Epping, NH (Sept. 10, 2016) – Vickery, Ohio's Moe Lilje started out the season without a permanent supermodified ride but found seat time in the Lichty 74, subbing for Rob Summers and/or in the Jimmy Bodnar-built 76 when scheduled driver Lou Cicconi Jr. was racing elsewhere. Moe proved to be productive in either ride, but eventually he started to excel in the 76 and with Cicconi busy with his dirt ride near his home. Moe began to show in the top five with the 76, again and again in the last few months, also garnering some podium runs.
Coming off a strong fourth at Oswego's SuperNationals the previous week, Lilje time trialed a solid sixth in Star qualifying in a stellar field of 24 winged ISMA cars vying for the Star Classic crown. The strong time trial led to an outside spot on the front row after handicapping of the top 12 time trialers. Lilje utilized the to position to the max, taking the lead from polesitter Mark Sammut on lap 7 of the 150 lapper and never relinquishing the spot to get the win. It was the second consecutive year that the Star Classic winner had come from Ohio.
Lilje recounted his astounding achievement after the race. “First of all I just want to say WOW. I can't believe we just won the Star Classic. Words can't describe how happy I am, not only for myself but for the team. I mean these guys have put their blood, sweat and tears into making the car go fast. I'm happy I was able to take the race car and get them a win because they deserve it more than anything. We've been knocking on the door having some good fourths and a couple seconds along the way. We've been so close but everybody has their program so good, if you're not spot on then it's the difference between winning and finishing second or third or fourth. Fortunately tonight we were able to start up front and track position here means a ton.
“We got the lead early and the car was great. We were able to hang on, get through traffic and keep everybody behind us. It's tough to get by the lappers as the race wears on as the tires are wearing down and they get really free. You can't always predict what they are going to do. The yellows timed out pretty well for us. At times I felt we were struggling with traffic and getting pressure from behind but the yellows kind of reset things and we'd be back into clean air. At the end we were able to get up in the second groove and by the lappers pretty good. I saw a nose there maybe with eight or nine to go but I wasn't really nervous about it because I was able to get by the lapper on the outside and whoever was there was going to get pinned at least for a corner. That would buy me a couple laps so everything worked out great.
“I can't thank these guys enough – Jimmy and his whole family for putting their time and resources into making this car go fast. Kody and Joe, the guys who help out on the car and Simpson Race Products and Level Performance for giving the engine that makes this thing go fast.”
Second place finisher Mike Lichty was the guy showing a wheel in the waning laps as Lichty was trying to redeem his last place finish at Oswego's Super Nationals that cost him the point lead.
“It was a good run We'll take it. Obviously we would have liked to win the thing. We had a good battle with Moe there. Lapped traffic was definitely the deciding factor and it played out for him better than it did us. So we'll take second I think it puts us back in the point lead. It was unfortunate for DJ because all three of us – Moe, DJ and I – had fairly equal cars. I think we would have put on for a good show. I just can't thank Reed's Salvage enough, PATCO Transportation, the whole crew. Everybody works hard. Now we'll get our stuff together and go to Thompson and try and win it. It's been a strange point battle. Last week at Oswego we had a dnf and to come here with DJ winning this race last year and then breaking. They always say you have to finish every lap to win a championship but it seems the two guys up front have been breaking one week and winning or finishing up front the next week so we will go to Thompson and try to win there.”
Chris Perley, starting ninth in the field, brought his newly winged Hawk 11 to a third, his best finish of late, but he still has strong opinions about the current tire situation.
“We had a good run to get to third. I'm sorry but I hate the tires. The tires we have make it so hard to put on a race. Thank God that the end of this race gave the fans something to watch. For these cars to go around and spin out at lap 50 in a 150 lap race is ridiculous. I can't stand it. We worked so hard to get this car ready. Joey built a great car. We didn't know what we were going to end up with tonight. It was the first time with the wing. Everybody busted their tails and it was really nice to see a top three. It makes it worthwhile. We've been struggling the past couple of years. A second here and maybe one win in the last three years or something like that. It's a good start. I think the car has potential to make these tires kind of work. I was happy. I just outlasted everyone else.
“We were all struggling out there. I picked the right lane near the end and gained a whole bunch of spots in a row which made it nice. It was fun but it's discouraging at lap 75 when you have nothing left and you have 75 to go. That's how all of us felt out there. You just have to ride it out and see who is the worst that you can get by. But, I'm happy with the car. Joe builds a helluva car and these guys of course can put a car together and nobody is better than Ed Shea. Congrats to Moe, he did a heck of a job. It was awesome to see him win. It really was.”
Mark Sammut and Lilje brought the field to green and Sammut grabbed the lead but not for long. Yellow came quickly on lap 5 when Dave Duggan's 51 was around in four.
Sammut would lead one more lap as Lilje, Shullick, Dan Bowes and Lichty were right behind, when the flag flew again, a premonition perhaps of things to come. Alison Cumens in the P&L Motorsports 21 and Joe Gosek both spun and restarted.
