HORSEHEADS, N.Y. — Isn’t it appropriate that Peaches and Herb released the famous tune “Reunited” in 1978? That really fits the story line for the exclusive news that was released to Race Chaser Online by eighteen-time Woodhull Raceway Modified track champion Billy Van Pelt.
The story line fits perfect because the coming 2017 race season will see Van Pelt step out of the No. 78 owned by Grant Hilfiger and reunite with former car owner Kevin Chilson for another run at Van Pelt’s nineteenth track title.
Van Pelt and Chilson broke the news on Friday, just one day before one of Woodhull’s crown jewel races- the 12th annual Lyle Sherwood Memorial. A race that Van Pelt won just 12 years ago, and has won several times since Sherwood’s passing in June of 2005.
While racing together from the 2010 season through 2013, Van Pelt and Chilson amassed a pile of feature wins and three of Van Pelt’s eighteen Woodhull track championships. After the 2013 season, Chilson chose to participate as just a sponsor and turn focus to his growing and successful businesses in the Southern Tier. Oddly enough, that is exactly the same scenario Hilfiger finds himself in as 2016 comes to a close. Hilfiger plans to turn attention toward the many businesses in his enterprise, which left Van Pelt searching for a ride for 2017.
“The phones lit right up,” said Van Pelt earlier this Summer when the news of the Van Pelt/Hilfiger split was shared right here on RCO, as several offers came in for him to field a Modified for the 2017 campaign. But one offer stood out to the driver out of Westfield, Pennsylvania- the offer that came by phone call from Chilson. A phone call that Chilson described as fairly rapid in taking place
“(Billy) has drove for us before and I heard he was out looking for a ride,” described Chilson when contacted Friday. “Having Billy around will help us take a little bit of a load off me (to focus on my business), and in return, we can put a great ride under him for next year. The guy is a natural talent and his family has always treated us well. We all get along great, it’s going to be an asset in helping us have a good time.”
But it’s not just winning races that attracted Van Pelt back to Chilson’s team. It was the sum of on-track success, coupled with Van Pelt’s success ‘off the track.’
“He’s always been a pleasure to have working with us,” added Chilson. “He’s good with the kids, good with the fans and he’s definitely a major asset to dirt track racing. Why wouldn’t you want to be associated with the best in the business?”
Although Van Pelt was thrilled with the phone call, he did mention he was surprised.
“I was surprised that Kevin wanted to jump right back on. We didn’t part on bad terms, I’ve helped him right along and I’m fortunate to get to come back. It’s a lesson to never burn your bridges. We were talking back and forth a bit and he offered up a ride for me and I was really quick to jump on it. We had great success before.”
The plans for the rest of 2016 will see Van Pelt continue to wheel the No. 78 for Hilfiger at both of Woodhull’s remaining shows- the Lyle Sherwood Memorial Saturday as well as the Bullring Challenge on Saturday October 1st. A potential third race may be added, a special Modified race at Little Valley.
Next season will return ‘The Deuce’ to several familiar circumstances. Driving for Kevin Chilson, having the support of his same crew, racing with the No. 2 and driving a Bicknell chassis powered by Morgantini Race Engines.
“We’ve got a brand new 2017 Bicknell in the works and we are working on a new Morgantini engine. The number will be No. 2. My crew that I have now are going with me too and with Kevin’s support we are really looking forward to coming back.”
Van Pelt has accumulated well over 200 wins in his illustrious career on the Southern Tier dirt. He’s won track titles at Woodhull, Outlaw Speedway and four titles on the T-3 Modified Series. On top of 24 track and series championships, Van Pelt also finished second in points at Tri-City while driving for Butch Rapp. Saturday, Van Pelt will attempt to knock down another feat- 200 wins driving a Small Block Modified.
For now, Van Pelt will try to finish out the 2016 season on a high note and look forward to reuniting with yet another strong team to write another chapter of history in what has been an incredible career.
Listen in as Billy Van Pelt announces who he will drive dirt modifieds for in 2017:
Kevin Chilson talks to our Steven Ovens about hiring Billy Van Pelt for the 2017 season: