Mercer Raceway Park barely missed heavy rains in the late afternoon then had storm cells skirt just to the north of the track before the skies let loose during the final feature of the night on Saturday night. Celebrating in the Hoosier Tire Mid-Atlantic victory lane were Jeremiah Shingledecker-BRP Modified Tour, Andy Priest-Luxaire Heating & Cooling Sprint Cars, Steve D’Apolito-Big Daddy’s Speed Center Stock Cars, and Wally Stearns, Jr.-M&D Paving Mini Stocks. Eight of the past nine race nights have now either been rained out or greatly affected by the rain.
Jeremiah Shingledecker charged from the 12th starting spot and made a thrilling last lap pass of Rex King to capture the 30-lap BRP Modified Tour “Smackdown” Big-Block/Small-Block Challenge. The 30-lap victory was the second straight for Shingledecker in BRP Tour competition at Mercer and was worth $1,300. A record field of 45 cars filled the pit area including 25 big blocks and 20 358 small blocks.
“This is a big one,” acknowledged the Polk, Pa. driver, who cut his teeth in the Sportsman Modified division at Mercer nearly 15 years ago at The Park. “I’ll tell ya what. I thought that was over early for me. I almost hit the wall coming off turn two. I got in the loose stuff and went backwards fast at the beginning. This car worked awesome. I thought he (King) might give me the top (on the last restart). The caution before the last worked well for me allowing me to restart on the inside. He was running the bottom the last couple laps so I thought the outside was worth a try.”
With lightning in the distance, the ground-pounding Modifieds created their own thunder as Rob Kristyak and Del Rougeux, Jr. led the 26-car field to green. Rougeux grabbed the early lead with Dave Murdick getting past Kristyak for third. Murdick caught Rougeux on lap three and drove to the inside of the leader on lap four. The duo raced side-by-side on laps five and six with Rougeux holding on until the first caution was displayed for a spin by Gary Smoker with seven laps completed.
On the ensuing restart, Rougeux came up lame when he broke a flywheel as Tommy Kristyak blasted by into the lead with Murdick, Rob Kristyak, and ninth starting Rex King up to fourth. King drove under Rob Kristyak for third on lap nine and did the same to Murdick two laps later for second. King then caught Tommy Kristyak and made the pass for the lead driving under the veteran in turn four on lap 12.
King caught the back of the pack on lap 17 and fought traffic until the red was displayed when Carl Murdick’s car caught fire bringing a halt to action after 13 straight green flag laps. King’s half-straightaway lead was erased. When racing resumed, 20th starting Brad Rapp was on the move. Rapp used the outside to his liking going around Rob Kristyak then Jeremy Paup for fourth on lap 22.
It was now a three-car race for second with Tommy Kristyak trying to hold off Murdick and Rapp. Shingledecker meanwhile finally cracked the top five with just five laps to go getting by Paup. King began to pull away, while the battle for second now included four cars with Shingledecker joining the mix on lap 27.
Shingledecker’s key move came on lap 28 when he made a thrilling pass of both Rapp and Murdick racing off turn two down the backstretch before the caution was displayed for a spin by Mike Turner. Restarting on the inside of row two, Shingledecker got past Tommy Kristyak for second before the event’s final stoppage came when Turner and Kyle Fink got collected with 29 laps completed.
The caution set up a one-lap shootout to the finish. King chose the bottom and when green replaced yellow, Shingledecker rode the rim and right around King to power by to the popular win in his Village Auto/Hard’s Welding/Steve’s Teez Bicknell #37MD. Last year’s BRP Tour win by Shingledecker was his first ever big-block win at Mercer and he now has two straight and four career wins overall at Mercer.
King was second with Tommy Kristyak third. Rapp was able to get by Murdick for fourth. Completing the top 10 were Rob Kristyak, Jeremy Paup, Kevin Hoffman, Jimmy Holden, and Tom Mattocks. Heat winners were Shingledecker, Dave Murdick, Rougeux, and Rob Kristyak. Rod Jones and Smoker won the B mains.
Car owner Kelsey George made the decision to come to Mercer for the first time this season and the move paid off as Andy Priest rewarded her with her first ever win, which was a career first Sprint win at Mercer. Priest’s milestone 40th career Mercer win came in the 25-lap Luxaire Heating & Cooling Sprint Car feature and was worth $1,750 plus a Goodyear Tire certificate.
