By Mike Leone
Allied News Motorsports Columnist
LAST FRIDAY I planned on taking in the World of Outlaw Sprint Car show at Attica (OH) Raceway Park, but Mother Nature had other ideas washing out the event for the second straight year. Storms were all throughout the Buckeye State that washed out just about every venue including the first ever Patriot 360 Sprint Car event at Raceway 7.
The weather though was clear at Lernerville Speedway and I finally made my first visit of the season to the Sarver oval. A nice field of cars were on hand including 22 Big-Block Modifieds, 21 Super Late Models, 18 Sprint Cars, and 22 Stocks. A great crowd was on hand and with the humidity, no breeze, and some cloud cover, the track was in excellent shape & made for tremendous racing.
Brandon Spithaler has seven career wins at Mercer Raceway Park including two this season in both winged and wingless action. The Evans City up and coming star though had never been able to win at Lernerville before. That ended on Friday as he went from third to first on the opening lap and never looked back. One caution on lap three was all the slowed him. Brandon Matus was a season best over Jack Sodeman Jr., Carl Bowser, and Scott Priester.
Sheldon Haudenschild, who won the wingless show at Wayne County the Friday before and finished second at Mercer, arrived just in time from Attica to catch his heat where he finished third. Haudenschild spun off the track in turn three for the only caution then roared through the pack to finish sixth as the last 23 laps went caution-free.
Mike Norris won a wild one in the Late Models. The Sarver driver passed Mike Pegher, Jr. on lap five. It appeared Norris was cruising to a pretty comfortable win, but his car went up in smoke in turn three. Norris was able to coast around and have enough power to cross the finish line first. As his car then caught fire, a big pileup ensued behind him as Bryan Force got upside down trashing his car. Everyone was okay, but not so much for a lot of equipment. Alex Ferree, John Garvin, John Mollick, and Brian Swartzlander were two through five.
Mat Williamson has been a great addition to the weekly field at Lernerville, but his fellow competitors probably don’t agree. The Canadian, whose father co-owns Bicknell Chassis and Merritville Speedway, won for the third time in four tries! Williamson led laps 2-16 before losing the lead to Slippery Rock’s Dave Murdick on lap 17; however, Murdick’s lead lasted only two laps as Williamson regained the lead and beat him to the finish. Brian Swartzlander, who won the other event, was third over Brad Rapp and Jeff Schaffer.
The Stock Car main was a real barnburner with Chicora’s Mike Miller picking up his first win of the season.
Though it’s been scheduled before and rained out, for the first time in the track’s 62-year history, three classes of Sprint Cars competed at Mercer Raceway Park on Saturday night! What a night it was for Danny Holtgraver! The Pittsburgh driver was in town with no All Star races scheduled and the team decided to bypass the World of Outlaw show in Michigan. It proved beneficial as Holtgraver would lead every lap of the “410” feature then come from last to win the “360s” for his first ever Patriot-sanctioned victory. Earlier this year you may remember Holtgraver won the biggest race in his career at East Bay in FL earning the $10,000 “King of the 360s”! Holtgraver will now begin a busy stretch of racing as he’ll head east for several events before Ohio Speedweek gets underway in the coming weeks.
Mike Miller backed up Friday’s Stock Car win at Lernerville winning the “305” Sprints, Tiona’s Jimmy Holden won his second of the year in the “358” Modifieds, New Brighton’s Shane Pfeuffer topped the Mod Lites and Caleb Hickok won his first ever in the Mini Stocks.
Despite thunderstorms being in the forecast all week for Saturday, sunshine was present for much of the day and the storms held off until well after the completion of the eighth straight racing event at Sharon Speedway. It was a good night to be #27 as the first three feature winners of the night carried the number! And all six winners resides in Trumbull County, Ohio!
There’s little doubt Jim Weller Jr. isn’t questioning his move to Troyer Chassis this year. On May 4, the Hubbard, Ohio veteran won his first feature at Sharon since 2010. After letting one slip by at the last event, Weller still entered the night as the point leader and he’ll stay that way after leading all 20 laps of the DIRTcar Big-Block Modified feature for his second win of the season!
A heads-up start put Weller on the pole and he quickly took the advantage over Eric Gabany’s “358” small-block. Dave Murdick and Rex King were able to get by Gabany on the opening lap for second and third respectively. Sunday’s winner, Rex King, Jr., started back in seventh and he was on the move as he cracked the top five on the opening lap then passed Gabany for fourth on lap two.
King slipped high in turn two on lap five allowing his son “Cooter” to slip past for third. By lap seven, Weller opened up a straightaway lead on Murdick, while King, Jr. closed in. Unlike last week when he saw the win slip away, Weller maintained his advantage throughout and took the checkered flag first by 3.799 seconds for his milestone 25th of his long career at Sharon.
