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Spithaler Sprint Star at Tri-City Raceway Park

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Photo Courtesy: Mark Swanson

FRANKLIN, PA (June 14, 2020): Brandon Spithaler scored an impressive 410 Sprint Car victory in the second round of action at Tri-City Raceway Park on Sunday evening. Joining him in celebrating wins were Tom Holden in the 358 Modifieds, Rod Laskey in the Pro Stocks, and Dillon Speer in the Mini Stocks.

Under Tri-City rules, the first several rows of each feature event consist of the drivers who excel in their respective heat races. Brandon Spithaler wound up on the pole courtesy of Brandon Matus who was tasked with the responsibility to pull the pills that determined the starting order for the Sprint Cars. “I knew when I pulled the number one pill for him that he was going to be tough,” lamented Matus. His concerns were indeed valid, as Spithaler absolutely dominated the race from start to finish.

“This track was perfect tonight,” Spithaler said. “If Tri-City was like this every week, I would love it.” Conditions were much more to his liking compared to the previous week, when the track was smooth and slick, and he struggled to a sixth place finish. Sunday’s track was moist and a little choppy, giving Spithaler the opportunity to “cowboy up” as one of his competitors put it.

Spithaler jumped out front at the drop of the green. Tim Shaffer moved from fourth to second on the opening lap. However, Spithaler knew that the Steel City Outlaw was stalking him when he saw Shaffer’s number 28 on the scoreboard while the field was pacing under a caution. That did not rattle Spithaler, though. Instead, it incentivized him. He drove even harder to keep Shaffer at bay. Spithaler’s car worked to perfection regardless where he put it as he picked his way through lapped traffic during the second half of the race. His pace was so frenetic that he lapped all the way through the fifth position!

Following Spithaler and Shaffer were Jack Sodeman, Jr., Lee Jacobs, and Dan Kuriger. Once again, Kuriger passed plenty of cars. He started deep in the pack, eighteenth to be exact. Unfortunately for him, there was no hard charger award given this night.

Brandon Matus, Jared McFarland, Cody Bova, Gary Kriess, Jr., and Darren Pifer completed the top ten.

Heat wins for the 28 cars on hand were won by Brandon Matus, Jacobs, and Shaffer. There was no B Main as promoter Merle Black once again allowed all cars to start the feature event.

Tom Holden scored the emotional win in the 358 Modifieds. He dedicated the triumph to two family members who recently passed. One of them was his father, a former sprint car driver who never won a race at Tri-City despite years of trying. Holden’s car carries a picture of his late father on the right rear quarter panel, and Tom proudly said that his dad finally made it to victory lane at the track.

To earn the win, Holden had to pass Eric Beggs, who led from the start. Holden got his chance following a restart on lap twelve. Beggs entered turn one on the inside groove and Holden drove by him on the outside. That surprised Beggs, as Holden had been using the low line prior to the restart and Beggs changed up his own line in an effort to slow Holden’s advance.

Taking third was Travis Shingledecker, who was subbing for his brother, Jeremiah, who had other commitments for the evening. Kevin Green scored his second top five finish of the season, followed by Jeff Schaffer, Jr.

Three Rivers Karting

Positions six through ten went to Richard Whitney, Ryan Riffe, Shawn Fleeger, D.J. Schrader, and Brandon Ritchey.

Schaffer and Beggs were victorious in their heats. There was no B Main. Last week’s winner, Kyle Fink, was the first driver eliminated from the race when he struck the water barrels lining the outside wall between turns one and two.

In the Pro Stock contest, Curtis J. Bish took the early lead from last week’s winner, Josh Seippel, and then he had to hold off Rod Laskey. Although Laskey was scored as the leader on one lap in the middle of the race, it was Bish who seemed to have control. But, Laskey was determined and he came storming back on the final lap. He made a bold move coming through turn four on the final round to steal the win from Bish.

While Bish and Laskey were fighting for the lead and the win, Jackson Humanic was lurking in third. Neither of his rivals faltered, and Humanic was forced to settle for the podium finish. Curt Bish was fourth and Seippel crossed in fifth.

Tyler Wyant, Pat Fielding, Blaze Myers, Josh Blum, and Chase Lambert completed the top ten.

Heat wins went to Custis J. Bish and Bobby Whitling. There was no B Main.

The Mini Stocks got to open and close the racing action this night. First up was the remaining ten laps from last week’s feature for the class. That race had to be cut short due to a power failure that darkened the long back stretch. The winner of that event was Dillon Speer, and he would go on to claim the honors in the nightcap as well. Speer also won his heat race, making for a clean sweep of Mini Stock action.

