mercer raceway park
mercer raceway park

From Mike Leone

Mercer, PA…Despite just a 20% chance of showers, Mercer Raceway Park battled light drizzle and showers from late afternoon through the completion of the event; however, most of the heavier precipitation stayed north allowing the event to be completed in its entirety. Celebrating wins in the Hoosier Tire Mid-Atlantic victory lane were Jack Sodeman, Jr.-DIRTcar Challenge Series for the Luxaire Heating & Cooling 410 Sprint Cars, Steve Buckwalter-ARDC Midget Cars, Lonny Riggs-Approved Toilet Rentals Modifieds, Jeff Walters-Big Daddy’s Speed Center Stock Cars, and Pete Blazczak and Tim Callahan-M&D Paving Mini Stocks.

After 16 years and some 80 Sprint Car races, the Mercer curse is finally over for Jack Sodeman, Jr. The second generation driver captured his first ever win at the track and more importantly notched his career best seventh win of the season on the circuit, which came in the 25-lap, $2,000 to-win DIRTcar Challenge Series event. Sodeman became the amazing ninth different winner in 11 races this season at Mercer!

“The only thing that saved me is that the old man isn’t still out there or I probably wouldn’t win anything,” stated the 33-year-old North Jackson, Ohio driver when asked about his father. “He’d be kicking my butt. He was a monster at this place for sure. Anytime he would come here he’d be pretty tough. Sometimes luck is with you, sometimes not. Like I said many, many times I’d rather be lucky than good any day. Today the luck fell our way.”

Jason Dolick rocketed into the lead from the pole position with Brent Matus and fifth starting Ed Lynch, Jr. in tow. Sodeman started from sixth and used the outside to move forward taking fourth from Andy Priest and then snuck around Lynch off turn four for third all on lap five. Following a caution for a tangle between Jimmy Light, Aaron Shaffer, and Carl Bowser, Sodeman went to the outside of Matus to grab second on lap six.

It didn’t take long for Sodeman to run down Dolick as he was on the leader on lap seven. Sodeman would make the winning move going to the outside and around Dolick off turn four on lap eighth. After working Matus for eight laps, Lynch finally got around him on lap nine. Matus lost two more spots when Bob Felmlee and Danny Holtgraver took over fourth and fifth on laps 12 and 13 respectively.

Lynch was able to clear Dolick going down the backstretch for second on lap 14 and found himself a straightaway behind Sodeman. Felmlee and Holtgraver next dropped Dolick back two spots when they took over third and fourth on laps 15 and 17 respectively.

As the laps wound down, Lynch wasn’t able to make up much ground on Sodeman as it was a reversal from Friday night’s DIRTcar Challenge event at Lernerville Speedway where Lynch topped Sodeman for the $2,000 victory. Sodeman’s win came in the Unwired, Inc./Economy Tooling/Ti22 Performance-sponsored #23Jr and also earned a Goodyear Tire certificate.

Lynch’s runner-up was his fourth this year to go along with two victories. Point leader Felmlee came from eighth to finish third and was a random Goodyear Tire certificate winner. Holtgraver battled from 10th to finish fourth with Andy McKisson completing the top five. Priest brought Martha Dionise’s #15 home in sixth. Rod George raced from 14th to finish seventh and earned the Goodyear Tire hard charger certificate. Dolick dropped to eighth over Eric Williams and Pete Miller III. Heat winners over the season-high 26-car field were Sodeman, Russ Sansosti, and Brian Steinman, who won the other random Goodyear Tire certificate.

The ARDC Midget Cars made their return to Mercer after a five-year absence and treated the fans to a great show. A strong field of 26 cars made the trip west, but in the end it was Midget kingpin Steve Buckwalter charging from the 13th starting spot to pass Tim Buckwalter on lap 16 to capture the 25-lap wingless event win.

“I felt bad for Timmy,” expressed the 31-year-old Royersford, Pa. winner. “He was running a hell of a race. It just looked like he was starting to get a little loose. Once I got my nose under him I knew if I was patient enough he couldn’t get enough grip to get back by me so I stayed there. With the handicapping it’s tough. Next time we’ll start 15th cause we won. I went out with a little used tire. It took awhile to come in and then it kind of went away. I figured if I stayed on the infield they’d have to work to get around me.”

Dusty Heistand took the early lead with Tracy Readinger moving up to second. Tim Buckwalter started sixth and quickly worked his way to third after two laps. Tim then battled hard for second, third, and fourth with Readinger and Alex Bright, while Steve Buckwalter was making his way to the front. Steve took third from Smith on lap 10, while Tim took the lead from Heistand on lap 11. Steve then took over runner-up from Heistand on lap 12 before a caution for Readinger and Brett Arndt, who tangled on the frontstretch.

When racing resumed, Steve was all over Tim on lap 13. The duo ran side-by-side with Steve low and Tim high on laps 14, 15, and 16 before Steve finally cleared Tim for the lead on lap 16. The last 13 laps would go green-to-checkered, and Steve wasn’t challenged for his sixth win of the season and second career at Mercer, which came in the Brian Buckwalter-owned #0.

