BECHTELSVILLE, PA — Eight time NASCAR T.P.Trailers 358 Modified champion Craig VonDohren, 52, of Oley, PA ducked underneath Duane Howard, 51, of Oley, PA, who was the 358 Modified race leader from the drop of the green, racing through Turn 4 with the white flag waving to steal the top spot and grab the win Saturday night at Grandview Speedway in the 30-lap 358 Modified main event. The down-to-the-wire thriller was a non-stop crowd-pleasing feature event completed in just over eight minutes, as the defending track champion claimed career win number 96 at the Bechtelsville, PA track.
Craig Whitmoyer, 39, of Hamburg, PA knifed his way under the top two running cars, who were battling each other for the top spot while caught up in heavy lapped traffic, racing through Turn 2 on Lap 18 and went on to earn his sixth career Sportsman victory at the Grandview oval. The non-stop 25-lap main event took just over seven minutes to complete.
Sean Merkel, 30, of Boyertown, PA started from the pole in the 25-lap Late Model feature go, immediately grabbed the number one position with the green and remained out in front from green to checkers to earn his eleventh career win by a comfortable margin. The victory for Merkel had the veteran racer out in front by a full straight-away most of the distance.
The entire three division season opening program was completed in just over three hours on a very chilly and somewhat blustery night at the high-banked third-mile clay oval in Berks County.
The Modified racers used the Saturday night event as a tune-up for this coming Saturday when the T.P.Trailers 358 Modifieds will race in their first special of the season, a 35-lapper paying at least $3500 to win. The 7 p.m. tripleheader will also feature the Sportsman and BRC Late Models.
With each feature going off with a heads-up start, Merkel took the lead immediately in the Late Model main event followed by Cory Merkel and Bill Henning. Cautions on Lap 6 and Lap 7 tightened things up. The new green showed Sean Merkel out in front ahead of Cory Merkel, his younger brother. On Lap 8 Lou Egrie advanced up to third and two tours later Dave Ogin took fourth.
Merkel remained out in front, winning by a comfortable distance over Cory Merkel, Dave Ogin, Lou Egrie Jr. and Lou Egrie to round out a strong-running top five.
“This year we just wanted to get off to a better start,” explained Merkel, known at the speedway as “Big Sexy.” “With the win we can say we started off better already. I got a little worried, though, running through the lapped traffic, but that’s racing. It is what it is, I guess?”
Merkel was awarded a $100 bonus from T.P. Trailers of Limerick, PA and also received the halfway leaders hoagie from Dan’s Deli in nearby Boyertown, PA.
In the 30-lap NASCAR 358 Modified main event, five-time track champion Duane Howard started from the pole wheeling the No. 66 Atlas Paving Mike Petruska owned ride and quickly found the horsepower he needed to pull away to a comfortable advantage. Danny Erb was second on Lap 1, with Ryan Grim moving into second for Lap 2. VonDohren climbed to third on Lap 10 and Howard held a full straight-away lead after 12 circuits were put in the record books.
By Lap 17, the eight-time track champion, VonDohren claimed second. The next 6-laps or so Howard was tied up in the heavy lapped traffic as VonDohren closed the gap. On Lap 27 VonDohren was on Howard’s rear bumper and a circuit later VonDohren was racing wheel-to-wheel through the lapped traffic with Howard. Racing through Turn 4 on Lap 29 VonDohren ducked low, underneath Howard and became the new leader exiting the corner with the white flag waving.
VonDohren crossed the line first with Howard in close pursuit, finishing as the runner-up. Grim held on for third-place, with 10-time speedway champion Jeff Strunk bringing it home in fourth. Mike Gular rounded out the top five finishers.
Howard was given the halfway leaders hoagie award from Dan’s Deli, while VonDohren was awarded $250 for winning by T.P. Trailers. VonDohren wound up walking away with $2,750 for his triumph.
