- Grove City, Pennsylvania

July 10, 2013

THE CHECKERED FLAG: Rain continues to stall racing at local tracks

By Mike Leone
Allied News Motorsports Columnist

OPINION — LIKE A BROKEN record, Mother Nature continues to play havoc on speedways all throughout the Midwest and Northeast.  It was supposed to be a busy holiday weekend of racing, but rain interrupted or cancelled a lot of shows once again. 

Last Wednesday night, America’s Motorsports Park in Clearfield was to have their first “410 Sprint Car show in many, many years; however, with an 80% chance of rain that $3,000 to-win show was rescheduled to Sunday, July 21.  Rain also wiped out the first Sprint show of the year scheduled for West Virginia Motor Speedway on the new 3/8-mile oval the very same night. 

Thursday I decided to head east to Lincoln Speedway for PA Speedweek.  A huge crowd and 39 “410” Sprint Cars filled the Abbottstown facility for the 14th annual “Kevin Gobrecht Memorial”.  It was a sunny and steamy day in the low 90s, but the storms missed Lincoln.  It was appropriate that New Oxford native Stevie Smith would pick up his first win of the year in a race run in memory of his good friend, who he grew up with. 

Smith wasn’t even sure if he’d be racing earlier this year as his car owner Chad Clemens suspended operations on “The Black Bandit” after the 2012 season to focus on his World of Outlaw team and driver Paul McMahan; however, two months ago Clemens decided to resume operations focusing more on local racing for Smith. 

On Thursday night, Smith set fast time and finished third in his heat.  The invert was eight, which lined Smith up outside fourth row for the 30-lap feature.  Brent Marks looked strong early on taking the lead from Texan Sam Hafertepe, Jr. on lap four.  Smith was running the low line and was picking cars off.  Smith passed Hafertepe for second on lap 24 with Alan Krimes following in third two laps later. 

Smith and Krimes ran down Marks and it was three-wide for the lead and win on the final lap.  Smith came out on top for the $7,000 win- his 24th of his career at Lincoln.  Marks edged out Krimes for second with Hafertepe and Danny Dietrich completing the top five.  Just another tremendous race at Lincoln- can’t remember the last time I saw Sprints three wide on the final lap for just about the entire lap!

On Friday night I was at Lernerville Speedway for just the third time this season.  While storms were around Lernerville for much of the day including Butler, it was dry in Sarver for the Buckeye Outlaw Sprint Series (BOSS) and RUSH Late Model “Off with the Tops” doubleheader.  There were 23 non-wing Sprints on hand and 37 Late Models.  It was the first non-wing Sprint show since Memorial Day 2011 when USAC was on hand, and first ever under BOSS.

Local Jack Sodeman, Jr. has always enjoyed running without the wing even though he doesn’t get that many opportunities.  His dad was a standout before wings became common in the late 1970s.  Friday night, the North Jackson, Ohio driver put on a dominating performance for his third career BOSS win in seven local starts.  It was Sodeman’s second straight Lernerville win and third of the season.  Sodeman beat out BOSS point leader and local racer himself, Brandon Spithaler of Evans City.  Western Ohio racer Mike Miller was third as Tony Beaber and Kirk Jeffries completed the first five.

Josh Double led all 25 laps of the RUSH Late Model Touring Series feature driving an impeccable race through lapped traffic to score his first win, and became the fifth different winner in seven events this season! Double’s $1,200 victory also put a stop to Series point leader Mike Pegher, Jr’s hot streak. Pegher entered the night as the perennial favorite winning two straight and three of the last six events and competing at the track he has called home since starting his racing career.

The 20-year-old Bristolville, Ohio driver Double drew the pole position and got a great start taking the lead over opening Sweeney Tour event winner Rick

Singleton. It was three-wide for second down the backstretch and entering turn three as Singleton came out on top over Ryan Montgomery and Justin Tatlow on the opening lap. Montgomery though would drive under Singleton in turn four to grab second on lap two.

Max Blair, who won Wednesday’s Sweeney Weekly Series event at McKean, was making just his second Sweeney Tour start of the season. Blair started ninth and made a great move to get by both Pegher and Tatlow to take over fourth on lap three. The top four of Double, Montgomery, Singleton, and Blair quickly began to distance themselves from the field.

Chad Ruhlman started eighth, but nearly spun on the opening lap. Ruhlman gathered himself back up and found the topside to his liking. Ruhlman passed Dan Angelicchio, Pegher, and Tatlow all on the outside as he cracked the top five on lap nine. Singleton began putting the heat on Montgomery on lap 10 trying to find a way by on the racey 4/10-mile track; meanwhile, Ruhlman continued running the highline as he closed in on Blair for fourth on lap 12.