After challenging Tim for several laps, Smith was able to get by on lap 18 to finish second. Tim Buckwalter held off 14th starting Drew Heistand for third. Bright was fifth. Completing the top 10 were Dusty Heistand, Nick Wean, Steve Drevicki, Trevor Kobylarz, and Frank Polimeda. Steve Buckwalter, Tim Buckwalter, and Brett Arndt won the heats. Bobby Jackson made the tow in from Michigan to compete and picked up the $100 bonus for the top stock block motor from longtime Mercer Raceway Park friend Gene Steele of western Ohio.

After starting the year off with four top four finishes including two wins, Lonny Riggs has battled the gremlins ever since. Saturday night, Riggs put a halt to his bad luck by returning to victory lane in the 20-lap, $800 to-win Approved Toilet Rentals Modified feature. “We’ve had a couple little things break and you can’t race like that,” acknowledged the 41-year-old Volant, Pa. driver. “I hope those little things that go wrong just quit going wrong.”

Riggs started from the pole position and after an early battle with Jeff Schaffer, it was pretty much only three cautions that slowed his run to the checkered flag. The bigger battle was positions two through five as Schaffer, Frank Guidace, Jimmy Holden, and Eric Gabany really went at it. Schaffer was doing his best to stay with Riggs and hold off Guidace, Holden, and Gabany, who ran three-wide at times. Guidace had passed both Holden and Schaffer for second on lap six, but slipped high the following lap allowing Holden and Schaffer by.

Schaffer was poised for another solid finish, but he slowed on lap eight bringing out the final caution. The last 13 laps were uneventful as Riggs dashed off to his 13th career win in the division and milestone 25th overall at the track in the Merle Black-owned, Pitt Stop Pub/Iron Bridge Inn-sponsored #58. Holden inched closer to his first ever track championship with his fourth runner-up finish of the season. Guidace was third. Chris Dye, who started racing Modifieds in 2003, turned in a career best effort with his first ever top five finish in fourth after starting 11th. Dustin Martin followed Dye from the 12th starting spot with a solid fifth place. Rounding out the top 10 were Matt Reeher, Dillion McElrath, Clyde Gumpp, Mike Stine, and Steve Young. Heats went to Riggs and Schaffer.

Like Sodeman, another second generation driver that ended a long winless run at Mercer and struck down the curse Saturday night was Jeff Walters. The Evans City, Pa. veteran has competed in Stocks, E-Mods, Late Models, Big-Block Modifieds, 358 Modifieds, and Sportsman Modifieds, but was never able to make it to victory lane. That changed Saturday night when Walters led from start-to-finish to capture the 15-lap $300 to-win in the Big Daddy’s Speed Center feature.

“The other 35 car (Chris Haines) was pretty quick,” stated Walters. “I saw him coming on the bottom. I knew I had to get a good restart to get ahead of him and run a good line. I had to really roll it in hard in the center of the track to get it to turn across the middle. If I laid it in, it got tight on me so I barreled it in there.

Walters powered into the lead with third and fifth starting Clay Ruffo and Haines getting by Travis Walsh for second and third. Haines and Steve D’Apolito both passed Ruffo for second and third on lap two. It was a three-car battle for the lead with Walters trying to keep Haines and D’Apolito at bay. Haines and D’Apolito were battling hard and were all over Walters, but made contact on lap seven resulting in a flat tire for D’Apolito.

Haines would get alongside Walters on lap 10, but Walters was strong enough to pull back ahead and hold on for the victory in the #35. Haines was denied his third win, but pulled within four points of point leader D’Apolito. Fourteen-year-old Ruffo finished third matching his best finish. Terry Wheeler and Russ Byler were fourth and fifth. Heats wins went to D’Apolito and Byler.

Pete Blazczak started the night off by winning the July 24 12-lap M&D Paving Mini Stock make-up feature for his second win of the season. “I had that old car and it kept quitting every week,” stated the Gibsonia, Pa. racer. “I lost the last five races because the car quit every time. Finally I had to build a new car to get rid of our electrical problems.”

Blazczak started fourth and had the lead after one lap. John Ford was making his first start since the January 9 “Snowflake 20” and moved to second on lap three past Ed Haylett. Ford stayed within striking distance, but Blazczak was too much in his Blazczak Salvage #77 as he captured his fifth career win. Ford was second over Haylett, Mike McConnell, and point leader Wally Stearns, Jr.

In the night’s regularly scheduled 15-lap feature, Tim Callahan became the 10th different Mini Stock winner of the season in 14 races and earned $150. “We changed the tires,” revealed the Grove City, Pa. resident when asked why he couldn’t win a feature despite six heat wins. “The track is muddy when we run our heat races and I had the more aggressive tires on and just changed out that. I got sold on that when Wally beat me the other night.”

Like Blazczak, Callahan took off in the lead on the opening lap and was never really challenged for his second career win in his Interstate Towing & Transport-sponsored #54. Ford looked like he was on his way for his second runner-up of the night, but slowed on lap 14 allowing Haylett to take runner-up and end a strong night. Blazczak was third. McConnell and Stearns finished fourth and fifth for the second time of the night. Blazczak and Ford won the heat races.

