Kirkendall Wins On Home Turf at Mahoning Valley by Jim Blacroch
Scores First Career RoC Modified Victory
Rick Kirkendall in victory lane (Jeff Martz Photo)
With temperatures soaring into the 90's, 30 DART Race of Champions Asphalt Modified teams towed to the 1⁄4-mile Mahoning Valley Speedway in Lehighton, Pa., near Allentown on Saturday. When the dust settled and the humidity started to go down, Rick Kirkendall of Lehighton, Pa., dubbed “the fightin' Lehighton” by track announcer and Public Relations representative Dino Oberto, stood tall in victory lane.
It was the first RoC victory for Kirkendall, his first victory at Mahoning since September 2005 and it was the 11th career triumph at the challenging speedplant.
Kirkendall inherited the lead when race-leader Eric Beers crashed out while racing his way through lapped traffic on lap 47, but then he had to race his way back to the lead and by Bobby Jones with just 11 circuits remaining.
“I'm speechless right now,” smiled Kirkendall in victory lane. “This win is incredible. We were having a tough night, but the guys kept working on it and here we are.”
The car that Kirkendall is racing is one that Zane Zeiner drove last season at Mountain Speedway.
“The guys have been working on this car pretty hard to get it perfect for here and tonight we had it pretty good for this track,” stated Kirkendall. “We had a rear end oil leak problem and I was ready to start scratch and pack it in, but the guys went to work and fixed that.”
“I definitely wish we had a few more laps,” laughed DeFebo following the event. “It would have been exciting.”
DeFebo continued. “The car that we ran tonight doesn't pick up a push the longer the race goes on like other cars do. I know we weren't very good at the beginning but the car remained consistent the longer we went on and I didn't lose the right front. I kept the rear from coming around and the car didn't get loose. It would have been one of those picture perfect nights had I won. Hopefully, we'll be able to go up to Wyoming County next week, I'm looking forward to that.”
Ricky Kluth, Don Wagner and Paul Skodacek rounded out the top-five.
Eric Beers posted the fast time with a 9.864 second lap, while Larry Fisher and Darren Scherer won the qualifying races. John Bennett captured the B-Main. The next event for the DART Race of Champions Asphalt Tour is this Saturday (June 14th) at the Wyoming County International Speedway in Perry, N.Y.
In the end, Kirkendall had to hold off a hard charging Brian DeFebo.
“I just drove the car for all it was worth, but it wasn't just right throughout the entire race,” explained Kirkendall with a smile. “I kept the car on the bottom and gave them the outside and we were still pretty quick, so they really had to work the outside to get by us.”
Beers was that quick, but his fate would be decided by lapped traffic as he entered turn one and was caught up in a wreck that involved Jarrod Nace and Jan Leaty.
“I didn't know I was leading when Eric (Beers) wrecked,” smiled Kirkendall. “But when they told me, I was pretty happy. You know tonight was just about experience racing here weekly as I knew the car wasn't just right, but I knew that if I held the bottom groove that I'd have an opportunity to win. I was the lucky one tonight and I'm more than happy to come out the winner tonight.
“You know once Bobby got by me I just kept driving for all it was worth. He seemed to pick up a push like I had earlier in the race when you out front and he just kept moving higher and higher up the racetrack. My tires came back to me and there was enough room for me to get under him and I took advantage of that. Don't get me wrong, I had a push as well but I didn't lay on the throttle until the car was a little straighter. This is definitely the best win of my career.”
The clean up process following the Nace, Leaty NS Beers incident helped in getting Kirkendall in stabilizing his racecar to go for the victory.
“Because it was such a long cleanup, we were able to run through some of the fluid on the race track, which helped me cool my tires down and get rid of the push I developed. That was definitely the break I needed to go back after the leaders, because I really didn't have enough for the leaders had we stayed under the green.”
Kirkendall was pushed across the line by Brian DeFebo.
Rick Kluth comes up big at Mahoning
Hilton, N.Y.'s, Rick Kluth has had his share of ups and downs in racing and Saturday night produced a significant upturn in the likeable Western New York racer's career. Kluth shocked himself by timing into the show with an 8th in time trials and backed it up in the race with a 3rd place finish.
