By Linda Mansfield
PORT ROYAL, Pa., May 8 – Minor improvements each week coupled with persistence paid off for Justin Henderson Saturday night when the popular driver of Charlie and Dawn Sorokach’s Char-Pac Coal Co. No. 35 posted his first Port Royal Speedway sprint car feature victory.
It was the second 410 sprint car feature victory for the native of Beresford, S.D. since he began focusing on the extremely tough Central Pennsylvania sprint car circuit last year and became a member of the Pennsylvania Posse. He also won a feature at Williams Grove Speedway in Mechanicsburg, Pa. last October driving for Sorokach Motorsports, which is based in Minersville, Pa.
Henderson has over 50 career victories, including features at eight additional tracks in five other states: Knoxville and Rock Rapids in Iowa; Husets and Lake Country in South Dakota; Eagle and Rising City in Nebraska; Worthington in Minnesota and Cedar Lake in Wisconsin.
This one was certainly exciting, as Henderson only led the first lap and the last two laps in the 25-lap contest on the historic half-mile clay oval at the Juniata Country Fairgrounds, which hosted its first auto race 73 years ago.
Henderson, who also calls Indianapolis home, started on the pole of the Aumiller Insurance-sponsored main event, but he didn’t stay in first place long.
“We started on used Goodyear tires, and there was a caution right away,” Henderson related. “I was just sort of spinning my tires and freaking out, and on the restart Chad Layton blew right by me on lap two.”
Layton is the track’s defending sprint car champion.
“Then there was another caution, and on that restart Keith Kauffman blew right by me too,” he said. “A little bit later Cliff Brian passed me, and I settled into fourth place for awhile.”
There was also a brief red flag with seven laps down for an accident involving John Brennfleck.
“Then the tires started to come in, and we started to make some gains,” Henderson related with a smile. “I tweaked my line a little bit. I was working a line in Turns 1 and 2 that no one else was trying. I was getting faster, but I couldn’t pass anybody back. Then Brian broke a rear end and spun on the frontstretch, which put me up to third. On the restart I stayed high coming out of Turn 2, and I pulled by Kauffman on the backstretch. Our engine was running great. Then I was able to run down Layton, and I passed him with two laps to go.”
Layton went on to finish second followed by Kauffman, Greg Hodnett and Tyler Walker.
Although every victory is satisfying, this one was especially gratifying since Henderson is the first to admit that his 2011 season has been challenging to date.
“It’s been a tough year so far,” he said. “We burned down two motors that shouldn’t have blown, and we had a steering arm break too,” he noted. “We’ve been working hard and just trying to take it one week at a time and not get down. My car owners, Charlie and Dawn Sorokach, have been great because they stayed behind me. Port Royal has always been a good track for me, but we just couldn’t get a win there. But we’ve been making a minor change every week and we’re going forward all the time, and finally some of that work paid off.
“Besides Charlie and Dawn, I have to thank my crew chief, Jim Shriner, too,” Henderson added. “He joined our team shortly after the Knoxville Nationals last year. I also have to thank the other members of our crew, which include Frank Muscara, Rob Walker, Chaz Quandal and Lanny Lyons. Our main team sponsor is Montrose Molders Corporation. I want to thank my personal sponsors too. They include Butler Built, Hinchman Racewear, Bell Helmets, Mark Millwright & Rigging, K&N Filters, Ti22 Chassis and Weld Wheels.”
Saturday night’s victory, which came just 24 hours before Henderson’s 32nd birthday, gives him added confidence going into this coming Friday and Saturday’s World of Outlaws sprint car races at Williams Grove Speedway in Mechanicsburg, Pa.
“We’ve been qualifying good there, and I think we figured out a lot about Williams Grove in the feature there Friday night,” Henderson said. “We’re going to make another minor change for next weekend and see if it helps.”
As always, track conditions will play a key role.
“There’s only one style of racetrack at the Grove that I’ve been struggling with, but I learned something there last week that gives me the confidence to feel that we’re going to be OK there next weekend,” Henderson said. “And now that I finally have a feature win at Port Royal, I’ll have more confidence there too.”
Port Royal will resume its events on May 21.
“Neither Dawn Sorokach, one of my car owners, or my dog, Zeus, who are at almost all my races, were at Port Royal last night,” Henderson added. “We need to do it again so they can be in victory lane too.”
A video of Henderson’s victory lane interview can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=703tSKs67hM.
For more information on Henderson see his Web site at JustinHenderson.com. Port Royal’s Web site is at portroyalspeedway.com. Williams Grove’s is at williamsgrove.com and the WoO’s is at woosprint.com.
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