Who ever said you need to go to North Carolina’s Bowman Grey Stadium to be a part of Madhouse apparently has never been to a race at Lehighton’s Mahoning Valley Speedway as Saturday night was yet another typical evening of high tension racing at the paved quarter mile.
As always there was plenty action and drama amongst the racers and coupled with the fanatical fans it’s no wonder Mahoning provides that same level of theatrics that helped make Madhouse so popular.
In a crowd pleasing duel, Don Wagner and Lonnie Behler went head-to head with each other in a hard-nosed battle that ended five laps shy of the checkered flag after they collided while battling fiercely for the win.
Then it was Tyler Haydt who inherited the top spot and had to fend off non other then track kingpin John Bennett en route to his second win in just four starts.
At the outset of the 35-lapper pole sitter Jarred Nace took the lead and had Wagner on his tail. Wagner was charging in a hurry and blew past Nace at the completion of lap five. He was then followed by Haydt and Behler.
Some breathtaking side-by-side action was going on between Haydt and Behler while keeping within inches of Wagner.
Following a lap 11 restart, the trio again began to pounce on each other with Behler finally breaking free from Haydt on lap 16. He and Wagner then put a bit of distance on the rest of the pack and all the while kept a nearly two-wide formation.
After various laps of running to the outside of Wagner, Behler was able to spring out to the lead on lap 30 and his first win in a Modified seemed certain. Unfortunately his stay at the front would not last beyond turn two as Wagner pinched him with his right front and sent Behler spinning.
Both drivers where then signaled to the rear of the pack, however, Behler called it a night and went pit side.
Haydt was now the front man but just as he did in two of his three previous ’10 starts, he was facing off with Bennett. Despite a few late cautions, Haydt wasn’t giving in and drove to his second win of the season.
“It feels good but this one wasn’t our race, we weren’t the best car this week but it just worked out for us the way the cards were dealt,” said 25-year Haydt from Kunkletown.
Haydt was right in the path of the leaders when they touched and somehow squeaked by the incident.
“I saw a lot of smoke and I saw Lonnie (Behler) come spinning down. I ripped it sideways as good as I could and stood on it and tried to get by before he came down and I’ll tell you what, we just missed it.”
Haydt knew that his night was far from over as he had Bennett behind him for the final few laps.
“You always are going to have to beat John Bennett at this place. Everything is really going good right now and hopefully we can keep it that way,” said Haydt.
Bennett was more lucky than good tonight as he came very close to losing his point lead had Wagner not tangled with Behler. Instead he was able to take his runner up finish and earn much needed championship markers.
“The track was a little different than it normally is and that kind of caught us off guard. The car was real loose the whole time,” said Bennett.
“It was unfortunate for Donny (Wagner) and Lonnie (Behler). They got tangled up and had to go to the rear. We’ll take a second place out of it though. Sometimes you can’t be good and you have to be lucky. I think Tyler (Haydt) and I where about event near the end and he just happened to be out ahead of me.”
Chip Santee, Lou Strohl and Brain DeFebo rounded out the top five.
14-year old Austin Kochenash of Danielsville picked up his division leading fourth Late Model win of the season in a drive that had plenty of heart and determination.
Earlier in the week his grandfather, 1972 Mahoning Modified champion Roger Heffelfinger, Sr., suffered a heart attack and had to have emergency open heart surgery. He is now on the mend at Lehigh Valley Medical Center in Allentown.
Prior to the races Kochenash vowed to his ‘Pap’ that he would bring home a win. Happy Father’s Day Pap.
Kochenash took advantage of a lap seven restart to hone in on leader Paul Koehler, Jr. who had a commanding run going to that point.
With the action back underway Koehler had not only Kochenash but last week’s winner Shawn Sitarchyk all over him. Working the inside of Sitarchyk, Kochenash disposed of him by midrace and was then trying the same route to get past Koehler.
With that lane well protected, he then made the adjustment to the high groove and with two laps to go stuck his nose into the lead.
As the pair raced off turn two and Kochenash still on the outside, Koehler attempted to force him even higher but the young lion held his line and went on to score the popular win while the crafty veteran lost his handle and went into a spin.
“This win was for Pap. I told him that I was going to come out tonight and get one for him. Paul “Koehler” is one of the best drivers in a Late Model here at Mahoning and when you can beat him you beat one of the best. I raced him clean and he made me earn this,” said Kochenash.
With his runner-up tally, Sitarchyk cut the gap between him and point leader Koehler to eight
Steve Hoffman of Lehighton has been amongst the fast pack all season and in the make-up Street Stock feature from May 29 he proved that and more by scoring his first win of the year in a solid performance.
Starting third, Hoffman worked the outside line to perfection in taking the lead away from Eric Danyluk on lap five. Afterwards he was untouchable the rest of the way. For Hoffman it was only his second Mahoning win, his first coming in May, 2008.
Danyluk held off Steve Steigerwalt by a narrow margin with Joe Mooney and Kristy Morone Arthofer completing the tightly bunched top five.
In the regular scheduled main pole sitter Josh Mooney of Lehighton stayed out front the entire distance and grabbed his first win of the season.
The win was a big boost for the likeable Mooney who had been suffering through a slew of hard luck runs. Mooney become the ninth different winner in 10 events thus far.
Steven Steigerwalt got second with Adam Santee notching a career best third. Veterans Randy Ahner, Jr., and Todd Ahner completed the top five.
The rear spoilers came off the Pro4 Late Models prior to the start of the feature to better enhance the field and it did make a difference when the action got underway as Jeremy Miller led nicely as others shuffled while readjusting to the new feel.
But, after all was said and done it was a familiar name in Victory Lane as Lehighton’s Kevin Graver, Jr., notched his third victory of the season.
Graver raced side-by-side with Miller until lap seven when he slipped to the low line and made his race winning pass.
In the Dirt Mods Randy Thomas of Palmerton picked up his second straight and fourth overall win of the season.
Thomas used the win as a tune-up for the following day’s inaugural dirt modified Dirt Modified Fast 50 event at New Jersey Motor Sports Park where his Mahoning asphalt experience could pay off nicely.
Bob Wagner of Rockaway, NJ remains undefeated in Micro Stock action this season. Starting second, Wagner out-dueled Pete Bayles for the opening lap lead and then held off John Rakos for his third victory in as many starts.