Friday,April 27 - Pat has been swamped at work lately and she asked me if I minded if she did not go along to Williams Grove tonight. Since Russ Frei was going along also it would make the trip easier and to boot he volunteered to drive. So we met at the park and ride in Hellertown and off we went to the Williams Grove Speedway which were hosting the All Star Circuit of Champions sprint cars and the ARDC midgets on a cool night in late April.
We arrived at Williams Grove at 7:20, ten minutes before the scheduled starting time and warmups were just underway. This program started off on the wrong foot as they started time trials 20 minutes late and with the All Stars running the show it would not get back on track. There was a real stout field of 46 sprint cars while the mighty ARDC midgets brought 25 entrants to try to conquer the legendary 1/2 mile clay oval with the paper clip corners. Time trials were finished at 8:24 with the first car out, Daryn Pittman, setting fast time at 16.623 seconds. The ARDC midgets ran warmups next and at 8:47 the first of four sprint car heats hit the track. The Pennsylvania regulars won three of the four heats with Chad Layton, Alan Krimes and Rick Lafferty the victors. All Star driver, David Gravel, from the Nutmeg state of Connecticut won the other one. The ARDC midgets only needed three heats and no consie with Brenden Bright, Brett Arndt and Steve Buckwalter winning. It was already 9:49 and we still had a C main, dash and B main to run along with the two features. I turned around to our friend, Dave from the Port Royal area, and commented to him at in about a half hour on a normal Friday night program we would be heading toward the parking lot after watching both divisions of sprint cars at Williams Grove. He responded that they had to be finished by midnight tomorrow as Port Royal Speedway which sits in the middle of town has a curfew.
The All Stars have a tradition that before they run their dash for the top six time trialers they ask six youngsters to come down in front and pick the numbers for the top six starting order. It is a good idea to try to get the young race fans and future ticket buyers closer to the drivers and generate interest. The dash now determines the starting order with the remainder of the qualifiers lined up by their time trials also including the B main drivers who get their times back. By the time the C main, dash and B main were run off it was 10:26. The 30 lap All Star feature would run first with the green flag waving at 10:49. All Star driver, Paul McMahan, would lead the first couple of laps from the pole but second starter, high school senior Logan Schuchart, would power by into the lead. It looked like this one was going to go the distance without a yellow until Steve Buckwalter’s engine erupted in flames with smoke pouring out of it as he rolled to a stop on the homestretch with two to go. At this point Danny Dietrich was running second and was stalking Schuchart before the caution waved and many thought that Dietrich would make his move on the start. Well the kid had other ideas as he stormed off into turn one and two laps later flashed under the checkered flag to score his first ever 410 sprint car victory in the process. Dietrich came home second with Don Kreitz Jr. running a strong race to place third with Greg Hodnett claiming fourth and fast timer, Daryn Pittman, rounding out the top five. It was a joyous time in victory lane for the 18 year old high school senior and his supporters in a great evening for the youngster.
At this point it was getting really cold and many headed for the parking lot and their warm cars. The 20 lap ARDC midget feature went green at 11:28 but two false starts saw more people exiting. Another two early yellows had the grandstands near empty which was a shame as the remaining laps were spun off with only one additional caution and some damn good racing to boot. In fact the final five laps was the best battle I have seen for the lead all season long. Brenden Bright, a 20 year old college student, led from the start but the last five laps he had three other drivers all over and side by side with him. Several times Ryan Smith was right along side Bright in turns one and two but Bright pulled him down the backstretch. At one point the top four were four wide and other times three wide. Bright was up to the task though and won by a car length with Steve Buckwalter nipping Ryan Smith by two feet for second with 15th starting Tim Buckwalter pressuring them both and finishing fourth. Trevor Kobylarz who started 11th rounded out the top five with the final checker waving at 11:55 with only about 200 people remaining the see the great run.
The feature racing was good but the amount of time it took to spin this program off was much too long and that is why we usually don’t attend All Star or WOO races as they seem to feel that people want to be at the track for four hours or more for their money’s worth. The crowd was less than a normal Friday night show as the locals don’t care to pay an extra six dollars to witness something that is not better than their regular Friday night program. Maybe the traveling groups will realize this before it is too late and they are playing to less than stellar crowds.
