When Kyle Strohl won the Modified feature on May 27 at Lehighton’s Mahoning Valley Speedway it marked his 30th career win at the paved ¼-mile oval. The significance of that victory is that Strohl, who hails from Palmerton, is just 17 years old and races against drivers you are two and three times his age yet has amassed numbers that even the best veterans could not achieve during their careers.
Consider this, Eric Beers was 20 years old when he won his first race at Mahoning and has since become the track’s all-time Modified winner with 54. He has also tallied three championships. John Markovic was 21 when he first tasted victory there and has 34 checkered flags between Modifieds and Late Models along with five titles.
They began at Mahoning Valley in the late 1980’s and are still going strong today but Strohl is advancing rapidly in a way that can see him surpass them and all the others in much less time. Those 30 wins occurred in a span of five years.
Strohl first took to the track when he was 12 and despite never running in a full bodied car, ran in two classes, Street Stocks and 4-Cylinder Stocks and within short order was winning in both divisions. The following year he switched to a Pro 4, which is a compact Late Model style car and had an unbelievable year that saw him rack up 11 victories in 21 starts and his only championship to date.
With all those accomplishments the timing seemed right to enter the top echelon and race with the Modified division. As it turned out it was a good choice. In just his third time out Strohl won and at the time became the youngest driver in track history to win with the class.
“It’s actually unbelievable and I was thinking about it recently and thought how many drivers can say at the age of 17 they have this many wins and at such a great track like Mahoning Valley Speedway,” said Strohl. “Mahoning Valley is the land of opportunity I like to say. You come here, you start small and you eventually get yourself big.”
Keeping in mind that Beers and Markovic have raced elsewhere and did not run full seasons during select periods, they still are among the iconic names of eastern Pennsylvania short track asphalt racing. They’re numbers speak volumes and rightfully command respect which is has been a key to their individual successes. They see much of the same in Strohl.
“First of all Kyle is a great competitor on the track and he’s someone you’re not worried about running side-by-side with but what really means a lot to me from in the pits is how is just a genuine good person. He’s a great 17-year old kid,” said Markovic, who has 59 overall wins.
“Modifieds are not easy to drive and he has adapted very well. Kyle has a respect for the car and his competition and that’s the key to going a long way in what we do.”
Beers is closing in on 100 career wins, 76 of those have come between Mahoning Valley and Evergreen, where is a two-time champion.
“Kyle came up the right way. He raced quarter midgets and was successful there and when he turned 12 he hopped right into 4-cylinder stock and after a few weeks he was winning there,” said Beers.
“Pretty much every division he’s raced in he has been successful and now that he’s in the Modifieds with us he’s been doing a great job. He runs clean and is progressing very well. You’re not afraid to run next to him and you’re not afraid to run in front of him. He’s one of those drivers that you could race with and is not unpredictable.”
Now in his fourth season with the Modified, Strohl is regarded as a top pick for a weekly win. But he admits that learning his craft took time and it was through much of the teachings of such drivers as Beers and Markovic.
“When I was growing up I always watched those guys closely, how they would run the track and I would gather that in my mind and apply that to my racing and thankfully it gave me good luck and good wins,” explained Strohl.
“It took me a few years to get use to the Modified and how it reacted. I feel though that this year I’ve been really comfortable and so far it’s been a good season for us. We’re still learning and every week we take in new data to process,” he continued.
“I try to treat everyone out there with respect and hopefully it will come back. This season there has been a good amount of respect out here and it’s making for some exciting racing.”
Strohl grabbed major attention at the close of 2016 when he upset a stellar field of Modified talent during the season ending Octoberfast 150 at Mahoning which featured the Race of Champions Tour along with all of the track’s regulars.
In that race the odds for him where never much of a thought considering who was in the show. But by using a simple strategy of saving tires and just driving away from any trouble, Strohl took the elusive victory and had the whole racing community taking notice.
“I wouldn’t have wanted to end the year any other way. That was a really good race for us and we got lucky. I tried to save my tires the best I could through the whole race and it paid off,” said Strohl.
It did indeed pay off to the tune of $5000.
Strohl continues on an upward trend of success, one race at a time. Just like drivers such as Beers and Markovic who laid the foundation for so many others, the future of area short track racing looks to be in good hands.
Added Beers, “We need more guys like Kyle Strohl and people like him to keep short track racing successful.”
Mahoning Valley Speedway Press Release. Photo Credit: Walt Smith