Gary Ham turns tragedy into triumph at Chemung

by Steven Ovens

(CHEMUNG) Chemung Speedrome paid tribute to our nation’s veterans and active duty military personnel Friday night with an opening ceremony that included the members of the Valley Color Guard from Sayre, Waverly and Athens.

The stars and stripes were lifted high above the perfect blue Chemung skies and then lowered to half-staff in memory of a Chemung Speedrome family member and friend- Kenny Ham. Ham, brother of INEX Legends driver Gary Ham, was involved in a tragic accident earlier in the week in Las Vegas losing his life.

Racers, officials and fans alike shared and comforted one another as the Ham family returned to the track Friday night. Sometimes racing can be the best medicine when we lose one of our own, but nobody knew just how powerful that medicine was going to be on this hot night at the races.

Chuck Lohmeyer led the INEX Legends field to green and led lap number one. Ham, who somehow found a way to race with a very heavy heart on this night, drove a spirited race to hold on to the second spot. Caution flew early on lap four as James Anderson spun sideways in the corner which bunched the field back up for a restart.

Ham powered to the lead on the restart, utilizing the outside lane but Lohmeyer stayed glued to Ham’s rear bumper to make it a great race. Kevin Youngs got to the inside of Lohmeyer and was scored second on lap 8, with Daniel Carter following him through as Louhmeyer got hung out to dry.

Carter tried making an outside move on lap 11 for second, but he and Youngs ran out of racing room- making contact and ending Carter’s night with a broken front end. Youngs pitted for repairs and was able to continue.

The restart would begin what was a battle royale for the lead with Ham driving the race of his life with some help from above. Lohmeyer was on Ham’s rear bumper for the remaining nine laps, looking high and low for a way to get by. The driver of the 5L even rapped on the back bumper several times to keep Ham honest- but Ham was more than up to the task.

“I just kept talking to him (Kenny) every lap,” said an emotional Ham in Victory Lane. “I just kept saying ‘stay with me buddy’ and he did every lap, every corner.”

Ham cruised on to the victory with the fans elevating to their feet to show their appreciation and support to the Ham family. Ham even cut a few donuts on the front stretch post-race in honor of his late brother.

“The Lord needed Kenny more than we did. It’s a tough situation but we will manage with the help of the Lord, our great family and our race family.”

The Sunoco Modifieds took to the track for their 40-lap feature event with Zack Curren snatching his third checkered flag in a row. So for the third week in a row, the following Friday race night will see fans enjoy $0.94 hot dogs from Zack’s Grill at the races following a Curren victory.

Track veterans Gene Sharpsteen and Tim Gullo brought the field to Alan Mathews’ green flag. Sharpsteen led lap number one, but it would be Zack Curren who would wrestle the lead away with an impressive pass off of turn four to lead lap number two.

Yellow flag slowed the pack on lap 10, when Bryan Sherwood would spin after close racing into the first turn and collect Sharpsteen who had started from the pole position. The yellow would be displayed on lap 11 for Kevin Youngs who slowed in turn three.

The restart was a bit messy as contact at the front of the pack, accordioned the field behind the leaders causing another caution on the restart. When racing resumed, Curren pulled away leaving Gullo to battle with Modified points leader Zack Knowlden for the second position.

It took Knowlden 12 laps to finally get a peek under Gullo but he would get the position entering turn one on lap 23. Behind that battle, Charlie Sharpsteen and Bryan Sherwood raced side by side for the fourth position with Sherwood making the pass for the spot on lap 30.

Curren had quite a scare with just five laps to go as contact between he and a lapped machine in the first turn saw the No. 94 dead sideways in the apex of the corner. The winner of the previous two features at Chemung dirt-tracked the car on pavement to somehow save the car and maintain the lead even though Knowlden was able to close the gap for the lead.

Curren would secure his third victory in a row followed by Knowlden and Gullo finishing third. Sherwood made a great recovery coming from the back of the pack to score fourth with Keith Youngs completing the top five.

“Man ,I wish we had figured out this thing a few weeks earlier,” noted Curren. “We had it rolling well the beginning of the year, made some changes and it just didn’t have the same speed for a few races.”

