- Grove City, Pennsylvania


March 24, 2014

THE CHECKERED FLAG: Weather slows start of local racing

OPINION — WELL, MOTHER Nature sure doesn’t want to release her stronghold on winter.  As I type this, snow showers are in the air on the first day of spring and both Mercer Raceway Park and Sharon Speedway have cancelled their practices scheduled for today. Wet conditions from the snowy, cold winter has left its mark in the Northeast.

With cold weather scheduled for much of next week, Sharon has postponed its open practice and 150-lap Enduro to Saturday, April 5 with a rain date of April 12.  Practice will be held from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. followed by the Enduro at 1:30.  Sharon isn’t scheduled to get going with their regular racing card until April 19 featuring DIRTcar Big-Block Modifieds, RUSH Late Models, E-Mods, Stock Cars, Econo Mods, and Mini Stocks. 

Sharon will debut the new RUSH Sportsman Modifieds on April 26. The division will feature GM 602 crate engines on sealed Bilstein shocks. Some 16 different racers have already made plans to compete in the new divisions including four local third generation Modified racers: Michael Kristyak (Mercer), Billy Schaffer (Ellwood City), Chris Habbyshaw (Mercer), and J.C. Boyer (Warren, OH). Michael is the son of former racer Marty; Billy is the son of current racer Jerry, Chris is the son of current racer Skip Moore, and J.C. is the son of former racer John.   

Mercer meanwhile won’t reschedule their practice and will go right into opening night next Saturday, weather permitting of course featuring the NDRL Northeast Super Late Models, NDRL E-Mods, Crate Late Models and Stock Cars.  Mercer will then go with their regular season opener on Saturday, April 5. 

Regionally the weather has been tough on speedways to the east that normally are able to get their action going in late February and early March.  Lincoln had two major snowstorms that dumped over a foot of snow each time wipe out racing on February 22, February 29, and March 8 even though the weather was conducive enough to race.  Sadly, despite the cold winter the three Saturdays would have made for beautiful afternoon racing weather.

Finally last Saturday, the grounds dried up for Lincoln to open their 62nd anniversary season on a sunny, but very windy 60-degree day.  A packed house and full infield watched 30 “410” Sprint Cars participate in the opening program.  The sun and high winds made for drier and slicker racing conditions than normal. 

After three heat races and the last chance B main, 24 cars took the green for the 30-lap “Icebreaker” feature led by Kyle Moody and Glenndon Forsythe.  Forsythe led the opening lap before fourth starting Adam Wilt took over.  Brian Montieth had charged from seventh into second after he passed both Alan Krimes and Forsythe on lap five.  Montieth took charge of the race on lap eight; however, would lose the top spot back to Wilt following a restart on lap 11.

Montieth got into the fence suffering a flat tire on lap 14 running the highline as he’s so aptly known as “The Edge”.  Wilt then held off Krimes for the $3,500 victory.  It was Wilt’s second opening day win in the past three years and the fourth of his career at the Abbottstown oval.  Wilt has longtime crew chief Lee Stauffer helping him this season.  Stauffer spent many years working on the Apple Chevrolet #12 Sprint Cars and in recent years was with Greg Hodnett.

Third through fifth were 11th starting J.J. Grasso, Moody, and Forsythe.  Hodnett was the day’s hard charging coming from 20th to sixth.  Ohio’s Cole Duncan, who won an early show last season at Lincoln, made the long tow in from Columbus and finished seventh.  The day featured the “410” debuts of Fred Rahmer’s son Freddie and Brandon.  Fred had the boys start on the tail of their heats and B main, and weren’t able to qualify for the feature. 

After Lincoln finished up, I hustled down to Hagerstown (MD) Speedway for their season opener.  It’s about an hour and 15 minute trip and I arrived just in time as the first of three Super Late Model heat races were pulling onto the speedway.  A solid field of 33 Supers filled the pit area with no other racing going on. 

World of Outlaw racer Rick Eckert dominated the 25 lapper for the $2,500 win.  The York racer started seventh and had the lead on lap two after he passed pole-sitter Kenny Moreland.  Jason Covert started second and finished second.  Dan Stone improved to third from his sixth starting position.  Moreland dropped to fourth at the finish over Kenny Pettyjohn. 

Jonathan DeHaven led all 20 laps of the caution-plagued Limited Late Model feature.  DeHaven was the 2013 Winchester Crate Late Model Champion.  Winchester opens this Saturday (March 22) under the RUSH sanctioning.  Other winners were Mike Corbin in the Stocks and Ryan Lay in the Mini Stocks. 