“We definitely needed tonight,” smiled Kluth. “After our finish at Oswego, I'm pretty happy. I've had good cars here in the past, but I've never been able to finish well. Starting up front definitely helped. It's tough to come from the back here, only a couple of guys are really able to do it on a consistent basis and even Eric (Beers) tonight, who definitely had the fastest car, got caught up in somebody else's mess and he was leading.”
Kluth is a crafty individual, building cars on his own under the 2Kwik Chassis as well as being a parts distributor and racing the RoC Asphalt Tour.
“It can get pretty hectic,” laughs Kluth. “But I wouldn't want it any other way. We work hard to do this and I know that, but we also have to enjoy it. We've got some great guys like Steve Lynch and my crew that help us do this. My wife, Rachel, is a huge supporter. I really enjoy racing modifieds and I'm pretty happy to have a good night here at Mahoning. This place is pretty tough.”
Race of Champions DART Asphalt Tour Notes:
The fastest car in the house definitely did not win on Saturday night, although for sometime it looked as though Northampton, Pennsylvania's Eric Beers was going to drive away from everyone. Unfortunately for Beers the lap 47 incident changed his fortune and relegated him to a sixth place finish at the checkered after he restarted 14th.
“Man, we had a pretty good car in the feature,” explained Beers. “It's disappointing, but you lose a lot more races then you win and we still got back to sixth. I thought we might be able to salvage it, but we needed a couple of cautions. The outside and inside were pretty good for us. We could pass just about anywhere. I didn't quite understand why the lapped cars started racing quite as hard as they did when we got there, but they did and we can't change it now. I've got to thank Chad, Frosty and all of the guys for the good pit work to reset the toe during the caution. We'll take 6th and try again next week.”
Billy Putney turned in a steady performance to finish ninth.
“It's difficult to figure out exactly what the car wants here when you don't race here weekly,” offered Putney. “All of these guys on our team worked hard all day and it was so hot. I've got to thank them and we're going home in one piece. That's all that matters right now.”
Mike Quinn lost a motor in the final hot lap session ending his evening of racing. The hazy, hot, and humid day made it difficult in keeping racing engines and drivers cool.
The top four times from time trials received the five bonus points and the top 12 in times went directly into the feature redraw.
In housekeeping from the first show at Oswego Lee Sherwood had his name drawn on Saturday as the winner of the $1,500 set of Dart Heads.
Also from Oswego there was a change in the official finish as Ryan Preece and John Markovic were originally credited with 9th and 10th respectively. However after looking at the close finish between the two, Markovic was placed 9th and Preece 10th.
Zane Zeiner received this car from Matt Higgins on Friday and worked all day and night Friday to make the show.
RACE REPORT - RACE OF CHAMPIONS DART ASPHALT MODIFIED TOUR RACE TWO
MAHONING VALLEY SPEEDWAY
1.) Rick Kirkendall
2.) Brian DeFebo
3.) Rick Kluth
4.) Don Wagner
5.) Paul Skodacek
6.) Eric Beers
7.) Jim Storace
8.) Bobby Jones
9.) Billy Putney
10.) Daren Scherer
11.) Pete Brittain
12.) Tommy Farrell, III
13.) Don Dreher
14.) John Markovic
15.) Todd Smith
16.) Jason Bair
17.) John Bennett
18.) Chip Santee
19.) Lou Strohl
20.) Stacy Brown
21.) Larry Fisher
22.) Rusty Smith
23.) Jarred Nace
24.) Jan Leaty
25.) Zane Zeiner
26.) Kevin Brown
DNQ'S; Keith Mellars, Matt Clemens, Todd Baer, Mike Quinn
LAP LEADERS; Skodacek ( 1 - 3 ), Kirkendall ( 4 - 20 ), Beers ( 21 - 47 ), Jones ( 48 - 63 ), Kirkendall ( 64 - 75 )
DART MACHINERY AWARD $1,500 SET OF HEADS; Fisher
GATER RACING NEWS DRIVER BONUS DRAW $500; Bair
HOOSIER RACING TIRE HARD CHARGER AWARD; DeFebo ( 15th to 2nd )
HOOSIER RACING TIRE HARD LUCK AWARD; Nace ( 4th to 23rd )
NEXT RoC EVENT; Saturday June 14th Wyoming County International Speedway 75 laps $2,800 to win
Eric Beers (#9) gets caught in an early mess while leading. (Jeff Martz Photo)