By Mike Leone
Allied News Motorsports Columnist
MOTHER NATURE’S last stronghold on winter may slowly be releasing her grip as the calendar changes to April and racing begins to get under way throughout the region.
Locally, nothing has happened yet, but that may soon be changing. Mercer had to postpone their “Chiller Thriller” to this Saturday, weather permitting, featuring the NDRL Northeast Super Late Models, NDRL E-Mods, Crate Late Models, and Stock Cars. Mercer’s regular season opener featuring their weekly divisions of “410” Sprints, “358” Modifieds, “305” Sprints, Stock Cars, Mod Lites, and Mini Stocks has now been pushed back to April 12.
Sharon Speedway has its March 22 postponed open practice and 150-lap Enduro scheduled for this Saturday . Practice will be held from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. followed by the Enduro at 1:30, weather permitting. 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.
One of the region’s biggest early season shows is coming up Thursday, April 10 at Pittsburgh’s PA Motor Speedway. NDRL has leased the “Monster Half-Mile” again and will run a $10,000 to-win event for their “Kings of Dirt” Super Late Model Series in addition to the NDRL E-Mods and a weekly event for the RUSH Late Models. Pittsburgh will be off on April 12 then get going with their weekly opener on April 19.
In recent years, Lernerville Speedway has backed up their opener into April. Traditionally Lernerville always opened the last Friday night in March. This year’s opener will be Friday, April 18 featuring the 410 Sprint Cars, DIRTcar Big-Block Modifieds, Super Late Models, and Stock Cars.
With nothing going on locally, I’ve continued my travels. On Friday, March 21 I headed south to the Legendary Hilltop Speedway located just south of Marietta, Ohio on Route 7. While snow and rain were falling in western Pa., a warm front surged north through the Ohio Valley. When I left the area, it was 37 degrees and cloudy and when I arrived in Marietta it was 72 degree and sunny!
This was my first visit to the ?-mile oval. I’ve been past it several times going to other speedways. The former Marietta Speedway closed in 1996 and reopened last season. This Hilltop is not to be confused with the Hilltop Speedway located in Millersburg, Ohio. The beautiful weather for opening night allowed for a totally packed grandstands with a standing-room-only crowd along with 18 Super Late Models, 14 E-Mods, 11 Mini Stocks, 6 Hot Mods, and 8 Mini Wedges for the kids.
The Super Late Model feature sanctioned by the AMRA was a good one with Freddie Carpenter of Parkersburg, WV out-dueling Andy Bond for the win. Kenny Johnson of Morgantown, WV won the wild E-Mod feature that had nine cautions throughout the 20-lap affair. Legendary Hilltop made for my 158th different track. For more information, check out their website at www.legendaryhilltopspeedway.net.
After staying in Morgantown, I headed on east to Trail-Way Speedway for their season opener on Saturday afternoon (March 22). Trail-Way always has a few afternoon Saturday shows, which allows me to attend their facility. This would turn out to be their only Saturday afternoon show as the week prior and week after were both rained out.
Trail-Way is located just east of Hanover, Pa. and on this day had 17 600cc Micro Sprints, 16 270cc Micro Sprints, 23 Legend Cars, and 9 600cc Stock Micro Sprints. It was a sunny and in the 60s, but strong winds really took its toll on the speedway surface. Trail-Way is located at the Hostetter Farm so the wind always seems to blow across the fields.
Arron Spahr went wire-to-wire to win the 600 Micro Sprints. Jim Young finished fourth. Young, of Johnstown, has been racing Micro Sprints since I remember Micro Sprints racing and used to make lots of visits to western Pa. to race. After flipping hard in the 600 feature, Mike Rutherford came from ninth to win the 270 Micro Sprint feature over Richie Hartman- a driver who used to call Sportsman’s Speedway in Knox home years ago.
After Trail-Way, I continued through Hanover and the short trip up to Abbottstown at Lincoln Speedway. Lincoln has gotten off to a rough start losing their first three shows and last Saturday (March 29) as well. On the 22nd, Lincoln completed their second straight event. The wind died down and it was a beautiful evening around 60 degrees. Another packed house was on hand for the 30 410 Sprint Cars, 20 358 Late Models, and 18 358 Sprint Cars.