Friday, April 20 - Pat and I noticed that Big Diamond was scheduled to have two 358 modified features this Friday so we thought it would be a good choice. One was the rained out opener and the other one was a regularly scheduled event. During the day the temperatures were in the 70’s but by the time (7:30) we arrived at Big Diamond it was clear, cool and windy. By night’s end we had multiple layers of clothing on to combat the cold temperatures. The scheduled starting time was 8:15 and by 8:23 things were underway with the first of two consies for the 358 modifieds to complete the starting field for the rained out feature. They were run off quickly and two roadrunner heats were squeezed into the lineup to give the 358’s some time to prepare their cars for feature #1. The 16 car field was a little less cooperative than the modifieds but by 8:54 the green was waving on the first feature of the evening. The action was stopped early with a multi-car accident in turn four on lap three. Two more cautions followed in the first ten laps and then the guys settled down to do some serious racing. Meme DeSantis, a 56 year old racing veteran, started fourth and assumed the lead from Kevin Albert Jr. in the middle stages of the race and from that point on no one would touch the Temple Tornado. DeSantis flashed under the checkered flag at 9:09 winning over Albert with Rick Laubach capturing third, Doug Manmiller fourth and Craig VonDohren placing fifth after starting 11th. This was a decent enough feature go to start things off.
The sportsman brought 17 cars to the pit area tonight and ran two heats with everyone qualifying. A vintage car feature was run for 15 laps and even had a tangle in turn three involving three cars. Bobby Snyder in a Jeff Strunk #88 lookalike won this one. The roadrunner feature was next with 12 cars starting and this one took too long to run with four cautions involving the same two or three cars. It’s a shame as these guys usually run pretty decent but in the couple appearances we have witnessed them this year there are just too many drivers who don’t seem to know how to race. They drag the rest of the field down in people’s eyes and that is a shame. Joey Brennan scored his second straight win in this division. At this point it was already 10 PM and Pat and I looked at each other and commented that this was going to be a long night. Our thoughts at this time were one of two things should have been done differently. Either they should have started earlier at 7:30 or dropped the vintage cars or the roadrunners from the program for tonight with two 358 modified features already scheduled.
A 32 car field of 358 modifieds ran three heats which only took 24 minutes to complete. A second vintage car feature, this one shortened to 10 laps was run and by 10:30 an intermission was called so the track crew could work on the extremely rough corners especially in turns one and two. It seemed to us though that some drivers used the rough surface to be extra aggressive with much contact during the running of the qualifiers and the first feature. The track crew groomed the surface for 40 minutes and when they were preparing to exit the racing surface one of the big water trucks jackknifed in turn two and it took another seven minutes before the track was cleared. There were still two 358 modified consies to run and they were wrapped up by 11:31. To give these drivers some time to prepare their cars for the feature, the sportsman feature was moved into the next time slot. They would go for 20 laps and this one was not an artistic masterpiece. Seven cautions slowed this one before Craig Whitmoyer taking advantage of his third starting position took control from Shawn Fitzpatrick and went onto victory with Kevin Beach Jr. rounding out the podium finish. It was now 11:44 with the 25 lap 358 modified feature still to go. Within the first three laps there were four cautions with a multi-car pileup off turn four eliminating Duane Howard from competition early. After lap 11 the cautions ceased with Richie Yetter, a county judge in Northampton County, Pennsylvania, taking the lead from the start and looking stout until the closing laps when 14th starting Meme DeSantis caught and slipped under Yetter exiting turn four to take the lead. Yetter’s tires must have worn out as Rick Laubach was also able to pass him on the white flag lap for second. Yetter hung on for third with Colt Harris running a strong race from 8th to 4th and 16th starting Doug Manmiller picking his way through traffic to garner fifth. The final checker waved at 12:19, too long of a program for people who worked all week long and still had to drive home. The two 358 modified features were good to very good but the amount of time in between the two was excessive.
This would turn out to be our only race of the weekend as our scheduled trip to Hagerstown for the Lucas Oil Late Models was called early while we pulled the plug on venturing to Bridgeport where they were able to sneek in 1 2/3′rds features with the modifieds checkered at lap 20 of 30 due to rain. Sunday’s plans to go to Grandview to watch a small car show were cancelled due to a soaking rain the entire day on Sunday.
This weekend plans are to travel to Williams Grove for a doubleheader of All Star Sprints and ARDC midgets with Saturday reserved for a new track on the pavement of Borger’s Speedway, with an hour of our homestead. Until next time stay safe and get out to some good short track racing in your area.
Sunday, April 15 - After two good weekend stops at Williams Grove and Lincoln we wondered how Susquehanna Raceway Park would hold up their end of the weekend. Well, I will say up front that they did not disappoint and this night was the cherry on the Sunday. But before we jump into the night of racing we have to fill in the front part of the day.