The driver of car No. 94 spoke to his help in the pits and reflected on the bigger story of the night within his racing community.

“This is the dream team right here, me and papa got it done tonight. But this race was for Kenny Ham, he was a fantastic man and we will miss seeing him at the track. I’m thinking of his son and new grandson.”

The Super Stocks had an event-filled race for their 25-lap feature but the drama wasn’t done after the checkered flag on this night. It appeared as though former track champion Mike Nichols would grace Midstate Basement Authorities Victory Lane once more in 2019, but it would not come to be as Nichols was found to not have made minimum weight on the scales.

After the dust in post-race tech settled, it would be longtime veteran Frank Chapman who would conduct the victory lane interview with checkered flag in hand. It admittedly has not been a great season for Chapman, as it has been a struggle for his brightly orange painted No. 89.

Brian DeMark and Chapman led the field to green in the 25-lap Super Stock feature event. DeMark would take the lead early on to lead the opening four laps of the race. But a hot night with little give and take led to several cautions between laps 4, 5, 6 and 7.

On the restart, Chapman’s No. 89 took the advantage into turn one but spun after contact with the former race leader DeMark. This handed the lead over to Nichols in a renumbered No. 19 in memory of Kenny Ham after Nichols peeled his normal No. 72 off the car for this special occasion to honor a friend of Chemung Speedrome.

This also put Ajay Potrzebowski into second place for the restart in his first start of the season in a car they drove out to Chicago to take delivery of this week. Another quick caution on lap 5 allowed Robinson to break back into the top five with a fresh right rear tire after he was the cause of an earlier caution with a flat tire.

But Robinson’s night wasn’t free and clear after the flat tire as on lap 7, Robinson spun after contact from the 75 of Jim House entering turn one. The final restart would see Nichols pull away by a half straightaway over Chapman, who had recovered from his early race incident.

Chapman would be declared the winner over Robinson, Jesse Hurley, DeMark, and young Garrett Zacharias scoring a top five finish.

Four Cylinder competition saw Greg Moldt use the outside lane to hold off a hard charging DJ Shaw for the victory to increase his points lead. Moldt came into the night as the points leader not only at Chemung but also at Wyoming County.

The queen of the Chemung Four Cylinders, Monica Green, led the opening four laps from her pole starting position. But this race turned into a dandy with three cars dicing it up for the lead and dodging and weaving lapped machines while contesting the top spot.

Moldt took the lead on lap five by a front bumper cover from Green, with the two swapping the lead back and forth on laps 5, 6, 7 and 8 with a new race leader. Moldt secured the lead on lap 9 and survived a wild three-wide effort by Green and Shaw who saw an opportunity to pounce in slower traffic on lap 12.

It was then DJ Shaw’s turn to try and wrestle the lead away from Moldt. Shaw would rotate the center of the corner and make a bee line for Moldt’s driver side door to stay tucked up against the No. 51 off the turns- but Moldt never lost his momentum on the outside.

Moldt held on for another Chemung victory in 2019 over Shaw. Joey Bevaqua put on a late race charge to get by Green for third, with Ricky Lane rounding out the top five finishers.

“We’re just racing for fun this season,” said Moldt in Victory Lane. “We love winning races and we will just let the points be what they will be.”

Chase Sinsabaugh and Derrick Vogler led the field to the green flag for their 10-lap feature event. Chase Sinsabaugh led lap number one in his blue No. 9, but Josh Duke in No. 13 swept around the outside of turn two to take the lead.

But caution fell behind them as the Vogler spun out toward the infield and made significant contact with the inside guardrail in turn two. Crews made repairs and he was able to return to the field, uninjured in what was a scary looking incident. Sinsabaugh reassumed the lead of the race as the field had not completed a lap with Duke in the lead.

On the restart, Duke took the extreme outside lane off turn four to take the lead to put himself atop the scoreboard on lap two. Duke would not look back from that point, laying down some pretty impressive laps in the closing laps of the event to win the Outlaw division.

