- Grove City, Pennsylvania


May 1, 2013

THE CHECKERED FLAG: Nice weather makes for great racing

OPINION — IT WAS finally a nice Friday and Saturday, which allowed several of the regional speedways to complete action.  In fact, Saturday was the nicest race day of the year and was the warmest Saturday since I was in Florida back in February!

I headed east on Friday to Williams Grove Speedway where the All Star Sprint Cars were in town for the first time this season as well as several other invaders like California’s Tim Kaeding and Brad Sweet and Jac and Sheldon Haudenschild.  That along with the All Stars and Williams Grove’s strong weekly field shot the car count up to 43!

The 30-lap feature turned out to be perfect track conditions for Don Kreitz, Jr.  There’s no one that can run the bottom better than the Sinking Springs great.  Kreitz started 10th and was halfway to front after eight laps.  Kreitz passed Mark Smith for fourth on lap nine and Tim Shaffer for third one lap later.  While Fred Rahmer had set the early pace with Jac Haudenschild in hot pursuit, Kreitz made quite a move on lap 12 to pass them both! 

One caution was all that slowed Kreitz from his first win of the season and 55th of his career at the Mechanicsburg oval.  Rahmer continued his unbelievably consistent season in second over Aliquippa’s Shaffer, Lance Dewease, and 12th starting Alan Krimes.  Pittsburgh’s Danny Holtgraver failed to qualify for the feature. 

The ARDC Midget Cars were also on the card for the first time of the year.  A nice field of 29 cars were on hand.  After winning from last the week before at New Egypt (NJ) Speedway, Steve Buckwalter did it again- this time from the 15th position after quite a run to the front!

The All Stars headed north to Port Royal Speedway on Saturday night where 39 cars checked in.  One week before, Doug Esh captured the first central Pa. victory for western Pa. car owners Tom and Fran Chiapelli.  On Saturday night, Esh pulled off the upset taking the $10,000 victory in the Bob Weikert Memorial.  The Lancaster driver has a knack for big wins and now gave the Cairnbrook car owners their biggest career win!  Mercer’s Mike Lutz and Johnstown’s Dan Shetler are two of the local racers that have piloted the Golden Flavor Sesame Seed Snacks #98. 

The #98 has another local connection in crew chief Pup Nystrom.  The Kane resident formerly campaigned in his own Sprint Car before crewing on many teams throughout Pennsylvania.  Nystrom has also crewed for Holtgraver, who finished an improved 12th on Saturday night in a race he finished second at last season that seemed to propel his season.    

Back here in western Pa., Lernerville hosted their first regular show of the season on Friday night.  The make-up “Steel City Stampede” unofficially began the season on April 14 then Lernerville was rained out last Friday night.  A great field 29 Super Late Models, 25 Stock Cars, 24 Sprint Cars, and 23 Big-Block Modifieds were on hand.

After some disagreements with the All Star Sprint Cars over their membership program, Jack Sodeman, Jr. decided to stay local and it paid off as the North Jackson, Ohio driver had a clean sweep of the night winning both his heat race and the feature.  Sodeman got a break when leader Brian Ellenberger broke in the lead.

In the Big-Block Modifieds, it was a heartbreaker for Brian Swartzlander, who came up light at the scales and it played right into Canadian Mat Williamson’s hands as he won his first ever feature at the track in just his second start.  Slippery Rock’s Dave Murdick finished second.  Williamson is normally a regular at Ransomville and Merrittvillle Speedways in the “358s”.  His father Randy is part-owner of Bicknell Race Cars and Merrittvillle with Pete Bicknell. 

In other action, Dave Hess Jr. made the tow down from Waterford and won the Super Late Models over Jared Miley, and Kittanning’s Bob Egley won the Stock Car main after a tough 2012 season.

After the “Chiller Thriller” special on April 6, Mercer lost the next two weeks due to cold and wet grounds.  Saturday night found sunny conditions for their first regular show of the season.  Though he doesn’t race every week, young Brandon Spithaler has taken a liking to openers at Mercer.  The Evans City racer passed Scott Priester on the final lap to score his third straight opening night Sprint Car win!

Mercer’s Gary Smoker hasn’t won as much in the last few seasons, but on Saturday night chalked up his 45th career victory at the speedway, which came in the “358” Modified division.  Mike Bauer is an up and coming Sprint Car racer out of the go-kart ranks and he was able to secure his fourth career win the Limited Sprint division.

