By Mike Leone
Allied News Motorsports Columnist
THE 2013 racing season in the western Pa/eastern Ohio region came to a close last weekend with the fifth running of the “Steel City Stampede” DIRTcar roundup at Lernerville Speedway. The event has grown in stature each year; however, weather really took a toll on this year’s show.
The event included practice on Thursday night, heat races for nine divisions on Friday night with feature events plus an Enduro on Saturday night. Temperatures never got out of the mid 40s during the daytime hours for any of the event nights. Rain and snow was in the forecast, but other than a brief delay on Saturday night, the precip didn’t affect action.
The weather certainly kept the crowd and car count down. There were roughly 80 cars for practice on Thursday night and just over 200 for heat races on Friday night with a few new cars tagging the fields on Saturday night. The Stock Cars led the way with 43 cars followed 30 RUSH Late Models, 28 BRP Big-Block Modifieds, 23 Super Late Models, 22 UEMS E-Mods, 21 Mini Stocks, 16 “410 Sprints, 15 Mod Lites, and 9 “305” Sprints. Another 58 cars participated in the Enduro topping the overall count at 265 cars.
With the original “Steel City Stampede” winner Cole Duncan racing elsewhere and three-time winner Dale Blaney a scratch for the feature, it was guaranteed a new event winner would emerge in the “410” Sprint Cars. Danny Holtgraver would be the odds on favorite, but after a dominating heat win on Friday, a poor redraw set him back to the 12th starting spot.
Holtgraver slowly picked off cars in the early laps and found himself in the top five at the quarter mark of the 25-lap affair. On lap seven, he made quite a move to pass both Jack Sodeman, Jr. and Friday’s other heat winner Eric Williams, for third. A caution slowed the field with nine laps completed and the last 16 went caution-free. Holtgraver passed Carl Bowser for second on lap 11 and quickly ran down Brandon Matus.
The Pittsburgh driver made the winning move on lap 13 and cruised to his first win of the season at the track. The $3,000 win came in his own #D4, which has made only five starts this season due to Holtgraver competing full-time in the Bryan Grove/Rob Hunter-owned #45. Holtgraver actually ran the #D4 at the 2012 “Steel City Stampede” make-up that was run in April, won in the car this summer at Mercer, and competed both nights with the World of Outlaws at the “National Open” earlier in the month. Third generation racer Brandon Matus was second over Bowser, Sodeman, and Mike Lutz.
Brian Swartzlander stopped a three-race event win streak by New York racers as he captured the 30-lap BRP Tour win for the Big-Block Modifieds. Swartzlander ironically passed New York driver and Lernerville champion Mat Williamson on lap 26 for the $3,000 win. Williamson had never won the event before and was looking to give NY racers their fourth straight event win, but ran out of fuel in an event that was caution-filled and included a delay when rain and sleet made the track too slick.
Slippery Rock’s Dave Murdick came through the pack to claim second. Rex King, Jr. came back from an early spin to place third with Mercer’s Eric Gabany and another NY driver in Justin Wright completing the top five. BRP Tour champion and 2011 and 2012 event winner, Chad Brachmann, crashed while battling for second on lap 24.
Alex Ferree has had a pretty amazing season since the mid-point of the year dominating action at both Lernerville and Pittsburgh’s PA Motor Speedway. That continued on Saturday as the Saxonburg driver came from the sixth starting spot to cop the 25-lap victory. The $3,000 win was his fourth straight at Lernerville, sixth of the year, and milestone 25th of his career at the Sarver oval! 2011 winner John Garvin, Jr. was second over Brian Swartzlander, Jared Miley, and 2009 winner Matt Lux.
The inaugural season for the RUSH Late Model Series concluded on Saturday night. A race within a race was taking place as the championship came down to Mike Pegher, Jr. and Ryan Montgomery. Jared Hawkins appeared to win his first race, but was later disqualified in post-race tech for illegal headers handing the win to Albion’s Dennis Lunger, Jr.
The Sharon Speedway champion’s $2,000 win was his first Tour victory as he became the 12th different winner in the 24 races. Lunger actually had motor issues on Friday night and picked up a new motor from series sponsor Sweeney Chevrolet Buick GMC, which propelled him to victory after starting 12th.
Pegher of Wexford finished second to Montgomery’s eighth place and overtook him in the final points by just three! Pegher led the points for much of the season, but had a terrible October 11-12 weekend at Pittsburgh where he went from an 18-point lead to trailing Montgomery, who swept the weekend, by 17. Pegher regrouped winning at Roaring Knob o October 18 to gain 10 points on Montgomery and gained another 10 on Saturday night to take the $5,000 championship!
Chad Ruhlman finished third in the race and fifth in the final standings. Butch Lambert, who ran his last race in his own car, was a season best fourth and captured third in the final standings. Max Blair was fifth. It was a good ending for Lambert of Valencia, who owns 23 career wins at Lernerville and three Stock Car titles.
Steve Dixon’s dominating season in the E-Mods continued as the Smethport UEMS champion captured his first ever Lernerville win. Springdale’s Chris Schneider became the first event repeat winner as the 2011 victory won the $1,000 Stock Car prize. Sewickley’s Ralph Engel, a former Stock Car champion, won the “305” Sprints over Mike Miller. Somerset’s Alan Knepper won the $500 Mod Lite feature for the second straight year. Georgia racer Andrew Smith won the $500 Mini Stock race for the first time then appeared to win the $1,000 Enduro, but was disqualified in post-race tech handing the win to Adam Noland.
The only other Sprint Car race take place last weekend was at Williams Grove as Don Kreitz, Jr. continued his end of season hot streak winning the season finale on Saturday night. The Sinking Springs driver won big events at Susquehanna (August 25), Port Royal (September 7), and Hagerstown (September 29) in addition to his three Grove wins in the last month including the WoO triumph! That’s six wins in nine weeks for a racer that’s in the twilight of his career and doesn’t even compete on a full-time basis.
Greg Hodnett, who finished runner-up in the Williams Grove points, has been named the new driver of the Michael Heffner-owned Lelands.com #27 Sprint Car that has been driven in recent seasons by WoO racer Daryn Pittman and this season by Lance Dewease. Dewease, whose streak of 23 straight years with a win came to an end this past weekend, only won four races in the #27 this year, but did capture the $20,000 All Star Eastern Region title. Dewease has yet to find a ride for 2014.
The RUSH Racing Series will be expanding in 2014 to add the Sportsman Modifieds under the banner that already includes the Crate Late Models. The Modified division will feature GM 602 crate engines ($3,149) with Bilstein sealed shocks ($135 each), spec Hoosier Tires on steel wheels.
An informational meeting was held last weekend at Precise Racing Products in Sarver and already some 40 drivers have expressed interest to compete. Another meeting will be held at the Hyde (PA) Fire Hall near Clearfield on Wednesday. A $10,000 point fund has been guaranteed and tracks like Sharon, Lernerville, Pittsburgh, Raceway 7, Bradford, McKean, and America’s Motorsports Park will host events. For more information, check out www.rushsportsmanmods.com.
This will be my last weekly effort for 2013. I’ll have monthly columns at the end of November, December, January and February until racing gets underway again in March. Next time I’ll have a recap of action from the World Finals in Charlotte, which features the WoO Sprints, WoO Late Models, and Super DIRT Big-Block Modifieds. Also, Susquehanna Speedway in Newberrytown will host a $10,000 to-win “410” Sprint Car event on Saturday afternoon, November 16.
Mike Leone is a motorsports columnis for Allied News. Follow his updates on Twitter @mikevleone.