By Mike Leone
Allied News Motorsports Columnist
IT WAS QUITE the frustrating time last weekend throughout western Pennsylvania if you were race fan, driver or speedway owner. All of the regional speedways fought the weather as they were either rained out, postponed or delayed Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The weather started off sunny and warm Friday afternoon and the weekend ended cold and October-like with lake effect rain showers.
My weekend was to include the McKean County Raceway’s two-day “Fall Classic”. The rain wasn’t supposed to start until very late Friday night, but it came in during the heat races. The decision was made to run the show on Sunday at 2 p.m. Saturday’s big program was rained out after morning rains and the forecast of additional rains in the evening. Saturday’s show, which was featuring a $13,000 to-win ULMS Late Model event, may or may not be rescheduled. Stay tuned to www.mckeancountyraceway.com.
With the rainout on Saturday, I headed south to Lernerville Speedway for the second and final appearance of the World of Outlaw Sprint Cars. It was sunny and beautiful when I arrived, but everyone was aware of the approaching storm. Hot laps were completed and 18 of the 31 Sprints were able to qualify when the rains blew in. After about two hours of and on and off light showers, the skies cleared and race cars hit the speedway again about 10:30. From this point on, the show was moved pretty fast despite several sets of hot laps to get the track into shape for qualifying.
Apollo’s Ed Lynch Jr. had the fastest time before the rains came with a 12.515, but after the rain he posted a 12.694 good enough for second fast time. Paul McMahan, who was in his second night behind the wheel of the Chad Clemens #51 replacing Fred Rahmer, set fast time with a 12.686 despite tagging the fronstretch wall. That earned McMahan $500 from Classic Ink. The track record is 12.334 set on May 15, 2002 by Joey Saldana.
Following three heat races, a dash, and the B main, the 35-lap feature took the green at about 1:20 a.m. It was a good one with Dale Blaney the benefactor of bad luck by Craig Dollansky and McMahan. Dollansky took off in the lead, while fourth starting McMahan passed Saldana on the opening lap then got by Blaney on lap two. McMahan hounded Dollansky for the first 30 laps before exiting with motor woes handing second to Blaney. Blaney then would go around the slowing Dollansky on lap 32 and powered on to the $10,000 victory. It was the Hartford, Ohio racer’s first WoO win of the season, second of his career at Lernerville, and seventh of his career overall.
Point leader Donny Schatz ended up second over Jason Sides, Saldana, and 15th starting Jac Haudenschild. Evans City’s Brandon Spithaler was the highest finishing local in 15th and earned $1,000. Tough break for Pittsburgh’s Danny Holtgraver, who got collected in the first lap by Kerry Madsen, and went over easy, as well as Lynch, who did not finish.
On Sunday it was back to McKean for the conclusion of Friday’s “Fall Classic”. Waterford’s Rich Gardner pulled off the $2,500 upset in the United Late Model Series. Smethport’s own Steve Dixon won his first ever United E-Mod Series victory in the $1,000 event, and Randy Taylor captured the Stock Cars.
In the FASTRAK Late Model Northeast Touring Series event, Max Blair drew the pole position and kept his car planted on the bottom as he was never challenged leading all 25 laps of the feature for his record-setting 10th win of the season. Blair survived four restarts and the typical daytime track conditions for the $1,200 victory and also received the $100 Genesis “Top Dog of the Night” certificate.
Blair took off when the green flag waved on the fourth Tour event of the season at McKean. Brad Kling dropped in behind Blair in second, while Matt Latta got a great start passing both Mike Pegher, Jr. and John Over for the third spot on the opening lap. Pegher would regain fourth on lap two from Over.
Blair quickly pulled away, while the battle was on for second. Seventh starting Chad Ruhlman moved into the top five with a pass of Over on lap four. It was now a four-car race for second with Kling trying to fend off Latta, Pegher, and Ruhlman. Brad Mesler spun and brought out the first caution with eight laps recorded.
When racing resumed, it was three-wide for second as Kling somehow was able to hold on to the spot. Ruhlman passed Pegher for fourth on lap 10, but Pegher took back the spot one lap later. Latta began to challenge Kling as he pulled alongside on lap 12 only to see the caution fly for Over with 12 laps scored.
The caution was a huge break for Pegher as when racing got back underway, Latta came up lame with a flat tire as Pegher was also able to pass Kling to overtake second. Ruhlman charged by Kling and Latta as he assumed third. A four-car accident took place involving Justin Smith, Shane Weaver, Mesler, and Over with 13 laps in the books.
Dennis Lunger Jr. had raced from 10th into fifth and when green replaced yellow, passed both Kling and Ruhlman for third before Garrett Mott slowed action bringing out the fourth and final caution with 14 laps recorded. The last 11 laps would go caution-free and pretty uneventful. Pegher closed in on Blair in the final laps, but wouldn’t get close enough to apply and pressure. Thankfully for Blair he didn’t have to deal with any lapped traffic over the course of the event.
The victory was the 22-year-old Centerville driver’s all-time leading 22nd of his career in Northeast Touring Series competition. Pegher’s second place finish was his fifth runner-up and 12th top five of the season. Lunger’s third place effort was his best finish since his only career win on July 3, 2009 at Raceway 7. Ruhlman’s fourth place was his eighth top five of the season as he was able to keep pace with Pegher in the battle for runner-up in the standings. Bryce Davis was fifth for his fourth straight top five.
Justin Tatlow ended the event picking up his second career non-qualifier victory. The 10-lap win was worth $125 for the Franklinville, New York racer. A great field of 49 cars were on hand tying the McKean record from the July 5 Speedweek event.
After McKean, I headed to Mercer Raceway Park for the conclusion of the “Little Guy Nationals” and my 105th race of the season. Mercer fought the rain on Friday night getting all but two features in with 179 cars in the pit area. Mercer’s Frank Guidace won the $1,000 for the “358” Modifieds, Tommy Fox of Jamestown, New York won $1,000 in the Open Stock Cars. Clarion’s Mike Bauer won the Limited Sprints and West Middlesex’s Rod Jones won the Mod Lites.
The Micro Sprint and Mini Stock features were completed on Saturday afternoon with D.J. Furney of Malvern, Ohio and Grove City’s Tim Callahan winning each feature respectively. Saturday’s day two of the “Little Guy Nationals” got underway, but a big storm rolled in and postponed the show to Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m.
Mercer then battled the rain throughout the day on Sunday. I arrived around 8 p.m. just as Tiona’s Jimmy Holden bagged the $2,000 for the “358” Modifieds. Other drivers picking up wins on the cold, damp night were Brookville’s Rusty Martz in the $1,500 Open Stock A, New Castle’s Rusty Moore in the $1,000 Open Stock B, Josh May in the $1,500 Mod Lites, Kinsman, Ohio’s Jimmy Morris in the $700 Limited Sprints, Chris Kennedy in the $700 Micro Sprints, and Paul Koffler in the Mini Stocks. Mercer Raceway Park’s 2012 season is now complete.
Sharon Speedway was rained out for the eighth time on Saturday night. Sharon’s final night of points will be this Saturday featuring the Big-Block Mods, FASTRAK Late Models, E-Mods, Stock Cars, Econo Mods, and Mini Stocks. Race time is 7 p.m. Sharon’s final event will be Saturday, October 6 featuring the United Late Model Series for $3,000 to-win, Open Stock Cars for $1,500 to-win, Econo Mods, and Mini Stocks.