- Grove City, Pennsylvania


June 21, 2014

THE CHECKERED FLAG: Murdick gets 1st win; Lynch rolls at Mercer

OPINION — THE WEATHER was questionable all around the region last Friday and eventually led to every track to the east raining out.  Lernerville decided to go on with their program despite heavy afternoon thunderstorms.  Another band of rain split them early evening before conditions cleared for their annual fireworks night, which always draws a big crowd.

It was good to be a number 10 in the Sprint Cars and Super Late Models as both Carl Bowser and Alex Ferree won their third features of the year.  It’s not often Sprint Car drivers win two straight at Lernerville in recent years since the departure of Ed Lynch Jr. on the weekly circuit. Once you win a feature, you start 10th. 

Bowser of Sarver lined up 10th in the 25-lap feature that started 19 cars. On lap 16, he passed both Bill Dietrich and Brandon Spithaler for third.  Dietrich got by Spithaler for fourth on lap 17, but the next lap the two tangled bringing out the first and only caution of the event.  When racing resumed, Brandon Matus passed race-long leader Jack Sodeman Jr. for the lead on lap 19.  The lead was short-lived though as on lap 20 Sodeman got back by but not before Bowser flew around both Matus and Sodeman in turns one and two for the lead.  Bowser would go on for the win over Matus, Sodeman, Spithaler, and Scott Priester. 

Ferree won an exciting 25-lap Super Late Model feature after starting from the eighth slot.  The Saxonburg racer passed Chuck Sarver on lap seven for third and moved into runner-up on lap 11 past John Garvin Jr.  Ferree hounded leader Russell King, who had led since lap two, before finally making the winning pass on lap 22.  King would suffer a flat tire on the final lap as Garvin, Mike Pegher Jr., Mike Altobelli Jr., and 19th starting Dave Murdick completed the first five.

The week prior Jeremiah Shingledecker ended a slump winning his first feature of the year in the Big-Block Modifieds; last Friday it was Dave Murdick’s turn to change his luck. The Butler racer swapped the lead back and forth with Rex King, Jr. early on then held him off for his 29th career Lernerville win.  Canadian Mat Williamson was third from the eighth starting spot as Shingledecker and Rex King rounded out the first five.

Mark Sanders has been racing for probably 15 years throughout the region, but had never been able to find victory lane. That changed on Friday night when the New Castle native, who now calls Lowellville, Ohio, home captured a popular win in the Stock Cars. 

Mercer Raceway Park had a special event last Saturday as it was a benefit for the Auto Racers for Kids Charity put on by former Sprint Car racer Scott Bonnell of Fairview.  The “410” Sprint Cars were the main attraction and a full field of 24 turned out. 

The three non-regulars stole the show as Ed Lynch Jr. picked up his first Mercer win of the season, which was worth $3,000.  It was Lynch’s second appearance of the season and just fourth race overall.  Lynch competed in both All Star races at Lernerville and Mercer this year and won a regular show at Lernerville as well.  Lynch now has 16 career wins at Mercer.  Jac Haudenschild’s son Sheldon was on hand and finished second over central Ohio standout Cole Duncan.   Brandon Spithaler was the top local in fourth with Hermitage’s Adam Kekich, a winner last time out, fifth.

Mercer’s own Eric Gabany captured his season’s second win in the “358” Modifieds.  The ninth win of his career was extra special as it paid $1,000.  The Limited Sprint Cars were also racing for $1,000 and it was Lake Milton, Ohio’s CJ Jones winning his second of the season and sixth of his career.  Curt J. Bish continued his winning ways in the Stocks taking the $500 special for his seventh career win.

Like Gabany, Warren, Ohio’s Jeff Teeters won his second Mod Lite feature of the season and ninth of his career.  In the Mini Stock finale, Caleb Hickok claimed his second win of 2014 and fourth of his career.

For the fourth straight Saturday, Sharon Speedway was blessed with sunny skies and no threat of rain resulting in a huge crowd of some 4,000 turning out for the second annual free Fan Appreciation Night!  Fans also enjoyed an on-track autograph session with all of the racers at intermission. 

The week prior it was Rex King holding off his son Rex Jr. for the win in the Big-Block Modifieds; last Saturday night, Rex Jr. turned the tables on Father's Day Eve winning the 20-lap feature to become the division's first three-time winner.  "Cooter", as he's better known, kept the Kings and Jim Weller  Jr. as the division's only three winners this season. "Cooter's" 11th career win moved him into a tie for 10th with Rob Kristyak on the division's all-time win list.