In the opener, Kyle Janas was second, but he crashed in the final event of the night. Emily Stoyer was third, followed by Shane Shook and Jesse Armstrong.

In the finale, Dillon’s cousin, Dalton Speer, was the runner-up. Patrick Hanlon crossed in third, with Bondy Stoyer and Justin Bailey rounding out the top five.

Dillon Speer and Patrick Hanlon captured the preliminaries. There was no B Main.

Tri-City Raceway Park will be in action again on June 21, with 410 Sprints, 358 Modifieds, and Mini Stocks topping the card. Joining the fun will be the Vintage Modifieds. In celebration of Father’s Day, all men will get a free popcorn.

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Williamson Whips Port Royal Foes

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PORT ROYAL, PA (October 17, 2020): Mat Williamson picked the perfect time to score his first win in the Short Track Super Series for Modifieds. The driver, who earned the nickname “Money” after scoring some big victories in the rival DIRTcar Super Series, carried $53,000 out of Port Royal Speedway. His share of the bounty would go back to St. Catharines, ONT, where he and his fiance are planning to build a home.

COVID travel restrictions kept Williamson on the northern side of the Canadian border for most of the 2020 racing season. While he did get to race several times (successfully), the purses were much smaller, and he never got into a rhythm like he could do when he was able to cross the border at will. Williamson, who said that he was “tired of eating Ramen noodles,” came into the United States for a few weeks, starting with OctoberFAST (the Super DIRTweek substitute) and concluding with the Eastern States 200. “It sucks that we cannot celebrate with family and friends after a win like this,” Williamson said. He and his two traveling companions planned to party hearty and then start to prepare the car for the upcoming Eastern States race. He plans to serve out his quarantine deer hunting upon his return to Canada.

Second place finisher, Stewart Friesen, who is also Canadian by birth, did not face such restrictions, as he is now a permanent resident of Sprakers, NY.

Both drivers overcame some mechanical difficulties to get to the front of the highest paying race of the 2020 Modified season. Friesen’s problems came during Friday night’s qualifications. He blew the engine in his primary car, which was powered by a 430 cubic inch open small block. He switched to a back-up car that was equipped with a 360 cubic inch small block, and used a provisional to start 39th in the talent-laden field. While the car was down on power, series rules allowed it to race at a light 2300 pounds, and Friesen was able to get the most out of the machine. Williamson’s difficulty came during the open red at the halfway mark of the big race. The team decided to change front shocks to improve forward bite. They broke a critical part in the process and they had to scramble to find a replacement in the infield hot pit area, as crossing the track to retrieve one from the hauler was not allowed. They found the piece in Anthony Perrego’s toolbox. Perrego was leading at the break and would go on to finish fourth in the final tally.

The first ten starters were lined up by the luck of the draw. Alex Yankowski started on the pole and Danny Bouc was next to the rapid teen. Aussie Peter Britten and Mike Gular were in row two. Erick Rudolph and Matt Sheppard, a pre-race favorite, were in row three. Max McLaughlin and Mike Maresca were in row four, with Maresca driving a borrowed car after suffering a terminal engine failure at the checkers in his Friday heat race. Williamson lined up next to Billy Pauch, Jr. in row five. Perrego and Mike Mahaney were in row six.

Yankowski blasted out to the lead over Bouc and Britten while Maresca and Rudolph were fighting for position. Just as the leaders crossed for lap one, veteran Billy Van Pelt brought out the first caution of the double century contest.

Yankowski held the advantage through lap 16, when Williamson surged to the front. Although Sheppard and Bouc would also pass Yankowski, the youthful driver held his own reamining in or just outside the top five for most of the first half of the race.

Meanwhile, Friesen was methodically passing cars using the highest groove possible. He was able to roll up beside cars and pass them off the corner before they even realized that he was out there. He reached 13th by lap 20 and was positioned to assault the top ten when drama unfolded.

Billy Pauch, Jr., who was biding his time riding just outside the top ten, had his throttle stick going down the long back chute. Although he tried desperately to shut the car down, he was unable to do so, and he collided massively with the turn three fence. He punched a hole in that as the car burst into flames and then tumbled to a stop yards away. The car lost its roof and the top of the cage was exposed to oncoming traffic, but all others were able to avoid contact with Pauch. Pauch climbed from the demolished car unscathed. It took track crews over an hour and fifteen minutes to make repairs to the fence.

After that break, Williamson continued to lead, but the car was not performing up to its full potential. Perrego, who would become Williamson’s savior a short time later, rode the rim to the front on lap 86. Soon thereafter, a caution came out, and Friesen surrendered P4 to pit for tires and fuel. This enabled him to play out a strategy that would give him track position over Perrego, Williamson, Sheppard, and others.

