It was Championship Night at the Action Track USA, and Eckert's trip from a WoO Late Model race in Michigan to Kutztown resulted in his fourth victory of the season in the Sunoco USAC Championship SpeedSTR division at the Berks County oval.
Eckert, who hails from York, may have won the 45-lap battle on Sunday, but another dirt track veteran, Kenny Brightbill, claimed victory in the season-long war. Brightbill, from Sinking Spring, captured the 2013 SpeedSTR point title with a fourth-place finish.
The season finale` at the track nestled across the street from Kutztown University also produced Kyle Lick's third triumph of the year in the Pioneer Pole Building Wingless 600cc Micro-Sprint division. While Lick of Catasauqua recorded an exciting win over Brett Michalski and Jeff Hartman, it was Jay Hartman who emerged with the Wingless 600cc point championship. The Flagtown, NJ driver kept the Kutztown track title within the Hartman family, as brother Jeff had won the past three point crowns at the fairgrounds.
New Tripoli's Joe Nemeth raced to victory in the NAPA Auto Parts All Star Slingshots main event on Sunday. In the winner's circle, Nemeth admitted that he'd almost quit racing during the summer due to a rash of bad luck that left him frustrated and ready to throw in the towel. Sunday's win, his first at the JeffreyHogueRealtor.com Action Track USA, made up for a season's worth of disappointment.
Danny Buccafusca, the 14-year-old from Montague, NJ, captured the point championship over a talented field of Slingshot pilots. Buccafusca had one feature win during the season, utilizing consistency to notch the title.
Kutztown's Jarid Kunkle registered his fourth triumph of the season in the 20-lap main event for the winged 270cc Micro-Sprints. The defending track champion in the 270cc Class held off Hazelton's Ross Perchak to score the win, then watched as Perchak received accolades for earning this year's point title. It is the fifth Kutztown Fairgrounds 270cc championship of Perchak's impressive career.
By finishing first and second in a 20-lap preliminary feature on Tuesday evening, Jeff Strunk and Rick Eckert locked themselves into the front row for Sunday's Dick Tobias Classic for the Insinger Performance/ Sunoco/ USAC Championship SpeedSTR division. Eckert flanked Strunk on the outside of row one and quickly jumped into the lead.
With a $3,500 payday awaiting the winner, the racing throughout the 21-car field was fierce, resulting in some "yellow fever" for multi-car tangles and flips by Wayne Weaver and Chuck Schutz.
During the first half of the 45-lapper, intense competition kept the fans entertained as Strunk, Freddie Rahmer Jr., tenth-starting Billy Pauch Jr., Brightbill, and Schutz fought for positions two through six. On a restart with 17 circuits complete, Rahmer Jr. and Strunk got together and spun in turn four while dueling for the runner-up spot. Brandon Rahmer was also involved and had to retire from the race due to damage incurred in the incident, while his brother and Strunk were able to restart at the back of the pack.
That mishap enabled Schutz to move to third, but he ran over an infield tire marker with 18 down, hiking his left-rear wheel high into the air, then flipped while three-wheeling it into the first turn. Schutz was a bit shaken but otherwise okay.
Eckert was up the challenge on each of the numerous restarts, pulling away to a comfortable lead as he ran as low as possible at both ends of the speedway in his No. 24. "I've never been known as a 'ride the cushion' kind of guy," he stated in victory lane. "I'm better on the bottom, and the bottom groove was really good tonight."
With Eckert cruising out front, Pauch Jr., Brightbill, and a rebounding Strunk battled for second as the laps clicked off in the event's second half. Pauch Jr. was also trying to catch Brightbill in the point chase, and though he closed the gap by finishing runner-up to Eckert in the Tobias Classic, Brightbill's fourth-place effort was enough to clinch the championship.
When the checkered flag waved after 45-laps on Sunday, it was Eckert over Pauch Jr. by 2.131-seconds. Strunk was a disappointed third (he felt his car was capable of challenging Eckert for the victory, but the incident with F. Rahmer Jr. robbed him of the chance to race with Eckert), while Brightbill and Brian Montieth rounded out the top five.
Kyle Lick entered the season finale` trailing Jay Hartman by 83 points in the battle for the Wingless 600cc point title. Lick pretty much knew he'd have to win the race and Hartman would need a subpar outing in order to switch places in the point standings.
Lick did what he had to do, notching a scintillating win over Brett Michalski and Jeff Hartman in the 20-lap feature that paid $500 to win, courtesy of Pioneer Pole Buildings.
