---- — By Shawn Wood
For The Daily Item
SELINSGROVE -- Billy Pauch Sr. added another first in his long and storied career in winning last year's Race of Champions Icebreaker 40-lap big block modified feature at Selinsgrove Speedway.
It was the first time he had won a modified feature at the track where he's scored seven 410 sprint car wins.
He's the only driver in the history of the RoC to win a race on both dirt and asphalt.
"Last year, winning with the modified race at Selinsgrove with all of the good guys there was pretty neat," he said. "I'm looking forward to racing there this weekend. It's one of the highlights of the year going there."
The ground-pounding big block modifieds return Saturday for the Icebreaker VI. The 40-lap feature pays $5,000 to win. The pro stocks are Saturday's support division.
The race serves as the Northeast opener for the big blocks and the first for a 12-race season for the Race of Champions.
The two-day weekend begins tonight with a 25-lap, $2,500-to-win 358 modified feature. The roadrunners will round out the two-division show. The race is the Northeast opener for the 358s. The big blocks will have several hot-lap sessions during the evening.
Saturday's program has a rain date of Sunday with it being a modified-only show.
Other past winners of the Icebreaker were Rick Laubach, 2008; Danny Johnson, 2009; Matt Sheppard, 2010; and Johnson, 2011.
Johnson won last year's RoC title by 18 points over Jimmy Phelps.
Duane Howard won last year's 358 modified feature. Pat Ward won the first two small block features in 2009 and 2010, while Jeff Strunk won the race in 2011.
Last year's modified win at Selinsgrove for Pauch was one of eight during 2012. He enters this season needing seven wins to reach 700 for his career.
Pauch's last sprint car win at Selinsgrove came on March 29, 1997
"The track is fast, but it is way faster in a sprint car than a modified," he said. "It depends on how they do the track, but if you get a pretty good track, you can pretty much keep your foot in it all the time in a modified."
Pauch credits racing at Selinsgrove -- especially the first-half of the 1994 season -- with helping him get ready to race a sprint car at the New York State Fairgrounds.
In 1994, he set the one-lap world record for a sprint car on a one-mile dirt track, circling the famed 'Moody Mile' in 24.898 seconds. He went on to win the feature, leading all 40 laps
"I learned how to drive wide open and hold the car upright and not twitch it into the corner at Selinsgrove," he said. "That was probably the biggest reason I won at Syracuse. It sounds easy to some, but to run wide open, it's not as easy as it looks."
The only thing Pauch hasn't won at Syracuse is the 200-lap modified feature during Super DIRT Week.
"We were going to go to Syracuse last year, but we came up short on finances," he said. "I can get around that place just as good as anybody."
The RoC, which heads to New Egypt Speedway (N.J.) next Saturday, wraps up its 12-race schedule on Nov. 2 at Five Mile Point Speedway (N.Y.).
"It's always exciting to look at the points after the first week as there was a three-way tie for first going into New Egypt last year," Andy Harpell, RoC president said of the role the track plays in the outcome of the point standings.
"With the RoC, what we try to accomplish is to keep teams in business and to give them as many opportunities (as possible). If they have a bad finish, they can still be in the points race and not be eliminated. That's what keeps them going from event to event and it really provides the fans with a good show from the first race to the 12th race."