Rusty Moore dominated the Stock Car division in 2011, but had a down here in 2012.  On Saturday night the New Castle racer started off 2013 right with his 25th career win at the speedway.  Struthers, Ohio’s Cody Bova won the Mod Lites for the second time in his career.  Fairmount City’s Jamey Lee has been an off and on competitor at Mercer over the past several seasons.  Lee was back at Mercer Saturday and captured his 11th victory at the track.

After rough weather to begin the 84th anniversary racing season, Sharon Speedway was finally blessed with the nicest Saturday of 2013 with a sunny 70-degree day. A season high 105 cars filled the pit area.

The King Family made it two-for-two in the DIRTcar Big-Block Modifieds. On opening night, Rex King, Jr. led all 20 laps for the win. After a rainout and a special event, the big blocks were back for week two and this time it was the elder Rex King leading wire-to-wire in the 20-lap feature adding to his all-time active-leading division win total.

The Bristolville, Ohio driver went unchallenged for his 43rd career win.  Jim Weller Jr. was 3.096 seconds back in second. King, Jr. was a close third to keep within three points of his father in the point chase. Jackson Center’s Skip Moore was fourth over Stoneboro’s Jeremiah Shingledecker.

It was a history making day for Mike Pegher Jr. in the RUSH Dirt Late Models. After winning the $1,000 Weekly Series special earlier in the day at Pittsburgh’s PA Motor Speedway for his first victory of 2013, Pegher towed north to Sharon and made it a clean sweep of the day adding another $700 to-win non-stop feature.   

Pegher made a three-wide pass splitting race-long leader Bobby Whitling and a lapped car on lap 13.  Pegher then pulled away for his seventh career Late Model win at the track.  Whitling was a solid runner-up in his season debut over opening night winner and point leader Dennis Lunger, Jr.

 In the race of the night, eighth starting Alan Dellinger came out on top of a three-wide battle in the closing laps with Jack Young and Clayton Kennedy for the 15-lap Modified win.  The exciting victory was the first of the year for the 49-year-old racer, but extended his all-time division-leading mark to 87!  Dellinger also took over the point lead.  Young, who was the co-champion last season, was second over Kennedy.

Fowler, Ohio’s Paul Davis emerged victorious in a four-car battle for the win in the Stock Cars. Davis’ first win of the year came in the 15-lap feature.  Davis withstood the pressure from Rod Laskey, Greenville’s Tim Burns, and New Wilmington’s Bryan Wagner for his eighth career win. 

Steve Burns Jr. survived a 15-lap caution-plagued Econo Mod feature for his first win of the year and also took over the early point lead.  Burns was one of the few cars that either wasn’t in an accident or didn’t pit.  The 22-year-old Masury, Ohio driver’s win came over Brian Hathaway. 

Twelve-year-old Jacob Eucker led feature laps for the third straight week, but spun from the lead.  The week before he broke in the lead and on opening night finished second.  It’s only a matter of time before he becomes the youngest winner in the speedway’s history.  A season-high 20 cars were on hand for the growing economical division, which is starting its fourth season, but just second as a weekly division.

Scott Gilliland was the benefactor of misfortunes by teammates Jerry Batcher and Pete Blazczak to win his second straight 12-lap Mini Stock feature and greatly extended his point lead.  The teammates of Batcher and Blazczak led the field to green. Blazczak led the opening lap before Batcher made the pass for the lead on lap two.  

Batcher led until slowing on lap six handing the lead back to Blazczak. Blazczak was doing everything he could to hold off Gilliland, but would spin all by himself on lap 11 ending his shot at his fourth career win.  Gilliland inherited the lead and held off defending champion, Jim Haefke, Jr., for his sixth career win.

There was no racing on Sunday, but don’t forget this Sunday (May 5) is the first ever Sprint Car show at Roaring Knob Motorsports Complex!  The Markleysburg oval opened in 1998 and has been a showplace for Late Models over the years, but never a Sprint Car race!  A strong field is expected with racers from all over Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, and New Jersey showing interest. 

The “410” Sprint Cars will race for $4,000 to-win with $350 to-start!  The event will be run under the PA Speedweek format, which will include qualifying at 6 p.m. followed by racing at 6:30.  The fast qualifier will receive $100 courtesy of Eddy Esposito Automotive Group Parts.  For more information, check out  I’ll have a recap of this historic event next time. 

Mike Leone is a motorsports columnist for The Allied News. Follow his updates on twitter at @mikevleone

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