Perrego led to the halfway mark, with Williamson, Sheppard, McLaughlin, Britten, Ryan Godown, Yankowski, Alan Johnson, Ryan Susice, and Billy Dunn making up the top ten.

Three Rivers Karting

Dramatic interlude number two began with drivers declaring their intentions with regard to the mandatory pit stop. Drivers that elected to stay on the track could get fuel only. Drivers entering the hot pits could make any adjustments they wanted, including changing tires. Perrego stayed on the track, while almost all others came into the pits. After his crew looked over the tires, Perrego chose to enter the pits, losing only a minute or two of worktime. The racers who stayed out got the preferred starting positions, while those that went into the hot pits lined up behind them according to running order. So, Fiesen and his cohorts got track position with tires only 14 laps old, while Perrego, Williamson, et al. were ninth on back, albeit with fresh tires.

“We had a plan going into the race, but we threw it out the window,” Williamson said. Because the car was hot handling properly, his team switched the front shocks and almost took the car out of the race. Perrego’s team came through for them in the pinch, though, and Williamson was able to rejoin the field for the second half. “We made the right calls,” Williamson said with a sigh of relief.

It only took Friesen six laps to take the lead. He began to stretch his advantage while Perrego, McLaughlin, Sheppard, and Williamson began their march to the front. Perrego reached second on lap 128, with Andy Bachetti sitting in third. He, like Friesen, opted for the earlier pit stop to gain track position. Then came McLaughlin, Sheppard, and WiIlliamson.

With Friesen and Perrego racing the high groove, Williamson moved forward by running about a car width off the inside fence. He reached third by lap 150. Sheppard was also moving forward, but he suddenly stopped on the track with 168 completed. He pitted for a pair of fresh rear tires. “I’m sure that the fresh tires helped,” he noted. “We had a tire going down so I pitted and put two new ones on.” Indeed, in the remaining laps, Sheppard had one of the fastest cars on the track, but he did not have enough time to catch Williamson and Friesen.

Friesen continued to lead Perrego, but they had another racer to contend with as the laps wound down. Williamson took second on lap 175 and the issues became whether and when he would make a move on Friesen.

It only took eleven more circuits for the fans to know. Williamson drove by the leader on lap 186. While Williamson did open up a several car length advantage, Friesen continued to flog the cushion in an effort to chase him down. Aided by a yellow on lap 194, Friesen did get his shot at the leader. However, Williamson held his line and rode home with the lucrative win.

“I tried to beat the heck out of it,” Friesen explained. “I was starting to come back before the last yellow. I may have been able to come back if we had some traffic. I think my tore cooled off and it didn’t come back after that last caution.”

At the finish, it was Willaimson over Friesen, Sheppard, Perrego, and Larry Wight. McLaughlin, Godown, Bachetti, Yankowski, and Billy Decker rounded out the top ten. Decker’s machine bore the battle scars of an early race skirmish, but it continued to function satisfactorily.

Just over half of the field completed all 200 laps.

Port Royal and STSS officials announced that the Modifieds would return in 2021, with a Spring race contemplated. No announcement was made whether the big Fall classic would be on the docket. That decision may await further developments as STSS boss Brett Deyo also promoted Fonda Speedway where the 2019 edition of the 200 was held. COVID limitations in the Empire State forced him to move the race to Port Royal.

Port Royal Speedway will hold its final race of the season on October 24. It will be the Ninth Annual Keystone RaceSaver Challenge for 305 Sprints. Limited Late Models and Mini Stocks will also be on the card. General admission will be a mere $5, as the speedway celebrates a fan appreciation day. Racing will start at 3 p.m.

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Hot Action in Heat Races at Port Royal

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PORT ROYAL, PA (October 16, 2020): Friday was qualifying night for the Short Track Super Series Modifieds and Sportsmen competing in the Speed Showcase. Five heats were contested in each division with five cars advancing to the respective features to be held on Saturday night. Each Big Block heat paid $750 to win, and each Sportsman heat was worth $200 to the victor.

Danny Bouc took the first 20 lapper for the Big Block Modifieds. He climbed from sixth on the grid to take the lead with 12 laps in the books. Australian pilot Peter Britten came across in second, with Anthony Perrego in third, and Richie Pratt, Jr. in fourth. Early leader Rick Laubach fell back to get the fifth and final transfer. “We seem to have these heat races figured out,” said Bouc. “This car was a real beast.”

