With each race being $1,800-to-win and lap sponsor money up for grabs, Saturday night’s Bob “Heavy” Scherer Memorial Twin 50s at Mahoning Valley Speedway (PA) were bound to get interesting. The excessive summer temperatures did not scare the packed assembly of fans away as they made their voice heard by night’s end.
Don Wagner made a late-race rally outside of Austin Kochenash late in the second feature race with the two track regulars dueling within inches over the closing laps. Kochenash would get the win, but Wagner expressed frustration with the younger racer following the checkered flag.
Wagner confronted Kochenash while he was still in the car to have a word, forcing track security to get involved to separate crew members and drivers. As Kochenash climbed out of his Modified with a smile, several of those in the stands let out their jeers as the normally soft-spoken race winner was interviewed.
“As far as Donny Wagner, coming in and hitting me in the window net, that just shows what kind of person he is,” Kochenash told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “Nobody can race with him side by side and I was sick of him driving me up to the wall every week. If he wants to attack me in the car, he gets what he gets.”
Wagner explained the reason for his exasperation and gave his side as far as racing with Kochenash on the track.
“Most of us, except for Austin, race side by side very clean, respect one another, and one another’s equipment,” Wagner said. “We’re going fast enough out there to hurt each other so we don’t want to run anyone up into the wall. Austin did it to me two weeks in a row, and I’m not taking it anymore. I can’t afford to bang my car off the wall because of trying to pass that kid. I got completely to the outside and he just ran me up the track. It was blatant and I’m tired of it.”
Kochenash’s involvement in some on-track events started well before the conclusion of the second race. As the first 50-lap feature got going with Brian Defebo overtaking rookie Modified competitor Nick Baer after a few laps, the Berwick, Pennsylvania veteran stretched out his lead before Kochenash made his way up to second at the halfway point.
A caution flag bunched up the field, and on the ensuing restart Kochenash and Defebo got together coming out of turn two. The result was the spun machine of Defebo and Kochenash being sent to the rear of the field.
“Austin, I think, just got impatient,” Defebo said. “I got out in the lead there and I kept backing up my pace because I knew we had to make it 100 laps on the tires. I don’t know what he was thinking, very simple.”
Kochenash offered an apology to Defebo due to the incidental contact.
“The problem was he was real tight and checked up, and I cleared the car underneath me,” Kochenash indicated. “I went to cross him over and he checked up more than I anticipated. His rear bumper was bent up a little bit and I drove under it and lifted the back tires off the ground and spun him out. That’s not how I race and I’ll explain that to him.”
After the smoke cleared, Bobby Jones and Earl Paules, both feature winners at the ¼-mile in 2016, battled up front with Paules getting sole possession of the top spot after a lap of side by side racing.
“I just made it through all the messes, and we were really good on the bottom,” 2015 track champion Paules said. “I couldn’t believe how good this car was on the bottom.”
Paules would make it up to third place in the second Twin 50 before contact with Jones sent him for a spin.
The hard luck of the night had to go to Defebo, who was also in the running for the victory in the second race after thrashing to fix damage such as the trailing arm brackets between features. In the second feature he used the outside groove, but with early leader Lou Strohl on the defensive it allowed Kochenash to find an opening to sweep under both to take the lead.
“I knew the more (Strohl) was moving up he was just going to open the door for Austin,” Defebo, who also competes frequently in the Race of Champions Asphalt Modified Series, commented. “It’s Mahoning Valley. We’ll win one of these sooner or later.”
The victory nets Kochenash an automatic starting spot in the prestigious 66th annual Race of Champions 250, which will take place at Oswego Speedway (NY) in mid-September. The former Race of Champions Asphalt Modified Series rookie of the year will be bringing some newer equipment, including a motor with less than 200 laps on it, to the 5/8-mile facility in which he had a positive showing in May.
“It relieves a lot of stress going into the Race of Champions weekend,” Kochenash said. “We’re taking a brand new car there so we’ll have a good shot. The first race there I got third so we’ll build on that and hopefully be stronger.”
On this night, it was the second straight year for Kochenash to win on the Bob “Heavy” Scherer Memorial night of racing. Scherer was the brother-in-law and crew member to track champion Eric Beers, and mentor to many others.
“This is in honor of “Heavy” Scherer, and I’m sure he’s smiling right now,” Kochenash noted. “He always took the time out of the day to talk to me. I can’t thank (car owners) Brent and Gary Wentz enough for giving me this opportunity.”
-By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com Central NY & PA Editor – Twitter: @aaron_creed
-Photo credit: Speed51.com