From there the battle raged on for the runner up spot as Vogler took chase on Sinsabaugh, showing that the earlier contact hadn’t shied him away from getting back on the horse. Vogler made a nice pass entering turn one with two laps to go to secure that spot. But unfortunately the car wouldn’t stick in turn three on the final lap as Sinsabaugh made one last run to the inside in the final two corners for the Bandit win.

Vogler spun, with Sinsabaugh cruising down to the checkered flag for the Bandit division victory.

The next event at “The Drome” will take place on Saturday August 3 when the Race of Champions come to town to compete in the Rod Spaulding Classic 75. It will be reunion night as drivers, owners and team members from Shangri-La and Chemung will converge on the property for the annual benefit night that supports the Spaulding Foundation for Injured Drivers.

The Race of Champions Super Stocks will compete in the ‘Tribute to Ed McGuire 51’ while they also share the card with the Race of Champions TQ Midgets. Gates will open at 5:00 with racing taking the green flag at 6:00. Admission is $20 for adults, $17 for seniors 65+ and military, $8 for kids ages 6-11, and free for kids and under.

Chemung Speedrome will be back in action for weekly Friday night racing on Friday August 16 at 7:00 with the New York Super Stock Series, Sunoco Modifieds, 4 Cylinders, INEX Legends and INEX Bandoleros.

*Zack Curren, Frank Chapman and Greg Moldt won free wings from Buffalo Wild Wings in Horseheads in the ‘Winner Winner Chicken Dinner’ bonus.

*His 13th place finish earned Steven Sherwood $25 toward shock dynoing, donated by Eagle One Fabrication and Speed and Down Force Shocks. Each week a random finisher will win this new bonus.

*Military veterans Don Fleming (USMC) and John Zack (USAF) served as Grand Marshals, throwing the green flag and presenting trophies to feature winners, one of whom was Zack’s grandson Zack Curren.

*Young drivers Chase Sinsabaugh, whose car was detailed in tribute to military veterans, and Jeffrey Noe presented a plaque to Jerry Keane, the Veteran of the Race. Keane served in the US Navy and was recently honored for 50 years in service to veterans and the community. He and Mary, his wife of 68 years, were on track for the emotional opening ceremonies.

Official Finishes Chemung Speedrome, Friday July 26th, 2019

SUNOCO MODIFIEDS, 15 cars (40 Laps): ZACK CURREN 94, Zack Knowlden 4, Tim Gullo 71, Bryan Sherwood 95, Keith Youngs 5, Charlie Sharpsteen 98, Pat Judson 19, Gary Noe 1, Gene Sharpsteen 7, Bill Chandler Jr. 17, Damon Frutchey 15, Scott Reagan 51, Steven Sherwood 96 (DNF), Dave Bellis 11 (DNF), Kevin Youngs 2 (DNF)
Heats: Curren, Gullo

SUPER STOCKS, 11 cars (25 Laps): FRANK CHAPMAN 89, Nick Robinson 15, Jesse Hurley 22, Brian DeMark 5, Garrett Zacharias 71, Dennis Beardslee 55, Gary Noe 1, Jim House 75, Jason Duke 13, Ajay Potrzebowski 172, Mike Nichols 19 (DQ)
Heats: Robinson, Chapman

4 CYLINDERS, 11 cars (20 Laps): GREG MOLDT 51, DJ Shaw 0, Joey Bevaqua 41, Monica Green 5, Ricky Lane 77R, Mark Taylor 75, Alex Brown 04, Jason Peck 78, Kevin May 4, Shane McCormick 59, Tyler Harbst 2 (DNS)
Heats: Shaw, Moldt

INEX LEGENDS, 7 cars (20 Laps): GARY HAM 19, Chuck Lohmeyer 5L, Jody Buckley 2, Kevin Youngs 5, James Anderson 25, Charlie Lohmeyer 15, Daniel Carter 83
Heat: Ham

INEX BANDOLEROS, 5 cars (10 Laps): JOSH DUKE 13 (Outlaw winner), Chase Sinsabaugh 9 (Bandit winner), Derrick Vogler 51, Isaiah Anderson 25, Jeffery Noe 1
Heat: Duke