Mike Gular captured the second heat race, taking the lead from Mike Maresca on lap nine. Maresca was in a late race battle with Stewart Friese for the second spot before Friesen retired with an engine problem. Maresca suffered a terminal engine failure just as he crossed the line in second. Third was Mike Mahaney. Tyler Dippel and J.R. Heffner completed the top five. Heffner started last on the grid but still made the big show. “We had a good car the last two nights,” Gular noted. “I’m glad we got the win.”

Three Rivers Karting

Billy Pauch, Jr. grabbed the lead with four laps down and went on to victory. Matt Sheppard chased him home. Although Pauch Jr. and Sheppard were locked into the 200 lapper based on their finishes on Thursday night, the were able to participate in the top ten redraw on Saturday. Getting third was Demitrios Drellos . Veteran Billy Van Pelt was fourth, and Jeff Strunk got fifth after starting last in this heat race. “We’ve ben really good all weekend,” Pauch Jr. said. His team brought out a different car than the one that he steered from 22nd to second on Thursday. He explained that this car had a new motor in it.

Erick Rudolph chased down new arrival Billy Dunn to grab a lead that he would not relinquish. Teenager Alex Yankowski crossed in second. Third went to Larry Wight. Dunn held off Jimmy Horton for the fourth spot. “We had the speed last night, but the luck was not on our side,” Rudolph said. He missed the Thursday A Main by one spot but he was not going to let that happen again.

The final heat for the Big Blocks went to Max McLaughlin over Mat Williamson. Ryan Godown took third, with Rocky Warner and Alan Johnson also making the cut. McLaughlin felt that he had to atone for his poor performance on Thursday. “I gave that one away,” he said. McLaughlin hit the wall and flattened a tire while running near the front of the field the night before. “I didn’t sleep at all after that,” he added.

Will Shields, Steve Davis, Justin Grosso, Tanner Van Doren, and Brian Krummel prevailed in the twelve lappers for the 602 Crate Sportsmen. Davis and Krummel were driving team cars sponsored by Ice Less, which was the title sponsor for the Saturday night 50 lapper. Van Doren was the youngest racer on the grounds this night. He drove a masterful race despite being too young to hold a valid driver’s license.

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Sheppard Starts Speed Showcase Weekend as Winner

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PORT ROYAL, PA (October 15, 2020): Matt Sheppard kicked off the Speed Showcase weekend at Port Royal Speedway with a dominant performance in the 40 lap feature for the Short Track Super Series Big Block Modifieds. His win locked him into the big dance on Saturday, along with Billy Pauch, Jr., Mike Mahaney, and Mat Williamson.

“I wasn’t liking all the cautions,” Sheppard commented. “I liked racing on the top, but not restarting on the top because you are at the mercy of the guys starting next to you. I was fortunate that they all raced me clean.” Although he had to endure several restarts in the first dozen laps of the contest, Sheppard and company reeled off the last 28 without any more interruptions.

Jojo Watson and Sheppard had the front row for the start of the A Main. Jeff Strunk and Danny Bouc were in row two, with Max McLaughlin and Josh Hohenforst in the third row. Rocky Warner and Mike Mahaney were paired up in row four, with Peter Britten and Mike Maresca in row five. The sixth row belonged to Richie Pratt, Jr. and Alex Yankowski.

Watson fired off first and took the early lead, with Sheppard and Bouc falling in behind him.
Sheppard was able to grab the advantage on a restart with three in the books. McLaughlin followed him into second. Watson began to fall back after that and he was the cause of a caution which occurred on lap seven.

Two more stoppages would occur before the racers settled into a long green flag run to the finish.

Three Rivers Karting

Before the final restart, Pauch Jr. had climbed from 22nd to eighth, but he wasn’t finished just yet. On that long green run, he passed six more cars to grab second. “We got going really good there,” he noted. “I couldn’t run with him,” he said while gesturing towards Sheppard who was still grinning for the photographers after the win. Pauch Jr. explained that be backed down an little too much, allowing Mahaney to make a run at him in the final laps.

Mahaney ran a consistent race to get the third position. “I don’t know if we nailed it, but it felt good to get locked in,” he remarked. Next came Williamson, who also started deep in the pack after winning one of the B Mains. “We can try something new in the heat tomorrow and if we can improve, OK, but if we don’t do so good it won’t hurt us,” Williamson explained.

Peter Britten was fifth, followed by Warner, Stewart Friesen, , Pratt, Bouc, and Ryan Godown.

Six heats were held, with the wins going to Yankowski, McLaughlin, Maresca, Sheppard, Hohenforst, and Bouc. The trio of B Mains belonged to Williamson, Friesen, and Billy Decker.

The 602 Crate Sportsmen, some 70 strong, participated in hot laps during the program.

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