(Mercer, PA April 15, 2017): Dave Hess, Jr., the veteran from Waterford, PA, romped to the victory for the United Late Model Series opener at Mercer Raceway Park.
Darin Gallagher grabbed the win in the Bonnell's Rod Shop 305 Sprints. Jimmy Holden was the first racer to double up in the 2017 season, taking the laurels in the Turn 4 Toilets 358 Modifieds. The nightcap for the Open Stocks went to Brent Johnson.
Hess, who became the hired gun for the Terry Suppa Late Model team, thought that things would be easy tonight. "We got to the lead pretty quick. The car was really good the first ten laps, I thought that I was going to lap the field," he said with a laugh. But as the race went on, Hess' tires started to fade, and he saw the nose of challenger Russell King. "But, we got that caution there, and we were able to cool the tires down a little bit, and I was able to hold them off."
Hess has adapted to the Rayburn chassis that Suppa prefers. "I only drove Rockets," Hess said.
"But, this is pretty much their job now, I couldn't keep up with all the stuff we had to do all the time, and we were starting to get behind." Hess explained that was when Suppa approached him to take the wheel.
Brent Rhebergen led Dave Hess to the green flag for the thirty lapper, with Doug Eck, and Mike Pegher, Jr. close behind. Rhebergen maintained the lead for the first several laps, but the real action was the battle between Hess and Pegher for the second position. There were three interruptions in the early going, with several top cars getting dinged or worse. Russell King was able to continue in position, but Mike Pegher, Jr. was one of the unfortunate victims sent to the rear for his involvement in a skirmish.
The race went green again with four laps completed, and that was almost problematical for Hess. "We went soft on tires, and the long runs were really difficult," Hess explained. "We were slowing down, and they were coming, and that caution really helped." Hess was referring to a stoppage that occurred with 23 laps completed. Second place runner Russell King, who had chopped away at the massive lead Hess had, tangled with a lapped car of Kyle Knapp coming through turn four. Both cars were damaged, and King's car was towed from turn one, where it came to a halt. King was disqualified for his display of anger toward Knapp who drove by slowly under caution.
Hess had the point, of course, but now Alex Ferree was on the inside of row two for the Delaware double file restart, with Rhebergen on his right. Hess got away cleanly and opened up a three car length lead, which he maintained to the checkers.
Hess scored the win, with Ferree, Damian Bidwell, Rhebergen, and Gregg Oakes completing the top five. Bob Dorman fought off Ken Schaltenbrand for sixth. Skip Lindemuth crossed in seventh, with Dough Eck and Brayton Santee next.
The evening's fastest qualifier was Mike Pegher, Jr., who topped Group C with a lap of 16.774 seconds. King and Hess were tops in Groups A and B, respectively. Heat winners were King, Max Blair, and Pegher.
Will Flemming had the pole, with Darin Gallagher next to him for the Bonnell's Rod Shop 305 Sprint feature. Gregg McCandless was in row two, along with last week's winner, Andy Priest.
Flemming led the way, with Gallagher biding his time in second. Gallagher drove by the divisional rookie on lap 16 and led the rest of the way. Andy Priest overcame mechanical problems earlier in the night to take second. Flemming was third, followed by McCandless, Nevon O'Donnell, and Jeremy Kornbau.
Gallagher was the evening's fastest qualifier at 15.373 seconds. McCandless won the heat.
Richard Whitney and Jimmy Holden had the front row of the Turn 4 Toilets 358 Modifieds, with Lonnie Riggs and Frankie Guidace in row two, so it did not take long for the cream to rise to the top. Holden led from the drop of the green and fought off Riggs for most of the fist half of the race. However, as the event went on, Holden's lead grew. He had more than a three second advantage at the checkers.
Riggs held off Guidace, who debuted a new paint scheme and number for this event. His immaculate black number 3, with bright orange numbers, was quite impressive. Next across the line was Sid Unverzagt, Jr., who is still cleaning burned motor oil from the sides of his machine after blowing an engine in a spectacular fire ball last week. Whitney held on for the fifth position.
Kevin Green, Clyde Gump, Jerry Bowser, and Cory Riffe were the remaining finishers.
Holden was the fastest qualifier at 17.268 seconds. Guidace was the heat winner.
Fuzzy Fields and Rusty Martz Had the front row for the Open Stocks, with Leigh Wheeler and Brent Johnson in row two, and Rob Shook and Chris Scnieder in row three.
Martz too the early lead, but was fighting with Fields and Johnson for position. Martz surrendered the lead while the field was circulating under caution, handing the point over to Johnson. Martz returned to the race, and was working his way back into the top five when misfortune struck again.
While Johnson was leading over Fields, Tim Bish and Schneider, Martz was battling Shook for position. The two tangled coming off turn four and Martz, who won the opening event for this class, retired from action.
Johnson maintained his advantage to the finish. Fields was not so fortunate, as he started to fade in the final laps. That moved Bish up to the second position, ahead of Schneider, Bruce Hartzfeld, and Fields. Sixth was late arrival Jackson Humanic. Hunter Exley, Troy Norman, Pat Fielding, and Richard Chess, Sr. completed the top ten
Schneider was the top qualifier, turning in a lap of 18.450 seconds. Heat victories belonged to Bish, Shook, and Johnson.
Next week, Saturday Night Live! racing will return to Mercer Raceway Park. The Precise Racing Products Sprint Cars will have their first points race of the season, along with the Rock Concrete Supply Modified Lites, and Roay's Racing Collectibles/Eperthener's Auto Wrecking Mini Stocks. The Turn 4 Toilets 358 Modifieds and Bonnell's Rod Shop 305 Sprints will get their second chances to score points toward the seasonal championship.
ULMS Late Models: Dave Hess, Jr., Alex Ferree, Damian Bidwell, Brent Rhebergen, Gregg Oakes, Bob Dorman, Ken Schaltenbrand, Skip Lindemuth, Dough Eck, Brayton Santee, Kyle Knapp, John Weaver, Bobby Rohrer, Mike Pegher, Jr., Keith Barbara, Tommy Beck, Charlie Powell, Matt Lux, Billy Dixon, Levi Sikora, Matt Latta (DNS), Max Blair (DNS), Russell King (DQ).
Bonnell's Rod Shop 305 Sprints: Darin Gallagher, Andy Priest, Will Flemming, Gregg McCandless, Nevon O'Donnell, Jeremy Kornbau.
Turn 4 Toilets 358 Modifieds: Jimmy Holden, Lonnie Riggs, Frank Guidace, Sid Unverzagt, Jr., Rich Whitney, Kevin Green, Clyde Gump, Jerry Bowser, Cory Riffe.
Open Stocks: Brent Johnson, Tim Bish, Chris Schneider, Bruce Hartzfeld, Fuzzy Fields, Jackson Humanic, Hunter Exley, Troy Norman, Pat Fielding, Richard Chess, Sr., Rob Shook, Rusty Martz, Andy Buckley, Randy Wyant, Richard Chess, Terry Wheeler, Bill Phillips, Jessie Brock, Leigh Wheeler, Curtis Bish, Russ Byler (DNS), Charlie McMillen (DNS).