We left the Crowne Plaza around 11:30 (after a long delay for the crew to deliver our car out of valet parking - not our normal way of parking but the only option in the city) we ventured down the street and found an Irish pub to have lunch in. It was very good with Pat ordering the Rachael sandwich while I opted for the bacon chedder burger with homemade chips washed down with a Woodchuck Amber draft cider. A truly good start to the day ahead. Our next stop was City Island, in the middle of the Susquehanna River, where the Harrisburg Senators play baseball. The Senators are the Double A affilate of the Washington Nationals and they were scheduled to play the Reading Phillies, the Double A farm club of the Philadelphia Phillies. The location of the stadium was pristine surrounded by a people park starting from the left field side all the way around the outfield fences. The combination of the river and the trees surrounding the ballpark made for a beautiful setting. The stadium had two seating levels plus corporate boxes along with a bleacher section extending down the first base line. There were some outfield seats in right and left field also. We bought tickets that ended up being two rows behind the R-Phils dugout and a great view of the game. It was a good contest with Reading winning 9 to 3 and we left at 4:45 happy as we were rooting for the R-Phils.
We cleared the parking area around 5 and pointed the Hyundai Elantra south on I-83 toward Newberrytown. On our trip down to Susquehanna we received a phone call from Jeff Ahlum who informed us that they probably wouldn’t be starting on time so we decided to stop at Rock-It Pizza to grab two delicious but very sloppy steak sandwiches in pita bread. Retired sprint car driver, Van May, stopped over to our table and we discussed the weekend of racing for several minutes. After eating we traveled the remainder of the trip and pulled into the parking lot at 5:40. There was a good sized crowd on hand and we were happy that we had asked Jeff to lay down a blanket for us earlier. The racing actually got underway at 6:10, only 10 minutes off the scheduled starting time. Three heats were run for each of the two divisions on hand with the 358 sprints bringing 20 cars to the fight while the 410 sprints added 24 cars to the count. Both divisions qualifying was completed in 50 minutes and no consies were needed so after a 20 minute intermission it was time for the first feature of the evening.
The 25 lap 410 sprint car feature was first up and the green flag waved at 7:32. Greg Hodnett who started third chased pole sitter, Derek Sell, for the first six laps before catching and passing him in turn 1 on lap 6 for the lead. Hodnett has been on an early season roll and was looking for his 5th win of 2012 already. Young Aaron Ott who started in the 6th hole and who loves running at Susky took up the high speed chase through lap traffic trying to track down the high flying Hodnett. Ott made one amazing move in turn three splitting two lap cars and almost passing Hodnett all in the same move. Wow!! Ott came close several times thereafter but was never able to catch and pass Hodnett for the lead. All the while the racing action was under the green with never a yellow flag appearing. Racing under the double checkered flag at 7:39 in a time of 7 minutes, 26 seconds was Hodnett for his 5th win of 2012 edging Ott, 8th starting Danny Dietrich who was lurking in the shadows waiting for any misques from the front two. Alan Krimes, Friday night’s winner at Williams Grove, placed fourth with Logan Schuchart advancing from 11th to fifth. Another good run was turned in by Donnie Kreitz who started last (24th) and finished tenth with his second right front tire separating from the car in turn one after the checker fell.
The 20 lap 358 sprint car feature was about ready to take the green when the red flag waved for a medical emergency on the grandstand side of the facility. It was almost 20 minutes before the second ambulance arrived and we were back to racing. This one had only one caution and was a good race but not anywhere near as good as the first one. Mark Smith took the lead at the line to complete lap 1 and never looked back. The co-owner of Mach 1 chassis has stepped back into the 358 division as his business is located in Selinsgrove and what better way to sell cars than to win with them. This would be Smith’s second win of the weekend, the other the night before at Selinsgrove, with Pat Cannon breaking out of traffic to make things interesting late but Smith held him off for the victory with the rim riding Eric Tomecek taking third with Kyle Moody placing fourth and Austin Hogue rounding out the top five with the final checker waving at 8:29 capping off a fine evening of sprint car racing.
This coming weekend is still up in the air for Saturday but Friday looks like a return to Big Diamond for a double feature card of 358 modifieds along with the sportsman and roadrunners.
Saturday, April 14 – After spending the night at the Crowne Plaza in downtown Harrisburg Bruce and I woke up to hazy skies. The good news is the warm weather was back and the temperatures were in the 70’s. We left the hotel around 12:00 and went to our favorite Mexican restaurant, Fiesta Mexico, on Paxton Street right off of Interstate 83.
After eating a delicious meal we decided to go wash my car in Dillsburg south of Williams Grove. Little did I know there was an antique store across from the car wash and we just had to visit and I dropped a few dollars. It was called Herr’s Antiques and it was a great little store. If you like antique stores and are ever at William Grove you might want to check it out down in Dillsburg. The original plan was to stop by Latimore Valley Speedway, an old timer’s historical speedway that runs a few exhibitions throughout the year. Nothing was running today. The big fish fry event is on May 6. We just wanted to go back and check it out. But there was no time left so we headed straight to Lincoln Speedway.
