Thursday, August 16 - The traveling crew today would consist of Mike Wenner, the driver, with passengers Bob Eckel, Jeff Ahlum and myself. The plan was for Mike, Jeff and I to meet at the Park & Ride off of Rt. 33 at William Penn Highway and then proceed from there to pick up my brother, Bob, at his house in Washington, New Jersey. The trip hit the road at 1:30 as we made our way north under sunny skies with puffy white clouds here and there with temperatures in the mid to high 70’s. We arrived at the Lebanon Valley Speedway at 5:30 and already a good sized crowd was on hand. Tonight they would be running the Mr. Dirt Track USA event paying a hefty $17,500 to win the 100 lap race. It has been a long time since I have visited Lebanon Valley, the last time being on September 10th, 1995 for the 200 lap event staged there with Bob McCreadie the winner of that event with Jimmy Horton the 358 modified winner and Steve Hall the sportsman victor. When Jeff mentioned that he was attending this race I signed on to the traveling crew. After a supper consisting of a meatball grinder and two orders of baked beans washed down by a lemonade it was time to return to my seat to get ready for the night’s action. Also before returning to my seat I had the pleasure to say hello and chat with one of the modified legends, Bill Wimble, who was making his summertime visit back north from his home in Florida. Bill looked well and his shirt was quite colorful too.
Time trials would be run for the 40 big block modifieds on hand but thank goodness they were of the group qualifying style and were completed in just 20 minutes. When all was said and done Brett Hearn held fastest time around the high banked 1/2 mile dirt oval with a time of 19.673 seconds. The budget sportsman were the supporting class and they brought out a good field of 44 cars and ran their four heats first. They were followed by the four modified heats with straight up starts according to time. This made for some bland heat racing with minimal passing and all heat qualifying was over by 7:58. The back news out of the heat racing was when first starting Brett Hearn dropped out of the heat race while running first and was forced to go to a backup car and qualify through the consie. Two consies were needed for each of the two classes and by 8:30 the fields were set with the exception of seven additional provisional starters which in my opinion is too many. With 33 starters why don’t we dispense with the heats and start the entire field of forty inverting the top 12?? Also while am on my soap box I will address the Lucky Dog award. This is a farce as why should we reward someone who has lost a lap or more and give them a free pass?? To give a good example of the ludicrously of this would be to refer to two instances in NASCAR Whelen Modified action one happening just last week involving the same driver, Donnie Lia, who experienced mechanical woes or was involved in a wreck during the running of tour races and found himself two laps down to the leaders. When the Lucky Dog award he was given back his two laps during the course of the event and went on to win both races!! Is that fair to the drivers who have used good strategy or stayed out of trouble to reward someone who had issues during the race to have a chance to beat them?? If you have troubles during a race that is what is called tough luck and that is the way things go sometimes. To use a stupid rule to reward someone with problems is not fair to everyone else out there racing!! Dump the asinine Lucky Dog award and go back to normal racing and if you have problems in a race that is the way it goes. Nuff said!!
Intermission was observed after the last consie and a reasonable 20 minutes later the 20 lap budget sportsman feature was ready to go. This one was a pretty decent affair with only two cautions during the event and it was spun off in just 17 minutes. Robby Knipe came out of the fourth hole to grab the lead and went on to victory over fifth starting Michael Sabia, Bobby Hackel IV, Scott Duel and Rocky Warner.
The Mr. Dirt Track USA 100 lap feature took the green at 9:40 and turned out to be a very good race. Jimmy Phelps jumped to the early lead from the first starting position and paced the field for many laps. My eyes and I’m sure many others were on Brett Hearn who started 23rd and was moving his way forward. In just 12 green flag laps he had advanced from 23rd to 12th! By lap 20 he cracked the top ten and twenty laps later he was fifth. Hearn moved into third on lap 49 but Stewart Friesen after a slow start began to make his presence known by taking fifth on lap 58 and fourth on lap 62. Meanwhile Phelps continued to lead the pack with Andy Bachetti attempting various slide jobs on restarts to try to move closer to the leader. Bachetti held second on lap 72 when he caught the cushion and bounced off the wall in turn four losing his momentum in the process. Hearn slipped by Bachetti at that point into the runnerup position and began to stalk the leader as they approached heavy lap traffic. I believe Phelp’s tire were going away and finally Hearn swept by the leader off of turn four on lap 84 and became the new leader. No one would challenge Hearn for the remainder of the distance and he flashed under the checkered flag at 10:30 and was $17,500 dollars richer for his efforts. Like him or not I must say that this was a very impressive display of driving prowess throughout the race as Hearn weaved his way to the front. Jimmy Phelps held on for second with Andy Bachetti taking third with Billy Decker fourth and Donnie Corellis rounding out the top five. Positions six through ten were filled by Stewart Friesen, Kenny Tremont Jr., J.R. Heffner, Matt Shepherd and Eddie Marshall. Also my hat goes off to Kolby Schroeder who drove from 21st to nail down 11th at the finish in the stout field.
It was a fine night of racing at the Valley of Speed and the track held up very well with minimal dust the entire evening. It probably won’t be 17 years before I visit Lebanon Valley again!! The ride home was long but the constant conversation was stimulating and made the time go faster. It was not until 3:30 that my head hit the pillow at 50 Riverview Drive in Easton, Pa. Until next time get out there and take in some good short track racing in your area and don’t sit in front of the boob tube and watch that NASCAR Sprint Cup crap!! See some real racing!