John Baker Ends Four Year Winless Streak With Modified Victory Saturday At Riverhead

(Press Release from Riverhead Raceway)

After spending the last four races season having come so close to his third career victory in Buzz Chew Chevrolet NASCAR Modifieds at Riverhead Raceway John Baker of Brookhaven ended a dry spell that dated back to September of 2017 when he topped the 50-lap feature event Saturday night. Since that win in ’17 Baker has been plagued by flat tires, break downs, crashes and just plain falling short of victory leaving he and his Dad former racer Daryl Baker scratching their heads at times. 

Early on in the 50 lap tilt former Blunderbust and defending Super Pro Truck champion Jack Handley Jr. wheeled the Joe Ambrose owned entry to the race lead over Michael Rutkoski who chased Handley over the first 16 laps of the race. Over the first five races of the 2021 Buzz Chew Chevrolet NASCAR Modified season teams are been vocal about the spraying of the middle and outside grooves at Riverhead with many feeling the untreated inside lane was no man’s land. Somebody must have forgotten to give that memo to John Baker Jr. who on lap 16 ducked under Handley exiting the second turn completing his pass for second in the third corner. Once to second Baker had to go to work on erasing the advantage Handley built up early on.

The complexion of the race would change dramatically on lap 27 when defending champion Tom Rogers Jr. went for a uncharacteristic single car spin in turn four setting up a double file restart between leader Handley and Baker. When the field was called to order Handley chose the inside lane forcing Baker outside. When the green light winked on experience paid off as Baker got the measure of the NASCAR Modified newcomer taking the lead with Handley running second until a 34th lap caution flag. The yellow was displayed when Roger Turbush and Shawn Solomito tangled off turn four with Roger hard into the wall ending his night with heavy damage. On the ensuing restart Baker was able to remain the race leader while Handley raced for and eventually lost second on the restart to Michael Rutkoski. As the race wore on unfortunately for Handley he fell through the field.

Baker and Rutkoski just one week earlier were involved in some hard racing and while Michael stayed with John in the end they’d run the rest of the race out without changing positions or incident. After exiting his Staria Automotive Chevy a relieved Baker was quick to salute those who stuck with him throughout, “my Dad, this is all him, his money, his blood and sweat be lost without him and of course my Mom, my girlfriend Arianna, Geno Orlando and all who spend copious amounts of time with this car”. Continuing John added, “these races aren’t easy to win and not have won in so long makes it so very sweet”.

Michael Rutkoski of Mattituck crossed the line second in the Buzz Chew Chevrolet entry while Kyle Soper of Manorville who was mired deep in the field on the last caution made a late race charge for third in the Eastport Feeds Chevy. Chris Young and Dave Brigati both of Calverton were fourth and fifth. 

The 25-lap Eagle Auto Mall Crate Modified main event was filled with last lap dramatics and controversy of it’s own just prior to the NASCAR Modified 50 lapper.When the dust settled Owen Grennan of Glen Cove earned his first win of 2021 and 8th overall in his career tying him for 3rd on the all time win list with Justin Brown. Front row starters Charlies Macwhinnie and Rich Gerbe broke to the front of the pack when the race got underway running the first half dozen laps in that order. On lap 7 “The Real Deal” Mark Stewart executed an outside pass of Gerbe for second and quickly turning his attention to leader Macwhinnie. After five laps of pursuing the race leader Stewart this time jumped to the inside on lap 12 to become the new race leader. The race would really heat up on lap 21 when Owen Grennan who started the race 9th made his way by Gerbe for second. Quickly Grennan closed in on Stewart who was seeking his first career win in the class after having won 25 Super Pro Trucks races. After taking the white flag Stewart raced down into the first turn and it appeared as though his car got a tad loose and Grennan quickly stuck his front bumper underneath. By the time the duo were in turn two contact was made with Stewart nosing his car into the wall ending his night. While under caution NASCAR officials conferred later deeming the contact started when the leaders car broke loose leaving Owen Grennan as the new race leader with championship leader Sean Glennon now second. When the final lap of the race was clicked off Grennan in his Excellence East Automotive Chevy was the winner with Glennon of Northport second in the Mike Ryan Cesspool Service racer. Defending champion Richie Davidowitz of East Moriches was third in the Benimax Trucking Chevy.