DIRTcar Challenge Series for the Luxaire Heating & Cooling (410) Sprint Cars (25 laps, $2,000 to-win): 1. JACK SODEMAN, JR. (23Jr) 2. Ed Lynch, Jr. (2L) 3. Bob Felmlee (6) 4. Danny Holtgraver (D4) 5. Andy McKisson (0) 6. Andy Priest (Dionise 15) 7. Rod George (14) 8. Jason Dolick (D12) 9. Eric Williams (7) 10. Pete Miller III (3) 11. Brent Matus (33) 12. Dan Kuriger (08) 13. Russ Sansosti (23s) 14. Brandon Matus (13) 15. Lindsay Enscoe (96) 16. Gale Ruth (1R) 17. Jack Whitmore (21) 18. Butch Beasley (1) 19. Jimmy Light (23) 20. Aaron Shaffer (97s) 21. Carl Bowser (10) 22. Brian Steinman (24s) 23. John McCracken, Sr. (63) 24. Jim Nicely (1N) DNQ: Robert VanTassel (69x), Francis Sesco (2s)

ARDC Midget Cars (20 laps): 1. STEVE BUCKWALTER (0) 2. Ryan Smith (Steward 34) 3. Tim Buckwalter (34) 4. Drew Heistand (Doncin 12) 5. Alex Bright (Miller 77) 6. Dusty Heistand (Doncin 6) 7. Nick Wean (78) 8. Steve Drevicki (Fitzpatrick 19) 9. Trevor Kobylarz (49) 10. Frank Polimeda (44) 11. Chris Zrinski (25) 12. Bruce Buckwalter, Jr. (83) 13. Eric Heydenreich (11) 14. Steve Craig (55) 15. Steve Lenig (9) 16. Jacob Wilson (10) 17. Joe Butera (31) 18. Donnie Trent (Fellin 91) 19. Jeff Furlong (4) 20. Donnie Hoffman (Readinger 17) 21. Johnny Heydenreich (57) 22. Carey Becker (Kobylarz 20) 23. Tracy Readinger (2) 24. Brett Arndt (46) 25. Bobby Jackson (43) 26. Dave Shirk (Good 16).

Approved Toilet Rentals (358) Modifieds (20 laps, $800 to-win): 1. LONNY RIGGS (Black 58) 2. Jimmy Holden (28H) 3. Frank Guidace (1G) 4. Chris Dye (23D) 5. Dustin Martin (29D) 6. Matt Reeher (711) 7. Dillion McElrath (7) 8. Clyde Gumpp (51) 9. Mike Stine (7s) 10. Steve Young (Schaffer 10) 11. Brian Fingado (13F) 12. Joe Gibson (119) 13. Jerry Twentier, Sr. (6) 14. Kevin Green (74) 15. Jeff Schaffer (14) 16. Eric Gabany (3E) 17. Steve Barr (Hinkle 77) 18. Greg Unrue, Jr. (5).

Big Daddy’s Speed Center Stock Cars (15 laps, $300 to-win): 1. JEFF WALTERS (35) 2. Chris Haines (35H) 3. Clay Ruffo (14R) 4. Terry Wheeler (2W) 5. Russ Byler (06R) 6. Bryan Wagner (56) 7. Tony Bruno (97) 8. Shaun Hooks (Janovick 65) 9. Chip Walsh (36) 10. Matt Wagner (12) 11. Travis Walsh (1) 12. Steve D’Apolito (84) 13. Derek Freedline (F3)-DNS.

M&D Paving Mini Stocks July 24 Make-Up (12 laps: 1. PETE BLAZCZAK (77) 2. John Ford (34) 3. Ed Haylett (8-ball) 4. Mike McConnell (31) 5. Wally Stearns, Jr. (33) 6. Byron Kress (62) 7. E.J. Rarer (3J) 8. Rudolph Troples III (28) Did not return: Jordan Ehrenberg (JD57), Todd Gabriel (33G), Jeff Little (42), Brad Shaffer (17), Jeremy Double (83).

M&D Paving Mini Stocks (15 laps, $150 to-win): 1. TIM CALLAHAN (54) 2. Ed Haylett (8-ball) 3. Pete Blazczak (77) 4. Mike McConnell (31) 5.Wally Stearns, Jr. (33) 6. Jerry Batcher (7) 7. John Ford (34) 8. Steve Longwell, Jr. (17K) 9. Rudolph Troples III (28) 10. E.J. Rarer (3J) 11. Byron Kress (62) 12. Buck Buchanan, Jr. (93) 13. Max Smoker (409).

Upcoming Events:

08/04 Open Practice from 5 PM til dark.

08/07 Sprints, Mods, FASTRAK Late Models, Stocks, Mod Lites, Mini Stocks & the 7/24 Mod make-up. “Racing for a Cure” – An American Cancer Society Benefit Event. Free general admission for all New Castle, PA residents presented by Fat Jimmys BBQ & and all cancer survivors

Grandstands at 4:30 PM. Hot laps at 6:15. Racing at 7.