Whether it’s in a Modified or a Late Model, when Zane Zeiner shows up at a major event in the Northeast he is always considered one of the drivers to beat. On this particular Sunday afternoon, a lot had to come together so that the Bath, Pennsylvania could merely be in attendance.
The Late Model All Star 100-lap event at Evergreen Raceway (PA) was postponed from a week before due to weather, in which Zeiner doubted his team would have been ready in time. Zeiner’s son Gunnar was competing in a national karting event the same day as the rescheduled date. It was one of the first times in which Zane would not be there for support, but word came that the young second-generation driver set fast time and won in both of his classes.
The pressure was now on the father and the team passed with flying colors. A blistering pace was set in qualifying with a best time of 14.181 seconds around the 1/3-mile oval. Nevertheless, Zeiner was not completely satisfied. Changes were made before the feature.
“I got worried the first couple laps that we made the wrong change,” Zeiner told Speed51.com. “But then we got a quick caution, I calmed myself down, changed my line up a little bit, and it kept getting better and better as we went. We did make the right calls and she was a pretty stout car today.”
Zeiner led a field of 23 cars, a stellar Late Model turnout that had not been witnessed at the St. Johns, Pennsylvania facility in nearly a decade, in a straight up start from time trials. Behind Zeiner, the course of the race had its share of altercations, but at the front it turned out to be a flag-to-flag victory and record $3,500 payout.
“It feels great and it’s awesome to have all these cars, great competition,” Zeiner noted. “Thanks to everyone that supported this; it’s just awesome.”
Zeiner’s closest competitor for much of the race was local competitor Steve Shultz, but some invading drivers such as New Hampshire’s Luke Hinkley and North Carolina’s Jerick Johnson tried their hand at tackling the familiar No. 76 early on.
Some mishaps during the middle stages would take some of the visitors out of contention, leaving three Keystone State drivers to battle it out in the end. Zeiner would maintain the upper hand though in the closing laps.
The hard charge of the day came from two-time track champion and 2017 King of the Green event winner last fall, Mike Sweeney. The Nesquehoning, Pennsylvania racer passed Shultz for the runner-up position with approximately 30 laps remaining.
“We had a way better car in practice than we showed in time trials,” Sweeney said. “Tried to work through the field smartly and it worked out for us. Unfortunately, by the time we got to second we were pretty used up by then, so we really didn’t have anything for Zane.”
Despite coming up a position short, Sweeney had nothing but congratulations to give to Zeiner.
“When you’re getting beat by Zane you can’t really hang your head,” Sweeney added. “He’s fast wherever he goes and he and his guys are a class act.”
Perhaps the most emotional among the top finishers was Shultz. The Drums, Pennsylvania driver was track champion during Evergreen’s abbreviated season in 2014, but has far less experience in a Late Model than the peers he was racing alongside.
“It’s a big deal,” Shultz, who never ran outside the top three the entire distance, recapped. “To be able to come here and time trial third fastest up against Zane Zeiner, I’m honored to do that. To get the chance to restart next to him multiple times, it’s just unreal.”
It was a gratifying day for the driver who does not plan to stray very far away from his home track in 2018, and provided a knowledgebase and confidence for the upcoming local regular season.
“When we started burning fuel it started pushing the nose,” Shultz added. “It was close, but I think it was just whoever got out front first was going to be the one to get it. I slipped on a restart and let Sweeney by me, but it happens and the car is in one piece after 100 laps so I’m happy.”
Area teenage up-and-comer Broc Brown finished fourth with Granite State Pro Stock Series president Mike Parks rounding out the top five.
While 100 “show up” points were issued to any cars on the grounds, the hunt for the Evergreen track title begins for the Late Models on Sunday, May 6.
Race fans can find on-demand Speed Central coverage of Sunday’s race by clicking here.
-By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com National Correspondent – Twitter: @aaron_creed
-Photo credit: Speed51.com
Late Model All Star 100 Results
|9||15||41||Francis Gross III||99|
|15||16||00||Paul Koehler Jr.||60|
|21||18||2||George Ramos III||7|