Hard Work: Alex Yankowski Becomes Youngest Sunoco Modified Winner in Utica-Rome History
Written by Chris Moore
VERNON, NY – Hard work.
It’s what Alex Yankowski attributed his first career Utica-Rome Speedway triumph to, becoming the youngest Sunoco Modified winner in the history of the ‘Home of Heroes.’
“Hat’s off to my guys, we’ve been struggling pretty bad here,” explained Yankowski of the work the team has put in to reach Victory Lane, “(Kevin) Bates, our crew chief, texted me at 2:33 this morning telling me what we needed to different to the car tonight and it worked.”
The 17-year-old hot shoe decided to call Utica-Rome Speedway his home track in 2022, attempting to race on a different racetrack and wanting to race against the likes of Matt Sheppard and Stewart Friesen as often as possible.
Yankowski started his bid from the fifth starting position, with Fultonville, N.Y.’s JaMike Sowle with Plattsburgh, N.Y.’s Nick Heywood starting alongside to make up the front row. Alan Barker, slated to start second, was scratched from the event after the car wouldn’t fire in the pit area.
At the drop of speedway starter Joe Kriss’ green flags, it was third-place starter Willy Decker who marched to the lead quickly. The Vernon, N.Y., native used the inside line to drive under the front and take the lead on the opening lap.
Yankowski was quick to follow Decker, following closely behind the leader as the field settled into the 30-lap affair. Yankowski continued with Decker’s pace for the first six laps, before making his bid for the lead on the seventh circuit.
“Kid Rocket” got a good run off the second corner, closing to Decker’s back bumper before diving underneath him into the third turn. Yankowski’s perfectly executed slide job netted him the lead ahead of Decker.
One lap after Yankowski took the top spot, the race’s only caution would fly with 22 laps remaining. Yankowski led Decker, Alan Johnson, Darren Smith, and Pat Ward when the field went back to green-flag conditions.
Lurking just outside the top five was three-time winner Matt Sheppard, who fired from the sixth position on the restart. Sheppard quickly took the fifth spot away from Ward on the restart.
Sheppard, Smith, and Alan Johnson began a three-car duel for the third position while Yankowski and Decker once again were separating themselves from the field.
After several laps of side-by-side racing, Sheppard shook off Middlesex, N.Y.’s Johnson on lap 16 for the fourth spot and went right to work to take third away from Smith. Three laps later Sheppard was by the Binghamton, N.Y., resident and into third.
The time it took Savannah, N.Y.’s Sheppard to get to third allowed the lead duo to sprint away, putting plenty of racetrack between themselves and the now hard-charging Sheppard.
In the waning laps, Sheppard used slower traffic to his advantage, running down and ultimately passing Decker for the runner-up position with just two laps remaining. That was all Sheppard could muster however, as Yankowski’s margin was too great to overcome.
Yankowski cruised to his first ever Modified win in the Empire State, ending Sheppard’s three-race win streak to open the season at Utica-Rome Speedway. Sheppard came home as the runner-up and Willy Decker snagged his best finish of the season, rounding out the podium.
Sprakers, N.Y.’s Jessica Friesen used a late charge to claim the fourth spot, and Darren Smith rounded out the top-five. Genoa, N.Y.’s Pat Ward would race home in sixth, with Alan Johnson chasing him to a seventh-place finish. Unadilla, N.Y.’s Billy Decker finished in eighth and Masonville, N.Y.’s Shaun Walker grabbed ninth. Sheffield, Mass., native Andy Bachetti rounded out the top-10.
Dolgeville, N.Y.’s Dave Richer was victorious in the Worthington Industries Crate 602 Sportsman 30-lap feature, worth $1,500 on Friday night. The win was the first of Richer’s career, shaking off three weeks of bad luck to open the ’22 season.
Despite a late race restart with last week’s winner – Matt Janczuk – in second, Richer outgunned the speedway’s all-time winningest Sportsman driver for his first ever victory.
“These kinds of things don’t usually happen to me,” said an ecstatic Richer of his victory, “when I saw the 33x was restarting I figured we were finishing second tonight… I just can’t believe.”
Durhamville, N.Y.’s Matt Janczuk would come second, good enough to give the defending champion the point lead after four weeks. Sherburne, N.Y.’s Allan Hodge got his best finish of the season, rounding out the podium with a third-place run. Rome, N.Y.’s Chris Mackey took home a fourth-place run and Genoa, N.Y.’s Will Shields rounded out the top five.
Jay Corbin won a thrilling 20-lap feature event for the Next Generation Graphix Pro Stocks, using a last-lap, last-turn pass, beating Jason Morrison to the line by 12 one-hundredths of a second for the victory.
