By Doug Kennedy


June 26, 2015            


(Pulaski, PA)..."I'd rather fight then switch", many of us old enough remember recall this as the Tareyton cigarettes pitch line from their ‘60s ad campaign.  That, unfortunately, was the attitude of a number of local and regional racers who wanted to keep their open motor program alive in lieu of crate engine racing, even as the cost of doing so continued to escalate each and every year.  Thankfully nine years later, after crate racing’s introduction into the region in 2007, that mindset is no longer proclaimed so adamantly as numerous veteran drivers in the twilight of their careers continue to successfully compete throughout the Northeast under the Sweeney Chevrolet Buick GMC RUSH Racing Series banner.         


A newly sealed GM 604 crate engine will cost the driver about $5,800.  Add on the necessary bolt-on accessories and his total investment is approximately $10,000.  Compare that to open engine cost of anywhere from $20,000 to $50,000.  Many tracks in today's economy have found it very difficult to support purse structures that open engine divisions require and have chosen crate racing as a viable option.  In fact, 2015 will see 21 different speedways throughout the Northeast host a RUSH-sanctioned event.


Crate racing and the implementation of a strong technical enforcement and rebuild/repair system has helped level the playing field so that now the driver and his set-up, and not a more powerful and expensive motor, can more often than not is the difference between winning and losing.  Escalating costs in all divisions have made it virtually impossible for weekend racers to make money unless he finishes a race in the top few positions, and even that’s becoming unrealistic.  In today's world breaking even has become the weekend warrior’s motto, and crate racing has helped ease the burden. 


Fortunately, there are a number of drivers who have seen the light and have converted from their open motor days to the more controlled crate engine programs of either the Sweeney Chevrolet Buick GMC RUSH Late Models, RUSH Sportsman Modifieds, and now most recently the RUSH Pro Stocks. 


“I wasn’t a fan of crate racing when it started, but now that I’ve seen what’s going on, I’m promoting it,” said 67 year old Les Myers, who hails from Reno, Pennsylvania.  Currently Les runs a Sportsman Modified and a Vintage Modified.  This is the “Reno Rocket’s” 50th year of racing and he has raced Sprints, Late Models, Modifieds, Micro Sprints, Go-Karts, and any other thing that has wheels on it and has won three track championships (Tri-City, Mercer, and the Vintage class), winning the latter when he was 66 years old.  He also made his one and only start on asphalt at Lancaster in a vintage race and won. 


As for the RUSH Sportsman Modified class, Myers said, "It's a great entry level class for guys who can't afford to run the Big-Blocks.  The cars are a bit slower and easier to drive, but everyone is equal." 


One of the bonuses that Myers offers to fellow drivers is a labor discount to rebuild transmissions that have an internal clutch.  “I usually charge $125 to do that but I’m offering it for $75 for drivers in the RUSH Sportsman class,” said Myers, who has been providing the service for the division over the past two years. 



“When it first started, a lot of guys were saying it wasn’t going to work,” said Belfast, New York’s Bob Kish regarding Crate Late Model racing.  “The Bilstein Shock deal is the best thing that has ever happened.  I wish it would be mandated for the crate cars and not an option.  The whole idea of the crate deal was to keep costs down and not drive the costs up.” 


Kish has been racing for nine years and credits the late Bill Law for getting him involved with the crate. “I started out green with the crates but have been doing it since I began racing.  It was a big transformation.” 


“Vicki (Emig) and Mike (Leone) are doing a wonderful job up here in the Northeast and they don’t treat you like an outsider,” said the driver of the #5. 


Another Late Model driver who credits Bill Law with getting him involved in Crate Late Model racing is Warren, Pennsylvania’s Ward Schell.  At 49 years of age, Ward was a Super Late Model racer for 20 some years before competing in crates.  "We were average competitors in that division with some top five finishes and some good point finishes, but nothing spectacular, stated Schell. 


For three seasons, he was the driver for Ron Baker, who passed away last December 9.  This season he was able to drive a second Late Model for Terry Suppa. 


Ward says there’s quite a difference between the two owners.  “It’s more of a team effort with Terry,” said Schell, the driver of the #s4.  “With Ron, it was like carrying the helmet to the racetrack and wherever he wanted us to be, that’s where we went.” 


With this being his fourth season in a Crate, Schell said, “It’s a really good and growing class.  “I like the class, “he said.  “It gives you some good racing.  We don’t have to control 800 horsepower but only half of that.  I definitely feel that I’m more successful in this division.”


Fifty-four year old Troy Shields of Acme, Pennsylvania, and one of the original owners of Roaring Knob Motorsports Complex, drove Limited Late and Super Late Models for six seasons.  “We were a low dollar team compared to some of the other Super Late teams.  We were okay but never spectacular.” 