Brad Arnold started the 25-lap Sportsman feature from the pole and quickly jumped out in front of Brian Hirthler and second-generation driver Brad Grim. Joe Funk was fourth after the first tour. On Lap 2 Funk was third and by Lap 3 he was up to second-place, followed by Hirthler and Grim. Laps 5, 6 and 7 Funk started to apply heavy pressure, chasing the race leader, Arnold.
Whitmoyer raced into fourth-place at the halfway point, as the top three were fighting it out in heavy lapped traffic. In Turn 2 on Lap 18 Funk and Arnold slipped up high, as Whitmoyer used the bottom to slip past the leaders and move out in front down the back chute. With two to go Funk ducked under Hirthler in Turn 2 to move into second. Never seriously challenged, Whitmoyer easily scored the triumph over Funk, who simply ran out of laps and couldn’t get close. Third was Brad Brightbill, who closed in on the leaders late, followed by Hirthler and Arnold to round out the top five finishers in that order.
“My car just came to me, there, at the end,” Whitmoyer commented. “I could see the top two were having trouble with the lapped traffic. I just felt I could get it in there, underneath, racing through the turn. We were all fast running down the straight-aways, but I was confident I could get under them through the corners. Tonight the track surfaced slicked off and made it real racy. It’s better racing that way. We’ve got a real good, fast field of cars this season and everyone raced me clean. We stepped our program up a little this year and it paid off tonight in a big way.”
Arnold was awarded the Dan’s Deli halfway hoagie, with an additional $100 handed to Whitmoyer courtesy of T.P. Trailers.
Heat races for 16 Late Models were won by Sean and Cory Merkel.
With 38 Sportsman cars in the crowded pit area, Arnold, Jim Housworth, Hirthler and Brad Grim were the heat victors.
In the 358 Modifieds, Howard, Erb and VonDohren were heat race winners , with 34 358 Modified cars signed in.
Ryan Watt won the 358 Modified consolation, with Josh Adams and John McGovern claiming the Sportsman consolation races.
BRC Late Models (25-laps) – 1) Sean Merkel 2) Cory Merkel 3) Dave Ogin 4) Lou Egrie Jr. 5) Lou Egrie 6) Ron Kline 7)Chuck Schutz 8) Wayne Pfeil 9) Dan Green 10) Bill Henning 11) Drew Weiser 12) Joe Fanelli 13) Bryan Sipe 14) Shawn Horning
NASCAR T.P. Trailers 358 Modifieds (30-laps) – 1) Craig VonDohren 2) Duane Howard 3) Ryan Grim 4) Jeff Strunk 5) Mike Gular 6) Danny Erb 7) Kyle Weiss 8) Eric Biehn 9) Meme DeSantis 10) Kevin Hirthler 11) Jared Umbenhauer 12) Kyle Borror 13) Doug Manmiller 14) Rick Laubach 15) Ryan Watt 16) Ray Swinehart 17) Brett Kressley 18) Mike Kellner 19) Mike Butler 20) Don Norris Jr. 21) Brian Houseknect 22) Chris Esposito 23) Tim Buckwalter 24) Ron Haring Jr. 25) John Willman 26) Justin Grim 27) Kory Fleming 28) Frank Cozze
Sportsman (25-laps) – 1) Craig Whitmoyer 2) Joe Funk 3) Brad Brightbill 4) Brian Hirthler 5) Brad Arnold 6) Brad Grim 7) Jordan Henn 8) Ryan Higgs 9) Ryan Beltz 10) Ryan Schupp 11. Mark Kemmerer 12) Ryan Lilick 13) Mike Lisowski 14) Ken Eckert Jr. 15) Mike Stringer 16) Kyle Lilick 17) Brett Gilmore 18) Dean Bachman 19) Josh Adams 20) Jim Housworth 21) Lex Shive 22) John McGovern 23) Chris Jenkins 24) Paul Houseknecht 25) Chad Kohler 26) Jesse Landis 27) Rich Jones
-Grandview Speedway Press Release
-Photo Credit: Grandview Speedway Facebook