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Friday, August 27 - If you regularly read this blog you were aware that my mother passed away this past March. Bruce and I owned the home she lived in and in the beginning of August it was put on the market for sale. It sold in one day and the closing on the house was Friday. It was very sad for me to let go of something my mother loved so much but you cannot keep a second mortgage on an empty house. So after the closing we took my dad and went out and ate a big feast at Smokey Bones. Then we traveled west to a track we had not been to in over 20 years, Don Martin’s Lernerville Speedway.
It was a picture perfect day for a drive across Pennsylvania, not a cloud in the sky, no humidity and temperatures in the low 80’s. We checked into the hotel in New Stanton, PA prior to traveling the final 40 miles north to Sarver, PA, a town located on the outer most northeastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. It was 6:15 when we pulled into the parking lot and the fans were first starting to filter in but you could just tell that this was a special place for the fans. It is the kind of place where this is what you do on Friday night. Groups of fans sat together in the same locations every week and in addition to seeing good racing it was a social event with friends. There were massive grandstands that ran the distance of the homestretch and they were 2/3 filled for this final point race of the year. The place had character a lot like our usual Friday night track, Williams Grove.
I told Bruce before we arrived that we should eat at the track because I just knew they would have a wide variety and that it would be good. I was right. The fish sandwich was excellent,far surpassing the size of the bun and the fried mushrooms were yummy. The kettle corn made fresh on the premises was awesome and the peanuts, well not everything can be great. The national anthem was song promptly at 7:30 and the green dropped on the first heat at 7:34. Prior to the actual racing there was some excitement in the warm-ups as there was a double flip in the sprints and they were not involved with each other. I was watching a sprint tumble down the homestretch while another was flipping down over the third turn bank. It cut the number of sprints able to run the qualifying heats down to 22 from 24.
There were 19 modifieds, a combination of both big and small block, that ran the first two heats of the evening. In this division there were three drivers capable of winning the championship, Kevin Bolland, Jeremiah Shingledecker (I love this name) and Brian Swartzlander. I was impressed how they ran turn four. A high sweeping run that always had the appearance of someone connecting with the wall. There was no huggy pole here. After the modifieds they ran three sprint heats and two super late model heats before going back to the sprint B main. After the B main it was two more heats for the sportsman, a late model division, and then it was intermission. All of this was run in exactly one hour. The large score board showing you the laps and the top 5 positions also tells you the time. They then called for intermission prior to the first feature and that was not even 10 minutes long.
The first feature was for the modifieds and both Bruce and I agreed this was the best of the three we saw. There were five cautions during the 25 lap event but it was evident that the three drivers in contention for the championship all came loaded for bear. It appears they draw for ther starting positions when they enter the pits upon arrival. Therefore you can have the fast cars starting up front sometimes. It all depends on the luck of the draw. Shingledecker was on the pole, Swartzlander was third and Bolland was seventh. It was obvious Bolland was the villian, as he received rounds of boos every time his name was mentioned. Lap 5 saw one of the contenders, Swartzlander, go to the pits with a flat right rear but he was able to make it out in time to tag the rear. It appeared Shingledecker was going to be the winner but a restart with 4 laps to go saw Bolland make a very clean pass for the lead, the fans still booed, and go on to win the event. In the end it was Bolland picking up his fourth win of the year and his third point championship. He was followed by Shingledecker and Swartzlander.
The sprint feature also had a possibility of multiple drivers winning the championship but it was only if the current point leader, Danny Holtgraver, made mistakes. He made sure he did not and as he said in the post race interview, when I got into fifth place I just took it easy. Meanwhile Dale Blaney picked up the win but there were a few uneasy minutes for him when Ed Lynch Jr. closed in on him during the final circuits. If he was close enough it might have become pretty interesting as Blaney’s slide job to take the lead from Lynch earlier in the event had Lynch dropping back several positions as he eased up on the throttle to avoid contact with a not totally cleared Blaney. In the end it was Blaney taking the win to the crowds delight followed by Lynch, Brian Ellenberger, Cole Duncan and track champion Danny Holtgraver.
The late models only had 12 cars but their 25 lap event was still filled with good racing. That is if you consider the winner taking the lead in turn four coming down for the checkered. Jared Miley passed Ohio invader John Mollick for the win with Dave Murdick rounding out the top three. Even though the time was only 10:19 we were tired and chose to skip the final sportsman feature and head back down to the hotel.
It was a fun night. There was a good crowd on hand that was into the racing, good food and competitive racing. The track surface was awesome. They announced that there were 8 sets of fathers and sons that had won championships there in the past. That alone tells you alot about the history and the promise of the future of a track. It was a good night. It was Don Martin’s Lernerville Speedway. It will not be another 20 years before we return.
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