That prompted Shields to move to the Crate Late Model in 2009 and he’s been driving one ever since. “The cost of the crate engine is a great savings to the racer,” he said.  The biggest deal about crate racing is the policing of the engines.  You have two choices for tires with the crate, either a softer or harder tire. You pick one or the other.  For the Super Lates, you almost need a full-time tire guy.”


He also said things have changed with regards to the race day crews.  “It’s hard to get help,” said the driver of the #11.  “Most races are won in the shop, but when you get to the track, you need some help and with today’s economy it’s hard to get people to take off work to help someone else.”


Shields also added, “It’s (crate racing) not an entry level like some people may think it is.” 


Former Super Late Model and E-Mod driver, Nolan Dalton of Morgantown, West Virginia says that it’s a little difficult with all the younger people getting started and learning the basics, however, he realizes that this is the way of the future.


“It’s a good series because of the costs of racing nowadays,” said the 51 year old Dalton, the owner of D2 Logging and Nolan Dalton Trucking.  The Roaring Knob regular says that it’s a good class to start. 


“The Saturday night racer for Super Lates is becoming extinct,” said Dalton.  “You’re still spending good money but at least you’re downsizing the cost of an engine.  I don’t know how some of these guys can afford to go Super Late racing.”


He would also like to see a Super Late Crate class with the GM 525 motor along with the current class that features the GM 604 motor.  “I think you need a Super Late class.” 


For 55-year-old Harry Shipe of Mt. Airy, Maryland, it’s an entirely different story.  After beginning his racing career in 1981 and winning 22 features in a Super Late, he decided to give it up in 2002. 


“I thought it was retirement so I bought a Harley and all it did was make me want to go back and race some more,” said Shipe.  “It wasn’t going to be a Super Late because of the dollar amount for the motor and chassis.”


His choice was to run a Crate Late Model.  “I had no desire to run a Street Stock or anything else,” he said.  “I probably wouldn’t have been able to come back and race a Late Model.  I think it’s (crate) the class of the future.  The pots are building and so is the interest.  You look at the car counts.  At Potomac we had 17 Crates compared to 14 Super Late Models. Winchester also has more Crates than the Super Lates.”


There is also racing tradition in Shipe’s family as his dad tried to qualify a Richard Petty Ford Torino in 1970 for the Daytona 500.  While he was trying to buy the car from the King, Shipe remembers that he and Kyle Petty were out in the field racing Go-Karts.


This will also be Shipe’s first full season of running the Crate Late Model, but he has a message for all those young drivers- “Tell those young boys I’m back.”  Shipe is one of the many racers campaigning the sealed, spec Bilstein Shocks.


Dave Friedrich of Green Castle, Pennsylvania is now in his second season of running the Crate Late Model. This came after 10 seasons in a 4 Cylinder Mini Stock and two more in a Steel Block. 


“The crate is definitely less money than I was even spending on the 4 Cylinder,” said Friedrich.  “It’s more economical.  I also like the fact that it is fairly well controlled from a tech standpoint.  The Series is well run and I plan to stay with it for as long as I will be racing and that should be at least two to four more years.  I don’t want to see the restrictions lessened, I actually would like to see more restrictions.”


Scott Gurdak, a Bear Lake, Pennsylvania neighbor of open wheel ace Chub Frank, has raced Street Stocks, Cadets, Late Models and Modifieds during his elongated career.  This is now his third season in a Crate Late Model. 


His number 5G Crate Late Model is owned by himself, his sister, Lori and her husband, Jack.  Jack at one time helped Scott when he first began his career and that is how he met Lori. 


“We have the one Crate and my brother, Stacy, owns the motor and I do the driving,” said Gurdak


At one time, Gurdak was also racing an E-Mod, but according to him, it was getting too costly and wasn’t feasible to run any longer. 


“With the Crate, you know we’re all equal in the motor department,” said Gurdak. “It’s more about the driver and the set-up, that’s all there is to it.”


“My dad was racing when I was born,” said 55-year-old Jerry Schaffer of Ellwood City, Pennsylvania.  Currently, Schaffer owns four cars in the RUSH Sportsman Modified Series. His son, Bill (Will) drives the primary car. 


“He’s a rookie and doing a real good job,” said Schaffer.  The second car is for Chelsie Kriegisch, while the third is for her sister, Jessica.  Jerry’s cousin, Andrea Rabold will be driving a fourth car that Schaffer sold to her.   And the fifth car is none other than Jerry’s who still competes running the Sportsman Modified. 


