As is often the case at the Mahoning Valley Speedway (PA) bullring, Saturday night’s fifth annual Octoberfast came down to strategy. With this year’s edition being 150 circuits and for the first time matching the weekly track regulars up against the Race of Champions Asphalt Modified Series teams, drivers were put to the test on the ¼-mile.
Thirty Modifieds and numerous fans braved the cold temperatures and track conditions for the penultimate event on the RoC schedule. It was 16-year-old Kyle Strohl from nearby Palmerton, Pennsylvania that made a pivotal decision, electing not to pit when many did during a lap 112 yellow flag. He would hold off and even pull away on the remaining restarts from his closest competitors, including RoC championship contender Chuck Hossfeld.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Strohl, a heat race winner earlier in the evening, told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “It’s just a big win for us. It’s the biggest win for my career and my crew’s career. I just can’t thank them enough for the long hours in the garage and I really appreciate it.”
It was a New Jersey front row with Calvin Carroll drawing the pole and fast qualifier Don Wagner taking the early lead, but on a lap 20 restart Austin Kochenash would make his presence known and set sail out front. Some impressive lengthy green flag periods with continued side by side battles ensued, as Kochenash approached presumed winning contenders at the beginning of the day in attempt to put them a lap down.
The moment that changed the complexion of the race came with less than 40 laps to go. A multi-car altercation in turn four, including RoC points leader Patrick Emerling, slowed the field for the first time after a torrid pace of 66 circuits under green.
Kochenash and other leaders chose to pit for a fresh tire. Kyle and Lou Strohl, no relation to each other, did not.
“We really didn’t have a strategy coming in and during the race I kind of developed one in my mind,” Kyle Strohl commented. “I really haven’t had any luck with my strategies, but this time it really stuck.”
Lou Strohl, a longtime veteran at the track with 33 career victories, was driving a car that nearly won the year before with Wagner behind the wheel. Not getting fresh rubber was his plan from the get go.
“We talked about it all week back at the shop, getting the car ready, that we were not going to pit today,” Lou Strohl summarized. “I was confident enough that I could save the car, save the tires enough, and it worked out. Maybe I should have went just a little bit sooner than I did, but I’m very happy with second place and Matt Higgins gave me one heck of a race car to drive tonight.”
Lou Strohl neared the back of Kyle Strohl’s machine on some of the longer green flag runs, but the increase in quantity of cautions close to the conclusion ultimately kept him from making a winning bid.
“He could go right from the drop of the green and I needed six or seven laps, and I just was not getting that at the end of the race,” Lou Strohl said.
Lou Strohl, also from Palmerton, had to contend with the only former Octoberfast winner in the field as well. Zane Zeiner conserved early on and almost lost a lap at one point, and had second place for a brief time in the closing stages before falling back to third in the final order.
“We kind of missed the chassis there a little bit, so didn’t want to use up the tires too much, but Austin was setting a fast pace and he was coming,” Zeiner recapped. “We sort of had to make a charge before that caution, but used the car up too hard than I wanted to. We came in, made some adjustments, and didn’t go quite far enough with it.”
The Bath, Pennsylvania racer also indicated a difference between the RoC sanctioned event and a normal weekly show at the Lehighton facility that made an impact.
“Lou was protecting and when you run radios here it’s really a lot harder to pass,” Zeiner stated. “All the guys do my move off of turn two over there. I had to put it up top and we made the pass. I used the car up so hard on the right rear that it went away on us so I just tried to ride a little bit and Lou got back by me again and that’s all we had.”
Wagner ran a consistent race and finished in fourth, while Hossfeld continued a streak of never finishing outside the top five at Mahoning Valley despite having yet to lead a lap at the track.
Emerling was towed off the track on a lap 112 caution, but the longer cleanup and running order reset allowed the Leaty Autosport team to fix their Modified in time to rejoin the field for the restart. The hard work perhaps saved them from losing a number of points heading into the Race of Champions finale at Oswego Speedway (NY) next weekend. The Orchard Park, New York native finished seventh, and at one brief juncture powered ahead of second in points Hossfeld on the track.
Early frontrunner Kochenash saw his strong night cut short when he challenged Hossfeld on a restart, but Daren Scherer dove below both and the three competitors ran out of race track. Kochenash ended up with significant damage to the right side, causing his bid for victory to come to an end. The incident also involved track champion and April Mahoning Valley RoC winner Eric Beers, eliminating him from contention.
The $5,000 payday for Kyle Strohl was very beneficial for the small team. The teenage driver, whose entire budding career has consisted of starts at his home track, even hinted of trying to branch out a little bit in 2017.
“It’s going to help us a lot,” Kyle Strohl said. “We’re just going to take the car and try to rebuild it and use this money to get top notch equipment. Hopefully we can make a RoC show next year maybe.”
(Editor’s Note: Visit Speed51.com’s Trackside Now presented by PFC Brakes for a full on-demand recap of Saturday’s event.)
-By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com Central NY & PA Editor – Twitter: @aaron_creed
-Photo credit: Speed51.com/MoJo Photos
Race of Champions Asphalt Modified Series Octoberfast 150 Results
Pos Start # Driver Laps
1 5 44 Kyle Strohl 150
2 14 88 Lou Strohl 150
3 12 76 Zane Zeiner 150
4 2 22W Don Wagner 150
5 16 22 Chuck Hossfeld 150
6 6 8 Earl Paules 150
7 9 07 Patrick Emerling 150
8 19 01 Kris Graver 150
9 23 3 Daren Scherer 150
10 17 25 Mike Leaty 150
11 7 32 Tyler Rypkema 150
12 8 14 Blake Barney 150
13 24 95M John Markovic 150
14 22 02 Joey Jarowicz 150
15 18 51 T.J. Potrzebowski 150
16 4 71 Jimmy Zacharias 150
17 26 1B Todd Baer 148
18 25 95 Bryan Sherwood 146
19 1 39 Calvin Carroll 145
20 15 8M Terry Markovic 144
21 13 53 Brian Defebo 126
22 3 72 Austin Kochenash 119
23 11 45 Eric Beers 119
24 10 54 Jack Ely 119
25 21 22NJ DJ Wagner 115
26 20 10 Daryl Lewis Jr. 45