The 2014 season didn’t get off to a great start for Danny Dietrich after a terrible Florida and just an 18th at the Lincoln opener on March 15. The Gettysburg racer changed his fortunes picking up the victory in week two. Dietrich passed Brent Marks on lap 11 and held on in lapped traffic for his 19th career win tying him with his father Dan for 18th place on the all-time win list! Marks was second over Greg Hodnett, Kyle Moody’s second straight fourth place finish, and Lance Dewease in his debut in the Dietz #14.
J.R. Rodriguez won his first career Lincoln win the “358” Late Model opener and Niki Young captured his eighth career win in the “358” Sprint Car opener holding off Kevin Nouse.
Sunday (March 23) dawned gray and cold. A cold front went through during the night and the temps never recovered during the day barely getting into the low 40s. I was surprised that Selinsgrove Speedway went on with their program. Several of the “410” Sprint Car teams elected not to run. Selinsgrove is a big, fast half-mile and the speeds and cold temps can be hard on motors. Just 16 Sprints were on hand for the one-division show. The weather kept the crowd down as this is generally a packed house for their Sprint Car opener.
Blane Heimbach was sure glad they decided to race though. The hometown Selinsgrove racer owns 36 career Sprint Car wins at the speedway, but had yet to win one in the “410s”. That changed as seventh starting Heimbach passed a slowing Justin Barger and then Greg Hodnett, who briefly inherited the lead, on lap 15, and went on for the 25-lap win worth $4,000. Chad Layton, Mike Erdley, Lucas Wolfe, and Steve Buckwalter completed the top five.
Last weekend looked like it may be a total washout, but I was still able to take in a pair of races. Though they were calling for rain much of the day on Friday (March 28), the rain ended by late morning and when the front came through later on Friday, the rain stayed off to the north of Williams Grove Speedway. A strong field of 30 “410” Sprint Cars filled the pit area, but only 14 of the “358” Sprints were on hand for the Mechanicsburg oval’s 75th anniversary opener.
After a strong 2012, Cory Haas just couldn’t catch a break in 2013. The year started off with him destroying two cars in the first two weeks and it just seemed like he never got in a groove. Friday night Haas looked primed for victory leading the first 12 laps, but his motor went sour ending his night. That handed the lead to Gerard McIntyre, who had to hold off a hungry pack of racers for just his second career win.
Stevie Smith made his debut for Fred Rahmer and was right on McIntyre’s tail tank at the finish in runner-up along with 14th starting Brian Montieth and seventh starting Ryan Smith, who made his season debut. New Jersey’s Rick Lafferty was fifth ahead of Trey Starks, who made the trip in from the state of Washington to race in central Pa. for the early season.
After a dominating heat race by a near half-lap, Adrian Shaffer drew position number two for the 20-lap “358” Sprint Car feature and dominated it as well. Shaffer led the entire way with only a caution on lap 13 to slow him. Chandler Leiby was a distant second.
A rainy day wiped out racing action everywhere on Saturday, but on Sunday (March 30), I headed west to Brownstown Speedway in Indiana for the first time. Their “No Way out 40” Jesse Hockett Tribute was scheduled for Saturday, but was postponed a day due to the weather. A star-studded field of 51 traditional non-wing Sprint Cars were on hand in addition to 29 E-Mods and TQ Midgets.
Brownstown is located about 2 hours west of Cincinnati and made for my 159th different track of my life. It was already my 23rd race in eight different states this season! The facility was saturated from all of the rain, but they did a great job getting everything race-ready.
Bryan Clauson, who has been doing a lot of winged Sprint Car racing out west in the Buffalo Wild Wings car, was back in familiar territory without the wing driving the Tony Stewart #20. Clauson led the entire 40 laps for the $7,500 win despite getting heavy pressure from Dave Darland and Brady Short. Tyler Courtney and Jordan Kinser finished fourth and fifth after starting in the last row in 20th and 19th respectively!
Ryan Thomas and Steve Arnold ended the night winning the E-Mod and TQ Midget features respectively.
Mike Leone is motorsports columnist for Allied News. For the latest updates, follow him on Twitter @mikevleone.