By Mike Leone
Allied News Motorsports Columnist
WITH THE checkered flag waving early last Saturday evening at Susquehanna Speedway Park, that put a wrap on the 2012 racing season here in the commonwealth. For the third straight year, Susquehanna has hosted the final Sprint Car event of the Northeast season the week following the World Finals in November. And for the third straight year, owner Todd Fisher has been blessed with great weather and a fantastic turnout.
After some unexpected early rain and clouds, the skies cleared and turned out to be a beautiful Saturday afternoon in Newberrytown. The track is located off I-83 between Harrisburg and York. For many years, Susquehanna featured weekly “410” Sprint Car racing on Sunday nights and then most recently an experimental Thursday night program; however, in recent seasons Susquehanna has only hosted a few events for the winged warriors.
This year, three “410” events dotted the 2012 slate and with continued success, I figured we’d see some more events in the future. That was confirmed on Saturday as the “410s” will be featured at least five times in 2013! Saturday drew 28 “410s” and 31 “358” Sprints along with a packed house. The early rain and clouds made for a great racing surface that featured excellent racing all day long.
Ironically, the same two drivers that ended the 2011 Susquehanna Speedway were once again victorious in the 2012 curtain closer! While Don Kreitz, Jr. has certainly cut back on his racing efforts in recent years, he still has remained competitive and one track that always brings out the best in the Sinking Springs great is Susquehanna.
Despite starting 10th, Kreitz methodically picked cars off and found himself in the top five at the midway point of the 30-lap feature. Up front, Danny Dietrich had passed Brian Montieth for the lead on lap 16 before an accident slowed the pace. Under caution, Montieth pitted with a flat tire, which moved Kreitz to fourth on the restart. When racing resumed, Kreitz worked his way by Brent Marks for third then finally got by Greg Hodnett for second on lap 23.
Kreitz challenged Dietrich and was right with him in lapped traffic. Kreitz would make the winning move in turn four on lap 29 and survived a last lap restart for the big $6,000 win to the delight of the crowd. Dietrich was second over Hodnett, who won the Central PA title and also came out on top of the three-race SSP point chase. Marks and Mark Smith were fourth and fifth.
Central PA “358” dominator Pat Cannon added another $2,000 to the bank account scoring the 20-lap feature win. Cannon started third and slipped past Ryan Gerth on lap five when the youngster, who was making his first Sprint start, jumped the caution. Cannon survived numerous cautions for the win. Josh Beard, Dale Hammaker, Matt Horst, and Billy Pauch Jr. completed the top five.
April Wilson made the near seven-hour tow down from Joyceville, Ontario, Canada to compete for the first time ever. The young lady was able to qualify for the feature through the B main, but mechanical issues ended her night early on in the 30-lap feature. Wilson is planning on coming back to central Pa. when the 2013 season gets under way at the Icebreaker 30 at Lincoln Speedway on Saturday, Feb. 22.
The only other invader in the field was Cole Duncan of Lockbourne, Ohio. Duncan competed at the event last season as well. Back in July won the biggest race of his career when he invaded Path Valley Speedway in Spring Run and took the $5,000 prize away from the Pa. Posse. Duncan was at Lernerville a few weeks ago to try to and win the “Steel City Stampede” again, but mechanical woes in hot laps ended his night before rain postponed the conclusion of the event anyways until spring.
Oddly enough only Hodnett, Logan Schuchart, and Bob Howard were the only three drivers to compete in the previous week’s World Finals at Charlotte. In previous years, many of the top central Pa. talent made the trip down.
Give Howard credit for competing at Lernerville, Charlotte, and Susquehanna in recent weeks. Howard is a low-dollar team compared to many of the top racers in central Pa., but does a lot of racing all over Pennsylvania and always enjoys trips to western Pa. Howard married Clinton County promoter and racer Vern Wasson’s sister and relocated from Enola to State College.
Three racers did double duty on Saturday. Smith had a fifth in the “410s” and a 17th in the “358s”. Schuchart ran his grandpa Bobby Allen’s #1s to sixth place finishes in both features! Billy Pauch, Jr. turned in an 11th in the “410s” and a fifth in the “358s”. Mike Bittinger had both his “410” and “358” on hand. He finished 21st in the “410s”, while Chase Dietz failed to qualify in his first ever Sprint start in the “358s”.
Not a lot of news locally. Sharon Speedway announced the Mini Stocks will continue to be on the weekly card in 2013 despite the rumor they were being dropped. Both Sharon and Mercer Raceway Park have discounted 2013 season passes available. You can check out their websites at www.sharonspeedway.com and www.mercerracewaypark.com.
The former Hidden Valley Speedway and Gamblers Raceway Park was bought by New Jersey Sprint Car racer Jeff Taylor last year. Taylor, who played in the NFL for the Washington Redskins, and has made a lot of trips to western Pa. to compete in “410” and “305” racing, has slowly been progressing at the ?-mile speedway located in Clearfield. Taylor recently had a practice session and plans on racing Saturday nights in 2013. There hasn’t been an official announcement yet on what divisions will compete.
Out in Ohio there were a couple big announcements in the NASCAR world. The first one is quite intriguing as it appears by all indications that the Camping World Truck Series will run its first ever race on dirt at Tony Stewart’s Eldora Speedway! Also, the Nationwide Series announced they will have a show at the 2.4-mile Mid-Ohio’s road course on Aug. 17. NASCAR last appeared in the Buckeye State in 2008 when the Nationwide Series competed at the now closed Mansfield Motorsports Park.
The second annual Racers for Care event will take place today (Saturday) from 2 p.m. until midnight at Tiffany’s Banquet Hall in Brookfield, Ohio. This year’s event will be in honor of Brian Steinman, who suffered serious injuries earlier this season at Lernerville. The event will raise funds for injured drivers, autism, and hospice.
Steinman is expected to make an appearance along with Sprint Car racers Tim Shaffer, Danny Holtgraver, Eric Williams, Jack Sodeman, Jr., Jeff Taylor, Brian Ellenberger, Brent and Brandon Matus, Adam Kekich, Dean and Lee Jacobs, Dennis Wagner, and Justin Whitesell. TV commentator and former World of Outlaw racer, Brad Doty, who suffered career ending injuries at Eldora in 1987, is also expected to be on hand. The cost is $20.
Modified driver Frank Guidace of Mercer is planning on attending. Many race cars will be on display as well. The new “Open Throttle 360” television program on PCNC will be there filming the event.
This will be my last weekly effort of 2012. I’ll be having monthly columns through the winter until racing gets going again in March. You can follow me on Twitter @mikevleone. Thanks for reading!
Mike Leone is a motorsports columnist for Allied News.