For the third straight year the Northeast Pennsylvania facility known as Mahoning Valley Speedway will host a late season special called Octoberfast. No points are on the line, just bragging rights and a nice payday. Despite the speedway boasting a 26-week schedule with an impressive group of Modified racers committing to competing on a regular basis, it is those that are not present at all times during the regular season that have been victorious in the first two runnings of the longest distance race of the season at the 1/4-mile.
Matt Hirschman has his share of wins at Mahoning and comes off an incredible last-to-first performance the last time out in a 100 lapper. With all that said, the Northampton, PA driver knows that it will not be an easy accomplishment to claim another “big money” prize.
“This place is tough,” Hirschman told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “It’s very humbling, because we’ve won many of these and you feel like a hero but I’ve been here way more than that and you feel like a zero.”
Last year’s Octoberfast feature was one of those races that left him feeling like less than a hero. Pit strategy could have very well played in his favor, but not on this particular night as he was involved in a major wreck coming up through the field. Emerging victorious was another occasional visitor to Mahoning, Zane Zeiner of Bath, PA.
Zeiner comes in to Saturday with a few recent strong runs at the track and additionally won last weekend’s Spooky Spectacular event at Wall Stadium Speedway (NJ). After being absent from the driver seat for much of the first half of the year, Zeiner feels like the team is quickly heading in the right direction in time for Saturday.
“We keep getting better and better,” said Zeiner. “We’re making small changes. The car that we’re bringing finished second with (Mahoning Street Stock regular) Chip Wanamaker driving last year. We just got to play our cards right, and each time I keep getting more and more laps with this car it’s getting better.”
One driver that may not have as much experience on “the fastest circle in racing” yet is constantly a threat for the win no matter where he goes is Southern Tier region champion Jimmy Zacharias. He ran in the top three during last year’s event, but after some miscommunication during a pit stop fell back and salvaged a seventh-place finish. The Candor, New York driver still enjoyed his experience and looks forward to returning to navigate the track.
“It’s unique, it’s a challenge, and it makes the driver drive,” said Zacharias. “We know what we need this year going into it and we should be better.”
Austin Kochenash is a former full time competitor at Mahoning, but has taken some time off from there to focus on what turned out to be a runner-up finish in the Race of Champions Asphalt Modified Tour points to follow up his Rookie of the Year accolades in 2013. Nevertheless, the young Danielsville, PA driver feels they will be prepared.
“We went and practiced last weekend,” said Kochenash. “We were really good on older tires, but that track changes week to week. With that race there it’s just about surviving and if you know how to drive the track well you can wind up in the top five no matter where you start. 130 laps at Mahoning is a long time.”
Being patient throughout the race’s longer distance and adjusting to track conditions were common responses among competitors regarding the Lehighton, PA track.
“This place changes by weather and temperature and time of year more than any race track I’ve ever been to,” said Hirschman. “It’s a tough place, but it’s rewarding when you hit it.”
There may be a bevy of visitors invading on Saturday afternoon, but the track regulars will be there in full force to defend their turf as well. 2014 track champion Kris Graver was unsure if he would be back for Octoberfast after the season finale weekend earlier in the month, but signs indicate that he will be there to go for the biggest win of his career. Familiar names like Earl Paules, Nevin George, Don Wagner, Eric Beers, and more are expected to be there as well. The defending race winner is aware of the stacked competition, but remains confident that he can make the effort to repeat.
“Matt’s always going to be tough, Beersy’s going to be tough, all the heavy hitters are going to be there for the 130 lapper, and I think we’re going to be strong too.”
The $5,000-to-win Modified feature is not all that is on the card for the packed weekend. Street Stocks, Late Models, and Hobby Stocks will be around on Saturday for some of their longest distance and biggest paying features of the year. In addition, eight divisions will take to the track on Sunday highlighted by the return of the unique SpeedSTRs and a 60-lap Dirt Modified feature.
Speed51.com will be on hand for live Trackside Now coverage beginning on Saturday morning.
-By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com Correspondent – Twitter: @Aaron_Creed
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com