Two weeks ago, Anthony Nocella won two out of three races in a week’s time to tie a bow on his New England touring efforts. Three out of four to close out the year, though, is even better.
Nocella survived a slam-bang affair to take his first win at Riverhead Raceway in Saturday evening’s Islip 300.
Now in its sixth year at the New York quarter-mile, today’s Islip 300 is a tribute to the long-distance races staged at the long-defunct Islip Speedway, a fifth-mile oval that was razed in the mid-1980s. The Islip 300 name was resurrected in 2017 as a year-ending Tour-type Modified showdown for the last active oval track on Long Island, with the track going as far as to paint the walls to resemble Islip itself.
The five prior Islip 300s have had a distinctly local flavor, despite the predictable influx of touring challengers. National star Ryan Preece, driving for Riverhead owner Eddie Partridge, won the 2018 and 2020 Islip 300s. Local racers Dillon Steuer, Kyle Soper and J.B. Fortin earned victories in the other three.
John Beatty, Jr. and Jimmy Blewett brought the field to the green flag, with Timmy Solomito charging to the lead early. Blewett settled in toward the front, but his evening ended early when he was shunted into the wall by defending winner Fortin.
Despite a sense of aggression throughout the pack early on, Solomito was on pace at halfway to keep the trophy on Long Island.
Nocella cycled into the lead after pit stops with a third of the race still to go. As Nocella dueled with Roger Turbush out front, Matt Hirschman and Kyle Bonsignore carved through the top ten on fresher tires, cracking the top five with 75 circuits left on the scoreboard. When the leaders opted to pit for their own tires under caution, Hirschman and Bonsignore assumed the lead.
Driving a car prepared locally by Baker Racing rather than his more familiar mounts, “Big Money Matt” survived two quick restarts as Bonsignore dueled with Soper for second. A lap-277 caution and a red flag for track cleanup gave Bonsignore another shot at the lead, but contact coming to the green flag sent him for a spin across the frontstretch, collecting Soper and ending the evening for the 2019 winner.
Beatty lined up alongside Hirschman for the restart, and as the two drove off from the field, Nocella sliced through traffic to crack the top three with eleven laps left. A restart erased the leaders’ advantage, and Nocella cleared Beatty quickly on the restart before grabbing the lead from Hirschman. Another caution froze the field with nine laps to go, and Hirschman was moved back to the lead.
Hirschman ran Nocella high off turn four on the restart, but the Massachusetts veteran was unfazed, diving back under Hirschman a lap later for the lead. Hirschman cut down to defend, but the two made contact, with Hirschman sliding up the banking and out of the lead.
Nocella drove off and held on to take the win, with Beatty second and Hirschman third. Matthew Brode and Justin Brown rounded out the top five.
A part-time competitor on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour in 2022, Nocella had not entered any of the season’s stops at Riverhead. In his only prior Islip 300 last year, he finished seventh.
Nocella’s $7,000 win came on the heels of his first Monaco Modified Tri-Track Series win in October at Seekonk Speedway in Massachusetts. A week later, in a New England Supermodified Series feature at New London-Waterford (Conn.) Speedbowl, Nocella took his first-ever big-block Supermodified checkered flag. In only four starts with the NASCAR Tour, the young racer still managed his first win in that sanction, stealing a victory at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
With a strong second half of the season under his belt, Nocella will be looking at his 2023 opportunities with a lot of enthusiasm.