We pulled into the parking lot at Lincoln at 4:45 and by now the skies were overcast with gray rain clouds. In looking at Lincoln Speedway and Port Royal Speedway we decided Lincoln had the best shot at getting in the entire show. The rain would hit Port Royal first but Lincoln would not be far behind. The skies worsened and we waited until the last minute to buy our tickets for the event. Once in we found the stands were full as usual and considering the weather conditions there was a great crowd on hand. The one thing the fans know about Lincoln is if they can possibly get a show in they will do everything to make it happen. Because of this they show up when the weather situation looks bleak.
Wayne Harper made the announcement that they were going to do everything possible to get the show in and there would be no intermission and the cars better be pre-staged for their races or they would be left behind. The first heat took the green at 6:59, one minute before the scheduled starting time. Tonight the 358 sprints, the 410 sprints and the 358 late models were on the schedule. Each week Lincoln runs a contest on how many cautions would be thrown during the qualifying events. You put your ticket in the canister with the number you believe will be correct and then a winning ticket is drawn from that canister after all the qualifying is complete. Many nights after three divisions the number of cautions in all three divisions is 4, 5, maybe 7, but not tonight when rain is on the way and you want to keep things moving. The caution waved 17 times and two of those 17 times turned into red flags. Isn’t that the way it usually goes when you try to hurry things along.
There were thirty-one 410’s in the pits. It appeared Fred Rahmer, Lance Dewease, Greg Hodnett and Darren Pittman were also looking at the weather map. These four drivers are running Port Royal this year but must have felt Lincoln had a better shot at getting in the race. Turns out they were right. Port Royal wound up canceling their show around 8:00 when they gave into the rain. Around the same time drops started to fall at Lincoln as the first of three late models heats was taking the green. Fortunately the rain stopped and as you will see did not come back until the final checkered fell.
At 9:10 the 25 lap 410 sprint feature paying $3,200 to win took the green. The track was fast and furious and on lap 7 the first caution flag waved. Aaron Ott and Bill Stine collided in turn one while battling for second. Not only did it end both of their nights they also collected fourth place runner Alan Krimes. This would be the only caution of the event. The racing was great with two of the best high riders at Lincoln running up front. In the end the battle for the lead was between Danny Dietrich and multi time track champion, Brian Montieth. The crowd on hand was divided as to who they wanted to see win but no matter who you were rooting for you appreciated the show. Dietrich won with Montieth second and Lance Dewease finishing third. Early leader Gerard McIntyre finished fourth. Cory Haas rounded out the top five. The top three finishers started 8th, 9th and 11th. Yes, World of Outlaws you do not need to start in the front two rows to win. Not to mention it makes for a much better race for the fans.
Victory lane was cut a bit shorter than usual because the rain was still lurking among us. The 358 sprint feature started at 9:36 and they too ran off a quick event with the caution waving only twice in the 20 lap event. The winner of this event did start on the front row but it was a very popular win nevertheless and a very emotional victory lane. Jacob Allen, the 17 year old son of the legendary Bobby Allen, won his first 358 sprint feature at Lincoln. It was a who’s who in victory lane with father Bobby Allen, Joey Allen, Richard Lupo and cousin Logan Schuchart. There were lots of smiles and some tears of joy. It was a good feeling. Isaac Sneeringer was second with Kyle Moody third.
The 358 late model event was the final race on the card and it appeared the rain was going to hold off. This race was marred with cautions and after the fourth caution I started the trek out to the parking lot. In total there were 7 cautions in the 20 lap race. Bruce watched until the end as Larry Baer took the win. Then just as if someone called and told Mother Nature the last race was checkered, it started to rain.
Friday, April 13 - Today was one of those Friday the 13th’s that are suppose to be bad luck. I don’t personally believe in such things but you may have a tough time convincing a few drivers at Williams Grove that there is nothing to this.
We left our house after 5:30 after arriving home from work to make the 2 hour haul to Williams Grove. By the time we parked and gathered our winter gear the first 358 sprint car heat was taking the green at 7:32 while we were still out in the parking lot. A quick red allowed us to climb the grandstand to our seats before much of the heat was completed. Williams Grove policy is to run two of the three 358 sprint heats and then run the three 410 sprint heats so the big boys have a little extra time to tune their rockets for the consie. The three heats winners in the 358’s were Nate Hammaker, Amy Ott and Tim Berkheimer and they all looked fast and could be contenders in the main event. The 410 heats were won by Davey Sammons, Alan Krimes and Curt Michael and they all looked good in garnering their heat wins. All heat qualifying was completed by 8:20 with the consie to follow. Former modified driver and Syracuse winner, Frank Cozze, nailed down the consie win and we were ready for feature time.
