RPW Column By: BOBBY CHALMERS / RPW – WEST LEBANON, NY – Most of the talk in many racing circles over the last week or two has been centered around the word “bounty.”
The bounty’s put in place in the NASCAR Truck Series by both Kevin Harvick & Chris Larson of Halmar Friesen Racing have many calling both of them another word….gimmick.
Is this something that can motivate drivers? Is this something that will kick start the Series and bring more positive exposure to it?
Only time will tell what they do for the Truck Series. All we know now is that it’s making people talk.
Well, this got me thinking about the early 90’s at Lebanon Valley Speedway when a local car dealer brought his own ‘gimmick’ to the Super DIRT Speedway, and it put a lot of money in the pockets of two Dirt Modified legends.
I’m talking about the Ken Goewey Dodge Back-To-Back Bonus. I the late 1980’s, there were plenty of different winners in the Valley’s headline division. Mark Flurey won consecutive feature events during his only championship year of 1987. From the time Mark left victory lane until the end of 1989, however, the feat was never done again..
Enter Bryan Goewey.
During the off-season between 1989 and 1990, Goewey had this idea…put up some additional money for anyone who could win consecutive Modified features. If a driver could do so, he’d win the bonus money in addition to the winner’s share.
Goewey kicked off his idea at $1,000 and added $200 every week it wasn’t claimed. If a driver went back-to-back, he got the money.
Seems simple right? For the “King of the Valley,” it only took five weeks.
Kenny Tremont was the first to collect. He took home a bonus check of $1,800, but it was more a gift then anything. Oh, don’t misunderstand me. It wasn’t a gift from Goewey. It was more from fellow competitor Matt Quinn, who was driving Randy Ross’ #44 at the time.
Quinn was trying to make a last-lap pass of leader Eddie Marshall. However, he didn’t clear him, planting the Marshall Oil #98 in the wall and thus handing the win to Tremont.
No other driver won consecutive races for over a year. Then, on August 10th of 1991, it finally happened again. That’s when, yup, you guessed it, Kenny Tremont repeated the feat.
Tremont passed Gary Waters on the outside of turn four with four circuits remaining and went on to collect his second race win in as many weeks. In doing so, not only did he win the $2,000 first place prize, but Goewey shelled out an additional $6,400 for the “Sand Lake Slingshot.”
It was a good night for Tremont all around, as he also collected the win in the 358-Modified feature event, adding an additional $500 to his night’s winnings. The West Sand Lake, NY driver walked out of the Valley $8,900 richer that night. Not too shabby.
Again, no other drivers collected the bonus through the end of the season. Over that off-season, GT Britts Distributors joined in the fun, helping to sponsor the program with their O’Doul’s brand.
However, one of the all-time greats in Dirt Modified racing was poised to make Lebanon Valley his playground in late June and early July of 1992. That was Billy Decker.
Back in those days, Decker was driving for his family-owned team and was in the midst of debuting a car that revolutionized Dirt Modified racing. Decker was piloting Olsen Race Cars that season, and early on in June, the ‘Franklin Flyer’ began racing a four-coil Modified.
Does that sound familiar these days?
Back in those days, the four-coil car was a little different. All of the Modifieds were using torsion bar rear ends, just as many did recently until the latest ‘coil craze.’
Decker’s Wheels Auto Supply #91 was simply amazing. He was able to reel off an astonishing at the time five wins in-a-row, starting on June 13th and, with a few rain outs, ending on July 18th.
There was even a night of two features on the same evening, and Decker swept the evening. The man was unstoppable.
At the end of ’92, the Back-To-Back Bonus program ended, but it was an idea that many who frequented Lebanon Valley will always remember. It brought excitement to each race night. Fans and competitors alike were left to ponder, “could this be the night?” Just like people will be wondering, “is this the week Kyle Busch gets beat?”
Was the Back-To-Back Bonus a gimmick? Possibly, but it worked. At this time, the Valley had good crowds, but after 30 years, it’s hard to know it’s true impact. Thankfully for the people at Goewey’s business, they stopped the bonus or they would have been paying out a lot of money in 1998 and 1999.
In ’98, the Valley only had four winners…Tremont, Brett Hearn, Chris Moore and Todd Wilkinson. Tremont won 12 races that season…yes, you read that right…12. Hearn had six, Moore had three and Wilkinson got his career first.
The following season, there was an actual bounty put on Tremont. Could he be stopped? The 115 captured the first six feature wins to start the season. That was, until Wilkinson’s victory on World of Outlaws Sprint Car night on May 31st.
The bounty was ‘classified’ as ‘Saturday victories’ so it was claimed by Rich Ricci Jr. after Tremont had captured two more wins. Oh, when Ricci won, Tremont was right on his heels in second.
In any event, people were talking. Eyes were on Lebanon Valley. With the Back-To-Back Bonus, the money may have been big at times, but it was the excitement of seeing if someone could take home the big bucks…not the money itself.
That’s what the two NASCAR Truck Series bounty’s seem to be doing…bringing excitement. There are plenty of people on both sides of the fence about the idea of Cup drivers in the lower divisions. However, right now, they don’t seem to care. It appears as if it’s “Kyle Busch vs. the World.”
You can almost guarantee that Truck Series’ TV viewership will be at record numbers when the Atlanta race roles around. People will want to see if Busch can be stopped.
You also have to give a tip of the hat to people like Kevin Harvick, Gander CEO Marcus Lemonis and Halmar’s Chris Larson for putting the money up to bring the excitement and talk. That takes me back to what Bryan Goewey did with the Back-To-Back Bonus.
In those days, his family-owned car dealership was extremely well-known. Everyone knew the tag line “Ken Goewey, What-A-Guy.” However, many probably don’t realize that Goewey also was a Modified racer himself. He was actually the first driver in the Randy Ross #44, back when it was still Go-Ross Racing.
Bryan ran for the team for their two seasons in existence, starting in 1987. The following year, he captured the Super DIRT Week Big Block Modified Rookie Of The Race Award at Syracuse that October before hanging up the helmet to concentrate on the business.
Even though he stepped out of the cockpit, the itch was always there. It never leaves, and he returned to the driver’s seat in 1993. That year, he ran several races for the Decker’s team. He had Prime Time Conversions Vans as a primary sponsor, and finally made his way to victory lane for the only victory of his Modified career on April 24, 1993…ironically, on Goewey Dodge night.
Unfortunately, Goewey passed away in June of 2018 but his legacy at the Valley will live on for years to come. This season, the track and night sponsors are even holding a special memorial for him, a 44-lap $4,400-to-win race. It is one of the biggest-paying races at the track this season. Seems fitting doesn’t it?
Whether you think of Back-To-Back Bonus as a gimmick or not is irrelevant. It got people talking. It brought excitement. It helped to put people in the stands. Everyone wanted to see if the bonus could be captured.
In the end, I’d say it worked!
Special Note: I’d like to thank Brian Bedell for his assistance in this column. Anyone that knows Brian or Lebanon Valley knows that this man seems to know everything about the track and keeps impeccible records.
When I needed information about the Back-To-Back Bonus, I went to Brian and he had exactly what I needed.
Thank you Brian, and thank you to Mark Brown at Kustom Keepsakes for finding photos from the nights that Tremont and Decker took home the bonuses. This was a great help as well for this story.