The battle for second ensued as King Jr. got alongside Murdick on several occasions, but couldn’t make the pass stick. Murdick came home second by just two tenths of a second. King, Jr. was third to maintain runner-up in points beating his father, who came home fourth. Mercer’s Gabany held on to fifth.
Two weeks ago Eric Wilson was overcome by defending champion Will Thomas III. On Saturday night, Wilson was able to hold off Thomas for his first win of the season in the Barris Supply RUSH Late Models. The 16-year-old Wilson of Cortland, Ohio has now won one a feature in each of his first three seasons of Late Model racing at Sharon! Wilson became the sixth different winner of the season in eight races. The non-stop event was timed in 5:47.445.
Clay Ruffo raced to the early lead, while Wilson took second from Shaun Hooks on the initial lap. Dennis Lunger Jr. started fifth and was able to pass Lauren Longbrake and Hooks for third on lap one. Wilson would make what would turn out to be the winning move on lap two when he ducked under and past Ruffo in turn two on lap two.
Thomas, who started sixth and was racing with an injured wrist after a nasty accident last Saturday, entered the top five on lap two when he passed Longbrake. Lap three saw Lunger and Ruffo race side-by-side for second and Thomas and Hooks right behind in a side-by-side battle for fourth. Thomas made the pass on lap three and Lunger on lap four.
The battle then heated up for second as Thomas caught Lunger on lap six. After a two-lap battle, Thomas drove under and by Lunger in turn four for runner-up. Wilson had a half-straightaway lead, but by the halfway point of the 20-lap affair, Thomas closed in. On lap 16 he was right on the “Futures Cup” contender and on lap 18 and pulled alongside. Wilson though kept the door shut to impede Thomas’ strong runs on the bottom of the speedway as he held on to win by 0.429 of a second. Point leader Lunger was third as he’s yet to finish outside the top four in a regular event this season. Josh Double came from ninth to place fourth over Mercer’s Ruffo for his best finish of the season.
Joe Gabrielson scored an emotional victory as he won his first Modified feature since his father and mentor Bill Gabrielson passed away over the offseason. Gabrielson led all 15 laps holding off a stout field of competitors in the feature, and celebrated with a “Polish Victory Lap”. Gabrielson became the sixth different winner of the season in the competitive division. Gabrielson’s victory was the fifth of his career for the 25-year-old from Bristolville, Ohio.
While several regulars were off competing in a big race at Pittsburgh, Saturday’s Stock Car event was a non-point affair and left things wide open. Bruce Redman made his season debut a successful one as he captured his first win since April 9, 2011. And like Thomas and Gabrielson, the 44-year-old Cortland, Ohio driver became the season’s sixth different winner of the division.
Two weeks ago, Hartford’s own Jacob Eucker shocked the racing community as he became the youngest winner in the 84-year history of Sharon Speedway at age 12. On Saturday night, Eucker proved it was no fluke as he passed last year’s Western PA Rookie-of-the-Year, Casey Bowers, and held off division standout Jeremy Double for his second win in the 15-lap Econo Mod feature. Eucker’s win came on his great grandfather and former standout racer Dale Johnson’s 90th birthday!
Scott Gilliland became the third #27 to win on the night as his dominance of the Mini Stocks continued. Gilliland won for a track leading fifth time of the season in the 12-lap feature. With the last nine laps going caution-free, Gilliland went on for his second straight win and ninth of his career to move into sole possession of third place on the division’s all-time win list after more than doubling his career win total this season.
On Sunday, Sportsman’s Speedway was able to complete their third program of the season despite rain in the forecast. The weather seemed to keep cars away in all divisions. Max Blair will go down in the history books as the first ever Crate Late Model feature winner at the Knox oval. The Centerville driver passed both Joe Martin and Bobby Whitling on the opening lap and never looked back for his fifth RUSH-sanctioned win of the season. Blair also has four wins at McKean County Raceway. Martin beat Whitling for second. Pat Willar was a career best fourth.
Mike Miller ended quite a weekend for himself. After winning his first of the season in the Stocks at Lernerville and winning a “305” Sprint main at Mercer on Saturday night, Miller made it a clean sweep of the weekend bagging the “305” feature over Mercer’s Joe McEwen, Mike Bauer, Jake Gomola and Joe Siemba.
Other winners were Ryan McAndrew in the Micro Sprints, Jason Beichner in the Stocks, and John Campisano in the Mini Stocks.
Mike Leone is motorsports columnist for the Allied News. Follow his updates on Twitter @mikevleone.