Dennis Lunger Jr. went uncontested leading wire-to-wire in the 20-lap RUSH Late Model feature.  It was third win of the season for the defending champion, who matched Will Thomas III's win total for the season.  Thomas entered the night winning three straight features and was relegated to the tail.  Thomas struggled throughout the main and could only salvage an 11th for the Sharpsville resident and Grove City College grad. 

Lunger, 46 of Albion, now has nine career win at Sharon, which have all come since the season finale in 2012, moved him into sole possession of second place on the division's all-time win list.  Josh Double’s runner-up was his best finish since his second on August 10 of last year. 

Steve Dixon out-dueled defending champion Mike Kinney for his first E-Mod win of the season at Sharon and second overall on the circuit.  Dixon survived eight cautions throughout the 20-lap event that ruined some good racing up front.  Dixon is now just two points out of the lead in his first full season of racing at Sharon.  The Smethport racer has three wins for his career at Sharon.

After a dominating performance by Brian Carothers, Bryan Wagner benefited from a caution on the final lap to steal a first win of the season away from Carothers with a last lap pass.  For Wagner, it was his first win of 2014 in the Stock Cars.

On lap 12, Wagner of New Castle ducked to the inside of Brent Coleman and made the pass stick racing off turn four to garner second.  Wagner now faced a straightaway deficit with three laps to go that appeared insurmountable; however, just as it looked like the race was going non-stop, Gary Robinson slowed to bring out the caution.

Carothers chose the bottom for the double-file restart.  The two raced side-by-side on the final lap, but Wagner had enough momentum on the outside to power to the victory by just 0.286 of a second for his fourth career win, but first since June 22 of last year.

Ryan Fraley of Wheatland led from green-to-checkered in the 15-lap Econo Mod feature to become the division's fifth different winner in six races.  Had Steve Burns Jr. not passed Casey Bowers on the final lap on June 7, there would have been six different winners in as many races.  Jason Longwell's second place was his season's best, while Josh Mueller was a Sharon career best third. 

Travis Creech rebounded from a flat tire in his heat race that relegated him to the 13th starting spot to win the 12-lap Mini Stock feature.  Creech became the Speedway's first five-time winner of 2014!  The Niles, Ohio second year racer now has 11 career wins!

On Sunday I headed to Susquehanna Speedway for the third time this season and for their third “410” Sprint Car event of the year.  Susquehanna has really been blessed with great weather over the past few years for their “410” events and Sunday was no different, which led to a great crowd on Father’s Day.

 Justin Barger has been a “360” Sprint Car racer for many years, while dabbling here and there in “410” competition.  This year, the Montrose, New York (New York City suburbs) racer has been making the tow down to central Pa. to compete weekly at Williams Grove Speedway on Friday nights and Port Royal on Saturday nights.  He’s been close to victory on several occasions throughout the region including last year when he made a few starts.

On Sunday, Barger stayed over to compete on Sunday and it paid off as he captured his first career “410” win.  The exciting 25-lap feature saw him come out on top over a great duel with Austin Hogue and Aaron Ott.  The three battled hard with Hogue leading the first 15 laps before a caution.  Hogue, who is also a “410” rookie but recently won his first at Lincoln Speedway, lost the lead on the restart to Barger.  Barger led the final 10 laps for the $3,500 victory.  Ott got past Hogue with two laps to go to finish second dropping Hogue to third ahead of Greg Hodnett and Kyle Moody.

The “358” Sprints were also on hand and it was fourth starting Kevin Nouse taking the win.  Nouse took over from Brad McClelland on lap eight and cruised to the $1,500 win.  Brock Zearfoss pitted on lap six with a flat tire, but was able to work his way back to second at the conclusion of the 20-lap feature! 

Don’t forget, Ohio Speedweek is upon us with nine straight days of All Star Sprint Car racing throughout the Buckeye state (June 20-28)!  The local appearances will be on Monday (June 25) at Wayne County in Orrville and Tuesday at Sharon.  Speedweek concludes on June 28 at Fremont for the $10,000 to-win finale!  Along with the All Stars and Ohio racers, several outsiders are coming in for the week like Stevie Smith, Shane Stewart, Danny Dietrich, Aussie James McFadden, and Austen Wheatley from the state of Washington. 

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

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