“I had Rod (George) pull up beside me and he gave me the go signal,” explained the New Castle, Pa. driver who had a left rear tire go down under caution with five laps to go. “I figured he owns this thing so we’ll do whatever he wants and I’d stay out there until it went flat. It actually felt better with the tire lower. I knew it was going down when it was digging on the frame rail getting into (turn) one something fierce.”
Priest took off from the pole position as Rod George passed Brian Steinman for second. Sixth starting Danny Holtgraver passed Lindsay Enscoe and Chris Best at the start then moved to third past Steinman on the backstretch of lap two. Seventh starting Ed Lynch, Jr. followed Holtgraver and was on the youngster on lap four.
By lap five it was a three-car race for second with George trying to hold off Holtgraver and Lynch. Lynch nipped Holtgraver at the line for third on lap nine, but Holtgraver powered back by on the outside one lap later to regain the position. The battled raged for second, while eighth starting Bowser joined the mix on lap nine. By lap 11, it was a five-car race for the lead.
Priest had a scare on lap 13 as he came up quickly on the slowing Best down the backstretch. Priest had to go high and momentarily slipped off the track in turn three. George darted to the inside of Best and it was three-wide. Priest had the momentum off the top to maintain the lead. Lynch finally got by Holtgraver for good on lap 14 and was right on George.
After 20 non-stop, nail-biting laps, the event was stopped for Bowser who had a brief fire under his mount. Under caution it was evident Priest’s left rear tire was way down on air pressure. Priest and George felt confident about him continuing and Priest retook his position at the front. The last five laps went caution-free as Priest wasn’t challenged for the victory in the Kelsey George-owned, Dr. John Crawford III/Suzanne Stivason/Good Tire Service/USA Flooring-sponsored #43.
George recorded his second runner-up of the season holding off point leader Lynch. Holtgraver was fourth and was the winner of a Goodyear Tire certificate by the random draw. Mike Lutz came from 11th to finish five earning the Goodyear Tire hard charger certificate. Bob Felmlee was sixth and won the other random Goodyear Tire certificate. Pete Miller III finished seventh after starting 13th. Steinman was a season best eighth. Tony Beaber made his first start of the season in Jeff Taylor’s #71c and finished ninth. Lindsay Enscoe recorded her first top 10 and received a Goodyear Tire certificate for being the last car on the lead lap. Heat winners were Lynch and George.
After losing a win last week when the axle broke while leading, Steve D’Apolito returned to victory lane in the 15-lap Big Daddy’s Speed Center Stock Car feature. The victory was his third of the season and was worth $300. “We’ve been working on this all week,” stated the Boardman, Ohio driver. “We did a lot of stuff to this week and I have to thank my dad and brother for helping out.”
The event got off to a rough start when pole-sitter Clay Ruffo spun on the opening lap and collected the third and fourth starting drivers of Matt Wagner and Shaun Hooks as well as Earl Snyder. When racing got underway, Russ Byler took over the lead from Josh Seippel. D’Apolito started from seventh and moved to fourth on the restart and was third after the completion of a lap. D’Apolito then passed last week’s winner Chris Haines for second off turn four on lap three.
D’Apolito was all over Byler on lap five and six before Snyder spun out to bring out the caution with six laps completed. D’Apolito overtook Byler on the restart for the lead. Terry Wheeler got a great restart moving by both Haines and Byler for second. Byler got sideways on lap eight allowing the #35’s of Haines and Jeff Walters by for third and fourth.
D’Apolito pulled away and cruised to eighth career win in his D’Apolito Christmas Tree Farm/Utsinger’s Towing/Race 1-sponsored #84, GM 602-powered crate engine. Point leader Haines passed Wheeler on lap 10 to finish second for the fifth time in six races this year. After pitting early, Walters came back to finish fourth in his season debut. Matt Wagner was a season best fifth. D’Apolito and Walters won the heat races.
After winning his career first feature on January 9 in the “Snowflake 20”, Wally Stearns, Jr. returned to victory lane winning the seven-lap rain-shortened M&D Paving Mini Stock feature. The Harrisville, Pa. driver overtook Cory Eckels at the start for the lead. Seventh starting Pete Blazczak moved into second after one lap. Blazczak pressured Stearns and the two were was side-by-side on lap six.
With heavy rain falling, the checkered flag was thrown on lap seven with Stearns holding on in his Forrester’s Auto Repair/Jerry Lucas Auto-sponsored #33. Blazczak was second and became the new point leader. In his fourth year of racing, Rudolph Troples III turned in his career best finish in third. Newcomer Jeff Little was fourth with Max Smoker completing the top five. Stearns also won the heat race.
