BLAIR’S 1ST WIN IS WORTH $2,825 IN KNOLLINGER MEMORIAL FOR FASTRAK NE LATE MODEL SERIES; ESCHRICH WINS 1ST EVER IN E-MODS; D’APOLITO & BLACKSHEAR REPEAT IN STOCKS & ECONO MODS; CAREER 1ST FOR MCELHANEY IN MINIS
By Mike Leone
June 25, 2011
(Hartford, OH)…Despite a sunny forecast, overcast skies with drizzly fall-like conditions prevailed Saturday night at Sharon Speedway for the inaugural Gary Knollinger Memorial, but the show went on as 109 cars turned out for the five-division program with three new winners.
Celebrating with victories in the Hovis Auto & Truck Supply victory lane were Max Blair-Barris Supply FASTRAK Late Model Northeast Touring Series Gary Knollinger Memorial, Mike Eschrich-Ainsley 500 Heating & Cooling E-Mods, Steve D’Apolito-Gibson Insurance Agency Stock Cars, Brandon Blackshear-Econo Mods, and Rob McElhaney-Presidential Lawn Care Mini Stocks.
Max Blair was bound and determined to win the Gary Knollinger Memorial for his late friend. With a brand new body unveiled as a tribute Knollinger’s #38K, Blair went out and put on a dominating performance in the 30-lap Barris Supply feature. Blair started sixth and passed Andrew Wylie on lap nine then was never headed for his leading third Sweeney Chevrolet Buick GMC Touring Series win of the season.
The victory was worth $2,000; however, Blair won an extra $500 for being the highest Touring Series finisher, an extra $250 random draw, and $75 for his heat race win bringing his nightly winnings to $2,825! Blair also received the Gary Knollinger Memorial trophy, which featured a bronze racer standing on an engraved platform base plate.
“Winning the Gary Knollinger Memorial was all that mattered,” stated the emotional 21-year-old Centerville, Pa. in victory lane surrounded by family and friends of the late Knollinger. “I wanted this race more than anyone else since Christmas day, and I did it. Gary (Knollinger, Sr.), Bev (Knollinger), Heather (Stollar), and John (Seyler)- you guys are one the best groups of people I’ve ever met and are friends for a lifetime. We were lucky enough to become very good friends with Gary. I’ll never win another race that means anything more than this one right here.”
Butch Lambert and Wylie led the 24-car field to green with Wylie using the outside to march into the lead. Blair passed Brian Lessley and Kyle Lukon on the first lap for fourth then drove under Dan Angelicchio for third in turn one on lap two. Blair ran down Lambert and raced side-by-side with the veteran on laps three and four before making the pass for runner-up on the outside in turn four of lap four.
Wylie continued leading the first laps of his Touring career and had a half-straightaway lead when Blair got to second. Behind the duo, Angelicchio began pressuring Lambert for third. The two ran side-by-side on lap five with Angelicchio getting by in turns three and four. A caution for Ben Black, who broke a shock and the wall, with eight laps completed changed the complexion of the race. On the ensuing restart, Steve Dixon, Damian Bidwell, and Matt Latta tangled in turn one bringing out the second and final caution.
When green replaced yellow for the final time, Blair used the inside to power by Wylie as the two made contact in turns one and two. Lambert seized the opportunity passing Angelicchio and getting by Wylie as well for second. By the time Wylie gathered up his momentum, he was in fourth trailing Angelicchio.
Blair began to pull away as the green flag laps ticked off. By lap 10, Angelicchio was right on Lambert. The battle raged for runner-up for remainder of the race. The two ran side-by-side lap after lap. Meanwhile right behind the Angelicchio-Lambert side-by-side battle, Wylie and Lukon were doing the same.
Back up front, Blair caught lapped traffic on lap 22 and had a slight scare when he made contact with Tony Tatgenhorst and had to get his car straightened back up. That was the only thing that would slow Blair’s run in his Specialty Products/Westcoat Excavating/Moody & Sons/Thompson Run Tire/Race 1/Genesis Shocks-sponsored #38K/111 as he went on to win by 4.09 seconds. The victory was Blair’s all-time leading 12th of his career in Northeast Touring competition. It was Blair’s first Sharon win of the season and third of his career, and became the eighth different winner in 10 races at Sharon this season!
“Number one I have to thank my dad,” added Blair, who extended his point lead to 14 in search of his third Touring Series championship. “In my mind, he’s the best there is. I have to thank all of my sponsors, Sharon Speedway for putting this on, Mike (Leone) and Vicki (Emig)- you guys do a great thing with this FASTRAK deal, 24 races this year with new tracks. Look at this crowd- this is against the Firecracker at Lernerville and with bad weather and we still got a good crowd. That’s awesome!”