He does, however, have a different take on Crate Modified racing.  “I like Modified racing because we can modify the cars in the way we see fit,” said Schaffer.  “Crate racing takes some of that away, but we’re coming into an era right now where money is going to dictate things.  The only way I can afford to put this many people in my cars is to go crate racing.  I like it because it fits the people like me in the twilight of their careers and it’s getting girls and young drivers in cars that will put us all on the same playing field.”


He remembers a race at Sharon a while back when the guy in front of him was 15 and the guy behind him was 15.  “Their combined ages was nearly half of my age,” he laughed.  “I’m proud to be able to put people in race cars who necessarily wouldn’t have that opportunity.”


Walt Ritchey of Oil City, Pennsylvania, has been a car owner for 15 years.  During those years, he has owned 358 Modifieds, Big-Block Modifieds, and asphalt Late Models.  Walt, who goes by the name of Bud, owns the RUSH Crate Sportsman Modified that his 32 year old son, Nick, drives.


“I love this class,” said Ritchey.  “The guys in it are really nice and it is competitive racing.  I think it’s the best thing that has come around for quite some time."


His son, Nick, who already has his first career wins this year at Sportsman's and Sharon Speedway added, “I think the crate class is a good class for a low budget team.  When we ran a big-block, we never had a lot of money and did what we could do to get by.  We weren’t a fast team, but we could get top tens.  I hope that the Crate Modified class takes off here.”


With a spare chassis in hand, Nick says that he would get rid of it if he could get somebody else into this class.   


Veteran driver Larry Kugel raced open motor race cars from 1978 through 1984 and again from 1990 through the end of the 2014 season.  Last year, he raced eight races in the newly formed RUSH Sportsman Modified division.  This season is his first full season with the Crate Modifieds.  One of his competitors is his 38-year-old son, Rocky.


Larry raced Street Stocks, Late Models, Semi-Late Models, and E-Mods before moving over to the Crate Modifieds.  At 64 years of age, Kugel is still competitive, particularly when it comes to racing his son. 


“We’re very competitive with each other,” said Kugel.  “There’s probably nobody out there that he would rather beat then me and vice-versa.  It’s healthy competition.”   


“Most of my racing has been in an open motor deal,” said Larry. “That’s why I drove for other people because I couldn’t afford the price of the motors.”  He also wants to thank former Late Model driver, Jim Zarin of Zarin Truck and Automotive, Larry’s place of employment, for buying his current crate motor. 


“I think it’s wonderful,” said Larry of the RUSH Sportsman Mod series.  “I think it will save racing for the little guy. “Vicki (Emig) has come up with an excellent set of rules and is sticking by them and deserves the credit for this deal.” 


“The most satisfying part of what I do with the RUSH Racing Series is knowing that we provide an exciting and viable option to so many different groups of people who want to race,” explained RUSH Co-Director Vicki Emig.  “A whole new generation of young racers have been created via crate racing and hundreds of others including some of the region's most respected veterans are now part of RUSH.  To see them battle wheel-to-wheel throughout the region in both our Late Model and Sportsman Modified divisions is something that we all, our speedways, sponsors, and ourselves as series directors are very proud of!”  


RUSH Late Model marketing partners include Sweeney Chevrolet Buick GMC, Pace Performance, Hoosier Tire, Bilstein Shocks, Sunoco Race Fuels, Bazell Race Fuels, Insinger Performance, MSD Ignition, Maxima Racing Oil, Jones Racing Products, Alternative Power Sources, Precise Racing Products, ARbodies, TBM Brakes, K&N Filters, Lincoln Electric, TurboStart, Beyea Headers, FK Rod Ends, Bobby Lake Motorsports, Crate Innovations Inc., Moroso Performance Products, Velocita-USA, High Gear Speed Shop, CrateInsider.com, B.R.A.K.E.S., RockAuto.com, and Valley Fashions.


RUSH Sportsman Modified marketing partners: Sweeney Chevrolet Buick GMC, Bicknell Racing Products, Pace Performance, Hoosier Tire, Bilstein Shocks, MSD Ignition, Maxima Racing Oil, Jones Racing Products, VP Racing Fuels, FK Rod Ends, Sherwood Racing Wheels, Velocita-USA, Precise Racing Products, Alternative Power Sources, TBM Brakes, K&N Filters, Rocket Racing, and B.R.A.K.E.S.


E-mail can be sent to the RUSH Racing Series at [email protected] and snail mail to 4368 Route 422, Pulaski, PA 16143. Office phone is 724-964-9300 and fax is 724-964-0604. The RUSH Racing Series website is www.rushracingseries.com. Like our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/rushlatemodels and follow us on Twitter @RUSHLM.