LEHIGHTON, PA — When it comes to naming the elite of eastern Pennsylvania asphalt racers, Berwick’s Brian DeFebo stands tall among the many. His accomplishments have earned him the number one ranking in career wins and on Saturday evening at Lehighton’s Mahoning Valley Speedway he added to his legacy by scoring the Opening Night laurels with a hard fought victory against a stout field of Modified equals.
The thing is, despite win after win and numerous championships, when it comes to Mahoning Valley DeFebo has been snake bitten, having not won here since 2006. Not for lack of trying and certainly there was times when a victory looked evident but unfortunately he always seemed to be on the wrong side of luck.
Years of frustration at the paved ¼-mile oval where now wiped away as the venerable driver of the Sophie Welsh owned No. 53 drove to his second Opening Night win which was 11 years to the day.
“It just finally feels good to get this saga over with here. After all the aggravation and the hard work we can breathe a sigh of relief,” said DeFebo, who now has 91 career feature wins. This was his sixth at Mahoning Valley.
“This is a tough place to win at and it makes it exciting when you do. I still get goosebumps.”
DeFebo started on the outside of row one and would chase closely alongside leader Bobby Jones. With the outside lane as his line of attack, he was then able to slip past the leader on lap seven.
His work was far from over, however, as a host of others gave him all he could handle as from there on he was in full defensive mode.
Lou Strohl looked very quick and was locking horns with DeFebo and next came Austin Kochenash and Kyle Strohl who likewise showed plenty of speed. By the waning laps Kris Graver was showing his hand.
At any given time the later trio was swapping second spot while also making valid attempts at the lead. But each time DeFebo was able to fend them off by shouldering a line good enough to keep anyone from overtaking him.
“We were good in the heat race. We have a really fast, good set-up for during the day and we only have to tweak a bit for at night,” explained DeFebo.
At the finish it was Kochenash just nipping Graver for runner-up while John Markovic got dialed in late and was fourth over Strohl.
This also marked a new era for the track as the American Racer tires were used in full competition for the first time.
“It’s a rolling science project for right now and everyone has it,” said DeFebo.
“It is nice to say we are the first to win a Modified race at Mahoning on American Racer’s. This is a good tire and I feel it will hold up to many laps here. In the long haul it will be better for everyone.”
In the past several years Late Model standout Mike Sweeney has been garnering win after win, well over 20 just during the three most recent seasons. But despite that run of success which included winning the 2016 Late Model title, the one thing missing from his bucket list was an Opening Night victory.
Sweeney can now chalk that one off as he notched the verdict with a two car length score over top rival Frankie Althouse.
Both drivers began the race from the front row with Althouse taking control at first. But by lap three Sweeney was easing his Ford ahead of the pack and from there on set sail for the checkers.
Although Althouse kept him honest, Sweeney maneuvered nicely past traffic without giving up any distance. It was his 39th time winning at Mahoning.
Jon Moser closed out 2016 number one in points with the Street Stocks and that’s just how he started 2017.
Confidently showing why he earned the title, Moser came into the night at the top of his game as he led every lap. He would have Jared Ahner give him a great run but there was no denying his flawlessness en route to victory.
Mike Stofflet had no trouble in cruising to victory in the Dirt Moods as he took the lead from the get-go and never looked back from there to the finish.
Former Pro 4 champion Cody Kohler made his 8-hour ride up from North Carolina where he attends college well worth the trip as the rising star took first place honors in a squeaker over Johnny Bennett.
The Hobby Stock class made Opening Night a rousing one as a record 29 cars signed in, the most ever for a single race day.
Plenty of cars indeed but of them all Devon Schmidt was the fastest as he withstood a torrid battle with Avery Arthofer to claim the win.
Modified Feature Finish (35 Laps): 1. Brian DeFebo, 2. Austin Kochenash, 3. Kris Graver, 4. John Markovic, 5. Kyle Strohl, 6. Eric Beers, 7. Nick Baer, 8. Don Wagner, 9. Rick Kirkendall, 10. Lou Strohl, 11. Blake Barney, 12. Ron Haring Jr., 13. Joey Jarowicz, 14. Bobby Jones, 15. Terry Markovic, 16. Drew Reinhold
-Mahoning Valley Speedway Press Release
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com/MoJo Photos