Auto racing: Kokosa exceeds goals in debut – Times Union


Something tells me it wasn’t the first time that 16-year-old Colby Kokosa didn’t listen to his father.

“Dad and I had a huge conversation on the way to the track,” said Kokosa, explaining his racing debut at Lebanon Valley Speedway last weekend. “We had zero expectations, we planned to ride around in the back (of the field) and bring the car home in one piece.”

Kokosa has always wanted to drive a race car at the Valley — just like dad did.

The elder Kokosa has 23 career Sportsman wins at the speedway and sits fourth on the all-time Sportsman win list.

“We did go-karts for a couple of years (ages 10-12) at Stafford Motor Speedway but then I lost interest in the carts,” Kokosa said. “I wanted to go bigger and better so I took a break from it for a little while to figure things out.”

During the downtime he played baseball, he helped some friends out with their race cars but he wanted one of his own. The plan was to race last season.

“We bought the car late and it needed a lot of work,” Kokosa said. “It was just the chassis so we were in a little over our heads thinking we could get the car ready in time.”

So they sat out the 2019 season.

“We were finally ready to race this season — I was so excited,” Kokosa said. “The car was a couple of days from being finished when we found out about the virus. So once the car was finished up it became a waiting game, which was so disappointing.”

His initial event was scheduled for Saturday night. But he needed to learn how to drive prior to hitting the race surface.

“I never drove a standard before so on Thursday we went in a hayfield and dad said ‘Start shifting’ so I played around a little bit until I felt comfortable,” said Kokosa, who will be entering his junior year in the fall. “Once you got the hang of it, it was pretty simple.”

Finally — it was race day.

He was entered to start the Purestock division — a division that doesn’t run qualifying events but they run a 10-lap feature event.

“I started at the tail of the field, and then I passed one car and thought ‘Ok this is good’ and then I passed another and it went good so I decided to go for it,” Kokosa said.

“I went from 12th to fourth in six laps — I was focused. Unfortunately on a caution a guy got a little squirrely and hit me in the right front tire and bent a couple of pieces on the front end. I was able to stay in the race but the handling went away on the car and I ended up spinning out coming out of turn four so I started in the rear again but I just couldn’t make anything happen.”

His initial run? A sixth-place finish.

Wonder what dad thought about Colby throwing the plan out the window a few laps into the race?

“On a caution lap I looked over and you could just see him thinking,” Kokosa said. “I think he was kind of in shock. I was pretty excited. I didn’t want to be the rookie that held up the field.”

I’m thinking Dad was pretty proud.

Where is everybody?

The coronavirus has certainly shown everyone a new normal. Speedway track announcer (at Albany-Saratoga and Lebanon Valley) Dan Martin has been announcing to empty bleacher seats since fans have not been allowed in the grandstands.

“So much of the experience in the grandstands is based on emotions — people reacting in all different manners, whether it’s cheering their favorites, booing their rivals or just reacting out loud — they affect the overall vibe,” Martin said.

“Probably the biggest void has been the eerie silence around a victory lane celebration. To see a driver hop out of a car pumped up with adrenaline and no crowd to react —well it’s just weird. I have walked away from victory lane thinking to myself that the driver must almost feel robbed of that reward. Usually you can feel the electricity of a packed grandstand full of passionate race fans. The feeling of what we have seen so far this year is pretty much just like the seats —empty.”

Did you know

On Saturday night, driver Andy Bachetti won both the Modified and 358 Modified feature events at the Valley — that was the seventh time Bachetti has done double duty at the West Lebanon oval.

Robin Yasinsac-Gillespie’s column appears every other Thursday during the racing season.



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