Without question the inside lane was the place to be during the 20-lap Super Pro Truck feature event with Jimmy Rennick Jr. of Howard Beach scoring his first win of 2021. Veteran Joe Creabino moved to the race lead at the throw of the green leading what would turn out to be a non stop race for the first four laps. On lap 5 Mark Stewart was scored the new race leader when he passed Cerabino to the inside exiting the fourth turn. Just one lap later Rennick with a inside pass of his own snuck under Cerabino for second quickly setting his radar for leader Stewart. After six laps of chasing and setting up Stewart for a pass Rennick made his move to the front with an inside pass off turn four on lap 13 bringing defending champion Jack Handley Jr. with his to second and most recent winner Lou Maestri to third. Over the final seven circuits Jimmy Rennick Jr. kept the Metropolitan Recycling Chevy out front earning his 5th career win. Jack Handley Jr. of Medford was runner-up in the East End Building Chevy while Lou Maestri of Deer Park placed third in the Goodfellas Auto Repair Ford.

Suffice to say Ray Fitzgerald of Manorville is the hottest driver in the INEX Legend Race Car ranks at Riverhead Raceway having won his third race in just his fifth start of the year. With qualifying order predicated by practice speeds Ray Fitzgerald was the 37th and final car to take time winning the pole with a time of 13.534 with George Tomko Jr. second quick at 13.579. When the 30-lap main event, the first of three races in the Miller Lite Triple Crown Series got underway Fitzgerald and Tomko occupied the first two positions at the front. On lap 22 Joey Braun suffered mechanical failure spewing oil all over the track in the third and fourth turn slowing the race with a caution flag. When the race resumed Fitzgerald, who missed the June 5th event due to his daughter’s engagement party jumped right back out front with Tomko still second and championship leader Eric Hersey now third. The trio ran in a string the remainder of the way with Fitzgerald earning his 8th career win in the Benimax Trucking machine tying Jim Sylvester for 7th on the all time win list. George Tomko Jr. of Aquebogue was second in the Montauk Distillery mount while Eric Hersey of Ronkonkoma was third in the Grillin Villan coupe.

Earlier in the day it was announced the new Bandolero class would be split into two races based on practice speeds trying to keep the faster and more experienced drivers in one feature and others in another. In the 15-lap Bando feature for drivers in the second half of the practice charts Gianni Esposito of Dacula, Ga. made a triumphant return to Long Island where his family once lived to score his first career Riverhead win. Nick Hodge led the early going after taking the lead from Brandon Booker on lap 2 leading up until he had the misfortune of spinning on lap 10 drawing a yellow. When the field was reset Gianni Esposito found himself the new race leader Ross & Pines Injury Attorneys entry and over the final five laps led the rest of the way for a popular victory with nearly 50 family and friends looking on. Nick Hodge of Baldwin recovered for second in the Sea Pro Marine machine with Austin Allen of Jamesport third in the Riverhead Building Supply car.

After winning the night before at the Seekonk, Ma. Speedway Darren Krantz Jr. of Huntington became the first repeat winner when he won the 15-lap Bandolero main event. Tucker Bock paced the race over the first three laps before he was overtaken by the inside pass of Rodney Dowless Jr. exiting the fourth turn to start the fourth lap. Dowless led two laps before the Angela’s House machine of Krantz burst upon the scene. It would be during a 5th lap double file restart that DJ Krantz raced his way out front earning him his second victory in less than 24 hours. Dowless of Dix Hills in his sponsor wanted entry was second while Reid Halpin of Wading River impressed with another third place finish in the East West Marine Supply racer.

The Mini Stocks competed in the first leg of their Miller Lite Triple Crown Series in a 30-lap contest with defending champion CJ Zukowski of Riverhead winning his second race of 2021. However this race too was steeped in controversy. Tom Puccia was fastest in qualifying with a lap of 14.767 while Ryan Warren was second at 14.692 earning them the front row for the feature. At the start Warren broke to the race lead over Puccia before Puccia roared back with an inside pass for the lead exiting the second turn on lap 9. With a long green flag run Puccia opened a slight advantage over Warren and Warren’s teammate CJ Zukowski. Here is where the controversy comes in. On lap 25 the third Warren Motorsports entry of Joe Warren Jr., Ryan’s brother and CJ’s car owner came to a sudden stop in the fourth turn drawing a yellow and bunching up the field for one final restart. Once the yellow was out Joe’s car fired right back up and continued on. When the race resumed Puccia the cheese in a Warren Motorsports sandwich was a sitting duck with CJ Zukowski racing into the lead while Puccia struggled to hold onto second. Over the final laps CJ Zukowski held on for his 4th career win in the Warren Motorsports Cavalier while Tom Puccia of Shirley was second in the On Site Cleaning Service mount. Paul Wojcik of Patchogue made a late race charge for third in the Moe’s Southwest Grill Restaurants of L.I. 

