“STEEL VALLEY THUNDER” 6-DIVISION REGULAR SEASON OPENER THIS SATURDAY
By Mike Leone
April 4, 2012 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(Hartford, OH)…After snowmobile races in January and an Enduro and open practice in March, it’s time to get the 83rd anniversary season officially started at Sharon Speedway! This Saturday (April 7) is the return of “Steel Valley Thunder” featuring the Governor Insurance Agency DIRTcar Big-Block Modifieds, Barris Supply FASTRAK Late Models, Summit Racing Equipment E-Mods, Gibson Insurance Agency Stock Cars, HTMA/Precise Racing Products Econo Mods, and the DeForest Used Auto Parts Mini Stocks. Race time is 7 p.m.
Following the 2010 season, Sharon made some changes to its weekly Saturday night card and created the new “Steel Valley Thunder” program. After a successful 2011, those same five divisions will return in addition to the Econo Mods that joined the Saturday program last August.
“We’re very excited about the upcoming season,” acknowledged third year GM Dave Willoughby. “We were very pleased with the 2011 season and I’m even more positive about 2012. We expect strong car counts in all of our divisions. Last year the Modifieds and Stock Cars were down slightly, but I feel confident of an uptick in both of their counts this season. The early registration, car count at practice, and other indicators have been encouraging.”
The Big-Block Modifieds will again headline the weekly program and will once again be sponsored by Governor Insurance Agency in 2012. The western Pennsylvania/eastern Ohio area still only has two weekly big-block tracks for the upcoming season. Over the offseason, it was announced that Sharon will join with Friday night track Lernerville Speedway and will operate as a DIRTcar-sanctioned speedway for the Modifieds. This will get both speedways on the same set of rules and offer additional bonus monies and point funds throughout the season.
Rex King enters the 2012 season in search of his third straight title, which hasn’t happened since Tim Doran conquered the championship from 1997-1999. The Bristolville, Ohio driver is coming off a big season, which included five victories to move him into a tie for second on the all-time win list with recently inducted hall of fame racer Bob Kraus at 39.
Despite being shutout of victory lane in 2011, Jim Weller, Jr., the 2000 and 2004 champion, still sits fourth on the all-time win list at 23. Two of King’s biggest threats are tied for sixth on the list in Kevin Bolland and Jim Rasey, who have 18 wins apiece.
Both 2008 champion Dave Murdick and regional standout Jeremiah Shingledecker have stated their intention of competing at Sharon on pretty much a regular basis in 2012 with the move to DIRT. After taking a year off, 2007 champion Del Rougeux, Jr. is expected back out later this season. Jerry Higbie, Jr. has piloted the #20D on several occasions since Rougeux stepped away to handle the family business after the passing of his father.
Other top runners sure to be in the mix include Dean Pearson, who is coming off a fabulous 2011 that included a pair of victories, 11-time Sharon winner Rob Kristyak, two-time 2011 winner Rex King, Jr., Brad Rapp, Kevin Hoffman, and more.
The FASTRAK Late Models exceeded all expectations in 2011 as Sharon averaged the highest FASTRAK car count in the nation with 29 per event. Barris Supply will back as the divisional sponsor for the second straight year. The competition level was amazing last year with 13 different winners. In fact, in the 28 races run all-time at Sharon there have been 16 different winners.
The 2011 $30,000 FASTRAK Grand National Champion was Mike Pegher, Jr. and he currently leads the win list with five victories. Pegher will be at Sharon several times throughout the season along with three-time National Weekly Series and Northeast Touring Series Champion Max Blair, who has three wins. Sharon has been one of the few tracks in the region that Blair seems to struggle at.
Third-year racer Joe Martin took a liking to Sharon in 2011 winning the first two features and three of his first four starts as the up and coming racer sits second on the list with four wins. Two-time winner Josh Double, also of Bristolville, Ohio, will look to defend his title as he makes his season debut Saturday.