This would not be one of the better 410 features of the year here as three yellows and two reds drugged the 25 lap event to over 40 minutes. The Friday the 13th antics began early when Mark Smith tagged the backstretch wall, broke the front end and slid across traffic from his fourth starting position. Several other cars were involved including Adam Wilt who ended up flipping over near the inside rail. Everyone was OK in this scary pileup. When things got back underway Oklahoma’s Daryn Pittman took control from the third starting position and what our friend, Bezz, and I discussed beforehand was that it was his race to lose. Well, Brian Montieth had other ideas and challenged Pittman from his 11th starting position using his patented outside groove up against the fence style. Meanwhile Alan Krimes was quietly advancing forward from his sixth starting position using the lower groove and soon was in the hunt for the lead. He first drove by Montieth and then took up the chase of Pittman passing him for the lead on lap 21. It was shaping up to be quite a finish until the caution appeared on lap 22. On the restart fourth running Curt Michael tried to pass Montieth low entering turn one and washed out resulting in a four car pileup taking out Montieth and himself in the process. This took the air out of the balloon for the remainder of the race and don’t tell Smith, Wilt, Montieth or Michael that there is nothing to the Friday the 13th superstition! In the remaining three laps Krimes was able to pull away and score the win with Pittman second, Fred Rahmer third, Rick Lafferty fourth and young Logan Schuchart rounding out the top five. Keep an eye out for this Schuchart as he is going to be the next big name out of Central Pennsylvania in the sprint ranks.
After victory lane ceremonies it was time for the 20 lap 358 feature race with Ryan Wilson taking the early lead. Nate Hammaker quickly snatched the top spot from this third starting spot and one lap later Wilson did a 360 degree spin in traffic while running second and kept going with no one else wrecking. Before the lap was completed though a caution appeared for another incident and Wilson was the luckiest man in the house with the field reverting to their running position the previous lap when he was running second. Not everyone has bad luck on Friday the 13th! When the green waved again Hammaker was off to the races and would not be touched in this one flashing across the line at 10:21 with his third career win at the Grove with Ryan Wilson retaining second, Adrian Shaffer up from 8th to third, Pat Cannon fourth from 11th and Tim Berkheimer taking fifth from 9th.
It wasn’t a great night of racing but it was a decent enough night of racing. By 10:21 it had become quite chilly and we were glad that Williams Grove runs such an efficient program.
Sunday, April 8 – It was Easter Sunday and in addition to church, Easter eggs and chocolate bunnies there was also Big Diamond. Yes, Big Diamond Raceway was running a big block/small block modified race with the sportsman also on the card. We drove up to my fathers after church, changed clothes, ate at a local diner and pulled onto the parking lot of Big Diamond Raceway at 3:05. It was a sunny day with temperatures in the low 60’s but once again there was a stiff constant wind blowing. Today we were lucky as the wind was blowing across the track from turns one and two toward three and four and we did not get dirty. The track crew dug up the surface and watered and watered but it was no use. Sunny windy days and daytime racing do not make for an ideal surface. The start was delayed for ½ hour as they worked the surface and the first race hit the track at 4:36.
The field was a bit sparse but then it was Easter Sunday. The crowd, although not overwhelming, was decent considering again it was Easter Sunday. The modifieds numbered 27, while the sportsman and road runners numbered 16 and 14 respectively. There was no need for consolation races and all cars qualified in the heats. In all, 7 qualifying heats were run in less than 45 minutes and then it was back to manicuring the track. During this 45 minute break the top 4 finishing drivers in the modified heats drew for starting positions. Usually this is drawn on the track but today the track crew was busy watering the wind burnt track.
The 40 lap modified feature, paying $4,000 to win, started out a bit rocky. The caution waved 7 times in the first 8 laps. A restart on lap 7 brought out the yellow when a 14 car pile-up occurred as the cars approached the green flag. I did not see what happen but Billy Pauch Jr. and Duane Howard did exchange a few words. Both were through for the day as well as MeMe DeSantis and Doug Manmiller. Two cautions later Billy Pauch Sr. decided to make the start three wide when he did not agree with his starting position. This caused another multi car crash prior to reaching the green. This race was going downhill real quick. They decided to restart the race single file and for the next 28 laps they ran caution free. There was some passing but the daytime surface turned black and slick. Rick Laubach had a nice lead that was slowly diminishing as the race was coming to a close. Gary Hager was starting to close in and we were anticipating a run for the lead in the final laps. Unfortunately the caution came out on lap 36 and lap 37 putting an end to the challenge. Laubach picked up the win with Hager second, Ryan Godown third, Jeff Strunk fourth and Billy Pauch Sr. fifth.
