Story By: DOUG KENNEDY / RUSH RACING SERIES – PULASKI, PA – Once again the Sweeney Chevrolet Buick GMC RUSH Racing Series powered by Pace Performance continued its strong forward momentum as the 2019 season will stand out as its most successful to date in Series history!
Nineteen different drivers, ranging in age from 17 to 61 years old, will be crowned champions at RUSH “weekly” sanctioned speedways throughout the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Canada that saw an increase overall accumulated RUSH car counts in both “weekly” and “touring” competition this season.
“It was an amazing year,” stated Series director Vicki Emig. “We have to thank the hundreds of RUSH racers who competed with us, as well as the 27 different promoters who opened their doors for RUSH-sanctioned events at their speedways and of course our numerous corporate marketing partners who made it possible for us to distribute well over a quarter million dollars in cash and valuable product to RUSH racers in 2019 for their efforts.”
“One of the main objectives with the RUSH program is to enhances our weekly-sanctioned speedways programs with strong car counts and exciting racing week in and week out,” continued Emig. “We were thrilled to see average weekly car counts increase in 2019 at the majority of our speedways; with most averaging 18-20+, and many at times well over that number; those numbers then drove the average Touring Marquee Event to a record average car count of 38 per event. These numbers stand strong in today’s industry compared to other divisional car counts and we will continue to create additional programs around our Weekly Series that will ensure this stability and maintain the consistency that our racers have come to expect.”
For 27 year old Matt Hill of Georgetown, DE, winning track championships at Delaware International Speedway is becoming a habit. Over the past five seasons Hill has driven to the top of the point standings at the Delmar half-mile. He also finished third in RUSH National Weekly Series points along with 10th in the Pace Performance “Summer Chase”.
Hill became part of the RUSH Late Model program when Delaware became a RUSH sanctioned speedway in 2017. “I would rather run with RUSH than any other Series,” Hill emphatically said. “It’s improved our sport overall in our region. The “Battle of the Bay” which kicks off the RUSH Touring season featuring four straight nights of racing at four different speedways in the Mid-Atlantic is great! Those Tour events improve our area and makes a better racer out of you. Also, RUSH’s teching program is top notch and ensures everything is legal, they have always watched out for their racers. It’s a great Series for me with a great group of people running it. We’re going to try for our sixth track championship next year.”
At 37 years old, Chad Homan of Penfield, NY was the champion at Fulton (NY) Speedway this past season. Prior to his first title at Fulton, Homan won the championship twice at Humberstone Speedway (2017 & 2018). This is now his fourth season that he has raced under the RUSH banner and just recently ended his season winning his first career feature at Genesee Speedway on October 26. Homan was able to finish fifth in the National Weekly Series standings and sixth in the “Summer Chase”
“I love it compared to what I was doing before with the Modifieds,” Homan said. “I love the weekly championship deal and I love being able to go to different racks and compete to win titles. They’ve (RUSH) given me a new lease on my racing career. I was stuck and running out of money racing Modifieds until the RUSH deal.”
As for the future of RUSH, Homan said, “I think it’s (RUSH) on the rise. Car counts continue to grow and with the level of competition also increasing there has been unbelievable racing with great finishes.”
Darrell Bossard was able to garner back-to-back track championships at Conneaut, Ohio’s Raceway 7 (2018 and 2019) plus was their 2016 champion. Bossard, a 20-year veteran with numerous championships in Stock Car competition as well of one Super Late title, has also won RUSH titles at Stateline Speedway in 2016 and 2018.
“I really like what RUSH is doing,” stated the 35-year-old Centerville, Pa. racer. “I think the RUSH Late Model concept will continue to grow because of the different tracks involved and being able to travel; you can tell by the increase in car counts. The weekly tracks are gaining cars year after year after year. I don’t think it’s (RUSH) is going anywhere for a long time; the competition gets better every year and it’s growing every year. I really like what RUSH is doing because of the way Vicki (Emig) and Mike (Leone) have put forth extra stuff for the racers, which makes it worthwhile to go racing. I think RUSH will continue to grow in a positive manner.”
