We nearly escaped the full moon’s influence at Plymouth Dirt Track Saturday (PDTR) night, but then things began to happen. There was a new track record set, another tied, and last lap winners, but also a jarring crash that tore through the fencing and moved the heavy flagstand. There were no injuries during the program, for which we are all grateful. Ingenuity and a section of new fencing quickly got the race program back up to speed, and we applaud the efforts of the PDTR crew.
Fan Appreciation Night began with five dollar admission, happy hour and an autograph session, with spectators catching Frisbees and getting driver’s photo cards during the night. The Grand National was the last of the divisions to receive a fifty percent increase in their purse as PDTR paid back the people who helped make them successful. Generosity at PDTR is contagious. It was announced that sprint car racer Brandon McMullen was racing for a charity Saturday and a company put up a $250 bonus if he finished in the top five. Immediately people began offering more cash, with the amount well over a thousand by the time McMullen finished his race.
The Grand National field had several substitute drivers this week, which is allowed because the car earns points rather than the driver at this track. Dick Hed, J. J. Pagel, Barry Maas and Matt Yancey won their heats, with Maas matching the race record. Don Sorce Jr. won the B main, with three of the four team cars transferring to the main and one finishing as the alternate starter. The bonus purse boosted the feature to thirty circuits, beginning with Hed and Pagel in the front row of the 20-car field. Maas, Charlie Sancinati, Matt Yancey, Jeff Lammers and Brad Lubach followed as the green flag waved. Pagel had the advantage on the inside, but Hed was tenacious trying to get past.
Hed edged ahead with nine laps remaining, but Yancey slowed with a flat tire six circuits from the finish. Getting a new chance at the restart, Maas got past Hed and others scrambled for position in the final laps. As the checkered flag waved, Maas was followed by Luke Schoten, who started last in the Scotty Houpt car. Pagel, Hed and Tim Simon completed the top five. “Wow, what a crowd and what a track,” exclaimed Maas. Asked about his battle with Hed, Maas replied, “Dick races hard so I knew I had to be patient and wait for my chance.” Patience at full speed is quite an art.
Donny Goeden, Kurt Davis and Kyle Marten won the sprint car heats and Danny Schlafer led the six transferees from the B main to the night’s feature. The invert began the 25-lap contest with Randy Sippel and Marten in front of Al Schlafer, McMullen, Davis and Goeden. The front pair took off at the start with Marten edging ahead and Sippel alongside. After six laps were complete, Chris Clayton spun and was hit by Ken Jay Fiedler, who rapidly rolled in the aftermath. Fiedler climbed out to the applause of the crowd, but his night was done. Marten again got ahead at the restart, with Sippel’s efforts paying off three laps later. Before a dozen laps were complete Josh Walter’s mount was rolling over, catching Clayton in the action and both retired to the pits. The crowd was also watching McMullen in the front pack, knowing his charity would be rewarded for his efforts.
Davis roared around the oval on the high side trying to pick up enough momentum to get past, finally taking the lead with two laps remaining. Lapped cars got in the way in the final circuits, with Goeden getting past for third place and Marten behind. Davis spent so much time in the grandstands earlier that the announcer quipped he was going to miss his race. Proving donuts on the track after his win, Davis told everyone, “I love these people.” Asked how he got the lead from Sippel, Davis said, “I thought I gotta do it on a start. Randy rode up and just had to give it.” Sippel walked over to congratulate Davis for a good race and one lucky child received the winning trophy.
Randy Markwardt came out of retirement with a new body on his old late model, but may change his mind after what occurred on his first night back. Heat winners were Mitch McGrath and Kyle Odekirk before the feature invert. The 25-lap contest began with Ted Dolhun and Rick Scheffler ahead of Turk Letizia, Ron Stroika, Tim Buhler and Brad Mueller. Mueller’s mount spun before a lap was complete, catching Jim Schmidt, Eric Michaels and Dave Thomas in the aftermath. Schmidt pitted and returned for the start as Scheffler took the lead. Buhler surged to the front to challenge, nosing ahead twice in the first twelve laps before Scheffler took the lead for good. Suddenly Markwardt’s car crashed hard into the front concrete and punched through the fencing before bouncing off the flagstand. Markwardt climbed out of his mangled mount to grateful applause and the flagman was also unhurt.
It wasn’t long before the front fencing was fixed and the field started their engines for the final eight laps. McGrath drove the high line to get ahead and led the thundering pack to the checkered flag with Buhler and Scheffler the only ones able to keep up. Sliding too high in the final corner, McGrath’s car jumped the cushion and bounced off the wall as Buhler went past. The crowd was on their feet at the sight when Buhler crossed the final stripe and McGrath recovered for second place. Brothers Rick and Russ Scheffler were next and Dolhun hung on for fifth place. Buhler was almost speechless afterwards, explaining the spectacular finish, “I just shoved it and went to the bottom. That cushion is rough.”
Eleven Outlaw Compact competitors were packed into one heat, won by Chris Maas, as some drivers moved on to other things. The 15-lap feature invert started Brody Rivest and Justin Erickson in front of Maas, Johathan Otte, Cody Pankow and Donnie Welch. Rivest led the pack at the start, but Erickson caught him by surprise with four laps remaining. Rivest recovered and led the final three laps in the caution-free event, posting his fifth win of the season and setting a new race record in the process.
This was more amazing because Erickson got into Rivest off the final corner and the pair got sideways before Rivest recovered. Taking a reverse victory lap to celebrate, Rivest parked in front of the audience. Asked about the incident, Rivest claimed, “I don’t know how I got the thing straightened out.” Shrugging, Rivest added, “I don’t know why he did that. That’s racing.”
The spectator eliminations capped off the program with sprint car racer Ben Schmidt the final winner of the night. A grudge match between two push trucks may or may not have settled a bet, and we certainly saw a lot by ten o’clock. There are only a few weeks left before school starts and the season is over, so expect things to heat up in a hurry.
(Editors Note: Fay Hendricks is a long-time racing columnist and periodically will share her racing stories on Speed 51.com)