Ol­tra set to com­pete in Mod­i­fied RoC 250

The Hazleton Standard-Speaker - - AUTO RACING - BY DINO OBERTO FOR THE STAN­DARD-SPEAKER

Bran­don Ol­tra came to Ev­er­green Race­way last Sun­day with a dual pur­pose: He wanted to run the spe­cial 50-lap Mod­i­fied fea­ture and he wanted to use it as a tuneup for the 67th an­nual Race of Cham­pi­ons (RoC) 250, which will be held September 28-30 at Lake Eris Speed­way in North East, Pa.

The grand­daddy of Mod­i­fied rac­ing, the Race of Cham­pi­ons 250 is the sec­ond long­est run­ning race in the coun­try in terms of longevity, next to only the In­di­anapo­lis 500.

It re­turns to Penn­syl­va­nia for the first time since 1992 when it was held at Po­cono Race­way. It be­gan in 1951 at Langhorne Speed­way and has had turns at Tren­ton, Po­cono, Flem­ing­ton, Che­mung and, in most years, at New York’s Oswego Speed­way.

To win this race puts a driver in elite com­pany as a who’s who of Mod­i­fied greats have cap­tured the cov­eted RoC. Lo­cally, the big names in­clude Jimmy Spencer, Eric Beers, Zane Zeiner and Tony and Matt Hirschman, who are both mul­ti­ple win­ners.

Like those driv­ers, Ol­tra has been a win­ner at Ev­er­green and Ma­hon­ing Val­ley speed­ways.

The Alden racer un­der­stands and ap­pre­ci­ates the great his­tory of the RoC. He’s anx­ious to get an­other shot at run­ning the time hon­ored event.

“Lake Erie Speed­way is a beau­ti­ful f acil­ity and the RoC does a re­ally good job of it all and we’re looking for­ward to go­ing out there,’’ Ol­tra said. “Hope­fully, we’ll make all 250 laps, get in a good solid run and bring it home in one piece.

“I prob­a­bly had been to it over a dozen times, first as a crew mem­ber. When I fi­nally got the chance to run in that show... to me that was the big­gest race there is for us in Mod­i­fieds. So it’s re­ally spe­cial get­ting the chance to race it the last three years.’’

Ol­tra has be­come one of Ev­er­green’s fa­vorites when the speed­way holds its monthly 50-lap­pers. It’s the track where he cut his teeth in rac­ing, in­clud­ing his de­but in Mod­i­fieds. From there he went on to Ma­hon­ing Val­ley and then the Sunoco Race of Cham­pi­ons Tour and the NASCAR Whe­len Mod­i­fied Tour.

When 2017 rolled around, Ol­tra was ready to make a full assault with the RoC Tour, but his sea­son was cut short after a hard crash at Jen­ner­stown Speed­way in June.

“We ac­tu­ally had ex­pected to run ev­ery race here at Ev­er­green and as many races as we could on the RoC Tour,’’ Ol­tra said. “But after we ran Lake Erie, we went to the next RoC race at Jen­ner­stown. I got in a bad wreck and ended up get­ting a con­cus­sion, so I had to sit out an­other two and half months un­til I got the okay to come back.”

Ol­tra had to sit out un­til early Au­gust when he re­turned to ac­tion at Che­mun gS peed rome in New York. Ev­ery­thing went well and he came home with a solid top-10 fin­ish.

“The hard­est part is that it’s so hard duck­ing in and out of shows and you’re not run­ning con­sis­tently ,” he said. “The prob­lem with our pro­gram is that some­thing is al­ways chang­ing. We get a new car and that gets wrecked or we have crew chief changes. Our then crew chief Joe Kamin­ski passed away on Fa­ther’s Day last year and that was a big blow to us. ... When that hap­pened, we just de­cided to take a ste p back and just fo­cus here at Ev­er­green.

“We had a re­ally good year too, but I missed run­ning on the RoC Tour. I love rac­ing with those guys and go­ing to dif­fer­ent tracks and get­ting the ex­pe­ri­ence that a lot of oth­ers may not get to do. This year we de­cided to do that and bounce back and forth from Ev­er­green and the (RoC) Tour, but the wreck set us back.”

Ol­tra went into last Sun­day’s race meet with high ex­pec­ta­tions, es­pe­cially after-sit­ting out most of the sum­mer. He knew a good run would give him the mo­men- tum head­ing into the 250.

“It’s a big deal here to­day for us be­cause we know we have a fast car to­day and I’m go­ing to drive the wheels off it and hope­fully get a win,” he said.

Un­for­tu­nately his day was cut short as he got col­lected in a wreck and was left with a dam­aged race car. But pan­ice never set in as this is a team which has been through that type of sit­u­a­tion and has proven its re­siliency. You can ex­pect them to be well-pre­pared for next week’s big show.

“We did quite a bit of main­te­nance on the car when I had all that down time,’’ Ol­tra ex­plained. “Ba­si­cally, we have ev­ery­thing fresh­ened up. We have to go up there and have all our ducks in a row, so when we get there we don’t break any­thing.”

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