Even though the weather was starting to turn cold we stayed for both the road runner and sportsman features. Jimmy John Kott ran a fine race to win the road runners while Brad Brightbill took top honors in the sportsman.
All things considered the sportsman feature was the best event of the three. The racing was not bad but you cannot compare daylight racing with night time racing. I got to spend an Easter Sunday afternoon with the men in my life, Bruce and my father. So I am not complaining. At 7:55 we were in the car and on our way home.
Saturday, April 7 - Tonight’s racing action would be witnessed at the Grandview Speedway where they would be swinging the gates open to start their 50th anniversary season of racing. The day was cool and sunny while the evening promised to be cold and windy. As we entered the grounds and proceeded to our seats on the homestretch I took one look at the American flag standing straight out and pointed toward us and suggested to Pat that we retreat to the comforts of the press box. It didn’t take much convincing and after the climb up the steep steps to the top of the grandstands we entered the press box. Only three other people occupied the box at this moment so we pulled up two chairs and inched close to the glass to view the night’s activites. Soon Mark Garman, a good friend and worker at Grandview, came over from the announcing booth side of the box and greeted us and we chattd for a while and he introduced us to the older gentleman seated next to us. It turned out to be Jay Stoudt, longtime owner of Stoudt Auto Sales, in Reading who provided the pace car for many a year at the defunct Reading Fairgrounds. Jay was a quiet gentleman and we chatted off and on the entire evening. I ventured out doing warmups to fetch some sodas and already the dust was flying from the effects of the stiff wind blowing into the stands.
There were some opening day difficulties including the malfunction of the speaker system and the start of the night’s racing was delayed 35 minutes to correct all the problems. I give credit to Ernie Saxton, the Grandview announcer, for explaining why the delay occured and promising going forward in their 50th year they would attempt to start on time if at all possible. There were three divisions of cars racing tonight up from the normal two of previous years. The sportsman class with sail panels have been added to the 358 modified and late model card and with the additional class it is imperative that things are kept going at a good pace as the normal Saturday night crowd is use to the racing action completing by 10 to 10:30. Also we hope that management rotates the order of the features every week so the 358 modifieds are not run last every week. We believe that would not be greeted kindly by the Grandview faithful either. It is a tight rope to walk and we hope that they are successful in presenting a sharp and quick paced racing program every Saturday night.
Three late model heats started out the night for the 22 cars on hand with two sportsman heats for the 20 in attendence and four qualifiers for the 42 358 modifieds in the pit area. All heat qualifying was completed in one hour which was excellent and in eight minutes we were moving into the first of three feature events for the evening. The late models would run 20 laps and this one was not a classic by any stretch of the imagination. Six cautions and 30 minutes later Ron Kline held on for the victory after a spirited battle with Danny Snyder for the last half of the event. Visiting Sean Merkel rounded out the top three at the finish.
Two 358 consies were spun off with a short 15 minute intermission following while the track crew groomed the surface. They did a good job on the evening as the tough weather conditions played havoc with the surface. By 9:57 feature number two with the sportsman cars went green for their 25 lap distance. Only three cautions and 14 minutes later this one was in the books with Jared Umbenhauer passing Craig Whitmoyer on a lap 21 restart to steal the win with Brad Brightbill placing in the show position. Dave Dissinger and 14th starter, Joe Funk, rounded out the top five in what would turn out to be the best feature of the night. There was just one race to go and that was the big 30 lap 358 modified feature taking the green at 10:21. It is a rarity on the 1/3 mile banked clay oval that the race goes non-stop. Tonight turned out to be one of those occasions. For the opening race it was a straight up start from the heat finishes with heat winners, Kyle Weiss, Doug Manmiller, Jeff Strunk and Duane Howard starting in the first four positions. With that group of hot shoes starting up front instead of in the rear the position passing up front was minimual. Duane Howard from fourth took the lead at the line to complete lap three and he would hold sway the remainder of the distance. Jeff Strunk, Doug Manmiller, 5th starter, Craig VonDohren and Kyle Weiss rounded out the top five. Even though the big guns started in the front the race was still interesting watching them weave in and out of the lap traffic while trying to gain ground on each other. The final checkered waved at 10:29, just 8 minutes from the start of the 30 lap main event. All in all it was a pretty good night of racing and as we exited the press box we realized how cold the night had become. We both enjoy sitting outside with the fans but tonight I believe we made the correct call to watch from inside.
Friday, April 16 – What a difference two weeks can make. Of course two weeks ago when we attended the races at Williams Grove, we were in the middle of what was not normal weather for the month of March. Last time we were here, March 23rd, the temperature was in the 70’s on a beautiful sunny day. On April 16 the weather was less than seasonable. The temperature never got out of the 50’s and even though the skies were sunny, there was a constant stiff wind blowing in our face. We knew it was going to be a fun night. Normally there is no dust at the Grove but tonight a fine dust developed and grit was hitting us in the face. Still the surface was better than most tracks on a perfect day.
