When Mahoning Valley Speedway Modified regular Kris Graver woke up on Sunday morning, he originally had no plans of racing. That was until current Modified division points leader Eric Beers elected not to compete in the special event featuring the Rich Tobias-created SpeedSTRs after ending up with a minor injury to his hand racing the night before. Graver accepted an offer to substitute, set fast time, won his heat, went on to pass his uncle Kevin Graver, Jr. for the lead 11 of 45 laps into the feature, and claimed the $3,000 winning payday.
“I woke up around 11 and saw I had a text message asking if I wanted to drive a SpeedSTR,” said an elated Kris Graver. “Here I am, several hours later in victory lane. It’s absolutely unreal.”
The USAC SpeedSTRs compete regularly on Wednesday nights at Action Track USA in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. This was the open wheel division’s first race on pavement in a couple years, and some of dirt track racing’s finest have taken their turn at wheeling these machines recently. Many big names made the trip to try their hand on the Mahoning asphalt, but it was those that race on the surface regularly that prevailed.
Oswego Speedway Supermodified champion Otto Sitterly started from the pole in his SpeedSTR debut after the fastest two qualifiers and fastest two from each race redrew for their starting position. Kris Graver worked his way up from the third position, holding off familiar names to the Pennsylvania community like Kenny Brightbill and Billy Pauch Jr. in the process. A caution with 10 laps to go set up a late dash to the finish, but Graver outpowered ahead of track regular in two divisions Earl Paules for the win. Graver was astounded about being able to finish ahead of many talented drivers.
“First time I ever even sat in the car was today, let alone even driven it, and I’m racing against guys like Billy Pauch, Jr. and Brightbill and all those dirt legends,” remarked Graver. “I can’t thank Richie Tobias, (Race Director) Tim Santee, and (car owner) Art Bair enough for giving me the opportunity to drive this car and hopefully I can get a chance to run it on dirt.”
Billy Pauch, Jr. was the top finishing driver of the dirt contingent over Frank Cozze and Kenny Brightbill, and advanced into a realistic bid for the win after starting from the fourth row.
“It was tough,” said Pauch. “I just paced myself and got myself rolling pretty good. I should have been second and I kind of tried for the win. You come to win, but it was definitely a physically demanding race, that’s for sure.”
The former NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour regular noted the fact that drivers such as Graver and Paules competing at the facility week after week made the difference, despite the unique style machine.
“Asphalt experience I guess helped me a little bit there, but they definitely had the track time,” said Pauch. “Good for them. It was a good finish and I’m happy for a team effort.”
Graver has prior experience racing Dirt Modifieds on the Mahoning asphalt in the past and achieved some success including a division championship in 2012. Surprisingly, there wasn’t much of a transition between the two rather different looking race cars.
“I heard a rumor before that these cars are similar to a Dirt Modified and it is pretty similar,” said Graver. “It’s the same but different; I can’t really explain it.”
The All-Star Slingshots ran 25 laps prior to the SpeedSTR feature with Demetrios Drellos outrunning Dylan Hoch and Danny Buccafusca to lead the race flag-to-flag in a green-white-checkered finish. Several additional divisions that do not regularly run at the track were on hand. Winners were Terry Zuidema in the Vintage TQ Midgets, Damon Paul in the Junior Slingshots, Brad Hinkleman in the Senior Karts, Todd Arntz in the Micro Stock Formulas, Alex Kolonics in the Junior Karts, Dylan Martin in the Stage One Modifieds, and Tyler Wagner in the Micro Stock 602s.
The inaugural Mid-Summer Thunder event was a Sunday afternoon success, and the SpeedSTRs and Slingshots will get another shot at the 1/4-mile later in the year as part of the annual Octoberfast weekend.
Mahoning Valley Speedway looks forward to their next weekly event which will have the second annual Pineapple 50 in memory of George Ramos Jr., the late father of Late Model competitor George Ramos III, as the headliner.
– By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com correspondent – Twitter: @aaron_creed. Photo credit: Speed51.com