PHOTO: Rick Martel collected his first Bear Ridge Speedway win since 2004 on Saturday. (Alan Ward photo)

–by T.J. Ingerson

BRADFORD — When a driver takes a year off from racing, one might expect them to take a few weeks to make themselves a contender again. When a driver takes six years off, though, one might not expect them to contend for an entire year. Rick Martel, who had been away from racing since 2004 and winless since 2003, returned to racing this year in one of the toughest divisions in the northeast.

But for Martel, instead of a year or two, it only took two races, as he started on the pole and led wire-to-wire to win the Bond Auto Parts DIRTcar Sportsman Modified feature at Bear Ridge Speedway in Bradford on Saturday. Martel took advantage of an intense battle for second place on the final restart between Derek Graham and Bryan King to jump out to sizeable lead.

Graham and King would battle over the next lap before making contact, causing King to lose ground and Graham to lose his rhythm. Graham would be caught and passed by Jason Gray on the inside on lap 27, and then would be passed by defending champion Adam Pierson on the outside on Lap 28, who rallied from his 17th starting position and an early pit stop.

Over the final three laps, Gray would reel Martel in, making an attempt to take the lead on the final lap, but Martel would hang on. Pierson finished third, Graham finished fourth, and Gary Siemons finished fifth.

Rounding out the top ten were Wayne Stearns, Justin Comes, Kevin Chaffee, Todd Petschke, and Dan Eastman.

Josh Harrington took the lead from Jeremy Beckley on lap 14 of the Wells River Chevrolet Sportsman Coupe feature and defended a late-race charge by defending champion Gene Pierson. Pierson slipped up making an attempt to pass Harrington and lost ground, only to be saved by a caution flag when veteran Bob Shepard made contact with the wall and ended up off the top of turn one. Harrington was able to hold off Pierson on the restart to claim his second straight victory. Following Harrington to the line were Pierson, Jeremy Stygles, Beckley, and Jason Horniak.

Jordan Fornwalt jumped out to the early lead in the A Notch Above Automotive Limited Late Models. Fornwalt would hold that lead until Robert Tucker powered his way to the front. Unfortunately for Tucker, he would see his race shatter when smoke began pouring from under the hood of his machine, allowing Fornwalt to reclaim the lead. Fornwalt, though, would make a slight mistake on the exit of turn four, allowing front runners Jeremy Hodge and Will Hull to slip by. Hodge claimed victory for the first time in 2011, with defending champion Hull second, Ryan Christian third, Matt Covey fourth, and T.C. Forward fifth. Fornwalt faded to sixth.

Danny Doyle charged to the lead on lap two in the Weglarz Property Service Fast Fours and held off a fierce challenge from Kevin Harran to take the checkered flag. Harran settled for second, Bobby Bell took third, Tim Hodge finished fourth, and Karl Sheldon finished fifth.

Eric Lang took his second straight victory in the KDD Napa Auto Parts Ridge Runner Hornets, and youth racer Kodie Pittman was the top Hornet Stinger.

In Granite State Mini Sprint action, Rich Crooker won the 600cc feature, and Lacey Hanson won the 500cc event.

UNOFFICIAL RESULTS — Valley Floors Night
Bear Ridge Speedway — Bradford, VT
Saturday, May 21, 2011

(# – denotes rookie)

Bond Auto DIRTcar Sportsman Modified
1. Rick Martel, Meredith, N.H.
2. Jason Gray, East Thetford
3. Adam Pierson, Fairlee
4. Derek Graham, Woodsville, N.H.
5. Gary Siemons, Orford, N.H.
6. Wayne Stearns, Bradford
7. Justin Comes, Middlebury
8. Kevin Chaffee, Orange
9. Todd Petschke, Rumney, N.H.
10. Dan Eastman, Thetford Center

Wells River Chevrolet Sportsman Coupe
1. Josh Harrington, Topsham
2. Gene Pierson, Jr., East Corinth
3. Jeremy Stygles, Bradford
4. Jeremy Beckley, Woodsville, N.H.
5. Jason Horniak, Bradford
6. Terry Williams, Wells River
7. Dwight Burgoyne, Jaffrey, N.H.
8. Steve Bell, St. Johnsbury
9. Shane Race, South Strafford
10. Buster Kathan, Ludlow

A Notch Above Automotive Limited Late Model
1. Jeremy Hodge, Newbury
2. Will Hull, East Montpelier
3. Ryan Christian, Canaan, N.H.
4. # Matt Covey, Corinth
5. T.C. Forward, Lyme, N.H.
6. # Jordan Fornwalt, Bradford
7. Troy Comeau, Rumney, N.H.
8. Robert Tucker, East Corinth
9. Jason Blake, Moretown
10. Tyler Stygles, Bradford

Weglarz Property Service Fast Four
1. Danny Doyle, Barre
2. Kevin Harran, St. Johnsbury
3. # Bobby Bell, St. Johnsbury
4. Tim Hodge, Vershire
5. # Karl Sheldon, St. Johnsbury

KDD NAPA of Bradford Hornet
1. Eric Lang, Groton
2. Tom Placey, Bradford
3. Brent Warren, Salisbury
4. Mike Ryan, Bradford
5. Don Reynolds, Springfield