By – Carol Haynes
Photos – Jim Feeney

Epping, NH – Chris Perley became a four-time winner of the prestigious All-Star Classic on Saturday night, tying him with supermodified legend Ollie Silva who also won four. Only two drivers – Bentley Warren and Russ Wood – have won more in the 44 years of the event’s running. Perley’s run to the front of the ISMA Classic Cigar 100 was an exciting and challenging one, as he had to find a way around some tough competition.

Ipswich, Mass.’s Justin Belfiore and Canadian Mike Lichty led the way until Perley swapped the point with Lichty after midway to take the lead on lap 66. Lichty stayed with the Vic Miller 11 until the waning laps of the event when the 84 began to fade and Lou Cicconi and Dave Shullick Jr. powered by. Perley, whose last win came on July 25, has felt the loss of some of his competitive edge, uncharacteristically falling out of the top five on two occasions in the last five race events, although staying on top of the point standings. Perley described what brought him back into victory lane.

“We’ve definitely been off lately. We’ve been searching and hoping that we didn’t get to a point where we were over-engineering and over-thinking what we had. We came here and practiced a couple weeks ago and it wasn’t bad. We warmed up earlier today and it wasn’t that great. The times weren’t there but it didn’t feel that bad. We just kind of left it alone. Two things were out there today.  Number one basically, we felt that whatever happens, happens. And number two, let’s get this race under our belts and get more information as well as go back to look at some of the old notes that worked.”

“You get a little gun shy, Perley continued,  “when you are messing up and the car isn’t what it was. Tonight the car is what it was. We had a great race with Mike Lichty but somehow he didn’t win again. Our car ran great and obviously the crew did a great job in the fact that it never skipped a beat and the motor ran great. We still have what we always had which is a great package, great sponsors and a great crew. My hat’s off to everybody. I’m just the lucky guy who gets to drive this car.”

With a record the envy of most, Perley has found the latter part of this season a little more difficult than in the past few years.

“Sometimes it’s hard to get discouraged when so many people expect you to do what you’ve always done. And, it’s difficult to keep doing that and obviously you can’t keep it up forever but you are going to try just as hard and sometimes harder when you are not. It’s tough when you are racing a tough bunch of competitors and people want to know what happened when you finish second. That’s the hard part. It all worked out tonight. We’re very happy to have our fourth win here.”

“Liquid” Lou Cicconi was in the runner-up spot after a torrid three-way battle for the spot after Perley took over. As Lou headed back to his Aston, PA home, he said briefly, “The car was good. It just wasn’t there. It was actually better after I bent the right front canard when I got into Chris.  But, I definitely didn’t have enough. I think if I had caught some traffic I might have had something for Chris but when we were running out away from each other Chris was gone.”

Ohio’s Dave Shullick Jr., also had a strong run finishing third as he fought with Cicconi ahead and 5-time Classic winner Russ Wood behind.

“It really was a good race. We started a ways back. The car wasn’t perfect but we worked on it all day long. When we got here it wasn’t good at all and we just kept working, working and working. We made it better throughout the whole afternoon. The 10 car and my car were about the same. I don’t think either one of us was faster than the 11. He was definitely better. The traffic was really tough. I think we passed the 51 around 700 times. Traffic is tough here and it’s hard to pass.”

The 24-car ISMA field was pared down early due to 2 separate accidents in warm-ups one involving Bob Magner in the Holbrook 41 and the other, Robbie Summers in the Lane 9 which he was driving for the day after a devastating crash of his former mount at Oswego in September.  The top sixteen time trialers were locked into the 44th Classic with the top twelve handicapped leaving Bobby Haynes Jr. and Justin Belfiore to lead the field to green.

Belfiore was the immediate leader and hit the pedal to leave the others behind. By lap 8 he was into the tail of the 22 starters on the ¼ mile oval. By lap 10 he had put two more cars between him and the battle for second between Haynes, Jeff Locke, Mike Lichty and Vern Romanoski.

Locke was to fly the first yellow on lap 18 when he came around out of turn two with miraculously everyone coming up avoiding contact.

Belfiore was off again on the green with Lichty moving into second ahead of Jeff Abold, Chris Perley, Haynes and Lou Cicconi moving into the top five. Ironically, it was Locke who flew the second yellow on lap 35 to bunch things up behind Belfiore. This time there were no cushion cars and on the restart, Mike Lichty, hell-bent for his first in ISMA, right behind.

Out front it was a 98-84 duel for the lead as Perley, Cicconi chased. Haynes, Abold, Dave Shullick, Ben Seitz and Mark Sammut all were in the process of moving forward.

