Sammut Gets ISMA Win at Lancaster – PTD Exclusive
By JORDAN DELUCIA
The International Supermodified Association’s second race of the season kicked off on Saturday night at the Lancaster National Speedway, with Mark Sammut picking up the victory in an intense dash to the finish over Dave Shullick and Dan Bowes.
Michael Muldoon started outside the front row and took command at the drop of the green, pulling away from the rest of the field almost instantly. His biggest lead would stretch to a full straightaway before a caution came out on lap 37 for a stalled Mike Lichty in turn two.
Just three laps after the ensuing restart, Sammut would make the move around the outside of Muldoon for the lead. Muldoon would not complete the next lap, as he slowed on the backstretch and pulled into the infield coming out of turn four, showing no signs of obvious issues.
Meanwhile, Shullick was closing the small gap between himself and Sammut. He hounded the 78’s rear bumper for the final five laps, moving out several times to try and get a wheel underneath the leader. But Shullick’s efforts to pass would go unrewarded, as Sammut was able to hold on to win his second race at Lancaster.
“It took the car maybe 10 laps to come in, but once it came in, we were good,” Sammut said. “So we can’t complain at all. Win the heat, win the feature, can’t do much better than that.”
Once the lap 37 caution came out, Muldoon’s considerable lead was erased and Sammut paced behind the Royal Purple number 15 under yellow, knowing the opportunity to make a move for the lead had to be immediate.
“I thought I had a good chance to get by him and I knew [that] was going to be our opportunity,” Sammut said. “I was a little concerned before the caution came out, we were starting to get into some good lap traffic and I thought that could be tough if we had to battle him in lap traffic. But as it turned out, it worked out for us, at least.”
The “Shoe II” took home a second place finish and the hard-charger merit, coming all the way from the 13th starting spot in a car he said was “outstanding all day.” Shullick also said he unfortunately lost a bit of power in the motor about halfway through the race, which may have hindered his performance in the closing laps.
“I can’t say it specifically was down a cylinder, but it was down significantly,” Shullick said. “It was down probably 500 RPMs from where it was and where it normally should be… But the car made up for it tonight.”
Before the lap 37 caution, Shullick said Sammut and Muldoon were so far ahead of him that he couldn’t exactly see how their cars were driving, so he was forced to wait until after the restart to make the most of his time with the leaders. He said his car was a bit better handling-wise, while Sammut seemed to have the upper hand in horsepower.
Shullick was all over Sammut’s rear nerf bar in the final laps, and while he said there were a few tiny openings for him to get by Sammut’s 78, it was not worth the risk.
“I was just trying to time it right, trying to get underneath him,” Shullick said. “He was leaving the door open at times, and I could’ve probably bonzai’d in there once or twice, but it doesn’t really pay anything to take the car home in a basket.”
Dan Bowes came across the stripe in third to complete the podium with a car he said was acting a bit strange at one point in the evening. He said the car was fast in practice, but slowed down after putting new tires on for the heat race. But he and his crew went through their notes from their last Lancaster visit in 2017, and he said the changes they made paid off in the feature.
“We’ve got to figure out why it slowed so much with new rubber, that just doesn’t make sense,” Bowes said. “But there’s got to be a reason, so we’ll have to comb through the car and see if we can figure that out.”
Bowes said he also could not see the leaders before the race’s only caution came out, which made his chances for a podium spot seem rather unlikely because his car was not good on restarts. But he got by the 70 of Dave McKnight after the restart, moved up to third with Muldoon’s dropout and appeared to be slightly reeling in the leaders, but he ran out of laps.
“Unfortunately, I think that was about all the car had tonight, a third,” Bowes said. “Hopefully we can figure out a little more speed with this car at this place and come back next year a bit stronger.”
One side note about the new Hoosier tire compound for the 2018 season – there have only been two races so far this season, but both Sammut and Shullick seemed to see an improvement with the new tire, compared to last season’s.
Many Supermodified drivers, both wing and non-wing, largely panned Hoosier Racing Tire’s efforts last year to make a high-quality racing tire that kept its grip while staying durable. Mike Lichty even went as far to say he was parking his car for the remainder of the schedule until Hoosier changed the tire compound.
Changes to these tires were made in the offseason, and it seemed to impress the top two finishers at Lancaster.
“I think we’ve got a good tire now, we can put on a good race,” Sammut said. “The tire we had last year wasn’t a bad tire, but everybody went the same speed on it, so it didn’t make much of a race. The cars that started up front, stayed up front, for the most part.”
“Significant upgrade. Hoosier worked on it very, very hard in collaboration with ISMA, and I think they got it right this year,” Shullick said. “The tires are significantly upgraded, they’ve got grip and it’s allowing for guys to come from 13th, like I did tonight, and run second. Or, possibly first.”
With that being said, it’s worth noting that Shullick broke his own track record of 14.7 seconds from last year, with a lap of 14.561 in his heat race on new tires.