Perhaps the most visible champion of 2019 is 29-year-old Max Blair- a good friend of Bossard’s. The 29-year-old Centerville, Pa. driver won two RUSH track titles this year (Eriez and in a tie-breaker with Scott Gurdak- Stateline). Blair has 45 championships dating back to 2008, which includes 10 with RUSH. This past season, Blair posted 46 wins including six Tour wins with RUSH totaling $25,500 alone! His wins came in not only RUSH, but with World of Outlaws, ULMS, Ultimate North East, and also included the highest paying RUSH Series race when Blair won the Bill Emig Memorial on June 22, good for $10,000 to win.
“The whole crate racing deal is why I am where I am in racing today,” said Blair, who will also earn $8,000 once again for winning RUSH’s National Weekly and Summer Chase Championships. “There’s no doubt about that. As for RUSH, it’s a well-run deal, very professionally and I really enjoy racing with them and hopefully will get to do more next year. I think it (RUSH) will continue to get bigger and bigger.”
One of the older drivers in the RUSH Late Model Series is 61-year-old Scott Gurdak of Bear Lake, Pa. Gurdak is one of several drivers that does double duty as he not only drives a RUSH Late Model for his sister Lori Hollabaugh, but also a RUSH Pro Mod for his brother Stacy.
He tied in points with Blair for the RUSH Late Model championship at Stateline, but ended up losing on a tie-breaker (Blair’s three wins to Gurdak’s one). Gurdak has five championships on his resume, including one other one at Stateline. He was also able to finish fourth in the Summer Chase this past season. Both he and Blair raced together at Stateline and Eriez and finished close to each other at both tracks. Gurdak admits that if Blair would have shown up for the final race of the season at Stateline, he wouldn’t have had a chance to catch him in points. Gurdak also finished fourth in the Pro Mod points at Stateline.
As for RUSH, Gurdak said, “It’s helps a lot as far as the Championship programs and the monies that are given back to the racers. I think they are doing a good job and should continue what they are doing.”
Thirty-five year old Tim Snare of Huntingdon, Pa., who has 20 years of dirt track racing experience in various divisions, was the Dog Hollow Speedway track champion this past season. He won a Pure Stock title at Thunder Valley Speedway in 2004 then moved to a “358” Late Models, but found that it was too tough to compete on a limited budget.
“When crate racing kicked off at Dog Hollow we immediately saw it as a viable option for us to continue Late Model racing on a more level playing field,” explained Snare. Snare runs a 10-year-old GM Performance 604 crate engine with a Bullet Chassis that he has been using since crate racing was introduced to Dog Hollow back in 2007.”
“We love racing with RUSH because it gives us a platform to remain competitive with our older equipment. We appreciate a series that lets us race and win on a budget like ours,” Snare said. He would like to see more tracks in the central part of the state join RUSH because it’s tough to travel. “I haul two hours to get to Dog Hollow every week as the next closest track is Winchester and that is nearly three hours away.”
Snare says that there are drivers who feel that the Limited Late Model division is the more budget friendly option to get into a Late Model, but for Snare that is not true. “I really think they are missing out on more cost-effective racing by not racing with RUSH and the higher purses and Championship programs that they offer.”
Thirty-one year old J.J. Mazur of Batavia, NY, who has been racing for 17 years, captured the RUSH Late Model track championship at Genesee this past season. It was Mazur’s third straight RUSH title at the New York track. Previously racing in a BRP Super Stock and spending money with not so great results prompted Mazur to sell his equipment and get into a RUSH Late Model.
“RUSH has definitely helped my racing program by taking me to tracks I might not have traveled to; pushing me out of my comfort zone and helping me to learn more about my car and grow as a driver,” Mazur said. “I hope to see the RUSH program continue to grow in the future.”
Thirty-seven year old Jason Knowles of Addison, NY will go down in history as the first ever RUSH Late Model champion at Woodhull (NY) Raceway. He also has two RUSH Late Model championships at Outlaw Speedway. Winning this year’s championship was extra special for Jason because his father Larry has multiple Super Stock titles at Woodhull and his brother Brian a Street Stock title; and now Jason’s 2019 RUSH Late Model Championship completes the circle.