Angelicchio tried everything possible to get by Lambert as they raced side-by-side for the final time on lap 28, but Angelicchio lost some of his momentum as Lambert got away to record his first runner-up since August 7 of last season at Hesston Speedway. Angelicchio turned in his third straight top five and fourth overall in six Touring starts this season. After recording his career best Touring Series finish one week ago in sixth at McKean County Raceway, Wylie improved that with his first career Touring top five in fourth! Lukon was a close fifth in his first ever appearance at Sharon.
Russ Dunn made just his third career FASTRAK start and first ever in a Touring Series event and was an impressive sixth. Second place point man Mike Pegher, Jr. advanced three spots from his 10th place starting position to finish seventh. Mike Blose was eighth after starting 12th. Three-time 2011 Sharon winner Joe Martin was ninth, and set a new track record in his heat race with a lap of 16.594. Sharon point leader Josh Double rounded out the top 10 after starting 14th.
Fourteen-year-old Lauren Longbrake led every lap of the eight-lap non-qualifier event for her first victory. The “Futures Cup” rookie contender entered the night leading the “Wheelman” Bonus Event Challenge Series point for the non-qualifier events, and added to that point lead with the flawless performance in the Longbrake Demolition/W&W Plumbing/Wyers Body Shop/Jegs Streetwerkz/Race 1-sponsored Rocket Chassis #27.
The Columbus, Ohio driver overtook Shane Weaver at the start and never looked back in the non-stop event timed in 2:20.615. Longbrake earned $175 plus $100 of the $500 that was added to each starter’s winnings in the event thanks to the family and friends of Gary Knollinger. Weaver, another 14-year-old “Futures Cup” racer, held second over Rusty Cade, Chad Wright, and Bobby Pifer.
Besides Blair winning the extra $750 for being the highest finishing Touring driver and one of the random draws, the other $250 random draws to Touring members in the feature went to Wylie, George Kowatic, John Volpe, Josh Holtgraver, and Dixon. In addition to Blair, Dunn, Wylie, and Lambert also earned $75 for their heat race wins and Holtgraver and Prosser won $75 for their B main victories.
A dash race was run for to set the four positions after the pill draw cards with a $500 purse. Damian Bidwell of Eldred, Pa. led all four laps to earn the 13th starting position and the $150. Double finished second to earn $130 with Dixon third for $120 and Kowatic fourth for $100.
After nearly winning last Saturday’s feature, it was a pretty good night for Joel Prosser, who besides winning the $75 B main, earned the free Hoosier tire presented by Utsinger’s Towing for being the last car on the lead lap in 15th and the $100 Sweeney Chevrolet Buick GMC gift card for being the highest finishing West Virginia driver. This was the card that Knollinger would have received at the awards banquet it went to his good friend deservedly so.
Thirty-five cars from four states were on hand as it was the sixth time this season there have been 30+ cars for the new weekly division. The average car count this season is over 29 per night!
After his home track Stateline Speedway cancelled, Mike Eschrich made the long tow down from Mt. Jewett, Pa. payoff as he captured his first career Sharon Speedway win in just his second appearance of the season. Eschrich led all 15 laps of the $750 to-win Ainsley 500 Heating & Cooling feature holding off a late race charge by two-time winner Joel Watson to become the seventh different E-Mod winner in 10 races this season.
“It was tough running,” acknowledged the 34-year-old winner. “I saw Joel coming on the inside of me and I thought boy if I don’t keep my p’s and q’s here I’m going to lose it, but I did the best I could. This track is fast and these guys are tough! I was worried about the tires and myself under red. When you get in a groove it’s tough to get back in it when something like that happens.”
Eschrich jumped to the early lead with Paul Phillips, Mike Kinney, and Bud Watson in tow, while Joel Watson was on the move from his 10th starting spot into the top five on lap two. A great three-car race ensued with Kinney trying to hold off the two Watsons. By lap five, it was a four-car race for runner-up with Kinney and the Watsons overtaking Phillips.
Joel Watson put a slider on Bud in turn two on lap six to grab third then overtook Kinney on a lap nine restart for second. Kinney would get two shots on restarts at Eschrich, but just couldn’t get by Eschrich, who took the checkered flag by just 0.224 seconds in his Northern Tire, Inc./Reliance Well Service/Blauser Trucking/Keystone/Clandd Trucking/Curves for Women/AL Oil/Penn Air/MoKemp Racing Engines-sponsored #9E.
Runner-up point man Kinney was a close third over Bud Watson, who made his first ever start in an E-Mod Sharon with a solid fourth. Jeff Johnson was fifth. Completing the top 10 were Bob Diver, Dwayne Clay, Carl McKinney, Tim Burns, and Jeff Hassay. Heat winners over the strong 25-car field were Clay, Phillips, and Diver, while Howard Fraley won the B main. The E-Mods have only been under 23 cars just once all season with an average of 26 per night.