At the halfway point, Double had a 1.9 second lead as the battle for runner-up continued. Singleton drove hard in turn four and slipped under Montgomery for second on lap 14, while Ruhlman simultaneously made the pass of Blair. Singleton and Montgomery began chewing into Double’s lead, while Ruhlman was running the fastest laps of the race.

With five laps to go it was a three-car race for the lead. Just as it seemed like Double’s lead was shrinking away and heavy traffic loomed ahead, Double did a great job on laps 21 and 22 through traffic. Those moves through traffic would be the deciding factor as he opened up a more comfortable advantage in the final laps and took the checkered flag first by a margin of 2.724 seconds.

Double’s non-stop time was 7:36.729.  Singleton edged out Montgomery for runner-up as it was his seventh finish in the top seven this season and closed to within one of Pegher for the Sweeney Tour point lead. Montgomery’s third gave him three straight top four finishes as he moves into third in points. Ruhlman simply ran out of the time without any cautions as his fourth place finish was his third top five of the season. Blair was fifth.

On Saturday, Sharon Speedway was to have the BOSS/RUSH “Off with the Tops” doubleheader.  Sharon was able to complete 12 straight racing events without a rain out, but on Saturday night Sharon suffered their third straight as heavy rain hit shortly after 6 p.m. after dry conditions were present all day just like the Saturday before and the Ohio Speedweek event on June 25.  The identical show is scheduled for August 17.  Sharon will be off this Saturday due to the Trumbull County Fair. 

Mercer Raceway Park waited out the rain and was able to complete their All Star Sprint Car show on Saturday night.  The local All Star shows have been plagued by bad weather as the May Lernerville/Mercer weekend was washed out as was the Ohio Speedweek event two weeks ago at Sharon.  Saturday brought in 34 cars and it was All Star regular and local Danny Holtgraver getting the win.  The Pittsburgh racer led the entire way for the $5,000 victory- the fourth of the season for him at Mercer. 

The All Stars of Cap Henry and Tim Shaffer were second and third.  Local Rod George had a fine run placing fourth over Dale Blaney.  New Castle native Andy Priest, who earlier this year moved to Grove City, made his season debut and had a solid eighth place finish.  It was good to see another local Andy McKisson of Strattanville make his season debut Saturday, but he failed to qualify for the feature.

In other action, Chicora’s Mike Miller won the Limited Sprints, Stoneboro’s Leigh Wheeler ended a dry spell taking the Stocks over 22nd starting Rusty Moore, and New Wilmington’s Alex Paden continues to be the Mini Stocks’ only multiple winner as he won his third of the year.

On Sunday, I headed north to Eriez Speedway for my first visit of the season.  Storms stayed to the south of the speedway and they were able to get their entire program in.  Sunday’s featured the BRP Big-Block Modified Tour in their only appearance of the season along with a full program.  BRP brought a strong field of 28 cars including several New York racers.

The 30-lap Modified feature was a good one despite six cautions and taking 48 minutes to complete.  Ricky Richner has been making the tow down from Niagara Falls to compete at Sharon every Saturday night.  Richner has been very competitive placing between third and sixth place just about every night, but hadn’t been able to find victory lane.  Sharon was off Saturday so Richner made a shorter tow to Erie on Sunday and it paid off as the “358” small block racer captured the win.

Richner started fourth and passed Brad Rapp on the opening lap for third.  Richner moved to second past Sandy Lake’s Chris Haines on six then took the lead from Grove City’s Steve Barr on lap eight.  Richner survived four restarts and was never seriously challenged for his first ever BRP win! 

Sixth starting Kevin Hoffman placed second after passing Barr on lap 26.  Point leader Chad Brachmann of New York came from the tail after pitting to get third as Haines, New York’s Ron Cartwright, and Slippery Rock’s Dave Murdick also got by Barr in the final laps for the fourth through sixth place positions respectively. 

One of the hardest hits I’ve seen this year was when Brachmann and Brad Rapp got hooked together entering turn one and Rex King came flying in and hit them full speed.  The impact knocked Brachmann and Rapp free and did little damage somehow to them, but King ended upside down.  He was okay.

In other action, the Blairs had another sweep.  A week ago, Robbie won the ULMS Super Late Models and Max the RUSH Late Models at McKean County then four days later the duo swept the program for the Super Late Models and Crate Late Models at Eriez.  Ron Davies dominated the E-Mods by a straightaway over Steve Dixon, who drives for Franklin car owner Tim Engles.  Dan Maxim picked up the Limited Late Model win, while the Stocks fell to Chris Withers for the second time this year.

Don’t forget coming up Tuesday at Lernerville is the Don Martin Memorial/Silver Cup for the World of Outlaw Sprint Cars featuring Twin 30s paying $15,000 to-win each!

Sad to report on another speedway closing as Allegheny Mountain Raceway in Kane ran its final race last Sunday.  There is some hope of an individual leasing the track. 

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