Story By: ERNIE SAXTON / GRANDVIEW SPEEDWAY – BECHTELSVILLE, PA – Brad Brightbill and Kevin Hirthler thrilled the fans in the stands Friday night at Grandview Speedway with a spirited battle for the top spot in-and-out of heavy lapped traffic over the final dozen laps or so in the sixth annual “Night Before The Sixer” Freedom 38’er, with Brightbill coming out on top to earn the $2,000 payday at the checkered.
For Brightbill, who just a week earlier earned his first career Sportsman track championship at the Bechtelsville, PA dirt track, it was career win number 10 and Brightbill’s fifth win of the 2019 racing season. The popular triumph was his first since August 17 of this season. The Sinking Spring, PA second-generation chauffeur became the sixth different winner in six Freedom 38’er events overall to date at the high-banked third-mile oval.
Brightbill captured checkered flags in his heat race and the feature to give him a clean sweep for the evening.
Also on the card were the Delaware Auto Exchange Mid-Atlantic Sprint Series winged 305 Sprint Cars, with Dublin, PA based self-employed electrician Joe Kay powering out on top with the drop of the green after starting from the pole position and leading every lap in the 25-lap feature to earn his first career MASS victory by a safe margin. Kay was never seriously challenged in the fray, leading by nearly a full straightaway through much of the event.
“I can’t really put it into words,” revealed Brightbill afterwards. “I am so thankful for all the guys who helped me this season. To go out on a high note like this, it really means a lot.”
Nate Brinker, 24, of Allentown, PA started on the pole in the 38-lap Sportsman main event as the 26-car starting field took the green and was the race leader until Kenny Bock, who started outside row one, grabbed the top spot on lap 4.
By lap 8, Brightbill, who started from fifth by the luck of the draw, climbed into the runner-up role, followed by Brian Hirthler and Brinker. The 26-year-old Birdsboro, PA resident, Bock, remained out in from as the laps clicked off, with Brightbill closing the gap by lap 14.
Laps 15 and 16 saw Bock and Brightbill in a fan-pleasing battle, with Brightbill exiting turn 4 on lap 17, driving under Bock to become the new race leader.
“Kenny was running me pretty good there and I just couldn’t shake him on the outside,” explained Brightbill. “As the track started to get slicker our car just started to come around and we were lucky to prevail there at the end.”
Kevin Hirthler, 39, of Boyertown, PA, who won the event in 2018, started from eleventh-place and hustled his way up to fourth-place by lap 9. Ten circuits later, Hirthler advanced into second-place and lap 20 saw the only caution of the night as Ryan Beltz spun out in turn 2.
When racing resumed it was Brightbill rocketing out in front of Kevin Hirthler, as Bock battled wheel-to-wheel with 27-year-old Jared Umbenhauer for third for a lap, prior to Umbenhauer eventually taking the spot on lap 22.
With 26 tours complete, Kevin Hirthler closed in on the rear of Brightbill’s homebuilt mount and the battle for first was on. Hirthler challenged Brightbill racing in-and-out of lapped traffic, but Brightbill fought off every challenge with ease.
“I didn’t know how close anyone was,” Brightbill was saying. “I just tried to pick and choose very carefully where I went without getting tangled up with anyone else in lapped traffic. Things just turned out in our favor.”
“It was a tough track, being so narrow,” offered Kevin Hirthler. “I understand the lapped cars are out there racing for position too and I wished we could have had some good side-by-side racing for the lead, but that’s not how it turned out. Everyone was running clean and it is what it is.”
Brightbill brought home the victory over Kevin Hirthler, who earned an additional $100 as the first Crate powered car to cross the line, with Jared Umbenhauer finishing third, after starting thirteenth, with 37-year-old Brian Hirthler of Perkiomenville, PA fourth, after starting from eighth, and Bock rounding out the top five finishers in that order.