There were twenty-four 358 sprints that participated in 3 qualifying heats and thirty-three 410 sprints that participated in 4 qualifying heats. Since it was not necessary to run a 358 consolation the four 410 heats ran after the first two 358 heats. This would give the 410 sprints, which did not qualify through the heats, a brief break while the final 358 heat ran to get ready for their consolation. All qualifying was complete by 9:00. Then an unusual scene happen, the track maintenance crew came out and watered the ½ mile clay speedway. It is very rare to see any additional track preparation take place after the first race takes the green, but tonight was different. The wind just did not let up and it was taking a toll on the surface.
It was 9:30 when the green dropped on the 25 lap feature event for the 410s. It was off to the races and even though the track surface was drier than usual there was plenty of passing. At first most of the action was from positions 5 through 11 but then lap traffic came into the picture. Aaron Ott started second and jumped out to the lead early. He appeared to be on the way to his first win of the year. Eleventh starter Greg Hodnett was slightly closing on Ott and eighth starter Chad Layton was closing on Hodnett. With five to go in the caution free race the fans were getting ready for another exciting finish. We got some excitement but it was not the finish. Ott’s left rear tire exploded coming out of four with 4 laps to go. It sent his sprint first into the outside guardrail, then across the track into the inside guardrail before turning over on the homestretch. An actual piece, approximately 10 inches square, of the tire landed two rows in front of me on the empty seat and became a great souvenir for the young boy sitting about 5 feet away. The red came out and everyone’s tires cooled down and so did the finish. Hodnett went on to win with Layton finishing second. Seventh place starter Doug Esh was third with twelfth place starter Danny Dietrich in fourth. Ryan Bohlke finished fifth and was the only driver who started in the top five. He started fifth. Do not tell me the sprints do not pass at the Grove. The main event feature was over at 9:54.
The last dance on the card was the 358 feature and I looked at Bruce and said “I say lap 1”, Bruce said, “I’ll give him to lap 2”. We were both referring to Pat Cannon who was staring third in the feature. We were sure he was going to win from the second row. Fortunately, Kevin Nouse, did not hear Bruce and I. He started in second and led the entire 20 laps. Cannon finished second but was never a threat. Mark Smith finished third in a race that took less than 9 minutes to run. At 10:20 we were on our way out of the grandstands.
Two weeks ago the warmth of my t-shirt was fine until the 358 feature when I put on my sweatshirt. On this night as the 358 feature was ready to roll I put a blanket over my legs in addition to what I already was wearing; a sweater, two sweatshirts, a winter coat, hat and mittens. What a difference two weeks makes!!
Thursday, March 29 - The long weekend started at 3:30 PM when Pat and I left our driveway for the 1 hour 20 minute trip to the Philadelphia International Airport. Since I had spent four days in the hospital in Florida during our February vacation I wanted to make it up to Pat so I had proposed a long weekend trip to Arizona. We left Philadelphia at 7:30 PM on a USAirways Airbus A-321. These planes are nice. They are new and the seats are wider and even though I was in the middle seat my knees did not touch the seat in front of me nor did my legs touch either person to my two sides. Very roomy!! We arrived in Phoenix at 10:20, over an hour ahead of schedule, grabbed our rental car and off we went to our home for the next three nights, The Embassy Suites, near the airport. For $60 per night (we saved 62% per night on Priceline) we had a two room suite with a sitting area and the bedroom. Also included in the price was a wonderful breakfast where you could have made to order omelets with anything and everything you could want in them. What a great way to start off each day!
Friday, March 30 - After sleeping late and still having time to eat a great breakfast we were headed for the Arizona State University and Tempe’s Diablo Stadium, the home of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. We certainly had a difficult time getting into the parking area of the stadium as traffic was at a virtual gridlock. Today the Angels were hosting the Arizona Diamondbacks and we missed the top of the first inning. After that it was all Angels as they scored four runs in the first and never looked back. The final was 9 to 2 on a sunny day in the low 90’s and not a cloud in the sky. We had seats down the third baseline and the newest Angel, Albert Puhols, almost took our heads off with a vicious line drive about a foot over our heads which hit an older woman flush in the arm and a welt was appearing even before the ushers and emergency crew arrived to check her out.