Michalski started fourth and bolted to the early lead, running the high side of the progressively banked quarter-mile oval. Jeff Hartman, who took the initial green in fifth, charged to second and challenged Michalski for the top spot while eighth-starting Lick threaded his way forward.
With Michalski and Jeff Hartman blasting the cushion - Lick's favorite line around any dirt track - the Catasauqua wheel-twister was forced to run the bottom in an effort to pass both of the front runners.
The top three could have been covered with a blanket on several occasions as they launched from the spacious corners onto the straightaways, with Michalski and Hartman on the outside and Lick straddling them on the inside. Finally, with two to go and his No. 8 barely in front of Jeff Hartman, Lick ran it deep into turn one and slid up in front of Michalski to snare the lead. Michalski crossed over and attempted to come back on the inside, but Lick fended off the challenge as they rocketed down the backchute.
At the checkered, it was Lick in front by 0.642-seconds over Michalski, with Jeff Hartman a close third. James Morris, who started 14th, wound up fourth and the new point champion, Jay Hartman, was fifth.
Joe Nemeth led all the way in the 20-lap main event for the NAPA Auto Parts All Star Slingshots. His only anxious moments occurred when he got into a heavy pack of lapped traffic, allowing Matt Miller and Travis Bieber to pull up on his rear bumper. A yellow flag slowed the race at that point, and he had a clear track in front of him when the race restarted.
Nemeth held on to become the season's ninth different Slingshot feature winner at the JeffreyHogueRealtor.com Action Track USA. Travis Bieber squeezed to the inside of Miller in turns three and four, grabbing the runner-up spot with a few laps remaining. Bieber then closed in on Nemeth's No. 10, but wasn't quite close enough to make a serious bid for the lead before the race ended.
At the finish, it was Nemeth over T. Bieber, with Miller, Buccafusca, and Louden Reimert completing the top five. By finishing in front of his closest competitors in the point standings, Buccafusca - who just took over the point lead in Wednesday's Kutztown Fair Week event - captured the championship.
The 2013 season at the Action Track USA concluded with a 20-lapper for the winged 270cc Micro-Sprints and Jarid Kunkle, aboard his Kelly Race Fuels/ RTS Chassis No. 75 won his division-leading fourth main event of the year.
Kunkle began the race on the outside of the second row. He flew into the runner-up position on the first trip around the clay, then stalked leader Ronald Helmick before making his move on lap seven. Kunkle ducked under Helmick as the duo accelerated off turn four, snatching the top spot then immediately opening some daylight over Helmick and the rest of the field.
Ross Perchak, winner of Tuesday's Fair Week National for the 270cc division, navigated his way from sixth to second...and that was enough to secure his fifth track championship. The driver of the Perchak Trucking No. 4 took second with a three-wide maneuver on a lap 13 restart, diving to the inside as Bobby Butler occupied the middle of the track and Helmick was squeezed to the high side.
Kunkle won by a healthy margin over Perchak, with Butler, Helmick, and Jeff Carman making up the top five when the race ended.
Action Track Sidebites...
Despite some "iffy" weather conditions - there was rain in the area all day on Sunday, but Kutztown remained dry and the skies cleared as the racing program began at 6 p.m. - a terrific crowd supported the final race of the season at the Action Track USA.
Mary Tobias, Toby's widow, attended the Dick Tobias Classic along with many other members of the Tobias family. A special display of memorabilia from Tobias' racing career was set up behind the grandstands, and his restored Mustang II bodied No. 17 big block Modified was also on display. It served as the pace car for the four feature races.
A solid car count - there were 81 total entries on Sunday - once again filled the pit area. There were 21 SpeedSTR's on hand, joined by 31 of the Wingless 600's, 22 All Star Slingshots, and seven of the winged 270cc Micros.
At intermission on Sunday, a wedding took place near the speedway's Savage61.com Victory Lane. Magesterial District Judge Dean R. Patton, who's also a motorsports photographer, performed the ceremony as Mark Weaver Sr. and Cynthia Korn became husband and wife. Keith Gerhart, the talented singer who performed the National Anthem at the track on several occasions this year, sang Ava` Maria (in Italian) for the traditional blessing of the wedding.
The SpeedSTR's took part in timed hot laps on Sunday, and the Fast Five included quick timer Billy Pauch Sr. (11.915-seconds), Kenny Brightbill, Freddie Rahmer Jr., Billy Pauch Jr., and Brian Montieth.
