From Mike Leone
Mercer, PA…Like a broken record, Mother Nature threw all she had at Mercer Raceway Park on Saturday with rain showers just to the north of the track in the late afternoon and evening, but the entire show including the spectacular fireworks display was able to be completed before the rains fell.
Celebrating wins in the Hoosier Tire Mid-Atlantic victory lane were Ed Lynch, Jr.-Luxaire Heating & Cooling Sprint Cars, Eric Gabany-Approved Toilet Rentals Modifieds, Brian Booher-4 Your Car Connection FASTRAK Late Models, Steve D’Apolito-Big Daddy’s Speed Center Stock Cars, and Brad Shaffer-M&D Paving Mini Stocks. Walt’s of Mercer Plaza presented the annual “American Patriot Night” with the fireworks show put on by Cartwright Fireworks. It was “Free Butler County Night” presented by McClymonds Supply & Transit plus all veterans and scouts were admitted free.
It certainly wasn’t a good night to have the lead if you were a Sprint Car driver in the 20-lap Luxaire Heating & Cooling feature unless you were Ed Lynch, Jr. First Carl Bowser slipped high from the lead, then Danny Holtgraver exited the race with motor problems, and finally Rod George exploded a tire before current point leader inherited the lead and his second win of the season worth $1,500 plus a Goodyear Tire certificate.
“I think a little bit of lady luck was on our side tonight,” admitted the Apollo, Pa. star. “Some other guys’ misfortunes was my fortunate so we’ll take it…it goes around. You gotta be there when the checkered flag flies and that’s what we setup for. Tonight the track was a little different, but it was nice. The right rear was getting some heat in it and the car was getting in a zone at the end and all I had to do was hang on.”
Bowser raced to the early lead with Holtgraver and Kuriger chasing. Lynch started seventh and moved into the top five on lap three taking the spot from Lindsay Enscoe. Bowser’s shot at his season’s first Mercer win was erased when he slipped high in turn two on lap four allowing Holtgraver to zoom by and then one lap later spun to bring out the caution.
When racing resumed, Lynch and ninth starting Rod George were on the move getting by Andy McKisson for third and fourth respectively. Under caution after a Pete Miller III spin with six laps completed, Holtgraver exited from the event with motor problems handing the lead to Kuriger with Lynch and George up to second and third.
It was George’s type of track as he put a slider on Lynch for second in turn four on lap nine and used a similar move one lap later taking the lead from Kuriger. Lynch then drove under Kuriger in turn two on lap 12 for second. George was in heavy lapped traffic on lap 13 allowing Lynch to close in. George, the defending four-time champion, was looking for his first Mercer win of the season, but that went out the door when he exploded a right rear tire on lap 16. George later received a consolation as he won one of the random Goodyear Tire certificates.
Lynch then went on for his 15th career Mercer win in the Howard Concrete Pumping/Commercial Truck & Trailer/Mosites Motorsports/BP Trucking-sponsored #2L. Kuriger turned in his first top five of the season in second and best finish since his win last year on July 18. After winning last week, Andy Priest came from 12th to finish third and earned the Goodyear hard charger tire certificate. Bob Felmlee was fourth after starting 11th and won one of the random Goodyear Tire certificates. McKisson was fifth.
Bowser charged back through the pack after his spin to finish sixth. Brandon Spithaler, Jeff Taylor, Miller, and Brian Steinman completed the top 10. Felmlee, Steinman, and Priest won the heat races over the season high 23-car field.
In the race of the night, Eric Gabany topped Jeff Schaffer after a torrid lap after lap battle to win the 20-lap Approved Toilet Rentals Modified feature for his first win in exactly one year. After the race, Schaffer stopped on the frontstretch and exited his car to congratulate Gabany. “What an amazing race,” exclaimed the 25-year-old Mercer, Pa. driver. “That was so much fun! That was one of the fastest I’ve ever run on that track. There was so much bite on the outside. Man we were flying!”
Schaffer jumped to the early lead past pole-sitter Dave Shook. Mike Stine was making his season debut and passed Dillion McElrath and Shook on the opening lap for second with Gabany following. Stine looked strong as he pulled even with Schaffer and the two veterans raced side-by-side on lap four for the lead. It looked like Stine may have the advantage on lap five, but he slipped off turn three and slammed the fence ending his night.
Over the course of the next 16 laps, Schaffer and Gabany put on a show fans won’t soon forget. Gabany overtook Schaffer on the restart to lead lap five. Schaffer though came back to retake the lead on lap seven. The duo ran side-by-side on lap 10 with Gabany regaining the lead off turn two. Schaffer wasn’t about to give up as he drove under Gabany in turn four to lead lap 14. The two again ran side-by-side on laps 16 and 17 before Gabany finally made the winning move on lap 17 powering by on the outside.
