Especially in asphalt short track racing, momentum is something that can often come and go. How it is sustained determines a driver’s results in the long run. Both winners of the Twin 50s held for the Modified division at Pennsylvania's Mahoning Valley Speedway faced some recent difficult moments and returned to being a couple of the top guns Saturday.
Young Kristopher Graver turned many heads in his first full season racing Tour-Type Modifieds in 2013 at the Lehighton, Pennsylvania facility, adjusting quickly and winning twice. Although currently fifth in the track standings, Kris had yet to put the car in victory lane despite being capable. Following a win in his heat race, he was able to get by pole starter Brian Romig for the lead a few laps in from his front row starting position. Drivers with a host of Modified experience at the track including Roger Coss, Scott Meckes, Earl Paules and Don Wagner all attempted to catch him, but Graver never looked back. It’s a quick turnaround in the positive direction after the previous week’s result.
“Last week I got put in the wall and tore off the whole right front,” said Graver. “The car has been awesome all year, just haven’t been able to catch a break until tonight when I actually got to start from the front row and I got to show what the car can do.”
As a result of a random invert, Graver had to start the second 50 lap feature later in the night from 14th starting position. Luck was going to once again need to be on his side and it was as he avoided one accident after another to finish in fifth.
Up front, there were several changes for the top spot. Frequent Race of Champions competitor Brandon Oltra took the lead from teenager Kyle Strohl on the start; however, the race was slowed for a lengthy amount of time thereafter. Austin Kochenash, who won a Modified feature the night before at Evergreen Raceway Park, lost control in turn four and slammed nearly head on into the frontstretch wall. Kochenash was okay, but during the caution period speedy-dry was put around the entire inside racing groove and the field was stopped to check for leaking fluid.
When racing resumed, Nevin George took the lead a few laps later with April Opening Night winner Eric Beers following into second. One yellow flag after another would continue to bunch the field during the middle stages, but the pass for the win came during a lengthier green flag run with less than 10 laps to go when Beers set up George coming out of two and was the leader by the time they got back to the line. For Beers, the win was a move back in the positive direction after making repairs to a banged up race car recently and a disappointing finish in the first Twin 50.
“It was a tough few weeks,” said Beers. “We were in the wrong place, wrong time, wrong lane. It didn’t matter where we were, it was a bad spot. It was like we had a cloud above us. We missed the setup in the first race, that’s basically what happened. We were way too free, and we made a bunch of adjustments for race two and made the car a lot better.”
For Nevin George, another former competitor on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, his car wasn’t much different from the first race and caught the right breaks and used the right line to get to the front. However, he was disappointed with what may have made the difference between second and a win.
“Unfortunately I just overadjusted,” admitted George. “I’m known to do that and I did it again. It’s easy to sit back and think about what you do different, but that’s the way it turned out so we’ll take a second and the car’s in one piece.”
Even though Beers made his way to the front, the current track points leader didn’t have the easiest time keeping it there.
“We ended up losing power steering around lap four,” noted Beers. “It came back once on that real long caution and it worked for about two laps. My arms were killing me at the end of the race, but when we had a caution I would just sit there and hold the wheel and rest them. When we went back green I would go as hard as I could for three or four laps and that’s when I ended up sneaking by.”
The amount of cautions was one of the big stories for the night. The first twin 50 saw the field slowed many times, and the second one even more. Beers attributed it to some drivers’ not being accustomed to the evening’s format.
“I think what happens is you run a feature and your adrenaline gets way high, and then you sit in the pits for two or three hours waiting for the next race,” explained Beers. “Me, Earl, Nevin; we all ran Tour races and ran other places where you would run early in the day and not race until the end of the night, so you know how to use the adversity. You can handle it. I think a lot of the guys are used to running a couple hour show, and they were just a little out of practice or a little out of their element with the two features so far apart.”
In addition, the Modifieds were required to race on the four tires they started the heat races on all the way through the conclusion of the second Twin 50. Beers stated that was another possible reason that drivers were getting into some trouble.
“There’s not a lot of grip left, and they’re just trying to do stuff with the car that the tires are not going to handle and that’s basically what happens.”
Additional winners were Jack Ely in a thrilling 25 lap Dirt Modified feature that took four and a half minutes to complete, Matt Wentz in Street Stocks, Mike Sweeney in Late Models, Cody Kohler in Pro Fours and Shayne Geist in Hobby Stocks.
The yellow flag may have been witnessed a little more than usual, but the battles displayed for the win took place on the track for fans to see when it counted.
The next major event for the facility is Sunday, June 29 when the open-wheel SpeedSTRs come to town. In addition to track regulars Eric Beers and Earl Paules, some of dirt track racing’s finest including Rick Eckert, Kenny Brightbill, Billy Pauch Jr. and Sr., Frank Cozze as well as Oswego Supermodified hotshoe Otto Sitterly all will converge on the pavement for a special show.
- By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com Correspondent - Twitter: @Aaron_Creed. Photo credit: Speed51.com