On the next restart Lilje stole the lead from Canadian Sammut, who had finished third in the race in 2015 and Lilje began to pull away on the quick New Hampshire bullring.
The race continued fast and furious with Lilje gaining a healthy lead over now Shullick, Lichty, Sammut and more as the laps flew by.
Lilje came into traffic by lap 18 when Joey Payne's Penix 3 slowed and pitted.
The 76 was off on the green with a lap car already in between Lilje and Shullick, Lichty, Mike Ordway Jr., Sammut, Dan Bowes, Jon McKennedy, Perley, Mike Netishen, Timmy Jedrzejek and a strong pack behind.
As the race approached the lap 50 mark, Lilje was dicing through the back of the field chased by Shullick, Lichty and Ordway Jr, with Shullick and Lichty waging a battle not only for a win but for the ISMA championship.
The torrid action slowed on lap 56 when the 19 of Trent Stephens spun and restarted at the rear. The restart bunched the field but Lilje was able to take the 76 a distance away from a formidable pack of Shullick, Lichty, Ordway, Sammut, McKennedy, Perley, Netishen, Jeff Abold, Ben Seitz and Timmy J.
Yellow flew a couple more times before the 75 mark with one for the 39 of Ian Cumens, and one for Jamie Timmons, Timmy J and Gosek, all of whom restarted except for Cumens. Pitting were Mike McVetta and Chris Perley who both also continued at the tail.
Back underway the top five were the same but suddenly as the counter clicked to 70 Shullick slowed and pitted, done for the night with a broken lower suspension link. Now the point race switch would depend on what Lichty did.
Lilje, Lichty, Ordway Jr. jumped out to a wider margin in front until another yellow and then red fell on lap 81. Shullick's teammate, Jon McKennedy, who had set fast time in his first appearance in the twin Bodnar car numbered 96, shot off four with flames erupting from the front. A blown motor was deemed the cause. Jon was okay but he had laid down a patch of fluids and refueling was allowed during the cleanup.
On the restart of 82, a strong running Mike Netishen was called for jumping the start, costing him a penalty.
Lilje and Lichty were pulling away from Sammut, Ordway Jr., as 2016 Oswego Classic winner, Abold, was beginning to show his hand.
But, the race flow ebbed again on laps 92, with another 21 spin, and again on lap 93 with a tangle between Duggan, Jedrzejek and Bobby Magner. All would restart.
Finally, at the 100 lap mark, things settled down and Lilje had his clean air, leaving Lichty behind to fend off Sammut, who was moving forward, Ordway, Abold, Perley, Ben Seitz, Stephens, and McVetta, all still running strong in the top ten.
With less than 50 to go, Classic strategy began to appear. Lilje was putting car after car down as he went to that high side that he spoke of. Unfortunately, Sammut's forward progress was stopped on lap 120 when he and the 21 of Cumens brushed tires sending them into spins. Both restarted, but at the back.
At lap 125, Lilje could feel some of the pressure from behind as it was go-time with 25 to go. Lichty, Abold, Perley and McVetta, then Ordway, Stephens and Jedrzejek, were making their moves.
The race would go green from here on in as Lilje was still able to put some lap car cushions between him and Lichty, who had Abold and Perley hot on his tail.
On lap 137, Lilje and Lichty approached a slower car and the two ran side by side for several laps, each trying to get by with the lead. Four laps later, Lilje accomplished the feat leaving Lichty in second and a lap car for Perley to contend with. Running nose to tail behind were McVetta, Netishen (the lap car), Abold and Ordway Jr. Unfortunately for McVetta it had been deemed by ISMA tech inspectors that his change of an un-flat tire in an earlier pitstop was against the rules and he had been issued a one lap penalty. It was a heartbreaker for the 22 driver, in his first ever appearance at Star, who was running fourth in the field as the race was about to end.
Lilje was now heading for his biggest career win which came just a few laps later as he crossed under checkers pretty much alone. The Ohio part-time driver of a car housed in Virginia was a story in itself. Lichty and Perley the top three behind. McVetta, who finished fourth on the track, as stated was a lap down, giving Abold and Ordway top five spots.
For Abold, a fourth was icing on the cake after his Oswego win.”It was a good race for us coming off the Classic win at Oswego last week. Then we started off today and had our normal old reliable car. It just faded a little at the end more than I wanted it to, but up until the very end it was a good solid car as always. I had come from the back there as I actually faded back more than I wanted to but I was able to pick my way back through. You kind of use the car up more coming through traffic more than you do starting up front. But overall we had a good solid car, a good team effort and it was a good finish.”
Ordway Jr., who continues to improve in his Booth ride, was okay with fifth. “We had a good run. We were up to third at one point. The car was pretty decent and I thought we could have something for the end. At the beginning I was trying to save as much as I could I got in traffic and got a little held up. The car didn't really come in like I thought it was going to. But it is what it is. The car is in one piece. I didn't have what I thought we would towards the end and we ended up fifth. It's another top five and we'll take it. We'll be all set for Thompson.”
Trent Stephens, Sammut, Jedrzejek, McVetta, and Seitz finished up the top ten with Timmy J the last car in the lead lap.