Steve D’Apolito just keeps getting faster and faster with his little $3,000 GM 602 crate engine. The three-time Sharon Speedway champion and last year’s Mercer Raceway Park champion, captured the 15-lap $500 to-win Gibson Insurance Agency feature for his second win in the past four weeks and has still yet to finish worse than sixth in any heat or feature this season!
“This has been going pretty good lately,” expressed the 33-year-old Boardman, Ohio resident after his milestone 30th career Sharon win. “We figured a few things out and I think we’re alright. I have to thank my brother, mom and dad, my cousin Brian, Buzzy and Mary Utsinger, Brad Hibbard, and everyone else!”
D’Apolito started on the pole and two cautions were all that slowed his run to the checkered flag. D’Apolito had to hold off Mike Clark, who passed Mike Hudzik for second on lap one. Clark stayed within striking distance the entire way, but came up 1.121 seconds shy to D’Apolito’s #84 sponsored by D’Apolito Christmas Tree Farm, Utsinger’s Towing, and Race 1. D’Apolito extended his point lead to 17 over Clark.
Alan Dellinger came from the 12th starting spot to finish third after getting by his teammate Steve Burns, Jr. on lap 10. Paul Davis and Charlie Jasinski were also able to move past Burns at the same time. Davis then held off Jasinski for fourth. It was Jasinski’s third fifth place finish in the last four races and fifth top five in just seven starts this season. Heat victors were Bruce Redman and Dellinger.
The Econo Mods were added to Saturday’s program for the first time ever after their “Friday Night Thunder” event was rained out for the seventh time this season. For the second straight week, 16 cars turned out, which is an all-time high for the second year division. There have now been 18 different cars in action!
For the third straight race, it was the #1BS in victory lane. This time it was Brandon Blackshear winning his second Summit Racing Equipment feature, while his car owner Jamie Scharba won the other week. Blackshear passed point leader Junior Mechling on the opening lap and survived three cautions for the victory in the Hilltop Pizza/Blackshear Racing Engines-sponsored car.
“I love it here on Saturdays,” expressed the 20-year-old Brookfield, Ohio racer. “I hope they adopt this class for Saturday nights. I had a blast racing tonight- it’s a good bunch of guys and we had a good time like it’s supposed to be. Jamie (Scharba) is a good guy to work with along with Bootie (Petsko) and my dad (Don). We just have fun doing it and racing against my little brother.”
In just his third start, 17-year-old Brian Hathaway came from the 10th starting spot to pass Mechling on lap 13 for second and recorded his career best finish. Mechling dropped to third over eighth starting Jim Turley and Larry Root. Heat winners were Blackshear and Todd Canter.
Last Saturday night Rob McElhaney turned in his career best finish in second to Bill Fuchs. On Saturday night, McElhaney looked like he was going to repeat that performance, but inherited the win on the final turn of the last lap when race-long leader Steve Walker II blew a tire. McElhaney’s career first win was worth $200 in the 12-lap Presidential Lawn Care feature.
Walker jumped to the early lead past Dennis Dellinger, Jr. with Chris Roberts going from fourth to second on the first lap. McElhaney passed Roberts for second on lap four and kept his sights on Walker. Walker looked like he primed for his first win of the season and second of his career until his misfortunate just short of the checkered flag.
McElhaney’s victory came in the Greenville Auto Parts/Gregg’s Auto-sponsored #7. Fuchs, who was fresh off his $300 win on Wednesday night, started 10th and passed Roberts on the last lap for third then inherited second from Walker. Roberts was a season best third over 11th starting Lucas Sprouse and Jamie Wrightsman. Heats were taken by Walker and Fuchs over the 17-car field.
Sweeney Chevrolet Buick GMC FASTRAK Late Model Northeast Late Model Touring Gary Knollinger Memorial (30 laps, $2,000 to-win): 1. MAX BLAIR (111) 2. Butch Lambert (27) 3. Dan Angelicchio (14) 4. Andrew Wylie (84) 5. Kyle Lukon (1) 6. Russ Dunn (47) 7. Mike Pegher, Jr. (Geisler 1c) 8. Mike Blose (5) 9. Joe Martin (55) 10. Josh Double (38) 11. Brian Lessley (Powell 100) 12. Bobby Whitling (7W) 13. George Kowatic (5) 14. John Volpe (Bidwell B1D) 15. Joel Prosser (77) 16. Josh Holtgraver (00) 17. Tony Tatgenhorst (63) 18. Justin Tatlow (Kratts 81) 19. Damian Bidwell (17) 20. Steve Dixon (50) 21. Matt Latta (21) 22. Rocky Kugel (21KRT) 23. Ben Black (27B) 24. Alan Dellinger (Williams 8)
Barris Supply FASTRAK Late Model Non-Qualifier Event: 1. LAUREN LONGBRAKE (27) 2. Shane Weaver (325x) 3. Rusty Cade (47) 4. Chad Wright (6) 5. Bobby Pifer III (6) 6. Justin Kreider (29)-DNS 7. Jamie Brown (135)-DNS 8. Clay Ruffo (14R)-DNS 9. Steve Beatty (B4)-DNS 10. Michael Mitchell (19)-DNS 11. Dave Airgood, Jr. (42JR)-DNS.
