Superstar Racing Experience
It’s Championship Weekend at Sharon as SRX Eyes Season 3
Jul 21, 2022
It’s impossible to know for certain but an ill-timed caution with 33 laps remaining was seemingly all that prevented Gavin Graham from winning at Five Flags Speedway on Saturday night in his first ever start in a Pro Late Model.
The reigning Snowball Derby Pro Truck division winner started from the pole and paced the field in front of Giovanni Ruggiero until the decisive caution. On the ensuing restart, Graham and Ruggiero came together racing for the lead.
Ruggiero and Graham sank through the field and eventually spun to bring out the final caution. Before he did, Dylan Fetcho and William Sawalich both drove by to the front and would decide the race amongst themselves.
Sawalich drove by Fetch on the high side on the final restart and continued the run on momentum for himself and Donnie Wilson Motorsports across Pro and Super Late Models this season.
"I was just riding around behind (Fetcho) for a bit," Sawalich said. "Fortunate that the race kind of came to us on those restarts and was able to drive away to the victory."
Graham believes he got roughed up by Ruggiero but handled the disappointment with veteran perspective.
"We got shoved up the track a little bit, got hit in the left rear in 3, got sideways and just kept falling back, falling back after that," Graham said. "It's the old thing, right, you're the new kid and you get bullied around a bit. I got to come to more of these races, claim my spot, and earn some respect."
For his part, Ruggiero felt like Graham blocked him twice and he just didn’t lift, as Pro Late Models are extremely momentum based.
"He ran me up the track in 1 and 2, and it 3 and 4, it was either a slide job or checked up in front of me and I had nowhere to go."
And yet, after falling to 10th, Ruggiero drove the Anthony Campi Racing No. 81 all the way back to third on a night where passing was at a premium. It was a reflection of how competitive that car was.
"The car really came alive on that last run," Ruggiero said. "I felt like I did a great job of saving early in the race and that paid off when I needed to pick up those spots all over again."
Ruggiero was in position to win the Pro Late Model season opener at Five Flags earlier in the summer before a restart violation cost the No. 81 a likely win as well.
"I don't know, I just feel like we have bad luck here so far," Ruggiero said. "So hopefully we can turn that around here next time and park it in Victory Lane."
That would mean going through Sawalich, whom already has a Southern Super Series win this year and has big time momentum after a runner up to teammate Sammy Smith in the Redbud 400 last weekend as well.
"Just fortunate to have this good momentum, and I want to keep doing my part to keep putting us in this position," Sawalich said.
Even in defeat, Graham was a feel-good story from the race and plans to take a positive experience away from his near victory in his debut alongside crew chief Mike Garvey.
"We're going to talk about it all on the way home," Graham said. "I'm proud we led the most laps, proud that we had a car that put me in that position, it's just a shame to see the yellow flag when we did because we had a chance to win."
Allen Turner Pro Late Model Series No. 2
Five Flags Speedway
July 22 2021