Morrison led the first 19 laps, before coming up just short at the end of the 20-lap affair. Beau Ballard had his three-race win streak snapped, rounding out the podium. Josh Coonradt and Bret Belden rounded out the top-five.
Alex Hughes became the first Fastline Performance Limited Sportsman driver to get to two wins in the ’22 campaign, celebrating his 25th birthday in
Victory Lane. The win was Hughes’ second in three weeks, leading all 15-laps for the victory. Point leader Matt Backus was the runner-up and Zack Welch rounded out the top three.
Slappy White joined Hughes as winners on their birthday, topping the Fonda Fair Four Cylinder 12-lap feature in White’s first race of the season. Hank Wedgren was the Single Cam winner of the event.
Brett Putnam upended his teammate Chris Darrow for the win in the Senior Services Inc. All-Star Slingshot 20-lap feature. Putnam and Darrow traded spots in the top two this week, with Putnam winning and Darrow coming home second.
Blake Banek won for the second consecutive week in the D&S Landscaping Junior Slingshot division in a dramatic finish to the event. Banek topped Sullivan Dickey and Corky Warner for the win.
Racing resumes Friday, May 27 at Utica-Rome Speedway. All divisions will be in action and the Mohawk Valley Vintage Dirt Modified Series makes its first appearance of 2022 at the ‘Home of Heroes.’
Utica-Rome Speedway is located at 5591 NY-5 (Seneca Turnpike) Vernon, NY 13476. The official website is www.uticaromespeedway.com and can be reached by phone at 315.953.4097. Like Utica-Rome Speedway on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @UR_Speedway.
RESULTS SUMMARY – UTICA-ROME SPEEDWAY MAY 20, 2022
Sunoco Modified Feature Finish (30 laps): ALEX YANKOWSKI, Matt Sheppard, Willy Decker, Jessica Friesen, Darren Smith, Pat Ward, Alan Johnson, Billy Decker, Shaun Walker, Andy Bachetti, Rocky Warner, JaMike Sowle, Tucker O’Connor, Justin Wright, Joe Beyea, Ryan Walther, Brent Cross, Randy Shantel, Claude Hutchings Jr., Nick Heywood, Bobby Hackel IV.
Did Not Start: Alan Barker
Worthington Industries Crate 602 Sportsman Feature Finish (30 laps): DAVE RICHER, Matt Janczuk, Allan Hodge, Chris Mackey, Will Shields, Brent Joy, Payton Talbot, A.J. Miller, Ed Lukas, Willy Decker Jr., Matt Richardson, Addison Bowman, Rocco Leone, Stephen Denton, David Dickey, Tanner Warner, Josh Amodio, Steve Kotary, Ed Downing, Clayton DuMond, Dave Moyer, Gordon Smith, Jeremy Slosek, Mike Richmond, Shawn Frost, Kyle DeMetro, Mike Grover, David Hackett Jr., Blake Sarpriacone.
Disqualified: Brian Calabrese
Did Not Qualify: Jim Cummings, Dana Camenga, Pat Nolan.
Next Generation Grafix Pro Stock Feature Finish (20 laps): JAY CORBIN, Jason Morrison, Beau Ballard, Josh Coonradt, Bret Belden, Dan Slosek, Bill Knapp, Ed Kotary, Randy Cosselman, Ken Griffen, John Holmes.
Did Not Start: Jerry Streeter
Fastline Performance Limited Sportsman Feature Finish (15 laps): ALEX HUGHES, Matt Backus, Zack Welch, Eric Jensen, Seth Martin, Mike Haman, E.J. Gallup, Ernie Staelens.
Fonda Fair Four Cylinder Cruiser Feature Finish (12 laps): SLAPPY WHITE (DOHC), Matt Bukovan, David Denova, Austin Vanderhoof, Kyle Coley, Hank Wedgren (SOHC), Sophia Denova, Christopher Jennings Sr., Rudy King Jr., Hunter Tarbania.
Did Not Start: Jacob Kimball, T.J. Marlitt
Senior Services Inc. All-Star Slingshot Feature Finish (20 laps): BRETT PUTNAM, Chris Darrow, Tyler Vadney, Andrew Millard, Scott Sprague, Jim Pollard, Kirsten Swartz, Julia Renwick, Joel Vadney, Nicholas Jenkins, Eymarah Bowman, Josh Persse.
Did Not Start: Tadd Granger
D&S Landscaping Junior Slingshot Feature Finish (15 laps): BLAKE BANEK, Sullivan Dickey, Corky Warner, Brody Janczuk, Jayden Wust, Ayden Goodier, Ayna Sarpriacone, Savannah Simmons, Maddy Broedel.