Mike Luberda was one of the first to arrive at Flat Rock Speedway Saturday afternoon. Luberda hurried through the gates and up to the edge of the speedway as track personnel started moving equipment in place for the 2nd Annual Moran Chevrolet/Stan Yee Memorial 150, his memories going back to the one and only time he visited the track, back in the mid-1970's with his father, Mike Sr., for one of the Wednesday night Michigan Speedway Promoter's Association Late Model shows.
Mike's second memory of Flat Rock Speedway will be a great one, as the AuGres, MI speedster set fast time and held off a great, great run by Eric Lee to win the 150 lap contest for the ARCA Moran Chevrolet/Miller Lite Late Models. The event was also leg number 2 of the Hantz Group/Allegiant Air Gold Cup Series, a group of 5 races between Flat Rock and Toledo Speedways. Pat Moran of Moran Chevrolet and Ann Yee, Stan's widow, presented Mike with the 5 foot trophy in victory lane.
An incredible 42 car field made the trip to Flat Rock on the best Saturday night weather of the season. A large crowd witnessed history in many aspects at the ¼ mile paved oval, beginning with Luberda's fabulous win in his first-ever race at "The Rock", the glowing tributes in memory of Stan Yee Sr., and the appreciation showed to perhaps the finest pavement Late Model short track heroes of the 1970's, all on hand for the biggest race of the season at the track.
With Joe Ruttman in the yellow #33, Stan Sr.'s trademark, the clock rolled back for just a little bit as the heroes of the 1960's and 1970's, along with Stan's former drivers, all paid tribute to Yee, who passed away in May of 2008. Joy Fair, Danny Byrd, Fran Harden, Harold Cook, Bud Pingston, Artie Sommers, Rick Knowles and Chuck Roumell all spoke to the crowd in ceremonies prior to the start of the 150. Stan's last 2 drivers, Steve Lee and Stan's son, Stan Jr., were in the pit area getting ready for the event. Marv Parenteau, one of Yee's first drivers, had prior commitments and could not attend. Hero cards, capturing each of Stan's retired drivers, were handed out to the first 1000 fans through the front gates.
With an ultra-competitive field on hand, time trials became an event of huge importance. Luberda, impressive right out of the box, ripped off a lap of 11:611 to edge Lee (11:620) to win the $333 Diamond Racing Products Fast Time Award. 24 cars were in the 11 second bracket. The top 16 were locked in, with the Gold Cup point provisional to Bill Litogot and the Flat Rock point provisional starting spot to Ron Allen.
12 cars lined up for a pair of 20 lap last-chance races, with the top 3 in each filling out the 24 car starting field. Steve Cronenwett Sr., in his first run in several seasons, took race number 1 over Jared Alllison, Jimmy Thiel, Brian Norton, Stan Yee Jr., Dave Stehouwer, Jay Sommers, Kevin Butzin, Donald Burkhart, Jason Burkhart, Tom O'Leary IV and Royce Cornett. Race number 2 was led by Brent Jack over Jeff MacZink, Joe Ruttman, Rick Sheppard, Joe Hawes, George Rangel, Keith Nelson, Steve Peters, Jeff Bailey, Chris Burkhart, Larry Smouthers and Dan Trosen Jr.
With an inversion of 12, front row starters Dave Kuhlman and Mike Root led the field to the green. Trouble sat in before the cars rolled as defending race winner Justin Schroeder encountered ignition trouble. His crew went to work and Justin joined the field at the tail end, but lasted only a few laps.
