(LEHIGHTON, Pa.) — As the April 9 season opening Ferris Mower Race of Champions Modified Series Fueled by Sunoco tour event readies for the tight confines of Lehighton’s Mahoning Valley Speedway for the “Break-The-Ice 75” the excitement and anticipation is mounting at a pace that is just as rapid as the speed that goes along with the fast and furious paved ¼-mile oval.
And, while many of the best pavement Modified teams will be ascending on Mahoning Valley for what will be their first outing of 2016, so too will all the weekly regulars, making this event perhaps one of the hardest earned victories for the driver who will pick up the $2800 first place winnings for the 75-lap feature.
The Race of Champions Tour indeed can boast some great talent, but when it comes to Mahoning Valley, the home team rules.
Case in point, of the majority of Race of Champions Tour shows that have taken place here, only once has there been an outsider win a feature, that being legendary Tony Siscone in 1990. Otherwise the winner’s list will show all the locals as taking checkers beginning with Lorin Arthofer Sr., who scored a stunning upset in 1989 over George Kent.
Tim Santee, Chip Santee, John Markovic, Scott Lesher, Tyler Haydt (who won three times), Kory Rabenold, Don Wagner, Eric Beers, Zane Zeiner and the most recent, Rick Kirkendall in 2008, have all won RoC affiliated races on their home turf.
“Because the track is so unique it’s really tough for someone that doesn’t have the experience there to come in and win. You’re going up against guys that have raced there over their entire career and are veteran drivers,” said defending Race of Champions Tour champ Matt Hirschman of nearby Northampton and considers Mahoning his “home track.”
Hirschman has 14 career wins at Mahoning, nearly all of them coming in extra distance type races such as the upcoming Break-The-Ice 75.
But he admits it wasn’t easy at first. He struggles when he first started coming here in the early 2000s and it wasn’t until 2009 that he garnered his first win, a 100-lapper. From then on there was no stopping him when it came to the big money shows at Mahoning.
“It took me many years (to win) but I was never a regular there. I didn’t start my career there and I didn’t go there until the RoC was doing the tour. When the RoC first went to Mahoning as a tour in 2003, it was my closest track to home but it still took me a long time to gain the knowledge and experience. But once we finally got that monkey off our back and won, we got pretty hot,” said Hirschman.
“The thing is there’s a lot of good competitors coming in there for that first race and I wouldn’t be surprised that someone pulls it off who isn’t a regular but there will be a tough presence from the guys with a lot of track experience.”
Not only is the Break-The-Ice 75 the first step on the road to the 2016 Race of Champions title, it is also the first points race for the Mahoning regulars and 100 show-up points are being awarded to those drivers gunning towards this year’s track championship, assuring that an outstanding field of Modifieds will be on hand.
“I think there is going to be a lot of excitement and it’s going to be a great show to watch. The qualifying just to get into the show will be very entertaining in itself. It’s gearing up to be a tough field,” said Hirschman.
“There will be a so many great drivers there. I’m confident about our chances but on the same token it won’t surprise me that the odds will favor the knowledge and experience that the regulars bring to the table.”
Test and Tune days will be held on Saturday, March 26 and again on April 2-3, from noon to 4:00 pm.
On race day, April 9, pit gates open at 11:00 a.m. followed by Modified inspection at 11:30 a.m. Sign-in takes place from 1:00 – 2:15 p.m. Heat racing will begin at 4:00 p.m.
Also on the card will be Mahoning’s Late Models, Street Stocks and Hobby Stocks.
Additional news can be found on the track’s official website at www.mahoningvalley-speedway.com or on Facebook at Mahoning Valley Speedway. You can also log onto the Race of Champions website at http://www.rocmodifiedseries.com
-Mahoning Valley Speedway Press Release
-Photo Credit: Dino Oberto