The USAC All Pro SpeedSTRs, All Star Slingshots and American Three Quarter Midget Racing Association (ATQMRA) took center stage on Saturday night at Mahoning Valley Speedway (PA) and there were some familiar faces in victory lane.
2014 Modified track champion Kristopher Graver shot into the lead from the start and never looked back to win the 40-lap race for the spec midget division designed by longtime area promoter and racer Rich Tobias Jr. Although the 22-year-old made it look easy, his $3,000-winning performance, which goes straight to charity, was far from it.
“I was pretty much hanging on for dear life for that whole time, because around lap 15 the power steering gave out,” Graver told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “With these cars, you’ve got to muscle them. I’m pretty wiped out.”
His closest competition on the track was his uncle Kevin Graver Jr., who started from the pole. Kevin would try to keep up with Kris on a couple of restarts, but the past champion at the quarter-mile track in multiple divisions would have to settle for second on this evening.
“On the start, these things for the first three or four laps especially on a cold night like this, they are so slippery and slide around so much,” Kevin Graver Jr. explained. “I didn’t get on the gas maybe as hard as I should have, but I don’t know if I had enough for him. The cars were close. I was a little looser than I wanted to be, but I can’t be upset finishing second to him.”
Kevin Graver Jr. would have to contend for the second spot with a first time visitor to the facility. Defending Bowman Gray Stadium (NC) champion and NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour competitor Danny Bohn made only his second appearance in a racecar in 2015. The accomplished driver, who recently relocated back to New Jersey, said it took some time to familiarize himself with the unique track.
“This track is weird,” Bohn said. “It’s like you feel like you can pass a guy at any given moment, but when you try you step sideways or run into him. They say that’s part of racing here. You just have to slow down to go faster. We got in a rhythm there, but I think it was just a little too free getting in. Third place; it was fun.”
As a seasoned veteran of the Northeast Pennsylvania facility, Kevin Graver Jr. was impressed with Bohn’s ability to adapt quickly.
“For him to never see this racetrack until today and from early practice to the feature his improvement; hats off to him,” commended Kevin Graver Jr. “Obviously he can drive a car so it was fun racing with him. I heard him there a couple times; I felt him there once, but it all worked out. Just good hard racing.”
Brett Bieber led the 20-lap All Star Slingshot feature wire to wire that completed in four minutes time. Matt Janisch kicked off the 59th year of ATQMRA racing with his third straight season opening win at Mahoning.
Kris Graver also finished seventh in the 35-lap weekly Modified feature, which was won by 15-year-old Kyle Strohl. In addition to his title defense in a Modified at Mahoning, Kris will be running the SpeedSTR elsewhere quite a bit in 2015.
“We are going to be running full time at Kutztown (Action Track USA) and the USAC (All Pro SpeedSTR) Tour so I get to run some more dirt and I can’t wait for that,” Graver said. “That’s what I am more excited for more than anything.”
One of his biggest fans is definitely Uncle Kevin, who has worked alongside Kris throughout his success which includes three wins in as many SpeedSTR races at Mahoning.
“I am so proud of what he has done and everything he has done here,” Kevin Graver Jr. remarked. “For him to accomplish what he has accomplished at 22 years old it’s just crazy. Hopefully we can get these SpeedSTRs going on dirt for him and see where that takes him.”
Perhaps the most rewarding about the victories has been the SpeedSTR team he has been competing for and what they support.
“It’s pretty cool, especially running for Kovatch Motorsports,” Kris Graver said. “That three grand goes to Lehigh Valley Burn Prevention and the Sonny Kovatch Scholarship Foundation. I get to do what I love to do and it also goes for a good cause so you can’t beat that.”
SpeedSTR Feature Finish (40 Laps): 1. Kris Graver, 2. Kevin Graver Jr., 3. Danny Bohn, 4. Steve Nederostek, 5. Mike Bednar, 6. Kyle Lick, 7. Wayne Weaver, 8. Rick Kirkendall, 9. Matt Janisch, 10. Earl Paules, 11. Eric Beers, 12. Tim Iulg, 13. Jason Miller, 14. John Bockhorn, 15. Nick Baer
– By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com Pennsylvania/Central New York Editor – Twitter: @aaron_creed
– Photo credit: Speed51.com