After Ann Yee gave the command to start the engines, Kuhlman darted into the lead at the green. The 4-time Flat Rock king, in his first start of 2009, looked strong out front as great racing through the pack was the norm for the entire 150 laps. First-time visitor Chad Finley was on the move early, getting to fourth in the first 10 laps. At the lap 35 mark, Steve Cronenwett Jr. and Eric Lee began to make their move to the front. A lap 41 yellow for a spin by Litogot and MacZink bunched the field, with the order reading Kuhlman, Cronenwett Jr., Root, Harold Fair Jr., Kargel, Luberda, Finley and Lee. By lap 54, Fair Jr. started his march to the front, getting to third spot with just under 100 laps to go. The third yellow came out on lap 66 when Cronenwett Sr. and Vanderhoof spun. Fair Jr. got into the back of a car while trying to check up, causing enough damage to his car to end his bid for victory. Kuhlman maintained his gap, with Luberda up to fourth with Lee hot on his trail in fifth at the half-way mark. Meanwhile, Ruttman, driving the famed #33 Yee car, had put on a sensational run, staying on the lead lap and moving from 23rd to 11th spot at the lap 75 mark. Ruttman's night ended, however, soon after as the 64 year veteran retired to the infield with mechanical woes. On the lap 83 re-start, Luberda, up to third, darted under Cronenwett Jr. for second and set sail for Kuhlman, reeling him in and passing him to take the lead on lap 98. Only 2 more yellows would appear in the final 52 laps, but Lee was on the charge and set his sights on Luberda. The pair ran together for the final 20 laps, and lapped traffic came into play in the final 3 circuits. A patient Luberda held his ground behind the lapped cars and Lee took a couple looks both high and low in his bid for the win. At the white, Lee powered up high on the back chute and shot down the track entering turn 4. Mike stayed in the high lane and nipped Lee by less than a car length for the immensely popular victory as the crowd stood and cheered. Root got by Kuhlman on lap 145 to take third in his initial Flat Rock race, Kuhlman was fourth and Dennis Strickland just got by Paul Pelletier in the final 2 laps to take fifth. Pelletier, in a new machine, was sixth, followed by Dave Sensiba (also in his first race at Flat Rock), Chad Finley, Ron Allen and Cronenwett Jr., the top ten cars, all on the lead lap. The race took just under 1 hour.
Allison, Benson, Thiel, MacZink, first-timer Justin May, Jack, Dick Barker, Kargel, Ruttman, Cronenwett Sr., Fair Jr., Vanderhoof, Litogot and Schroeder completed the finish of the 24 car field. A jubilant and humble Luberda paid tribute to Yee Sr., his fellow competitors and to the large crowd, thanking everyone "for the opportunity to be a part of this race. I am very honored to be here and to be able to race in front of you fans on this neat little race track and with this great field of drivers. Thank you to everyone."
The night also included the ARCA Figure 8's and Street Stocks for full shows. Dennis Strickland jumped into Danny Slater's #3 and held back the last-lap pressure of Derek Wiley to win the 25 lap Street Stock A Main contest. While Dennis held the point, Dan Ford Jr. battled with Wiley for second. With 2 to go, Wiley made his move, got by Ford and came up just short at the stripe, coming home in the runner-up spot. Ford Jr. was third, Scott Selmi fourth and Randy Cornett fifth, followed by Tim Moore, Randy DeMaggio, Jeff Kurzyniec, Dave Tanner and Clyde McKee. James Rae edged Chris Diovardi and Rich Abel to take the victory in the 15 lap B Main. Carl Dickey, Chris Webber, Anthony Camilli, Billy Cronce, Jim Stocker, Kyle Metdepenningen and Jason Chastain were next in line. Ford Jr. led the 37 car field in time trials with a lap of 13:431, with Rae leading the B cars at 14:163. Heat race wins went to Cornett, Arnold Kirsch, Ben Harris, Michael Phillips and Dickey.
Dennis Whisman scored his first win of 2009, taking the lead from Gary Cronenwett on lap 5 and keeping a solid lead over Jeremy Miller to win the 20 lap ARCA Figure 8 contest. Greg Studt was third, Billy Earley fourth and Jeremy Vanderhoof fifth. Cronenwett, Loving, Anthony Terris, Scott Apperson and Chuck Pankow completed the top ten finishers. Loving set the Loving Auto Care fast time at 20:660. Terris and Miller captured the heat races.
Flat Rock Speedway will celebrate the 4th of July holiday next Saturday night with a 250 lap Enduro race, the ARCA 4 Cylinders, the MCR Dwarf Cars and the first ever Boat Figure 8 race at the track. Race cars will tow boats on trailers using the Figure 8 course! The pits open at 3:30, practice begins at 5, time trials are at 6 and racing begins at 7 p.m.
Coming up Saturday July 11 is the annual Miller Lite Triple 50's and the famous Flat Rock Speedway Fireworks display! The Late Models, Figure 8's and Street Stocks return to action, with 50 lap features for each division on tap. The night concludes with the Volcano Fireworks Company fireworks show.