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Redemption: Flick Captures Port Royal’s Dream Race

By DREW PELLMAN

PORT ROYAL — AJ Flick spends at least six hours on the road every Saturday in order to race each night at Port Royal Speedway. The Apollo, Pa. native — who earned his first victory at the Juniata County oval late last season — had shown speed and consistent improvement in 2018, but circumstances hadn’t been in his favor. That is, however, until this past weekend.

Flick — the three-time track champion at Lernerville Speedway — guided his own No. 2 from the third-starting position all the way to Port Royal’s victory lane on a night that netted him $12,000 in prize money. He did it against a strong field of 32 410s sprint cars that were signed in to take part in the 13th Annual Living Legends Dream Race.

“Look at the people we raced against,” Flick said. “We beat Lance (Dewease), Danny (Dietrich), Logan (Wagner) — a lot of very good race cars and a lot of fantastic drivers, so it’s huge win. I’m speechless and I had tears in my eyes as I was pulling into victory lane.

I know we’ve been fast, but I grew up watching all these guys win. These are guys that beat the Outlaws. I always pull in and wonder ‘how in the world are we going to compete with this?’”

He certainly did on this night.

T.J Stutts — another driver looking to secure his first Port Royal victory of the season — used his front-row starting spot to jump out to an early lead. Stutts kept the top spot secured until lap eight, when Jared Esh — who scored his first career victory two weeks prior — took to the bottom of turns three and four to take the lead away. Stutts lost control in the process and spun to a stop to bring out the first caution of the event.

The race was clean and green for Esh until lap 21, when Cory Haas’ machine blew a tire on the frontstretch. Tyler Reeser was running behind Haas at the time, but couldn’t make it through unscathed as his No. 35 shot into the inside wall near the exit lane in turn one. Jeff Miller and Jeff Halligan also received some damage, but all drivers were okay in the incident. The caution flag quickly turned into a red for a lengthy cleanup, which also served as a fuel stop for the race teams.

Flick, who dropped back from third to fifth earlier in the race, had worked his way back into contention and would line right behind the leader when the race went back to green. Once it did, fans were treated to a sequence of slidejobs for the top two spots that will certainly make people want to come back for more. This continued until lap 24, when Tyler Bear slowed to a stop off turn four with a flat right-rear tire.

It was more of the same on the re-start, however, but this time Flick’s machine was too much for Esh to handle. Danny Dietrich came on late as well to steal second from Esh, but couldn’t get any closer to Flick than the second-and-a-half margin of victory.

“We ended up making a change on that open red, and it helped hook the car up just an ounce more to help keep my momentum up to get by Jared,” Flick explained. “I was able to change my line a little bit. I knew we were maneuverable enough to take advantage of any opportunity. We were good enough to stay with him in the dirty air, so I knew once we could get by him and get to the clear air we would be pretty good.”

After the fact, Flick reflected back on one of his racing heroes — Greg Hodnett — and the heartbreak he felt when he experienced a tire failure while leading the PA Speedweek event in Hodnett’s memory.

“I’d probably trade the Greg Hodnett Memorial for this race right now — not going to lie — just because of how much Greg meant to me,” Flick said. “But nonetheless you can’t go back in time. My buddy told me I’ve probably got 40 more chances at that if I race as long as Sammy Swindell, so that helped lift my spirits a little bit.”

Either way, the win provided a lot — both mentally and financially.

“It is a huge sigh of relief — especially because I know now that I can buy a couple of things and try to make the car a little bit better” he explained. “I know that we’re getting very good at this speedway under a lot of different track conditions. The main relief is that I’m not a one-hit-wonder anymore. I didn’t win one fair-week race and that’s how my career ended. But this is a big one that’ll be on shirts for a long time, so that’s pretty cool.”

Dietrich paced the field in time trials with a lap of 15.750 seconds around the big half-mile, while Flick and Esh took victories in a pair of 16-lap semi qualifiers. Ryan Smith — who was racing for the first time since walking away from a vicious crash at Selinsgrove Speedway during Speedweek — won the B-main.

After the top three, Lance Dewease and Logan Wagner settled for fourth and fifth, with Blane Heimbach, Landon Myers, Steve Buckwalter, Mike Wagner and Stutts rounding out the top 10.

OTHER LOCAL SPRINT CAR WINNERS:
Williams Grove (Friday 8/2) — 410s: Freddie Rahmer; 358s: Postponed
Lincoln (Saturday 8/3) — 410s: Kyle Moody; 358 sprints: Doug Hammaker
Selinsgrove (Saturday 8/3) — 360s: Ryan Kissinger
Trail-Way (Friday 8/2) — 358s: Mike Bittinger

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