SpeedSTR heat race winners were F. Rahmer Jr. and Pauch Jr. The B-Main went to Chuck Schutz.
The 2012 Modified Champion at New Egypt Speedway, Ryan Godown, drove the Donaldson No. 11 SpeedSTR. It was the first time in a SpeedSTR for the Ringoes Rocket, and he looked right at home when he finished third in his heat race. He started eighth in the feature and immediately drove into the top five; unfortunately Godown's race ended after just five laps.
Pauch Jr. also won a Wingless 600 qualifier. Jack Conover and Jay Hartman captured the other two heat races for the Wingless 600's. Kayla Stotzfus was the winner of the B-Main.
Dirt Modified and Sprint Car ace Frank Cozze, from Wind Gap, Pa., made his first start in Dave Bodine's No. 99 in the Wingless 600cc division. Cozze looked good in the car, finishing seventh in the B-Main - one spot out of transferring to the main event.
Travis Bieber and Danny Buccafusca won heats for the All Star Slingshots.
The lone heat race for the winged 270cc Micro-Sprints was won by Jarid Kunkle.
The Isamoyer Towing/ K&A Automotive Hard Chargers were: Gary Huber (18th to ninth) in the SpeedSTR main; Joe Kay (24th to 13th) in the Wingless 600 feature; Ray Nemeth (18th to 10th) in the All Star Slingshots; and Ross Perchak (sixth to second) in the winged 270cc main event.
Co-promoters Rich Tobias and Doug Rose wish to thank all of their track officials, competitors, marketing partners, and most of all, the fans who made their first season a huge success. Planning is already underway for 2014 at the JeffreyHogueRealtor.com Action Track USA on the Kutztown Fairgrounds.
During the offseason, the speedway's news and information can be found at www.actiontrackusa.com and on the track's Facebook page (facebook.com/actiontrackusa).
Sunoco/ USAC Championship SpeedSTR's - Dick Tobias Classic, 45 laps: 1.Rick Eckert, 2.Billy Pauch Jr., 3.Jeff Strunk, 4.Kenny Brightbill, 5.Brian Montieth, 6.Freddie Rahmer Jr., 7.Matt Janisch, 8.Joey Allen, 9.Gary Huber, 10.Brittany Wixon, 11.Chuck Schutz, 12.Brandon Rahmer, 13.Mike Vermeulen, 14.Al Arrisher, 15.Billy Pauch Sr., 16.Ryan Godown, 17.Steve Yankowski, 18.Brad Brightbill, 19.John Kovatch, 20.Wayne Weaver, 21.Mike Bednar.
Pioneer Pole Building Wingless 600cc Micro-Sprint Feature, 20 laps: 1.Kyle Lick, 2.Brett Michalski, 3.Jeff Hartman, 4.James Morris, 5.Jay Hartman, 6.Billy Ney, 7.Rick Perone, 8.Billy Pauch Jr., 9.Jack Conover, 10.Zach Fisher, 11.David Peterson, 12.Jacob Severn, 13.Joe Kay, 14.Rich Mellor, 15.Brett Schoenly, 16.Eddie Strada, 17.Ryan Neil, 18.Robert Hocker, 19.Tim Howell, 20.Steve Kemery, 21.Rob Adams, 22.Molly Chambers, 23.Kayla Stoltzfus, 24.Dave Dimaio.
DNQ: Frank Cozze, Larry Mekic, Mark Conrad Jr., Tim Iulg, Tim Carter, Tony Rose, Brett Peters.
NAPA Auto Parts All Star Slingshots Feature, 20 laps: 1.Joe Nemeth, 2.Travis Bieber, 3.Matt Miller, 4.Danny Buccafusca, 5.Louden Reimert, 6.Dylan Hoch, 7.Kyle Gruber, 8.Dale Kober, 9.Cody Kline, 10.Ray Nemeth, 11.Larry Raifsnider, 12.Tayllor Schoenly, 13.Brett Bieber, 14.Damian Nemeth, 15.Erik Jones, 16.David Morrell, 17.Blair Schoenly, 18.Dave McCullough, 19.Jordan Knepp, 20.Matt Massone, 21.Kalli Hartman, 22.Chris Kurtz.
Winged 270cc Micro-Sprint Feature, 20 laps: 1.Jarid Kunkle, 2.Ross Perchak, 3.Bobby Butler, 4.Ronald Helmick, 5.Jeff Carman, 6.Steve Walters, 7.Toby Blumenshine.