Sean Fitzpatrick of West Babylon is now two for two in the 8-Cylinder Gut & Go Enduros winning the 40-lap main event Saturday the 12th of his career. Greg Harris of Riverhead despite a faltering engine was able to cross the line second in the SGS Stone works Chevy while Pat Collins of Southampton was third in the PC Truck Repair entry.

The “Mach Chicken” Rob Savoy of Selden passed “The Punisher” Paul Fox of Riverhead midway through the school Bus Figure Eight race to score a popular win.

Buzz Chew Chevrolet NASCAR Modifieds: 1. John Baker 2. Michael Rutkoski 3. Kyle Soper 4. Chris Young 5. Dave Brigati 6. Dylan Slepian 7. John Beatty Jr. 8. Howie Brode 9. Jack Handley Jr. 10. Jarrod Hayes 11. Tom Rogers Jr. 12. Justin Brown 13. Eddie Brunnhoelzl III 14. CJ Lehmann 15. Glen Steger 16. Roger Turbush 17. Shawn Solomito

Crate Modifieds: 1. Owen Grennan 2. Sean Glennon 3. Richie Davidowitz 4. Eric Hersey 5. AJ DeSantis 6. Terry Stiles 7. Matt Brode 8. Mike Albasini 9. Chris Rogers 10. Alex Colasanto 11. Steve Ratti 12. Dennis Krupski 13. Michael Berner 14. Chase Grennan 15. Ken Southard 16. Mark Stewart 17. Charles Macwhinnie 18. Rich Gerbe 19. Eddie Schutze 20. Vinny Delaney 21. Stephen Coleman

Super Pro Trucks: 1. Jimmy Rennick Jr. 2. Jack Handley Jr. 3. Lou Maestri 4. Max Handley 5. Joe Cerabino 6. Matt Triola 7. Ethan Brown 8. Mark Stewart 9. Daniel Creegan 10. Frank Dumicich Sr. 

Legend Race Cars: 1. Ray Fitzgerald 2. George Tomko Jr. 3. Eric Hersey 4. Kyle Ellwood 5. Jason Castaldo 6. Jim Sylvester 7. Devin Deshaires 8. Nick Morabito 9. Anthony Marsh 10. Allan Pedersen 11. Brad Van Houten 12. Kevin Nowak 13. Jerry Curran 14. Riely O’Keefe 15. Alex Halinar 16. Mike Benton 17. Sean McElearney 18. Jeff Farruggia Jr. 19. Charlie Hodge 20. Mike Van Houten Jr. 21. Jeff Otto Jr. 22. Pat Moore 23. Jake Curran 24. Colin Volpe 25. Chris Sinatro 26. Joey Braun

Bando feature: 1. Gianni Esposito 2. Nick Hodge 3. Austin Allen 4. Chris Mancz Jr. 5. Brandon Booker 6. Julianna Kramer 7. Matthew Vescovy Jr. 8. Giavanna Agugliaro

Bandolero feature: 1. Darren Krantz Jr. 2. Rodney Dowless Jr. 3. Reid Halpin 4. Ben Morabito 5. Tucker Bock 6. Chevy Rommeney 7. Gavin Romano 8. Jayden Owens-Bader 9. Wayne Meyer Jr. 

Mini Stocks: 1. CJ Zukowski 2. Tom Puccia 3. Paul Wojcik 4. Joe Warren Jr. 5. Ryan Warren 6. Tony Collinsworth 7. Chris Elixson 8. Jesse St. Clair 9. Scott Phillips 10. James O’Connell 11. Mike Mujsce Jr. 12. Nick Kocis 13. Martin O’Connell 14. Justin Squires

8-Cylinder Enduro: 1. Sean Fitzpatrick 2. Greg Harris 3. Pat Collins 4. Richie Carman 5. Kevin Coyle 6. Carmine Ragusa 7. Eruic Germuth 8. David Verbeeck 9. Kevin Feeney 10. James Muench 11. Roger Tramm 12. Michael Asdahl 13. Dennis Jones 14. Kale Buckley 15. Steve Jones 16. Preston Prydatko 17. Andrew Denninger 18. Anthony Capobianco 19. Chris Dane 20. Mahmoud Anaya 21. Joe Boccia 22. Will Ebert 23. Jody Fickiessen 24. Michael Bianco 25. Richie Hubbard 26. Christian Kalbfleish 27. Robert Eggers 28. Ricky Carman     

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