At the midway mark it was Belfiore, Lichty, Perley and Cicconi almost nose to tail as the front-runners approached another batch of slower cars. Belfiore, trying to protect his lead, dove under a lap car as Mike Lichty looked to the outside. Unfortunately for Belfiore he could not complete the move and yellow flew for the leader who was sitting sideways in one. Jeff Holbrook, Russ Wood and Vern Romanoski used the time to pit.

Lichty was now the leader as Belfiore tried to restart at the rear. Perley made a breathtaking move around Lichty out back but the move was negated when Romanoski stopped out front after reentering the fray. First half leader Belfiore called it a day here and pulled pitside.

On the next restart of the 52nd lap, Lichty was able to fend off the charging Perley and Cicconi and off the trio went with Haynes, Shullick, Sammut and Seitz holding off Russ Wood and Dave McKnight.

Ten laps later Perley and Lichty made a sandwich of Dave Duggan on the front stretch vying for number one, but Lichty had prevailed as the crowd went wild.

The next lap saw yellow for Mark Sammut who had hit the wall in turn four losing a wheel in the process because of it. Sammut pretty much sunk his quest for the 2009 title, as he needed to finish well to stay in contention. Said point leader Chris Perley later of his challenger’s demise, “I feel bad for Mark wrecking. He was second in points and it would have been hard for him to catch me but he was still a great second and you don’t want to end the year like that. We still have another race but that basically took him way out of contention. It’s too bad. He was running good, and the accident put him out.”

Perley went one more lap after the restart of lap 65 before making good a pass of Lichty to take the lead on lap 66. The Rocket went into afterburn but Lichty kept sight as Cicconi, Shullick and Russ Wood hounded him.

A yellow flew on lap 83 for Artie Rousseau but Rousseau was able to keep the 616 going and the race was quickly back underway with Perley’s opponents now getting one last shot. But, Perley was in command now while the others were tied up with each other fighting back and forth for the runner up spot. Cicconi moved on Lichty. Shullick Jr. was also on the move and Russ Wood was right there waiting for a chance.

As the double checkers were waved for Perley, Cicconi, Shullick Jr., Lichty and Wood came by in that order, seconds later.

Lichty, although missing out on the win once again, commented, “It was definitely nice to get into the race car after a month off. We had a real good car at the beginning. We chased Justin down for the lead. He got together with Graham there and we inherited the lead. After that the car was really good. Perley got by me on a restart once but I got the lead back. After that initial caution, the car was the best it was all night. I think the cautions hurt us with the heat cycles in the tires and what not. All and all it was a good night to come home fourth after not finishing at Oswego. I thought we were doing good but in the last ten laps Louie and DJ got by us and the car just went away. We’ll see what Thompson brings.”

Veteran Classic campaigner Russ Wood said of his top five finish, “We finished fifth and another Star Classic is in the books. We were slipping and sliding. We just missed the setup a little. We did what we could. Toward the end I just started driving the car a little differently and it was going easier. My not trying so hard seemed to help. We were close to the second, third and fourth guys but Chris was in another land again. Congratulations to them. We’ll take the fifth and head for Thompson.”

Ben Seitz added to his point tally as he looks for Rookie of the Year honors, finishing 6th with Bobby Haynes Jr. having a very strong run for seventh. Dave McKnight, Jeff Holbrook and Brandon Bellinger rounded out the top ten.

SUMMARY ISMA All-Star Classic Cigar 100 Sat., Oct. 10, 2009:

Top 16 in Time Trials locked in, top 12 handicapped: Russ Wood (11.248), Lou Cicconi (11.253), Mark Sammut (11.506), Dave Shullick Jr (11.481)., Chris Perley(11.570), Jeff Abold(11.760), Jeff Holbrook(11.709), Mike Lichty(11.764), Jeff Locke(11.523), Vern Romanoski(11.699), Justin Belfiore(11.457), Bobby Haynes, Jr. (11.724) (not listed in order).

FEATURE FINISH: 1. Chris Perley (11), 2. Lou Cicconi Jr. (10), 3. Dave Shullick Jr. (61), 4. Mike Lichty (84), 5. Russ Wood (29), 6. Ben Seitz (88), 7. Bobby Haynes Jr. (44), 8. Dave McKnight Jr. (94), 9. Jeff Holbrook (35), 10. Brandon Bellinger (02), 11. Vern Romanoski (5), 12. Dave Sanborn (24), 13. Artie Rousseau (616), 14. Jeff Abold (05), 15. Dave Duggan (51), 16. Mark Sammut (78), 17. Ray Graham Jr. (90), 18. Justin Belfiore (98), 19. Jeff Locke (37), 20. Danny Lane (97), 21. Larry Lehnert (92), 22. Jamie Timmons (27).