By Mike Leone
Mercer, PA…It was a welcome relief as sunny skies and no chance of rain were present over Mercer Raceway Park on Saturday night allowing for a great night of racing to be completed. Celebrating wins in the Hoosier Tire Mid-Atlantic victory lane was Danny Holtgraver-Luxaire Heating & Cooling Sprint Cars.
A large crowd turned out for Free New Castle Night presented by Fat Jimmys BBQ and the third annual “Racing for a Cure” American Cancer Society Benefit Night. Thousands of dollars were raised for the America Cancer Society. Modified driver Jerry Twentier, Sr. was the highest driver raising nearly $600 as he raced in support of the Visiting Nurses Association of Western PA and had approximately 50 additional individuals join the cause!
Danny Holtgraver has won Sprint Car features before at Mercer, Sharon, and Pennsylvania Motor Speedway, but none as memorable and thrilling as Saturday night’s last lap pass of World of Outlaw racer Brian Ellenberger. Holtgraver’s second Mercer win of the year and third on the circuit came in the 20-lap Luxaire Heating & Cooling feature and was worth $1,500 plus a Goodyear Tire certificate.
“Oh man that was unbelievable,” expressed the 20-year-old Pittsburgh, Pa. driver. “That was fun and that was racing right there! It couldn’t get any closer than that. To steal it on the last lap was awesome. This is the first race I haven’t won from the front row so we had to come through and pass some good cars. Just to win on the last lap is definitely the most exciting win yet!”
Eric Williams raced to the early lead with Brian Ellenberger and Dan Kuriger moving ahead of Davey Jones. Ellenberger drove up under Williams in turn four to take the lead on lap two, while Holtgraver passed Jones for fourth. Kuriger was flying as he drove around Williams for second on lap three.
A caution for spins by Brian Steinman and Bob Felmlee slowed action with three laps completed. When racing resumed, Holtgraver moved by Williams for third. Holtgraver and Kuriger ran down Ellenberger and made it a three-car race for the lead on lap six. Kuriger looked like he was going to attempt a pass on Ellenberger, but slipped off the track in turn three on lap seven allowing Holtgraver to move by for second. Kuriger again fell off the track two laps later allowing Williams back by for third.
Holtgraver was all over Ellenberger as the two ran side-by-side on lap 11 with Ellenberger holding on. Andy McKisson had passed Kuriger for fourth on lap 10 before Kuriger came to a rest with a flat tire with 13 laps completed. McKisson, who was fresh off his second Lernerville win the night prior, was fast again as he took over third from Williams on lap 15.
Back up front, Holtgraver was trying every move possible to get around Ellenberger, but just wasn’t able to keep his momentum up to get around the leader. Ellenberger had clear race track, but with the white flag waving Jones was looming ahead. Ellenberger shot to the bottom of Jones in turns one and two, while Holtgraver powered around the top. It was three-wide off turn two with Holtgraver shooting to the middle of the track. Holtgraver had enough momentum to get to turn three first and impede Ellenberger’s run through the bottom of turn three. It was a drag race off turn four with Holtgraver’s Spinewebber’s Auto Sales/West View Motors/Ti22 Performance-sponsored #D4 edging out Ellenberger for his fourth career Mercer Sprint win and fifth overall.
“He (Ellenberger) got up there on top and got to the front quicker,” explained Holtgraver. “We worked our way through and tried to stay calm. I tried the bottom a few times. It was alright, but not as good as the top. You could run the bottom in (turns) three and four. I could get a run on him, but it was tough. I followed him and hoped he’d screw up and he kind of did there in traffic on the last lap. Davey (Jones) went in the middle and Brian went to the bottom. I was far enough behind I could run the top then I had to shoot in the middle and kind of blocked him, but that’s what you got to do. He’s been on the road for awhile and he’s gained a lot of experience and he’s a heck of a race car driver. You have to capitalize whenever you can.”
Holtgraver’s victory coupled with Ed Lynch, Jr. on the road to Knoxville, Iowa and Bob Felmlee’s 11th place finish allowed him to advance to second in points and cut Felmlee’s point lead more than half.
McKisson was third. Arnie Kent had a strong run coming from 12th to finish fourth in Martha Dionise’s #15 and earned the Goodyear Tire hard charger certificate. Carl Bowser finished fifth and won a Goodyear Tire random certificate. Todd Bauer and Williams finished sixth and seventh. It was quite a night for John Smith, who made the long tow from Scranton, Pa. for the first time ever only to be involved in a violent heat race flip with central Ohio driver Duffy Smith. John Smith with help from many others replaced both front and rear ends of the car, both wings, along with shocks, and other parts to make the call for the feature where he finished eighth. Brandon Spithaler was ninth and earned a Goodyear Tire certificate for being the last car on the lead lap, while Brian Steinman was 10th and won a random Goodyear Tire certificate. Heats went to Holtgraver and Kuriger.
Luxaire Heating & Cooling (410) Sprint Cars (20 laps, $1,500 to-win): 1. DANNY HOLTGRAVER (D4) 2. Brian Ellenberger (22) 3. Andy McKisson (0) 4. Arnie Kent (Dionise 15) 5. Carl Bowser (10) 6. Todd Bauer (45) 7. Eric Williams (7) 8. John Smith (42) 9. Brandon Spithaler (22) 10. Brian Steinman (24s) 11. Bob Felmlee (6) 12. Davey Jones (76) 13. John McCracken, Sr. (63) 14. Pete Miller III (3) 15. Dan Kuriger (08) 16. John McCracken, Jr. (79) 17. Duffy Smith (Kempthorn 38K)-DNS.