- Grove City, Pennsylvania

September 25, 2013

THE CHECKERED FLAG: Local speedways battle Mother Nature

By Mike Leone
Allied News Motorsports Columnist

OPINION — FOR WHAT EVER reason, the third weekend of September has traditionally been a challenging weekend weather-wise and it once again came true as regional speedways really battled Mother Nature.  Friday was a warm, summer-like day with temps approaching 80-degrees, but Saturday dawned wet and turned colder later in the day, while Sunday was more October-like with temps in the 50s and overcast, windy conditions.

Saturday’s casualties included Sharon’s next to last regular point event, the World of Outlaw Sprint show at Lernerville, the finale of the “Little Guy Nationals” at Mercer, and the finale of the “Fall Classic” at McKean County Raceway.  Sharon will host their final regular show this Saturday night, while Mercer and McKean ran their events in less than desirable conditions.  No make-up date has been announced for the Lernerville WoO.

Mercer Raceway Park ended the season last weekend with the annual “Little Guy Nationals”.  The event has always been geared around the “358” Modified and Stock Car divisions and included many of the region’s support divisions. 

Mercer’s own Eric Gabany, who has had a solid year running against the big blocks, won the $1,000 Friday night portion, while Randy Chrysler captured Sunday’s $2,000 to-win feature.  The New York racer went three-for-three this season at Sportsman’s Speedway.  New Castle’s Andy Priest reunited with longtime car owner Ted Hull for the weekend and brought the #41 home fourth on Friday and seventh on Saturday.

Track champion Rusty Moore continued his dominance winning Friday night’s $500 victory as he gets closer to the all-time win record.  Saturday’s 40 plus field was split into twin features and were won by Chris Schneider of Tarentum and Oil City’s Curt Bish won the non-qualifier. After getting thrown out of McKean County on Thursday night for what was deemed an intentional accident, Ischua, New York’s Richard Michael, Jr. traveled to Mercer and swept both events for the E-Mods. 

Jimmy Morris and Mike Bauer won the Limited Sprint mains.  Kenny Meadows and Mikey Hay won the special STAR’s Mod Lite features.  Cody Pyle won his first career Mercer feature in the Mini Stocks, while Paul Koffler, Jr. captured the Sunday main.  The Micro Sprints made their only appearances of the season and Ohio racers D.J. Furney and Jeff Haefke, Jr. were the winners. 

It was a long four days at McKean County Raceway in East Smethport for the eighth annual “Fall Classic”.  Thursday included some preliminary events, while action continued on a beautiful Friday evening.  Rain on Saturday then postponed the finale to Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. 

Bear Lake’s Rick “Boom” Briggs was the big winner on the weekend sweeping both days for the ULMS Super Late Models.  Friday’s win was worth $3,000, while Sunday’s score added another $5,000 to what has probably been his best career season.

The UEMS E-Mods participated in complete shows each night that drew 33 cars ironically every night.  Olean, New York’s Randy Hall won the Thursday $750 opener.  Smethport’s own Steve Dixon bounced back from a trashed race car on Thursday night to win the $750 in night two for Franklin car owner Tim Engles.  Conneaut, Ohio’s Joel Watson earned $2,000 for his Sunday afternoon victory.

The RUSH Late Model Touring Series held two rounds of group qualifying on Thursday night with Chad Ruhlman and Max Blair setting fast time for the Friday and Sunday shows.  Each earned $150.  Thirty-eight cars participated in the event.

In his first ever visit to McKean, Stoystown’s Chad McClellan came out on top of a wild and bizarre $1,200 to-win feature event to become the 11th different RUSH Tour winner of the season.  McClellan rebounded from a poor qualifying time on Thursday night, a 19th place starting spot in the feature, then recovered from an early race accident, and survived an uncharacteristic caution-filled event that saw seven of the top eight finishers record their best Tour finish of the season. 

Via his dash win, Ryan Montgomery raced into the early lead from the pole position over Damian Bidwell.  John Waters was making his first ever start in a Crate Late Model and passed Paul Grigsby for third.  Standouts Mike Pegher, Jr. and Max Blair were fifth and sixth after the opening lap. 

After a pair of four-car cautions, one of which included eventual winner, Chad McClellan, Bidwell took the advantage on the restart for the lead, while Pegher passed both Grigsby and Waters for the third spot.  Two more cautions were displayed for back-to-back spins by Jason Knowles and Cody Mason. 

