Waterford, CT — Chris Leonard warned the media. “I’m not good at talking,” he explained after winning his first-ever Northeastern Midget Association feature Sunday at Waterford Speedbowl’s Budweiser Blast Off. It was his only problem.
Taking off from the pole, Leonard, 19, needed only five minutes and 40 and three quarters seconds (a Speedbowl record) to capture the 25 lapper. Although “it seemed like an hour” to him, Leonard didn’t face a serious challenge in putting the family-owned No. 22 Hawk/Autocraft in victory lane.
Chasing Leonard the entire way, Russ Stoehr (Dumo’s Desire Racing 45) was second. Erica Santos (Breault 44), Randy Cabral (Bertrand47) and Chris DeRitis (DeRitis 75) filled out the top five.
Leonard beat outside pole sitter Santos into the first turn but it was Stoehr behind him coming out of two. “I could hear Stoehr’s motor,” said Leonard, admitting he was expecting to be passed. A serious challenge never came, Leonard actually opening up a bigger lead in the closing laps.
The crew, led by Chris’ dad Dave, overcame two mechanical problems on Saturday before finishing second to Stoehr in his heat. The weekend effort comes after two difficult seasons for the Nashua, NH-based Leonard operation.
“They were on their game,” Stoehr said of the winning team. Realizing his car “wasn’t spot on,” Stoehr was “waiting for something to slow the leader down” but “ran out of time.”
Pleased with the podium finish, Santos was even happier for Leonard. “I know that first win is the best feeling in the world and he deserves it,” she said.
While it was a first for Leonard, it was not for the 10-plus year old car. A one-time Mike Scrivani machine, Bobby Seymour drove it to a number of victories including four at Waterford.
NEMA NUGGETS: DeRitis had the fastest feature lap (13.222), a couple ticks off Leonard’s best effort (13.373)…Considering last year, both Stoehr and Santos were happy with their finish. It was the first podium finish since Oct. 5, 2008 for Santos…Leonard is the 43rd winner NEMA winner at Waterford.
RESULTS: 1. Chris Leonard, 2. Russ Stoehr, 3. Erica Santos, 4. Randy Cabral, 5. Chris DeRitis, 6. Greg Stoehr, 7. Adam Cantor, 8. Jesse State, 9. Paul Luggelle, 10. Anthony Nocella, 11. Todd Bertrand, 12. Eric Cabral, 13. John Zych Jr., 14. Lacen Fornoro. r