BRP Modified Tour (30 laps, $1,300 to-win): 1. JEREMIAH SHINGLEDECKER (37MD) 2. Rex King (65) 3. Tommy Kristyak (26z) 4. Brad Rapp (11R) 5. Dave Murdick (61) 6. Rob Kristyak (00) 7. Jeremy Paup (X) 8. Kevin Hoffman (17H) 9. Jimmy Holden (28H) 10. Tom Mattocks (69) 11. Rex King, Jr. (165) 12. Lonny Riggs (Black 58) 13. Eric Gabany (3E) 14. Dean Pearson (8J) 15. Joe Kubiniec (19) 16. J.R. McGinley (66) 17. Gary Smoker (516) 18. Kyle Fink (66F) 19. Rod Jones (820) 20. Mike Turner (96) 21. Jeff Miller (75) 22. Ron Eperthener, Jr. (333) 23. Skip Moore (17M) 24. Carl Murdick (6) 25. Del Rougeux, Jr. (20D) 26. Jeff Schaffer (10) DNQ: Mark Frankhouser (03), Steve Barr (Hinkle 77), Rich Whitney (19W), Chris Haines (Shingledecker 35H), Ryan Hall (B4), Matt Reeher (711), Steve Feder (45), Greg Unrue, Jr. (5), Kevin Green (74), Mike Miller (72), Dillon Barr (15B), Arnie Kent (Shaffer 34), Shawn Fleeger (88), Dave Reges (27R), Dillion McElrath (7), Don Brown (71B), Dave Shook (17s), Dustin Martin (29D), Frank Guidace (1G).
Luxaire Heating & Cooling (410) Sprint Cars (25 laps, $1,750 to-win): 1. ANDY PRIEST (George 43) 2. Rod George (4) 3. Ed Lynch, Jr, (2L) 4. Danny Holtgraver (D4) 5. Mike Lutz (Chappel 8) 6. Bob Felmlee (6) 7. Pete Miller III (3) 8. Brian Steinman (24s) 9. Tony Beaber (Taylor 71c) 10. Lindsay Enscoe (96) 11. Jeff Taylor (17T) 12. Carl Bowser (10) 13. Chris Best (66) 14. John McCracken, Jr. (79).
Big Daddy’s Speed Center Stock Cars (15 laps, $300 to-win): 1. STEVE D’APOLITO (84) 2. Chris Haines (35H) 3. Terry Wheeler (2W) 4. Jeff Walters (35) 5. Matt Wagner (12) 6. Russ Byler (06R) 7. Josh Seippel (84) 8. Chip Walsh (36) 9. Clay Ruffo (14R) 10. Travis Walsh (1) 11. Earl Snyder (65E) 12. Shaun Hooks (65) 13. Bryan Wagner (56).
M&D Paving Mini Stocks (12 laps): 1. WALLY STEARNS, JR. (33) 2. Pete Blazczak (77) 3. Rudolph Troples III (28) 4. Jeff Little (42) 5.Max Smoker (42) 6. Jordan Ehrenberg (JD57) 7. Cory Eckels (5) 8. Ed Haylett (8-ball) 9. Merle Black (76)-DNS.
06/26 “American Patriot Night” presented by Walt’s of Mercer Plaza. Sprints, Mods, FASTRAK Late Models, Stocks & Mini Stocks. Free general admission for Butler County residents presented by McClymonds Supply & Transit plus free admission for all veterans and scouts in uniform.
07/03 “FASTRAK Summer Nationals” FASTRAK Northeast Late Model Touring Series/National Event ($6,000) plus Twin 15s for Sprints ($1,000 each), Stock Cars, and Mini Stocks.
Grandstands at 4:30 PM. Hot laps at 6:15. Racing at 7.
Mercer Raceway Park is a 3/8-mile dirt track located minutes from both Interstate 79 and 80 just off Route 19 on Fairground Road in Mercer, Pa. Dirt track racing and quality family entertainment are presented weekly late March through early October. The office in New Bedford, Pa. is open year-round late mornings and after 1:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information call the office at 724-964-9300 or the track on race day at 724-662-1310. Check out our website at www.mercerracewaypark.com for the latest. Go to www.twitter.com/mercerraceway or Mercer Raceway Park at www.facebook.com/mercerracewaypark to stay up to date.