Gabany held off Schaffer for ironically his first win since last year’s “American Patriot Night” on June 27. The win was the sixth of Gabany’s career in his Gabany’s Automotive/Atlantic Timberframes-sponsored #3E. Schaffer was a close second for the second straight “358” race.
Defending champion Frank Guidace and current point leader Jimmy Holden started 11th and 12th respectively and came through the pack and put on quite a battle as well for third. Holden was able to secure the spot on lap 14 and held off Guidace for the position. Matt Reeher had a good run coming from 13th to finish fifth for the second straight time. Rick Hall and Greg Unrue, Jr. finished sixth and seventh. Rick Kress and Rod Artman were eighth and ninth in their season debuts. Jay Twentier was 10th. Guidace and Schaffer won the heats over the season high 20-car field.
After winning two of the first seven features in the inaugural 2008 season for the FASTRAK Late Models at Mercer, Brian Booher went on a near two-year winless drought, but that ended Saturday night when he charged from the ninth starting spot to win the 20-lap 4 Your Car Connection feature.
“Boy we just couldn’t ever give up,” explained the Sandy Lake, Pa. former three-time Stock Car champion. “The crew puts together an awesome car every week, but we just didn’t seem to have any luck. Usually I hate cautions, but tonight I was glad to see it. I feel bad for Dave (Airgood). I’m glad he had a good run. He runs a Schwartz car just like mine and I’m glad to see they’re up front.”
Newcomers Dave Airgood, Jr. and Ron Smithley made up the front row with Airgood taking the lead. Point leader Kyle Zimmerman started eighth and moved up to fourth past Kyle Scott and Tyler Barris on lap five. Booher then made a nice move to get around both Barris and Zimmerman for fourth on lap seven. Booher continued his charge to the front when he drove under Josh Double for third on lap nine before a caution for a spin by Barris.
Booher took second from Smithley on lap 11 with Zimmerman following one lap later. Zimmerman nipped Booher at the start-finish line for second on lap 12. It looked like Airgood was on his way to his first career Late Model win, but a spin by Barris erased Airgood’s comfortable lead and setup a restart with three laps to go. Booher got a tremendous restart getting by Zimmerman for second then flew past Airgood on the inside of turn two for the lead. Zimmerman followed getting by Airgood as well for second.
Booher went on for his first win since July 12, 2008, but his 35th of his career at Mercer in the Terry Hoover-owned, Ed & Jerry’s NAPA/Caldwell Heating & Cooling/Harry & Tim Roofing/Richardson Trees & Landscape Co.-sponsored #00H. Zimmerman was second for the fourth time in six races as he just keeps coming up short on his first career Mercer win, but extended his huge point lead. It was a heartbreaking third for Airgood, who ran such a strong race for 17 laps. Seventeen-year-old Double was a respectable fourth in just his second career Mercer start. Chris Force came from 13th to finish fifth. Completing the top 10 were Smithley, Billy Henry, Scott, and Leigh Wheeler. Heat winners were Zimmerman and Double.
Steve D’Apolito fought tooth and nail to capture Saturday’s 15-lap Big Daddy’s Speed Center Stock Car feature. D’Apolito picked off cars from his ninth starting spot and made a late race pass of Jeff Walters for his fourth win of the season. “It was pretty tough,” said the Boardman, Ohio racer. “The crate motor got a little better bite.”
Fourteen-year-old rookie Clay Ruffo led the opening three laps before Shaun Hooks and eighth starting Walters took over the top two spots. Walters and Hooks ran hard side-by-side on laps six with Hooks holding on. D’Apolito then joined the battle as it was three-wide for the lead on laps eight and nine with Walters taking the advantage.
Both D’Apolito and Terry Wheeler were able to get around Hooks for second and third. D’Apolito then pulled alongside Walters on lap 12. The duo was side-by-side on lap 12 and 13. D’Apolito nosed ahead on the 13th circuit and held on for his ninth career win in his D’Apolito Christmas Tree Farm/Utsinger’s Towing/Race 1-sponsored #84, GM 602-powered crate engine. Walters was second in his second outing of the season. After starting 13th, Wheeler came home a strong third with Russell Byler and Dwight Boice rounding out the first five. Walters and D’Apolito won the heats.
Fifteen-year-old Brad Shaffer made his first start in six weeks and captured his career first win in the 12-lap M&D Paving Mini Stock feature doing the feat his father’s car. “Oh man I was pretty nervous,” stated the New Castle, Pa. racer. “I wish I was in my car and not my dad’s, but whatever happens happens. This car is fast. I wanted this so bad for so long- I’m just so glad it happened!”
