|Date: 5/8/2014 11:12:40 PM|
By Dino Oberto …. “Keeping Track”
In a mere five year span Brandon Oltra has gone from running an entry level class of race car to becoming a blossoming driver with the area’s headline division of pavement car, a Modified stocker.
Here in the Northeast you will find a hotbed of Modified contenders and 28-year Oltra, who hails from Alden, has been making steady inroads among the ranks. He raced a mod for the first time in 2011 and since then has continually been knocking at the door for a victory.
This season his plans are to be a much stronger presence with the Race of Champions (RoC) Asphalt Tour while also challenging as many times as possible at Mahoning Valley Speedway and Evergreen Raceway Park.
Last week at the RoC opener at New York’s Chemung Speedrome he scored a solid ninth, that coming after having to battle from a 24th place restart. He had been vying for sixth and got cut off, spun and was sent to the rear but showed his ability by passing car after car en route to his top-10 tally at the conclusion of the 75 lap feature.
Scenes like that have played out regularly for Oltra no matter where he shows up to race. He is strong and steady each time out and able to keep the car under him. It is that type of racing that leads a driver to the front and eventually victory.
It was Modified driver/owner Geary Rinehimer who gave Oltra his big break to race in the class. At the time he had been lending his support to the Rinehimer team while they in turn helped him with his Factory Stock while at Evergreen. ARCA driver Barry Fitzgerald was slated to race the car one night but after a few laps he felt uncomfortable with it. He then went to Oltra and asked if he would like to take the wheel. There wasn’t much arm twisting for him to say yes.
“He (Fitzgerald) told me that before I die I said I wanted to drive a Modified, right? I said absolutely yes and he said tonight you get that chance,” recalled Oltra.
That night fate was on his side as he stunned the field by time trialing quickest. Impressive to say the least, his first two laps with the Modified and he lands on the pole.
“I always knew that given the chance I can do it, I always knew I had the ability. I remember telling Geary (Rinehimer) that night that this was easy and it was like a video game. He told me that not many people can say that but in honestly it just seemed easy to me.
“I never got nervous and I think it was because my expectations weren’t that high that night. I actually scratched to the rear for the race. I was passing cars on the outside and I finished fifth in a 50 lap feature. It was a dream come true.”
Perhaps part of the reason for his inspiring debut was his Factory Stock experience. Jumping from a car with extreme limitations and into an accurately tuned machine as a Modified helped him in maneuvering so quick and smoothly.
Oltra has been involved with the sport since he was a kid. He tagged along with his uncle, Mike Higgins who won three Street Stock championships at Evergreen. His sons, Aaron and Kevin also race. Kevin was the 2013 Street Stock titlist.
Thanks to the Higgins gang, midway through the 2009 season Oltra was given the chance to compete for the first time. Even though he had never been in a race car he successfully qualified in his maiden attempt and repeated it four more times that year.
“I had to race my way in each time and I made it but it was tough and I don’t think I ever finished in the top 15,”said Oltra.
The fire was now lite and Oltra wanted that flame to burn higher. Realizing there was a need for track time he chose to race a Factory Stock, which is a step under a Street Stock.
“What it came down to was do I want to go and race on the Street Stock level with no experience or should I take a step back and run a Factory Stock and maybe look at getting more seat time and race with less cars. Plus I never thought in a million years that I would go any further than that,” said Oltra. “We then scratched up some money and put together a Factory Stock.”
Factory Stocks are the perfect vehicle to teach a driver the aspects of racing and Oltra proved a fast learner when he began. In his first race he finished fourth and was second the next. He had a mechanical failure his third time out and by week four was a winner, leading the entire race. He won one more time and was named Rookie of the Year for 2010.
As for the Modified, Oltra ran two additional times for Rinehimer, once at Evergreen and then Mahoning Valley. No other plans where in the works after that. He had gotten a job working as a pipeline welder for Consolidated Resource LLC and actually did not intend on racing.
Enter Joe Kaminski, a neighbor and close family friend. He approached Oltra and asked of his intentions, which there was none. Oltra was then floored when Kaminski told him go pick out a Modified and be ready to race for 2012.
Back on track, Oltra found a car and returned to Evergreen where he was in the mix of winning numerous times, finished a very respectable fourth in points and was named Rookie of the Year.
Last year he had noted engine specialist Andy Jensen build a motor and was aiming for the track championship at Evergreen but after going to the RoC opener at Chemung, car owner Kaminski made the call to follow that tour instead which took him to tracks throughout New York including at stop at Oswego Speedway for the granddaddy of Modified racing, the Sunoco Race of Champions.
“It was amazing to be able to race against guys on that tour that I watched growing up. Now I’m lined up next to them in a RoC race in New York in a Modified. It’s surreal,” said Oltra.
“From being a weekly racer at one track to going on tour, it’s cool for us because we’d have never had the opportunity to do it had it not been for Joe (Kaminski). It’s a great experience. We’re a small team and still new to this game and racing against guys that have been doing this forever and we’re passing them and that’s a cool feeling.”
Oltra is on pace to taste his first Modified victory. He knows that he must be a tad more aggressive in order for that to happen and admits he would like to see it happen at Mahoning Valley where he says it is pure adrenalin and white knuckle from start to finish.
Thanks to the help of Joe Kaminski and a dedicated crew that consists of his father Bob Oltra, Steve Oltra Sr., and Jr., Jay Kanor and Barry Yohey who all put in timeless hours at the shop while their driver is at work, this is a race team that is ready to make an major imprint on the regional racing scene.
love what I am doing. I may not be winning races but I’m having the time of my
life right now. I’m living the dream,” said Oltra.
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