Our evening game was in Scottsdale at the beautiful new Salt River Fields at Walking Stick (an Indian casino) home for two major league teams, the Colorado Rockies and the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Rockies were the host and the Texas Rangers were the opponents. The Rangers would be starting their Japanese pitcher, Yu Darvish, in this one and a capacity crowd of over 12,000 fans were on hand. We again sat down the third base line in the front row and got the autograph of Texas player, Josh Hamilton. The Rangers coasted in this one winning by the score of 7 to 3. It was a great day and night of baseball but we were two tired puppies by the time we arrived back at the hotel.
Saturday, March 31 - Today was raceday and another ballgame in the evening. We would see racing at two different tracks at the same facility, the Firebird International Raceway complex. The first race of the day would be witnessed at the Firebird West road course, a 1.1 mile road course with 11 tight turns and which is the smallest of the group of road courses at this complex. The NASA Pro Racing Group would be running on the West course during the day and the main course in the evening. We looked the facility over and decided to join a guy perched in the top row of the aluminum grandstands used for the drag strip from where we could see 3/4’s of the West course and be out of the scorching sun shielded by a sponsor sign attached to the wire fencing at the top of the stands. From there we watched a good field of 21 small bore race cars race for 20 minutes on the West course. The race up front was very good with four cars in the hunt with Tony Lisa coming from 5th to 1st in the opening laps. He would drop to the infield after only 7 minutes handing the lead back over to fast timer, Simon Pavlick. Eric Dayton pressured and attempted to pass Pavlick in various sections of the course but could never quite complete the pass for the lead. Lurking just behind the front two was Leland Forbes waiting for a mistake which never happened. The checker waved at 1:15 and track #27 in Arizona was in the books. We decided to head over to the off-road course for the remainder of the afternoon as the Lucas Oil Off-Road Series was hosting its opener on the off-road course.
The off-road course was located toward the rear of the facility and we had to exit gate 3 and enter gate 1 to reach it. From the parking lot you walked directly through the pit area and finally arrived at the track which had to be a good 1/2 mile hike. The Lucas Oil Off-Road Series is not for the lite in finances as a one day ticket cost $30 for adults. We got two discount coupons at Napa Auto Parks which saved us $10 which ended up paying for the parking fee. Yet at this cost the grandstands were packed with people. It makes you wonder how bad the economy really is!! We secured a seat about 2/3rds of the way up in the wooden grandstand and we were fortunate that we came when we did as they pushed forward the starting times of today’s events an hour. There were several lower classes, junior karts, modified karts and limited buggies run beforehand but the opening ceremonies were conducted before the main divisions. There were four main events featuring the Pro 4 trucks, Pro 2 trucks, Pro Lite Trucks and the Pro Buggies. The first of four main events spotlighting the Pro 4 trucks went green at 2:48. This was a 20 lap event with 12 trucks starting. At the halfway mark of the event a competition yellow was waved allowing the field to pit and execute minor repairs but no tire changing and lasting just 2 1/2 minutes. The action was fast and furious around the 1.1 mile dirt road course with two jumps and five banked turns. This type of racing is fun and exciting to witness and if you ever get a chance to attend one please do so. You will enjoy the non-stop action. Last year’s fall winner at Surprise, Kyle Laduc, repeated his win in this one outrunning Adrian Cenni and father, Todd Laduc.
The Pro Lite truck main was next up and would go 18 laps with 26 trucks starting this race. This race was like a rush hour on the interstate with trucks and parts flying everywhere. Just after the competition yellow Bradley Morris tangled with another truck on the large jump on the homestretch and barrel rolled several times before being tagged by another truck after he landed. Good safety equipment and good construction of the trucks kept Lucas or anyone else from being injured. Austin Kimbrell took command in the latter stages of the race and went on to win his first in Pro Lite over Chris Brandt and rookie Doug Mittag after second and third place runners, Brian Deegan and Chad George tangled on the fourth turn on the final circuit and dropped back in the standings. This one checkered at 4:17 and we had quite a hike to take and then a ballgame to catch 45 minutes away with a starting time of 7:05 so we called it a day. The racing is intense but one thing we did not enjoy is the fact that almost everyone stands the entire feature distance which doesn’t make any sense as you could see perfectly when everyone was sitting.
So it was off to Goodyear Stadium in Goodyear for the third Cactus League game of the weekend where the Cleveland Indians who share the facility with Ohio neighbors, Cincinnati, were hosting the Texas Rangers. And the Rangers would win again in a game that featured 5 homeruns between the two squads with two clearing the right field roof. So the quick but action filled weekend was over as we retreated to our oasis in the desert for one last night of sleep before heading back east in the late afternoon.
Sunday, April 1 - We arrived back at Philadelphia Airport at 10:30 PM and were greeted by no April Fool’s tricks. It was raining and 50 degrees after spending two days in the sunshine and 90 + degree weather in Arizona.
Check back next Monday as we stay closer to home and take in hopefully three races on the weekend if the weather cooperates.