What does Late Model star Rick Eckert do for fun when he’s got some time off from the World of Outlaws tour? He makes a 90-minute drive to Kutztown’s JeffreyHogueRealtor.com Action Track USA and, pretty darn often, goes back home to York, Pa. as the winner of the Sunoco USAC Championship SpeedSTR main event.
On Wednesday, July 24, Eckert picked up his third feature win of the season, earning another $2,000 paycheck from race organizers Rich Tobias and Doug Rose.
“That was a heckuva race; the track had a bottom and a top groove, and you can’t ask for more than that,” stated the winner in his victory lane interview.
Kenny Brightbill started the 30-lapper from the outside of the front row, alongside polesitter Brian Montieth. Brightbill throttled into the early lead as he and Montieth raced side by side in the corners and Brightbill edged ahead on the straightaways.
Jeff Strunk moved past Montieth and into the runner-up spot, challenging Brightbill for a few circuits until the No. 19 began to stretch his advantage.
Sixth-starting Rick Eckert was threading his way forward, moving into third as the race, plagued by numerous caution periods, reached its one-third mark. Suddenly, with 12-laps in the books, Brightbill slowed with mechanical ills in turn two. He was forced to retire at that point, handing the lead over to Strunk.
Driving the BPG No. 88D, Strunk’s time at the head of the pack did not last very long, as Eckert floored his No. 24 past the Pottstown resident as the duo exited turn four on the 14th trip around the oval.
Once in front, Eckert separated himself from Strunk, who ran alone in second. The major battle, during the event’s second half, was contested for the third position between Billy Pauch Sr., Chuck Schutz, and Brandon Rahmer. The trio swapped third, fourth, and fifth positions and ran three-wide on occasion as they scuffled during the closing stages of the race. Rahmer eventually claimed the spot, with Schutz relegating Pauch Sr. to fifth...just in front of his son, Billy Jr.
Eckert zipped under the checkered flag with a comfortable margin over Strunk, who notched his second consecutive runner-up finish at Action Track USA.
Brandon Rahmer wound up third, with Schutz and the Pauch boys - father, then son - completing the top six finishers.
With Pauch Jr. placing sixth in the final rundown, and Brightbill’s DNF putting him 13th in the finishing order, the younger Pauch became the point leader over the talent-laden SpeedSTR field that assembles at the Action Track each Wednesday. Pauch Jr. now leads Brightbill by a slim margin of five points as the season at the Kutztown Fairgrounds enters its stretch run.
Maybe the sixth position was the key starting spot in the night’s first two main events, as Jay Hartman took the initial green in the Pioneer Pole Building Wingless 600cc Micro-Sprint feature from the outside of row three. And just like Eckert in the SpeedSTR race, Hartman sliced his way to the front.
And it didn’t take long for the Flagtown, NJ ace to grab the top spot, as he gassed his Pete’s CARSTAR No. 24/ Hyper into the lead by passing Molly Chambers on the third revolution around the progressively banked oval. But it wasn’t going to be easy for the current 600cc point leader to earn his second triumph of the season...Billy Pauch Jr. made certain of that.
“I wasn’t coming off the bottom, I can tell you that,” smiled Hartman afterward. “I knew he was up there, and if he passed me on the outside, then so be it. But I wasn’t giving up the bottom lane.”
Running as low as he possibly could, the younger brother of three-time and defending track champion Jeff Hartman kept pace with Pauch by taking the shortest route around the clay, while Pauch Jr., in Lamar Shaffer’s No. 91s, rode the cushion lap after entertaining lap.
Pauch Jr. had his nose in front of Hartman as they completed the 21st tour of the 30-lap main event, but he couldn’t clear the No. 24. Jay Hartman then utilized a lapped car to his advantage, pinning Pauch behind the car of Ryan Neil as they accelerated off turn two. That turned out to be the golden opportunity that Hartman needed to pull away from his challenger, and he used the unexpected benefit to win by almost a half-second over Pauch.
“A few weeks ago, it was a lapped car that got me and cost me a shot to win,” noted Hartman in Savage61.com Victory Lane. “Tonight, the lapped car worked in my favor. That’s racing, I guess.”
Pauch Jr. told the crowd that he’d given it everything he had left after the 600cc headliner immediately followed the 30-lapper for the SpeedSTR’s. “The driver gave it away,” he said of himself. “My arms were jello...I was just hanging on at the end. Tell you what, though...the racing here is awesome, and all these people who come out here every week are seeing the best racing they’ll see anywhere,” exclaimed Pauch as the spectators roared their approval and agreement.
The final few, furious laps saw a three-car tango for third, much as in the SpeedSTR main. Tim Buckwalter, James Morris, and 11th-starting Brian Carber blasted around the banking in three-wide fashion, with Carber rolling the top groove to the third place effort when the checkered flag waved.
Morris ended up fourth, just ahead of Buckwalter.
Jay Hartman now leads Carber by 109 points, with Kyle Lick - who dropped out of Wednesday’s race while running inside the top ten - trailing Carber by another 39 tallies.
The winged 270cc Micro-Sprint feature had a female flair, with sisters Cheyanne and Harlee Schaffer, from Slatington, lining up side by side on the front row.
Cheyanne bolted to the lead as the 30-lapper went green; Harlee chased her sibling but lost ground as the race went clean and green. As Cheyanne caught and had to deal with the cars in the back of the field, Harlee began to reel in her sister. Ross Perchak, who started fifth, had moved to third in the early going, but had no success in tracking down the “sister act” in front of him.
With less than nine laps remaining, Harlee Schaffer ducked under Cheyanne on the backstretch and charged into the lead. A lap or so later, Perchak made the pass for second, but Harlee had already checked out. And then it happened...
The first yellow of the event occurred with five to go, placing Perchak on the rear bumper of Schaffer’s No. 95s for the restart. When the green reappeared, Perchak got sideways in the first turn, and several cars running right behind him got stacked up, including two-time winner and point leader Jarid Kunkle, who spun.
Harlee Schaffer got away from Perchak again as the race went back to green, rocketing to her first win as Perchak settled for runner-up honors. Cheyanne Schaffer held on for third with Bobby Butler and Kunkle making up the top five.
Ray Nemeth led from the pole as the NAPA Auto Parts All Star Slingshot feature went green. Dylan Hoch motored into the runner-up spot and Mark Sensenig, who’d won the previous two races, moved to third.
Sensenig clipped an infield tire marker and spun, but managed to keep going without stopping as the 20-lapper stayed green. Kyle Gruber, who rolled off the starting grid from the inside of row three, seized the opportunity (when Sensenig spun) to grab second as the Slingers went ten circuits before the initial caution period slowed the pace.
Four laps after the restart, Jonestown’s Gruber muscled his way inside of Nemeth on the back chute, then surged ahead as the pair blasted off turn four.
Travis Bieber moved into the runner-up spot with five to go and, while he stayed close to the leader, it was Gruber who crossed the stripe first, beating Bieber to the line by 0.171-seconds.
Hoch ran third, lost the position to point leader Larry Raifsnider, then wrestled it back at the end in an impressive run for the teen from Mertztown, Pa.
Raifsnider had to be satisfied with fourth, while Danny Buccafusca took fifth-place money.