It was an eventful way to open to the 2015 season at Mahoning Valley Speedway (PA), but a veteran driver and former track champion saved his equipment and escaped with the win and money late Saturday night. New Jersey’s Don Wagner and former Octoberfast winner Zane Zeiner dueled in the second half of the 125-lap feature with Wagner taking the top spot for good on lap 104.
“The first half of the race we tried to just not run too hard on the outside and try to save the tires as best as we could,” Wagner told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “We wound up third (at the break) without pushing the car so I knew we had a good car. We did change the right rear tire. I think it was a good move; we won the race ultimately.”
Mahoning Valley Speedway officials instituted a 10 minute pause in action at lap 65 in which crew members could come onto the track and service the cars and drivers that came to a stop on the frontstretch. They were permitted to put on only one new tire and make minor adjustments.
Up until that point it was Northampton, Pennsylvania neighbors Matt Hirschman and Eric Beers who raced hard for the lead, swapping the top spot on more than one occasion. When the race resumed the two drivers with the most long-distance victories at the track picked up where they left off with another multi-time race winner, Lou Strohl entering the battle and at one point taking them three wide.
It was on lap 76 in which the entire complexion of the race took a turn. Hirschman’s machine became really tight to the point that he could not avoid making contact with Beers, and the battle eventually ended with Beers going for a spin on the frontstretch collecting Strohl and others. Both drivers would continue, but were never challengers up front again.
“(Beers) had good position on me but we just touched at the worst possible spot, my right front right behind his left rear tire,” documented Hirschman. “I hate that that happened, but we just went to crap after that. It just didn’t work out. What we did at the halfway break, the balance just wasn’t there. Kind of sucks to start the year out that way, but we usually do much better as the season goes on. We had good position and we led laps early, but we just didn’t put the whole thing together.”
Beers summed it up similarly and agreed that it was a racing deal. Based on how much his car came to life after halfway, it was still evident that the 2013 track champion and last year’s Opening Night winner was frustrated with the result.
“I got off of two and I got halfway by (Hirschman),” explained Beers. “Got into three and four there and I was driving off the corner, and he touched me and I just went spinning. I’m not real pissed off about it because it was a racing accident, but we showed what we’ve got.”
Beers would not recover due to the loss of power steering when something broke on the power assist as a result of the spin.
When the dust from the caution-plagued event settled, it was Wagner that inherited the top spot. Zeiner’s car would fall off late in the going and would give up the second position to a late charging Kevin Rex. Nevin George and defending track champion Kris Graver rounded out the top five in a race of survival.
“We got the lead by some attrition,” said Wagner. “It’s a tough crowd up here. There are 10 cars that can win any Saturday night so to be leading at the end we’re lucky and really happy for the brand new racecar.”
With an ongoing theme of LFR versus Troyer in Modified racing this season, Wagner brought a new Raceworks chassis after handing down the car he had so much success for years in to his son DJ. Many thought that he would be a factor judging from their performance at a test session a couple weeks ago, as well as the consistent lap times he was running early. Nevertheless, he feels that they still can do some more to improve.
“There are still a few things we want to try yet with it and I think we’ve got a little more in there,” mentioned Wagner. “We were happy with the finish tonight with not really knowing how good it was going to be. We practiced with old tires and didn’t have new ones on until the heat race. We are going to tweak it a little bit, put on some new tires, and we will be stronger when we come back.”
Despite what perhaps may be the biggest win and payday of his long career, Wagner has his sights focused on the big picture.
“It’s all about the points,” said Wagner. “We come out of here leading the points now in the series and the regular points. That’s what we are here for. I am 47 years old and I would like to win another championship.”
-By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com Correspondent – Twitter: @Aaron_Creed
-Photo credit: Speed51.com
Central States Modified Gamblers Series 125 Results
1 8 22 Don Wagner 125
2 11 48 Kevin Rex 125
3 18 76 Zane Zeiner 125
4 14 3 Nevin George 125
5 15 01 Kris Graver 125
6 10 41 Todd Baer 125
7 13 5 Chip Santee 125
8 5 45 Eric Beers 125
9 2 66 Austin Kochenash 125
10 6 20 Eric Kocher 125
11 3 59 Matt Hirschman 125
12 4 1 Anthony Sesely 125
13 7 8L Lou Strohl 105
14 21 10 Paul Frantz 105
15 22 6jr Pat Verwys 102
16 12 95 John Markovic 98
17 19 34 Mike Quinn 84
18 16 44s Kyle Strohl 67
19 17 1J Bobby Jones 67
20 9 22nj DJ Wagner 61
21 20 73 Paul Hartwig Jr. 60
22 23 8 Earl Paules 33
23 1 17 Jimmy Zacharias 31