From Mike Leone
Mercer, PA…After a spectacular opener one week ago, Mercer Raceway Park was able to survive the record warmth, high winds, and scattered showers to complete the five-division “Saturday Night Live” opener on Saturday night as another large crowd turned out. Celebrating in the Hoosier Tire victory lane was Mike Lutz-Luxaire Heating & Cooling Sprint Cars
Mike Lutz made a bold statement Saturday night and didn’t have to say a word. The second generation racer started seventh and beat the best Sprint Car drivers western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio has to offer including a last lap pass of Jason Dolick to garner the 20-lap Luxaire Heating & Cooling feature win. The victory was worth $1,500 thanks to the increased purse by the new prospective track owner Bill Altman.
“We had to pass every fast car that was here,” acknowledged the 40-year-old Mercer, Pa. driver. “I got to the white flag and never left the bottom. I had to try something so I just ripped it in there in the middle and it stuck…that’s the way to do it on the last lap! I have to thank Jim Chappel. He gives me an awesome hot rod to drive. This is the best handling race car I’ve ever had. It’s a JEI Chassis and we have a brand new Rider engine- man does that thing bang!”
The race got off to a rocky beginning as two separate incidents marred action in the first few laps. Several cars got upside down including defending four-time champion Rod George along with New York’s Chris Shuttleworth, Pete Miller III, and Joe McEwen. All drivers were okay, but done for the night.
Once action resumed, the last 17 laps went green to checkered. Jack Sodeman, Jr. raced out to the early lead in search of his first Mercer victory with Jason Dolick in hot pursuit. Lutz, Ed Lynch, Jr., and Brian Ellenberger all moved into the top five positions by passing New Jersey’s Jeff Taylor in the first four laps.
Dolick was able to catch Sodeman on lap six and was all over the leader on laps seven, eight, and nine. The two Ohio drivers really went at it both in hopes of getting that elusive first Mercer win. Dolick got a great run down the backstretch on lap 10 to lead the lap, but Sodeman didn’t give up. Sodeman pulled even with Dolick on lap 11 and got back by one lap later by driving hard to the inside of the leader in turn two to lead lap 12. Dolick though didn’t want to see his long tow and first win go out the window as he charged back by Sodeman in turns one and two on lap 13.
Lutz then seized the opportunity sneaking under Sodeman in turn one to grab second on lap 14. While Lutz set his sights on Dolick, a great four-car race took place for third with Sodeman trying to hold off Lynch, Ellenberger, and Bob Felmlee.
Lutz really began to close the gap on lap 18 and was a few car lengths behind Dolick when the duo took the white flag. Lutz drove hard into turn one and was right behind the leader. Dolick slipped off the bottom in turn two and Lutz was right there powering ahead down the backstretch. The two raced hard into turn three, but Lutz had the momentum and the preferred line as he came around turn four taking the checkered flag first to the delight of the crowd in the Jim Chappel-owned, Centerline Boring-sponsored #8.
“These cars cost so much money and we needed a little help,” explained Lutz. “Bill Altman stepped up to the plate and we went from $1,100 to $1,500 to-win and man I love him. We’re a one night a week team and we’re going to concentrate on Mercer. We worked on the car all day and didn’t have to rush to get here and boy did we have fun tonight!”
It was a heartbreaking defeat for Dolick, the 2009 Lakeville Speedway Champion, who ran the race of his life to finish second. Ironically Dolick was second at Mercer the last time he competed on August 22 of last year. While everyone’s eyes were on the lead battle, the race for third was a great one. Felmlee, who started 12th, made a great charge getting by Ellenberger for fifth on lap 16, Lynch for fourth on lap 18, then around Sodeman off turn two on lap 19 to finish third. Lynch then passed Sodeman on the final lap to finish fourth.
Sixth through tenth were Ellenberger, 14th starting Charlie Holben, Carl Bowser, a career best run by third generation racer Brandon Matus, and Danny Holtgraver from the back after an early race crash. Heat winners over the 21-car field were Dan Kuriger, Ellenberger, and Bowser. A lot of the Mercer regulars are expected to debut in the coming weeks.
Luxaire Heating & Cooling (410) Sprint Cars (20 laps, $1,500 to-win): 1. MIKE LUTZ (Chappel 8) 2. Jason Dolick (D12) 3. Bob Felmlee (6) 4. Ed Lynch, Jr. (2L) 5. Jack Sodeman, Jr. (23Jr) 6. Brian Ellenberger (22) 7. Charlie Holben (Dionise 15) 8. Carl Bowser (10) 9. Brandon Matus (13) 10. Danny Holtgraver (D4) 11. Jeff Taylor (17T) 12. Brad Knab (38) 13. Lindsay Enscoe (96) 14. Brent Matus (33) 15. Jack Whitmore (21) 16. Dan Kuriger (08) 17. Pete Miller III (3) 18. Joe McEwen (Paden 11W) 19. Rod George (4) 20. Chris Shuttleworth (11) 21. Scott Bonnell (3B).