FASTRAK will have a huge season at Sharon as the Northeast Touring Series comes to town for a record six visits beginning with the two-day Bill Emig Memorial “Wild Card Weekend” on Saturday and Sunday Memorial Day Weekend. Those two events will each pay $1,500 to-win in addition to a $1,500 point fund.
The NE Touring Series will return on June 23 for the $2,000 to-win Gary Knollinger Memorial then again on July 21 for the $2,000 to-win Sweeney Chevrolet GM 604 Engine Giveaway Night. On August 18 not only will $1,500 be up for grabs for the winner, but the inaugural “Manufacturers Night” will see some $15,000 in products and certificates be given away. The final event will be on September 16 for the “Apple Festival Nationals”.
A reminder to all FASTRAK racers that the FT400 tire is required on the right rear for all Weekly Series events at Sharon. The FT200 will be permitted for all of the Northeast Touring events.
The E-Mod division has had quite a resurgence the past two seasons with strong car counts and B mains on most nights. In fact, the E-Mods averaged just under FASTRAK at 27 per show in 2011. Summit Racing Equipment has moved up from the Econo Mods to sponsor the E-Mods in 2012.
After three straight championships for Carl McKinney from 2002-2004, there had been a different champion each of the past six years including Bill Thomas, Russ Dunn, Howard Fraley, Alan Dellinger, Scott Stiffler, and Jeff Johnson; however, McKinney ended that streak in 2011 as he captured his fourth title.
No one is anywhere near Dellinger’s mark of 86 victories in the division and the Hermitage, Pa. driver will be back behind the wheel of the Bootie Petsko-owned #00 as he hopes to get closer to the century mark. Stiffler (16), Johnson (14), and Dunn (13) are the next three in line on the win list.
Sharon has always been blessed with one of the region’s highest weekly Stock Car counts. Sharon continues to be one of the only tracks in the region that requires the 8” tires. While the car counts were down in 2010 and part of 2011, counts grew in late season and the prospects look strong in 2012 with several new racers and some others returning to the Hartford, Ohio oval in the Gibson Insurance Agency-sponsored division.
Like the E-Mods, the Stock all-time winner is Alan Dellinger; however, the 65-time victor and two-time champion is not likely to be a competitor in the division in 2012. That should make things very interesting.
As it was, the competition level was very tough in 2011 with eight different winners. Sitting third on the all-time win list is Steve D’Apolito. The Boardman, Ohio racer owns 31 career wins and an impressive four championships despite competing at Mercer Raceway Park in 2008-2010. D’Apolito’s trusty $3,000 GM 602 crate engine will be back to take on the challengers.
The two-barrel Econo Mod division debuted in 2010 on the bi-weekly “Friday Night Thunder” program and continued until that program was discontinued at the end of July 2011. They in turn were moved over to Saturday night racing at that point where they began to experience record car counts. Hoosier Tire Mid-Atlantic (HTMA) and Precise Racing Products will back the growing division.
In 2010, Junior Mechling won his first feature in 16 years and last year the Warren, Ohio 60-year-old won the championship without winning a race! Mechling hopes to get back in victory lane in 2012 in a division that very affordable and has attracted veteran and young teenage racers alike.
Rounding out the program will be the popular front-wheel-drive, four-cylinder division known as the Mini Stocks. DeForest Used Auto Parts will be the new divisional sponsor. The question will be can anyone stop defending champion Bill Fuchs. The likeable Greenville, Pa. resident won a track-high 10 features to take over the division’s all-time lead at 13.
Fuchs’ toughest competitor is Mike Scharba, who is just one win back at 12 checkered flags; however, Scharba was just a part-time competitor in 2011. Lucas Sprouse, who finished second to Fuchs in points in 2011, found victory lane for the first time in his career last season. Sprouse is already off to a strong start as he won opening night at Mercer last Saturday.
Registration forms, payoffs, divisional and track rules, and more are all available under the Driver tab on the website at SharonSpeedway.com. Pits open at 4 p.m. on Saturday with the grandstands at 5 and racing at 7 p.m. Adult admission is $13, while children 13 and under are free. Pit passes are $25.
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.