“How many fathers and ‘both’ sons have won titles at the same track,” expressed Knowles. “That was cool for me to accomplish that feat. “I think the biggest thing for RUSH is their uniting of the tracks with the same rules package. I think the car counts will continue to grow especially in our area.”
At 54 years old, veteran driver Rob Pietz has been racing one way or another since he was 16. During his racing career, Pietz has driven “358” Modifieds, Super Late Models, “360” Sprint Cars, Sportsman Modifieds, and Street Stocks. To date, the Port Colborne, Ontario, Canada resident has three Humberstone Sprint Car titles, six Sportsman Championships, and now a RUSH Late Model title to complete the trifecta.
“I think the biggest thing that RUSH has given us is a level playing field and a rules package that they follow and police with checkups and follow-ups,” stated Pietz. “I think it’s a good strong organization that is here for the long haul.”
Ben Policz of Rices Landing, Pa. won his first ever track championship by taking the Pittsburgh’s PA Motor Speedway RUSH Late Model title in 2019. The 29-year-old been with RUSH since 2012.
“I think it’s great what they (RUSH) have done,” Policz said. “They’ve put together some great purses as well as the Weekly Championship program and Manufacturers Night. They police the RUSH rules package very well and it’s nice that all the tracks I travel to are under the same rules package. I like that they are continuously growing and adding more tracks and would really like to see both Tyler County and Elkins Speedways in West Virginia join RUSH.”
Ward Schell laid claim to the championship at the smallest of the RUSH-sanctioned tracks- the 1/4-mile bullring at Old Bradford (PA) Speedway. At 54 years old, Schell scored his second Bradford RUSH Late Model championship this season, the other coming in 2013 when he drove for the late Ron Baker. The Warren, Pa. resident likes what RUSH is doing.
“I really like the level playing field RUSH provides because it allows for all styles of racers to compete, as well as the overall stability of the Series” Schell said. “And I really like what they bring in for products at the annual Manufacturers Night.”
Schell plans on defending his track championship for 2020. “I think the future is coming on very strong for RUSH,” Schell continued. “The Series definitely has helped give racers another avenue to go without incurring all the expenses.”
Forty-five year old Darren Alvey of Clements, MD has been racing since 2011. In 2013, Alvey won the Street Stock championship at Potomac Speedway and won RUSH Late Model titles in 2017 and now for 2019.
“I think it’s the best series going right now,” Alvey emphatically said. “I think it’s one of the best series to race with and the ones in charge care for the drivers and the teams. I see the Series expanding with a few more tracks coming on board and continued bigger paying races coming up.”
The youngest Late Model champion for this season was 17-year-old Devin Brannon. The 2018 RUSH “Futures Cup” Champion backed that title up with the 2019 Winchester Speedway track title. He is the son of Mid-Atlantic standout, Allen Brannon, whose career has spanned 27 years.
“He’s come a long way in the last three years,” Allen said of his son. “He’s been racing since he was 13 and has really stepped it up this year; he’s done an awesome job. I think the RUSH Series is a good deal.- she’s (Vicki) got a good thing going. It’s a very competitive class with good car counts and it’s good racing. We need to keep it going.”
Allen would like to see his son get more experience on different tracks and may be the case according to his son Devin. “I like the Series,” Devin said. “The ‘Battle of the Bay’ with four races at four different tracks is great! I like the Series and look forward to Touring with RUSH and travelling in 2020.”
Nate Hartzell of Eldred, Pa. has been racing for only four years, having spent his first year in a Street Stock before transferring to a RUSH Pro Mod. This season he won his very first track championship as he captured Old Bradford Speedway’s Pro Mod title- something that he is very proud.
“It’s definitely cool to accomplish something like that especially against the guys we run against, but it makes you hungry for more and push harder for next season,” said the 30-year-old Hartzell. “I don’t think we would be where we are if it wasn’t for RUSH. I really feel that if we could pick up a couple more tracks for our Pro Mod division the number of drivers would quickly double.”
Dennis Lunger, Jr. is truly a veteran of the racetracks. At 51 years old, the Albion, Pa. resident has raced Spectator Stocks, Outlaw Cadets, Outlaw E-Mod, Super Late Models, RUSH Crate Late Model, and most recently RUSH Pro Mods. Lunger has won two Late Model championships at Sharon, Raceway 7, and Humberstone! He also won an E-Mod and Pro Mod championship at Stateline with the latter one coming this past season.