Ainsley 500 Heating & Cooling E-Mods (15 laps, $750 to-win): 1. MIKE ESCHRICH (9E) 2. Joel Watson (92) 3. Mike Kinney (3) 4. Bud Watson (2) 5. Jeff Johnson (27) 6. Bob Diver (23) 7. Dwayne Clay (007) 8. Carl McKinney (Hendrickson 6M) 9. Tim Burns (2B) 10. Jeff Hassay (10) 11. Steve Haefke (73) 12. Alan Dellinger (Petsko 00) 13. Arlan Coy (56) 14. Paul Phillips (11SS) 15. Bill Thomas (White 53) 16. Joe Gabrielson (58) 17. Howard Fraley (217) 18. Scott Stiffler (14) 19. Ronnie Kahler (7R) 20. Jim Turley (117) 21. Vince Crisanti (221)-DNS 22. Jim Dellinger (Turley 117D)-DNS DNQ: Bob Williamson (93), Scott Jones (44J), Mike Harmon (09JR).
Gibson Insurance Agency Stock Cars (15 laps, $500 to-win): 1. STEVE D’APOLITO (84) 2. Mike Clark (7) 3. Alan Dellinger (Burns 43B) 4. Paul Davis (Schaefers 3) 5. Charlie Jasinski (11A) 6. Steve Burns, Jr. (70B) 7. Jamie Scharba (00s) 8. Gary Robinson (44R) 9. Brian Carothers (02c) 10. Al Herman (11) 11. Jim Flaherty, Jr. (Mackin 38SPL) 12. Tyler Nicely (72) 13. Mike Hudzik (31H) 14. Jamie Gibbs (98) 15. Bruce Redman (27) 16. Dave Wagner (35).
Summit Racing Equipment Econo Mods (15 laps): 1. BRANDON BLACKSHEAR (Scharba 1BS) 2. Brian Hathaway (22) 3. Junior Mechling (89) 4. Jim Turley (117) 5. Larry Root (22x) 6. Corey Skully (21) 7. Todd Canter (88) 8. Jim Dellinger (1) 9. Charles Campbell (99) 10. David Covatch (415) 11. Amanda Stiffler (14) 12. Derek Dellinger (119) 13. Brad Blackshear (19) 14. Jeff Christy (Berry 91) 15. Ryan Fraley (12SS) 16. Kevin Robinson (24R).
Presidential Lawn Care Mini Stocks (12 laps, $200 to-win): 1. ROB MCELHANEY (7) 2. Bill Fuchs (10) 3. Chris Roberts (93) 4. Lucas Sprouse (24s) 5. Jamie Wrightsman (21J) 6. Randy Sprouse (23s) 7. Steve Walker II (4M) 8. Dan McEwen (44M) 9. Jeremy Double (83) 10. Jim Haefke, Jr. (421) 11. Dennis Dellinger, Jr. (1JR) 12. Greg Schmied (97s) 13. Ken Koby II (22) 14. Nick Lucanski (28L) 15. Stacy Neubecker (5)-DNS 16. Pete Blazczak (77)-DNS 17. Scott Gilliland (27)-DNS.
Sharon will be off over the Fourth of July Weekend, but will return to action with a doubleheader weekend on July 8-9. On Friday the 8th, the 358 Modifieds will make their first appearance and will be joined by the Summit Racing Equipment Econo Mods, Joe’s Radiator & Uni-Tech Frame Straightening Mod Lites, Micro Sprints, Uni-Tech Frame Straightening & Joe’s Radiator Sportsman Dwarf Cars, and the Mini Late Models at 7:30 p.m.
Then on Saturday the 9th, the Governor Insurance Agency Big-Block Modifieds return and will be joined by the Barris Supply FASTRAK Late Models, Ainsley 500 Heating & Cooling E-Mods, Gibson Insurance Agency Stock Cars, and the Presidential Lawn Care Mini Stocks. Race time is 7 p.m. with a rain date of Sunday, July 10 at 5:30 p.m.
Sharon Speedway is owned by the Blaney, Weller, and Kirila Families and is a 3/8-mile dirt track located on Custer-Orangeville Road in Hartford, Ohio near the intersection of Routes 7 & 305. For more information, check out the website at www.sharonspeedway.com or call 330-772-5481. Become a fan of Sharon Speedway on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sharonspeedway and follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/sharonspdwy.