Chuck Hossfeld, third, Patrick Emerling, fourth; George Skora III, eighth; Sam Fullone, 11th; Karl Hehr, 16th; Kirk Totten, 18th. A field of 23 cars came to Holland.
Around the tracks:
• Danny Johnson added to his domianance in the Battle of the Border 75 DIRT.car 358 Modified Series at Ransomville Speedway when he held of Stewart Friesen for the $51,200 win last Wednesday. He’s won the race four of the five times since its inaugural race in 2010. The exception was 2013 when Chad Brachmann won.
“The outside was really good and I knew when he went to the bottom that was my chance,” said Johnson of Friesen. “I gave it all I got.”
• Justin Sharp won Wednesday’s companion DIRT.car Sportsman Series 30.
• An overflow crowd of approximately 5,850 watched Robbie Blair win the Super Late Model “Papa” Don Franks Memorial 58 as Stateline Speedway in Busti reopened this past Saturday night. A field of 30 Super Late Models were on hand.
• Little Valley Speedway can’t afford more bad weather. It had only five events scheduled this season and last Thursday’s cancellation cut further into the limited schedule. Little Valley’s season opened on May 25. It will not run its second event until Aug. 23 with another set for Sept. 13. The track avoids conflicts with other tracks and accommodates other events at the Cattaraugus County Fairgrounds.