“We were fighting the car all night and finally figured it out before the feature,” announced the third-place finisher from Richland, PA, Umbenhauer. “I couldn’t tell who the race leader was racing in all that lapped traffic. I had to look up at the leader’s board to see just who was where at one point. It feels good to finally finish a feature race for once.”
Heat race victories with a total of 42 Sportsman on hand went out to Brightbill, Jesse Leiby, Brad Grim and Brian Hirthler, with consolation wins earned by Brad Arnold and Mike Toth.
In the MASS Sprint Car feature, Kay started on the pole and immediately jumped out on top over 29-year-old Eddie Wagner, of Franklinville, N.J., who started outside of row one. Dominic Melair of Jamison, PA followed as the third-place car.
Christian Rumsey, 21, of Middletown, N.Y. advanced to fifth-place on lap 10, just behind 36-year-old Jon Haegele out of Rockledge, PA, and climbed to fourth at the halfway point, just prior to Wagner spinning out all alone in turn 2, bringing out the only caution of the event that started 20 cars.
With the new green Kay again powered out in front and by lap 17 he was nearly a full straightaway out in front over Melair, Rumsey, Haegele and recently crowned champion Bordentown, N.J. veteran racer Larry McVay, who’ll turn 56-years-old on September 28, in that order. That’s how the race finished, as Kay authored his first-ever MASS 305 Sprint Car feature win.
“Damn, this feels good,” announced Kay, who also races 600 wingless micro sprints throughout the season. “I tried not to worry and not make any mistakes while I was running out in front. I tried to be consistent and just hit my marks each lap. I did my best to not get tangled up with any of the lapped cars. Tonight we just had all our ducks in a row.
“I’ve got to thank Brian Carber and my good friend Tim Tanner Jr. They both helped me out and Tanner Jr. is always there if I need something. This is just totally awesome. It feels great,” Kay pointed out.
Heat victories for 20 MASS 305 Sprint Cars went to Daniel Leaper and Dominic Melair. No consolation was needed.
Some 43 358 Modified campaigners showed up for a night of practice sessions throughout the night preparing for the Freedom 76 scheduled for Saturday night. In all the pits were packed with a grand total of 105 race cars for the evening of competition.
Next on the agenda is the $25,000 to win 49th Annual Freedom 76 for Modifieds. Racing will get the green for the first qualifying event at 7 p.m. Adult admission is $40, with youngsters 6 through 11 paying $10 and kids under 6 admitted free. Advance ticket holders are admitted at 3 p.m. with general admission tickets on sale at 3:30 p.m.
MASS 305 Sprints 25-laps – 1) Joe Kay, 2) Dominic Melair, 3) Christian Rumsey, 4) Jon Haegele, 5) Larry McVay, 6) Scott Frack, 7) Tim Tanner Jr. 8) Tom Carberry, 9) Jeff Geiges, 10) Keith Prutzman, 11) Logan Diehl, 12) Ricky Dieva, 13) Dylan Smith, 14) Johnny Yanek, 15) Daniel Leaper, 16) Josh Bricker, 17) Marie McVay, 18) Kevin Nagy, 19) Eddie Wagner, 20) Dave Bonner (DNS).
Sportsman 38-laps – 1) Brad Brightbill, 2) Kevin Hirthler, 3) Jared Umbenhauer, 4) Brian Hirthler, 5) Kenny Bock, 6) Kyle Lilick, 7) Dean Bachman, 8) Mike Mammana, 9) Tim Buckwalter, 10) Jesse Leiby, 11) Brad Grim, 12) Brad Arnold, 13) Jesse Landis, 14) Matt Peck, 15) Brandon Edgar, 16) Mark Kemmerer, 17) Nate Brinker, 18) Dakota Kohler, 19) Tyler Peet, 20) Jimmy Leiby, 21) Josh Adams, 22) Matt Clay, 23) Mike Toth, 24) Ryan Beltz, 25) Jack Butler, 26) Doug Snyder.