Most weekly short tracks have a class that serves as a place for younger drivers to learn while experienced drivers without the resources to move up can find a home year after year. That couldn’t be truer at Mahoning Valley Speedway’s Street Stock division where countless drivers have contended year in and year out, creating thrilling door-to-door racing lap after lap for the fans each and every Saturday night.
The numbers speak for themselves. All but one event in 2014 has received such a large turnout that competitors have been sent home prior to the feature green flag, and in 2013 19 different drivers won a feature. The track officials and drivers made the decision mid-season to increase their regular race distance from 25 to 30 laps, five laps longer than the Late Model division typically runs.
So why is the division so popular?
2013 division champion Chip Wanamaker has dabbled in the headlining Modified division some, but has achieved his primary success in a Street Stock throughout the region. The last few seasons he has called the Lehighton, Pennsylvania facility his home track and recommends it to anyone who wants to hone their driving skills.
“I’ve run really good equipment with the Modifieds getting to run Zane Zeiner’s stuff, but I challenge any and all (to race a Street Stock),” said Wanamaker. “This is the toughest class. On these tires you’re out there, you’re wheel to wheel, side by side, and you’ve got to be dead on. You’ve got to have the right adjustments, and you’ve got to be in the right line because you’re two by two and all within a tenth of a second. It’s just so tight and you have to have everything go right.”
The tight racing wins over an impressive group of fans seen in the stands every week. The handicapping after heat races for the feature keeps the point leaders from starting up front, allowing for an immense amount of passing to take place throughout the race distance. One driver that has dealt with this week in and week out is 2011 and 2012 division champion T.J. Gursky. With such a short time to get to the front at the quarter-mile he knows consistency is key in order to contend for the championship.
“It’s very difficult because you’re in the back every week,” Gursky told Speed51.com powered by JEGS prior to the August 16th event. “The top-three in points coming into tonight don’t have a win; none of us, so that’s just the consistency right there. Last year we were a title contender all the way to the end and we had three wins. Chip was the champion and he had two wins. It just depends on the way the cards fall if you’re in the right line that night and you have a fast car. But if cars are 20th going side-by-side not going anywhere that’s going to hold you up a little bit.”
On this particular night in August, Zach Graver became one of the very few multi-time winners in 2014 after managing to get around the outside of the tight machine of Brian Labar in the closing laps. Graver, along with Gursky and Wanamaker agree on why the division has become such a draw for competitors.
“It’s not a class for beginners, but it’s a class that doesn’t cost a lot of money,” said Graver. “If you’re finishing good without a lot of damage the car maintains itself whereas a Modified you’ve got to spend hundreds of dollars every week on tires if you want to be competitive. For these you might get six or seven races out of a set of tires, so it’s a lot more efficient than a Modified or a Late Model but it’s a little bit bigger than a Pro 4 or a 4 Cylinder.”
Gursky echoed Graver’s statements regarding affordability.
“You get some money tied up in them, but the main week-to-week maintenance is cheaper on them than as to say a Modified or a Late Model, and we’re getting $600 to win. If you don’t wreck equipment at the worst you’re taking home $80 that night so you’re not putting all that money back into the car out of your own pocket.”
Wanamaker perhaps had the most staggering analysis regarding tires.
“This sport is so expensive to begin with. I bought two sets of tires this year and that’s what we race on. Last year I won a championship on six tires all year. That’s why it’s competitive, because it’s affordable. You can do it on an affordable scale. If you go anywhere else you won’t see that car count.”
The Street Stock drivers get three chances to become feature winners on Labor Day weekend. The Mike Krempasky Memorial Triple 19s will pay $419 to the winner of each leg and points will be awarded for each feature event. Performance on this particular night could make or break a championship season.
-By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com Correspondent – Twitter: @Aaron_Creed
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com