The intense night of Modified racing on the Mahoning Valley Speedway (PA) track surface may have concluded prior to Midnight on Saturday, but teams and track officials worked into the wee hours of the morning after a culmination of events unfolded.
The first bout of controversy occurred earlier in the evening during the conclusion of the first Triple 25 feature. Earl Paules and Jimmy Zacharias raced hard for the third position in the closing laps, but contact ensued coming to the checkered flag. The incident relegated Paules to a 12th-place finishing position. Although he came back to win the final feature of the night, the multi-time and defending track champion was not satisfied.
“The beginning of the night destroyed the end of the night,” Paules told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “A little frustrating; we had the best car all night long until we got caught up in the beginning with that deal with Zacharias. He should stay north; drove me right into the fence.”
The two successful Modified racers disagreed with the events that occurred and an argument followed between both teams in the pit area. Due to circumstances that had transpired, both drivers were forced to start at the rear of the field in the second 25-lap race.
Candor, New York’s Zacharias saw things differently, and believes the issue stemmed from an occurrence as recently as the previous week.
“The first race was just a matter of Earl being frustrated,” Zacharias indicated. “Last week he caught me in the left front and sent me head on into the wall, and this week we were fine until the last restart when he started pinching me down and coming to the checkered he caught me in the right rear.”
Zacharias and team also objected to post-race contact when Paules showed his displeasure as they worked their way off the track from the first race.
“He wanted to run over me after the race,” Zacharias added. “I don’t want to play those games. If he wants to play them go ahead, but do it on somebody else’s time. I’d rather fistfight than wreck a racecar over something stupid like that, but that’s Earl.”
During the second and third race, Zacharias and Paules were often side by side or coupled together on the track but kept it clean for the most part.
“That’s the problem; I’ll race people how I want to be raced and some people don’t like racing how they want to be raced, not expecting anything to happen to them,” Zacharias said. “I don’t have a problem. I guess he’s got problems and all his guys have a problem and want to start stuff. Once a race is over the race is over. You go on to the next one and you try to do your best. I knew beating him in the second race would be better off than wrecking him because if you beat him they get more frustrated. It’s just how it goes.”
Following the conclusion of the night’s on-track festivities, the drama was not over yet. Paules and team made the decision to protest the Eric Beers driven Modified that had swept the first three weeks of racing on the ¼-mile.
According to the Mahoning Valley Speedway rulebook, a $500 protest can be made within 10 minutes of the completion of the event by any competitor who “believes that another competitor running in the same event has or will obtain a significant unfair competitive advantage by some action that they believe is in violation of the track rules.”
“I did protest Eric Beers,” Paules admitted. “I think that car is illegal and he’s arguing with me up and down, and doesn’t want to tear his car apart. You offered me your whole race car last week when you passed me. Now you don’t want to rip something apart? You get to keep it. We’re going to see. The rule states we can do it. If he’s not cheating it shouldn’t be that big of a problem.”
In return, Beers and the DeLange Racing team protested the Paules ride. Both cars went through a vigorous tear down process late into the night that included the rear of the Modifieds, brake rotors, and additional parts. Beers was succinct with his response.
“What happens is certain people, when you pass them when they’re leading, cannot believe that you can beat them,” Beers replied. “They want to look at my car and that’s fine. I’ve got nothing to hide.”
As the process began, the Zacharias team remained on the grounds watching from afar before making the 150-mile drive back home.
“You all see it,” Zacharias commented regarding Paules. “He is frustrated and he cried all last week about Eric and now he’s crying tonight. He’s down there tearing him down because he thinks Eric is cheating. Eric’s just got this place figured out. He’s got so many laps here.
“Earl’s not as good as he used to be. He’s getting frustrated more and he’s falling apart a little bit I guess you could say.”
When all was said and done, confirmed by a phone call on Monday to race director Tim Santee, everything checked out at the track and nothing illegal was found with either of the Modifieds.
It was learned; however, that an agreement was made that Paules would buy the MSD box out of the Beers car to be sent out to be examined further, and would purchase Beers a new one.
Beers perhaps had the most consistent night of any drivers despite being shut out from victory lane.
“The first race we started 13th and we were stuck in traffic the whole race,” Beers, who extended his season-long points lead, recapped. “Race two we had a great starting spot, but the bottom of the track just had no grip. We made a bunch of adjustments for the last race because the track was really getting bad. The thing was a rocket but we were stuck in traffic. Overall, it was a good night. Three top 10s and no dents.”
A couple items can certainly be taken away from this night. Fuel was added to the fire in a rivalry that attracts many of the area’s fans to the bullring. Also, the fair and balanced competition is a continued testament to the enforcement of rules by the track officials at the facility.
The drama and emotions are only beginning to build for the 2016 season at Mahoning Valley Speedway.
-By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com Central NY & PA Editor – Twitter: @aaron_creed
-Photo credit: Speed51.com