Column By: BOBBY CHALMERS / RPW – WEST LEBANON, NY – Sometimes, crossing the finish line first doesn’t mean you make it to victory lane.
That was the case with the 358-Modified feature on All Star Sprint night Sunday evening at the Lebanon Valley Speedway as JR Heffner crossed the checkers first but unfortunately came up light at the scales. That handed the win to second-place Frank Harper.
Harper started on the pole after winning his heat race (heads-up start) and was able to get out to a lead before a multitude of cautions came out for different accidents that included Cory Sandstedt, Brandon Lane, Guy Sheldon and Steve Hough.
Once things got back underway, Heffner actually got the lead from the #25 of Harper on a restart and looked to be on his way to the win, but the 74 did not make weight.
The end result was just fine with Harper who hadn’t been in victory lane in several years.
“It’s been a very long time,” Harper said. “It’s been four years almost since we’ve been here. We’ve been fast all year along, but just didn’t have what some of them had. Tonight we got it done.”
Harper felt like was just as good as Heffner, but the early cautions hurt him. Could he have held him off without all those cautions early?
“I felt that once we settled in, I was just as fast as JR,” he said. “He definitely restarted better than us though. All-in-all, just an awesome job and it’s all because of everyone who’s stuck by this team. My family, my sponsors, my crew…Billy The Kid for the power and Pete Chuckta from PMC Race Cars most of all. Hell, I probably would have been out of racing 15 years ago if it wasn’t for that guy and his support. This is just a great night.”
JR Heffner looked like he had this one in the bag. His car was extremely quick and handled very well in the corners. However, one missing piece may have been what cost the driver of the #74 on this night.
“It was a miscommunication on our part,” Heffner said. “Our regular fuel guy wasn’t here tonight so we had a little confusion from the heat race to the feature on how much we needed. There were a lot of cautions early on in the race, but what can you do? We’ll just come back next week and try again.”
There was no denying how good the Upstate Utilities Bicknell was handling Sunday night, as Heffner had the field covered once he got out front.
“Our car couldn’t have been any better in turns one and two,” he said. “I was able to roll in nice and that helped us get off turn two even with Frank so I could make the move entering three. We had great car all night but just didn’t get to celebrate the win.”
JR’s car came up more than five pounds underweight which forced officials to make the decision to disqualify him. That’s a choice that Chief Pit Stewart Fred Lee dreaded.
“There’s no way I wanted to make that call…about anyone,” Lee said. “We rolled his car on and off the scales three times. It came up with the same number almost exact each time. I didn’t want to do DQ JR, but his car came up light. I had to make the decision.”
That moved Dillon Steuer up to the runner-up spot. Steuer probably had the fastest car on the evening as he worked his way up from the 11th starting spot. Once he got to third behind Heffner and Harper, however, that is where he settled in.
Timothy Davis, Ray Hall Jr. and Jason Herrington completed the top five.
News & Notes…
Couple All Star Circuit of Champions Sprint Tidbits…
Danny Dietrich, who won at Orange County on Saturday evening, said he absolutely loved the new surface at the Middletown oval. Recently, speedway officials laid down new clay as they prepare for the 100th anniversary celebration coming in about a month’s time.
“I really liked what they did down there,” Dietrich said. “It was smooth and very racy and way better than it has been in past years. My tires hardly took any wear to them. They still have the tits on them. I was very happy.
Several of the Sprint Car teams were looking to purchase Methanol fuel to race during the night. While none of the regular Valley cars run Methanol, LVS sells it at the drag strip.
One call over to that side of the property and several barrels of the fuel were brought in on a front-end loader.
On to the Small Block Modifieds…
Second-place in track points, Brett Haas, had his night over before it really began. On his first lap of warm-ups to start the night, the #55 machine pulled up lame in turns one and two. The culprit…a broken driveshaft that in turn took out the jackshaft in the rear end.
It was a blessing for Brett and his title hopes as Sunday night was a show-up point night, which means not racing the feature did not hurt him.
In speaking with his father, Adam, the elder Haas stated the racing Gods must have been watching out on his team last week when it rained out so this didn’t happen when points were on the line.
The team didn’t waste any time getting to work on their car. The trailer left before the feature was run and the crew was pulling the car apart in their Pittsfield, MA shop as the Sprint Car A-Main was set to take the green.
Brandon Pitcher reports that his team may have figured out a horsepower issue with their 358-Modified. Their engine, a former Dale Earnhardt Inc. Small Block, was previously owned by former racer Craig Simmons and the timing marks were not correct.
Pitcher reports they made a serious change with it and advanced the timing to the correct degree, which he hoped would bring the horsepower up considerably.
Alan Houghtaling had smoke trailing his #250 almost all evening. First he thought it was oil so the team changed the valve cover gaskets. In the heat race, the smoke was still there, and he pulled in before the race was complete.
The team was able to find that a broken power steering fitting was the issue, so they quickly went to work to repair it.
Mark Pullen was in the pit area Sunday night, and he still has the biggest grin on his face. With the amount of people that went over to shake his hand, you would have thought he had just won a feature.
Close. They were over to crack jokes with him and share a laugh after he won the Lebanon Valley 50/50 a few weeks ago. He stated then that he won more that night than ever had in a race car.
Pullen started out with a great night. He finished second in his heat race and started sixth in the feature event. The veteran was involved in an accident when Hough and Sheldon got together and Sheldon’s front end collapsed off turn two. The Lorne Browe-owned machine came across the track and Pullen had nowhere to go, spinning out to avoid.
Later on, his car jumped out of gear and he brought out another caution, but he returned to the fray. In the end, the #30 crossed the line 13th.
Brian Sandstedt let his brother, Cory, race the team’s #12 machine on this night. Sandstedt reports that he’s still trying to get his brother, a former Lebanon Valley Modified Rookie of the Year, to come back and build a car so they could both race together.
“I’m working on him,” Sandstedt said. “I’m trying. We’ll see.”
Small Block Modified Finish – (24 Laps) -1) Frank Harper, 2) Dillon Steuer, 3) Timothy Davis, 4) Ray Hall Jr, 5) Jason Herrington, 6) Brandon Pitcher, 7) Alan Houghtaling, 8) Ricky Davis, 9) Sean Mandel, 10) Brian Peterson, 11) Ryan Charland, 12) Nathan Johnson, 13) Mark Pullen, 14) Matt Depew, 15) Alissa Cody, 16) Steve Hough, 17) Guy Sheldon, 18) Brandon Lane, 19) Cory Sandstedt, 20) Olden Dwyer, 21) Brett Haas, DQ) J.R. Heffner,