When action resumed, this time Montgomery regained the lead on lap six and opened up an advantage.  By lap eight, the battle was on for second with Bidwell trying to fend off Pegher and Blair before a caution for Dusty Waters.  When green replaced yellow, three more laps were scored before the second caution by Mason and the sixth caution of the event two laps short of halfway.

Montgomery and Bidwell were warned repeatedly throughout the event about their restart methods and after another poor restart that resulted in the start being called back, both racers were moved back a row putting Pegher and Blair on the front row.  Pegher and Blair now resumed their front row battle from one week ago when Blair got by Pegher on a late restart to win at Sharon Speedway.

Unlike at Sharon, this time Pegher held off Blair to lead lap 12 when John Waters and Zack Carley passed Montgomery for third.  While Pegher continued to lead Blair, the battle for third on back was hot and heavy as the positions were changing constantly.  Bidwell held the third spot, but Montgomery, Chad Ruhlman, Carley, and Waters were really going at it.  Montgomery got himself back to fourth on lap 17 and Ruhlman worked into fifth.

Blair was staying right with Pegher as the laps ticked off.  Garrett Mott had gotten out of shape and kept going, and though it wasn’t immediately close to the leaders, Pegher and Blair closed every lap and Pegher was right on Mott on lap 21.  This was the opportunity Blair needed to make a move for his 10th win of the season at McKean.

Blair followed Pegher and with two to go began to look to the outside with the thought of passing Pegher for the lead and clearing Mott.  Blair made his move and it looked like might have the pass of Pegher made with two laps to go, but contact between Pegher and Mott in turn four sent Blair spinning across the middle of the frontstretch.  The accident also collected Montgomery and Bidwell.  Ruhlman would have inherited second, but he pitted with a flat tire. One chance at the green-white-checkered finish would now take place as racing resumed.  John Waters found himself in second and went for it on the restart; however, made contact with Pegher sending Pegher around.  Waters was charged with rough driving as both racers were sent to the tail.

When everything cleared, McClellan, a five-time Roaring Knob winner, emerged the winner of the wild feature event.  Tenth starting Zack Carley was second for his best ever Tour finish.  Brad Mesler was third after starting 23rd.  Matt Harvey ironically started alongside Mesler in row 12 and also improved 20 positions to fourth at the finish!  Veteran Ed Carley rounded out the top five.

Max Blair won an amazing eight of the nine regular events he entered this season at McKean on his way to the track championship; however, the $5,000 Weekly Series and $3,000 Summer Chase Champion had only been able to win one of the four Sweeney Tour events he competed in this season at his home track.  On Sunday afternoon, the Centerville driver brought down the curtain on McKean’s season with his fourth Tour win of the season.  Blair passed nemesis Mike Pegher, Jr. with nine laps to go to claim the $1,500 victory - the 10th of the season for him at the East Smethport oval.

A caution came out after 16 laps scored and like last Saturday at Sharon, it was a huge break for Blair as he lined up alongside Pegher.  And just like at Sharon when Blair passed Pegher on the outside for the victory, Blair made the identical move getting a great run on the outside of Pegher in turns one and two to power by Pegher to lead lap 17.  Damian Bidwell continued moving forward as he used the outside as well to get by Chad Ruhlman for third on the restart.

Ryan Montgomery got himself back into contention as he passed Ruhlman for fourth on lap 18 then followed Bidwell past Pegher on a lap 20 restart for third.  Bidwell and Montgomery resumed their battle from Friday night and Montgomery would get the better of it as he passed the local favorite on lap 21 for runner-up. 

Up front, it was all Blair as his fourth Sweeney Tour win tied Pegher for tops in the Series.    Montgomery was second for the fifth time in the past 11 events and recorded his 13th top four finish in 19 events.  After a 16th and a 14th in his prior two McKean Tour events, Bidwell had a solid third.  Pegher dropped to fourth for his 15th top four finish in 19 Sweeney Tour races and leads Montgomery by 21 points.  Ed Carley edged out 15th starting Bryce Davis for second fifth in as many nights.

Mike Leone is motorsports columnist for Allied News. For the latest updates, follow him on Twitter @mikevleone.