Story By: ERNIE SAXTON / GRANDVIEW SPEEDWAY – BECHTELSVILLE, PA – Mother Nature finally cooperated with the racing community on Saturday night and produced beautiful weather and the 56th racing season at Grandview Speedway got underway in front of a very large turnout of fans. Close to 50 small and big block Modifieds lined the pits to participate in the events leading up to the first annual Bruce Rogers Memorial Money Maker 50-lap race sponsored by VP Racing Fuels. The race was run in honor of the late Bruce Rogers, who passed away last March. Bruce, along with his father Forrest, built the track close to 60 years ago.
Three laps shy of a victory in the prestigious memorial event, Stewart Friesen wrestled the lead away from Mike Gular as the front runners had to deal with lapped traffic. Friesen held on and went on to collect the $7,500 top prize money along with beautiful hardware signifying the victory. In 2014 Friesen, now a regular in NASCAR Camping World Truck Series competition, won the season opener along with the rich Freedom 76 Classic.
Kevin Hirthler, doing double duty in the Modified and Sportsman divisions, took the lead when leader Ryan Lilick dropped out of action and chalked up the victory in the 25-lap Sportsman feature.
Through a heads-up draw, Don Norris Jr., returning to action after a year hiatus, started on the pole in the 50-lap Memorial feature, but it was second-place starter Tim Buckwalter that took the early lead and Gular followed through for second.
Buckwalter and Gular were bumper to bumper for several laps while back further Norris Jr., Friesen and Jordan Henn diced for positions.
Gular dove underneath Buckwalter for the lead along the homestretch on the 12th lap and heading down the backstretch Buckwalter pulled into the infield out of contention.
With 15 laps in the books Gular, Norris Jr., Friesen, Craig Von Dohren and Matt Sheppard, the third, first, fourth, 12th and sixth-place starters continued to hold down one through five as they encountered slower moving traffic that were also racing for positions.
Kevin Hirthler, who had just broken into the top ten, spun in the fourth turn on the 22nd lap and went pit side. Gular held his line on the restart, but Friesen was right there leaving him no room to slip-up and Friesen knew Von Dohren was pressuring him too.
Sheppard’s solid fourth place run ended on the 24th lap with a right rear flat tire. After a pit stop he rejoined the pack, but was only able to get back to 11th until the end.
At the half-way marker Gular, Friesen and Von Dohren, who all ran the top lane; Watt and Frank Cozze completed the top five.
In the final stages of the event, lap cars hampered the front runners and Friesen had a full head of steam built up even though he abused his tires and was coming on strong as it appeared Gular was having problems getting through turns one and two.
On the 47th lap, three short of a victory for Gular, Friesen passed him. Gular didn’t surrender easily and tried to regain the top spot.
Friesen continued his pace and pulled into the winner’s circle for his third win at the oval followed by Gular, Von Dohren, Watt and Cozze. Rounding out the top ten were Duane Howard, Meme DeSantis, Rick Laubach, Billy Pauch Sr. and Mike Mahaney.
Heats were won by Jordan Henn, Brett Kressley, Sheppard and Von Dohren. Jared Umbenhauer and Laubach won the consolation events.
Jeff Strunk and Doug Manmiller, two of the top favorites, failed to qualify for the prestigious event.
Polesitter Ryan Lilick took the early lead after a complete restart in the Sportsman feature with Jesse Landis, Brad Grim and brothers Brian and Kevin Hirthler, both doing double duty in pursuit.
Grim led the sixth lap, but that was short-lived as Lilick was back in front the next time by.
Lilick’s misfortune when his car broke on the 11th lap was beneficial to K. Hirthler when he now inherited the lead.
Grim made several runs on K. Hirthler, but each one fell short as the lead remained the same while B. Hirthler, Dylan Swinehart and Jim Housworth were in the wings hoping for one of them to falter.
K. Hirthler never surrendered the lead and scored his first win in the division followed by Grim, B. Hirthler, Swinehart and Mark Kemmerer, Kevin’s teammate for the night. Housworth, Jack Butler, Mike Lisowski, Ryan Higgs and Kurt Beitler rounded out the top ten.
Lilick, Landis and B. Hirthler won the heats. The consi was won by Brad Arnold.
The official season of TP Trailers NASCAR Modifieds, Late Models and Sportsman will kick off on Saturday, April 21 all getting underway at 7:00 p.m. An added attraction will be the Blast from the Past Vintage Racers. Spectator gates will open at 5 p.m.
VP RACING FUELS Bruce Rogers Memorial Money Maker (50-Laps): 1. Stewart Friesen, 2. Mike Gular, 3. Craig Von Dohren, 4. Ryan Watt, 5. Frank Cozze, 6. Duane Howard, 7. Meme DeSantis, 8. Rick Laubach, 9. Billy Pauch, 10. Mike Mahaney, 11. Matt Sheppard, 12. Jordan Henn, 13. Kyle Weiss, 14. Brett Kressley, 15. Louden Reimert, 16. Don Norris Jr., 17. Kevin Hirthler, 18. Justin Grim, 19. Mike Lisowski, 20. Tim Buckwalter, 21. Brian Hirthler, 22. Kenny Gilmore, 23. Jordan Umbenhauer, 24. Ryan Grim. DNQ: Danny Erb, Ron Myers, Ray Swinehart, Dan Waisempacher, Bobby Gunther-Walsh, Brett Gilmore, Chris Esposito, Joe Fanelli, Mark Kratz, Jeff Strunk, Mike Kellner, Bobby Trapper, John Willman, Tommy Scheetz, Brian Krummel, Chris Gambler, Clay Butler, Doug Manmiller, Steve Swinehart, Eric Biehn, Briggs Danner, Bobby Trapper Jr., Ron Kline.
Sportsman Feature (25 Laps): 1. Kevin Hirthler, 2. Brad Grim, 3. Brian Hirthler, 4. Dylan Swinehart, 5. Mark Kemmerer, 6. Jim Housworth, 7. Jack Butler, 8. Mike Lisowski, 9. Ryan Higgs, 10. Kurt BeItler, 11. Kenny Bock, 12. Dennis Smith, 13. John McGovern, 14. Andy Kemmerer, 15. Joe Funk III, 16. Jesse Landis, 17. Brad Arnold, 18. Lex Shive, 19. Craig Whitmoyer, 20. Richard Emel, 21. Ryan Lilick, 22. Mike Mammana, 23. Nathan Mohr, 24. Gary Wagner. DNQ: B.J. Joly, Paul Houseknecht, Andrew Kreis, Bobby Delson, Ryan Beltz and Nicholas Flammer.