From Jacob Seelman
Salem, IN — (August 8, 2015) — With a daring third-to-first maneuver on a lap seven restart, Brian Gerster charged around polesitter John Turnbull Jr. and championship leader Jimmy McCune and led the final 24 laps of Saturday night’s 56th annual Joe James/Pat O’Connor Memorial 30 at Salem Speedway, winning the historic race for the second time.
The win did not come without challenge, however, as both McCune and Chris Neuenschwander were right on the tail-tank of the RAM Engineering No. 50M until 10 laps to go, when Gerster found another gear and drove off into the Indiana night.
“I was just saving my equipment until the right time,”Gerster said in Engine Pro Victory Lane. “The only lap that pays any money is the 30th lap of this feature, so I was just trying to manage what I had. Jimmy McCune is a smart racer. I’ve grown up racing against him – we’re both pretty old and gray now – but we talked a little bit before the race and agreed we just had to be patient working our way through the field because we were starting so far back.”
“I managed to get a good run on that restart and went from third to first in a lap, and after that it was all about managing the gap I had back to the 88 and the 10. Luckily it all worked out and we’re sitting here for the second year in a row. This is awesome, especially with how the James/O’Connor Memorial has evolved over the years and the guys like Tony Stewart and Rich Vogler that have won it in the past. It’s really special.”
Gerster’s challenge was set up by a caution on lap six, when South Bend, Ind. rookie Christian Koehler went into a series of violent 360 spins in turns three and four after the left rear tire sheared off of his No. 0 sprinter.
Koehler was uninjured in the crash, however his night was ended early – putting a damper on his Salem debut.
“Coming down the backstretch I felt the throttle jump, and that means that the wheel lost the nut and is sliding off the splines,” Koehler explained. “I should have known what was happening right then – even though it’s never happened to me before – but I just got back in it and the next thing I knew I was going for a carnival ride (laughs).”
“It’s a fun track though. It’s high speed, and hopefully next time we won’t have any unfortunate occurances.”
Following that incident, the race went green the rest of the way, leaving McCune to chase Gerster after clearing Turnbull for second. While the Toledo, Ohio veteran could never clear Gerster for the lead, he showed his nose several times before ultimately settling for the runner-up finish.
“We were both pushing really hard there towards the tail end,” McCune said of both he and Gerster. “That Dick Myers car is pretty tough to beat, and Brian driving it makes it even more potent. They helped us out a little bit to get me back on-track and hopefully give him a run, but we just didn’t have enough.”
“Second’s not bad, we’re happy with it. We’ll take the points lead and go into a couple of tracks that I’ve been really good at in the past and see what we can do the rest of this year.”
Neuenschwander finished third as the final car on the lead lap. Mike Stutsman and Kevin Blue made up the balance of the top five.
After his pole start allowed him to lead the first six laps of the feature, Turnbull pulled in on lap 23 with apparent mechanical issues ending his night.
2010 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion Bobby Santos’ night ended before the green flag ever flew in his heat race – a broken rear end sidelining the Dick Fieler-owned No. 22A car.
Gerster kicked off the night by setting quick time around the 0.555-mile oval with a lap of 14.135 seconds (141.351 mph), and John Turnbull Jr. won the Melling Select Performance First Heat. Gerster followed up his qualifying performance with a victory in the Mahle Second Heat.
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RESULTS: Must See Racing Xtreme Sprint Series; Salem Speedway; Salem, Ind.; August 8, 2015
Time Trials: 1. #50M – Brian Gerster, 14.135 seconds (141.351 mph); 2. #88 – Jimmy McCune, 15.184; 3. #22A – Bobby Santos III, 15.372; 4. #10 – Chris Neuenschwander, 16.000; 5. #21 – Mike Stutsman, 16.149; 6. #71 – Brian Vaughn, 16.170; 7. #6 – Kevin Blue, 16.338; 8. #12 – John Turnbull Jr., 16.471; 9. #0 – Christian Koehler, 16.475; 10. #44 – Anthony McCune, 25.871.
Heat Race #1: John Turnbull Jr., Christian Koehler, Kevin Blue, Brian Vaughn, Anthony McCune (DNS)
Heat Race #2: Brian Gerster, Jimmy McCune, Chris Neuenschwander, Mike Stutsman, Bobby Santos III (DNS)
Must See Racing Joe James/Pat O’Connor Memorial at Salem Speedway A-Feature (30 laps):
1. #50M – Brian Gerster
2. #88 – Jimmy McCune
3. #10 – Chris Neuenschwander
4. #21 – Mike Stutsman
5. #6 – Kevin Blue
6. #12 – John Turnbull Jr.
7. #0 – Christian Koehler
8. #71 – Brian Vaughn
9. #44 – Anthony McCune
10. #22A – Bobby Santos III (DNS)