Third year racer Mike McConnell led the first eight laps in search of his career first win, but a caution when second place driver Jordan Ehrenberg lost a wheel bunched up the field. Shaffer, who started fifth, was up to second after Ehrenberg’s misfortunate and then raced past McConnell on the restart for the lead. Shaffer held on for the victory in the Shaffer’s Auto-sponsored 1998 Ford Escort ZX2 #17 to become the seventh different winner in nine races. McConnell was second for the second time in his last three races. Point leader Wally Stearns, Jr. came from 12th to place third over 10th and 11th starting Anthony Shetter and Ed Haylett respectively. Ehrenberg and McConnell won the heat races.
Luxaire Heating & Cooling (410) Sprint Cars (20 laps, $1,500 to-win): 1. ED LYNCH, JR. (2L) 2. Dan Kuriger (08) 3. Andy Priest (George 43) 4. Bob Felmlee (6) 5. Andy McKisson (0) 6. Carl Bowser (10) 7. Brandon Spithaler (22) 8. Jeff Taylor (17T) 9. Pete Miller III (3) 10. Brian Steinman (24s) 11. Chris Best (66) 12. Lindsay Enscoe (96) 13. Todd Bauer (45) 14. Brandon Matus (13) 15. Davey Jones (76) 16. Eric Williams (7) 17. Rod George (4) 18. Steve Wilson (214) 19. Danny Holtgraver (D4) 20. John McCracken, Jr. (79) 21. Jack Helget (Taylor 71c) 22. Brent Matus (33) 23. Mike Lutz (Chappel 8)-DNS.
Approved Toilet Rentals (358) Modifieds (20 laps): 1. Eric Gabany (3E) 2. Jeff Schaffer (14) 3. Jimmy Holden (28H) 4. Frank Guidace (1G) 5. Matt Reeher (711) 6. Rick Hall (B2) 7. Greg Unrue, Jr. (5) 8. Rick Kress (222) 9. Rod Artman (97) 10. Jay Twentier (6) 11. Brian Fingado (13F) 12. Kevin Green (74) 13. Clyde Gumpp (51) 14. Dave Shook (17s) 15. Mike Stine (7s) 16. Dillon Barr (15B) 17. Dillion McElrath (7) 18. Dustin Martin (29D) 19. Lonny Riggs (Black 58)-DNS 20. Steve Young (Schaffer 10)-DNS.
4 Your Car Connection FASTRAK Late Models (20 laps): 1. BRIAN BOOHER (Hoover 00H) 2. Kyle Zimmerman (z17) 3. Dave Airgood, Jr. (42JR) 4. Josh Double (38) 5. Chris Force (68) 6. Ben Black (27B) 7. Ron Smithley (13s) 8. Billy Henry (21*) 9. Kyle Scott (Powell 100) 10. Leigh Wheeler (Smith 717) 11. Chad Myers (01) 12. Garrett Mott (43X) 13. Tyler Barris (32B) 14. Jason Stanke (44) 15. Frank Guidace (Utsinger 23) 16. Justin Kreider (29) 17. Bryan Force (31).
Big Daddy’s Speed Center Stock Cars (15 laps): 1. STEVE D’APOLITO (84) 2. Jeff Walters (35) 3. Terry Wheeler (2W) 4. Dwight Boice (528) 5. Clay Ruffo (14R) 6. Chip Walsh (36) 7. Travis Walsh (1) 8. Russell Byler (06R) 9. Chris Haines (35H) 10. Shaun Hooks (Janovick 65) 11. Bryan Wagner (56) 12. Earl Snyder (65E) 13. Mark Sanders (32).
M&D Paving Mini Stocks (12 laps): 1. BRAD SHAFFER (17) 2. Mike McConnell (31) 3. Wally Stearns, Jr. (33) 4. Anthony Shetter (Black 76) 5. Ed Haylett (8-ball) 6. Byron Kress (62) 7. Cory Eckels (5) 8. Todd Gabriel (33G) 9. Jordan Ehrenberg (JD57) 10. Buck Buchanan, Jr. (93) 11. Pete Blazczak (77) 12. Jeremy Double (83) 13. Rudolph Troples III (28) 14. Jeff Little (42).
07/03 FASTRAK Summer Nationals Northeast Late Model Touring Series ($6,000) plus Twin 15s for Sprints ($1,000 each), Stocks, & Mini Stocks
07/07 Open practice from 5 PM til dark.
07/10 All Star Late Models “Steel Valley 40” ($4,000) plus STAR’s Mod Lite Series & 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.