Hagerstown this year is under the direction of longtime car owner Ernie Davis along with Rick Jones, who currently owns Roaring Knob Motorsports Complex in Markleysburg.  Roaring Knob will be having two “410” Sprint Car shows this season- one on Sunday, May 18 and the second two weeks later on Sunday, June 1. 

Going back two weeks, I headed west for the second straight year to take in action at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Dirt Track.  The track is located on the same grounds as the super speedway, which hosts the NASCAR events.  Crowds were up for second straight year and in fact Thursday’s (March 6) crowd was reported to be a record for the facility! 

The World of Outlaw Sprints was the featured attraction with 37 cars in the pits each night.  Wednesday’s 30-lap feature saw Paul McMahan pass Australian Kerry Madsen on lap 19 in traffic to pick up the $10,000 victory.  It was the California native, who now calls Nashville home, first win of the season and first ever at Vegas.  McMahan drives for Pennsylvania car owners Chad and Jen Clemens.  Last year, McMahan finished third in WoO points in his first full season of racing the car.

Thursday’s event saw Donny Schatz become the season’s first repeat winner after six races.  It was no surprise Schatz, the 23-time 2013 winner, was the first to do it.  The Fargo, North Dakota racer earned $10,000 out-dueling teammate Steve Kinser for the victory.

It was a great two nights for Steve Kinser, who finished second both nights.  Kinser was coming off the $10,000 victory in the finale at Volusia Speedway Park back on February 15.  Kinser only won twice in 2013, but looks like a man on a mission as the 20-time WoO champion would love to add another championship in his final full season of racing.

Austin Liggett won the $2,500 USAC Southwest/West Coast 360 non-wing Sprint Series event holding off NASCAR racer J.J. Yeley for his first Vegas win on the Thursday night finale. 

On Friday (March7) I headed south to Tucson, Arizona, but first checked out my first MLB Spring Training game at the beautiful Surprise Stadium, located just north of Phoenix where the San Francisco Giants defeated the Kansas City Royals 5-0.  After the game I continued on south to Tucson and it was a good sight when I arrived at the hotel to see Joey Saldana in the parking lot.  Saldana was taken to the hospital after the WoO Dash on Thursday night with an arm injury.  Pennsylvania racer, Lucas Wolfe, who failed to qualify for the feature took the green for Saldana in the feature to earn his prize money and owner’s points. 

After the day off, the WoO were back in action Saturday night (March 8) at Tucson International Raceway.  It was my first ever visit to Tucson and first ever race in the state of Arizona.  Tucson is a great facility and is located south of the city in the desert and just to the west of I-10.  Thirty Sprints were on hand as former WoO racers Johnny Herrera and Jeff Swindell joined the field.  The duo in recent years has focused their efforts on “360” racing, but both drivers were able to qualify for the feature.

A standing-room-only crowd was on hand, and the real story of the night was the wind.  A low pressure system that dropped through New Mexico that brought rain and snow to that area was close enough to create increasing winds throughout the late afternoon and evening.  What was early on a 75 and sunny day turned into a miserable evening that sent many to the gates early.  Though it was still in the mid-60s throughout the program, the wind that picked up halfway through the event made it feel much colder and very unpleasant.

During the dash, the winds caught Brian Brown and sent him hard into the fence and collected several other top competitors.  After the dash, it was determined they would run the E-Mod and Stock Car features before they’d resume the Sprint Car portion hoping the winds would die down. 

After those two events were completed, the winds did subside as Wolfe won the last chance B main.  The feature was cut to 25 laps due to the winds and what they did to the track conditions.  Just one caution on lap eight slowed the event.  Brad Sweet, who got together with Kerry Madsen in Vegas, put a slide job on Madsen to take the lead on lap four and he’d never relinquish it for the $10,000 victory.  The Grass Valley, California driver won the opening event of the season with the WoO at Volusia and now became the second driver of the season to repeat.  Madsen was second as Kinser continued his streak of top three finishes in third, while Daryn Pittman and Schatz rounded out the top five. 

On Sunday (March 9), I took in the NASCAR Sprint Cup event at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which was won by Brad Keselowski on an 80-degree sunny day.  LVMS made for my 157th lifetime speedway to see a race at.

Last weekend, the WoO were at Tulare, California and defending champion Daryn Pittman was finally able to win his first of the season on Friday night.  Then on Saturday night, Rico Abreu captured his first career WoO win over Hanover’s Logan Schuchart, the grandson of Bobby Allen who is in his first year on the tour with the WoO.     

Mike Leone is a motorsports columnist for the Allied News. Follow his updates on Twitter @mikevleone.

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