“I like the series a lot,” Lunger said, who now has won the $3,500 RUSH Pro Mod Weekly Series Championship for three straight years. “It’s fantastic and the most economical class of anything racing today.”
Thirty-year old Tyler Dietz of Saxonburg, Pa. won his first Lernerville Speedway track championship this past year. Dietz, who is the owner of Dietz Fabrication, has been racing since he was 15. He started in Micro Sprints before transferring to a Crate Late Model. After four years with the Late Model, he took some time off and got into the Stock division in 2015.
“I think (RUSH) has given a lot of people a chance to race again especially if they were on the verge of getting out of the sport,” said Dietz, who has now won the $1,000 RUSH Pro Stock Weekly Series Championship two years in a row. “RUSH has helped keep people involved and continue to race, and that’s a good thing.”
Zach Morrow of Gibsonia, Pa. began his racing career at age 13 in go-karts before moving up to Mod Lites. Morrow, who has also raced a “410” Sprint Car on a limited basis in recent years, captured the RUSH Sprint Car title at PPMS. Morrow finished third in the Bonnell’s Rod Shop Weekly Series Championship in the inaugural 2018 season and improved one spot in points this past season to earn $2,500.
Now 29, Morrow says the RUSH Sprint Series is a very competitive class with lots great racing with two and three-wide racing as well as close finishes. “RUSH has given me the ability to race every week without breaking the bank,” Morrow said. “Overall maintenance on the RUSH Sprint is minimal compared to the ‘410’. I hope the class continue to grow.”
Kole Holden, 20, of Tiona, Pa. won his second Sharon Speedway RUSH Sportsman Modified Championship. His previous championships came in 2017 when he captured both Sharon and PPMS championships. Holden is also the 2015 Hovis Auto & Truck Supply Futures Cup Champion and prestigious Western Pennsylvania Rookie of the Year. He just completed his fifth season in a Modified, having raced go-karts since he was eight, where he also achieved great success competing nationally.
“I definitely like the affordability of the RUSH Series and the competitiveness- there’s a lot of close racing,” said Holden. “I also like the guys who compete in the Series. I think it will continue to grow, as it has since I started with the Series, with more and more drivers in the future.”
Chas Wolbert has been racing for 12 years, almost half his life. With his 2019 track title in the RUSH Sportsman Mods, the 25-year-old Wolbert is now a back-to-back champion at PPMS. Prior to his time in the Sportsman Modifieds, Wolbert has raced Go-Karts, Dwarf Cars, and Mod Lites. Wolbert is now the all-time winningest RUSH Sportsman Modified driver in Series history with 22 victories overtaking Greg Martin and Rocky Kugel, who were tied for the most at 19 entering the 2019 season.
“I started with RUSH four years ago,” said Wolbert, who tied for second in the 2019 Hovis Weekly Series points and was fourth in the Hovis Tour standings. “It’s been a great pleasure racing with the RUSH Series. First off, it’s economical; the GM Performance crate engine is reliable and allows you to be versatile at different tracks. I have nothing but good to say about the RUSH Series and Vicki and Mike. They bend over backwards for their racers and have established a reputable series that allows us to race at various tracks. I see it continuing to grow and expand every year as it has in the past and hopefully for our division into another state or two.”
In addition to the individual track championships, RUSH also tabulates a “Track Pack” bonus program for weekly-sanctioned RUSH Late Model tracks where the top five in RUSH member points share $800; this program alone added an additional $10,400 in the “weekly” program!
The following drivers earned the 2019 $300 RUSH Member “Track Pack” Championships: Sparky White (Delaware), Tim Snare, Jr. (Dog Hollow), Scott Gurdak (Eriez & Stateline), Chad Homan (Fulton & Humberstone), J.J. Mazur (Genesee), Ward Schell (Bradford), Ben Policz (Pittsburgh), Darren Alvey (Potomac), Darrell Bossard (Raceway 7), Devin Brannon (Winchester), and Kurt Stebbins (Woodhull).