By Doug Kennedy


March 29, 2017          FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE


(Imperial, PA)...For 2017, the "Jook George Steel City Classic" race, held annually at Pittsburgh's PA Motor Speedway, will become a Sweeney Chevrolet Buick GMC RUSH Dirt Late Model Touring Series event.  The August 12 event is financed by contributions from a number of people, companies, race teams, the speedway, and racing organizations including RUSH.  The bulk of the promotion is handled by 33-year-old Branden Lockwich of Imperial, Pa.


The race is special for Lockwich because Jook was a friend of the family for a number of years.  “I know his family very well and this event takes on a personal feeling…. it’s not just another event,” said Lockwich.   


As a youngster, Lockwich attended a number of races with his parents, but found that one track was the one they visited the most. “I guess you could say that PPMS was our home track,” said Branden.   


“I wanted to do what Vince Laboon did for his dad (Ed),” said Lockwich.  For the last five years, Laboon has promoted the "Ed Laboon Memorial".  That race will happen this year at PPMS on June 3.


I guess the question for some is, who is William Thomas “Jook” George and why has he been honored for nearly three decades?  His son, “Little Jook” explains. “He was always Big Jook and then when I came along, I was Little Jook.  If anyone ever called him William, he wouldn’t respond because he was always Jook.”


"Dad had a very brief racing career, in fact it was one race,” said the 42-year-old William “Little Jook”.  “He started drag racing in 1964 at PID (Pennsylvania International Dragway) when he was a senior in high school.  Then in 1965, he bought his first circle track car.  His one and only race was at Clinton Motor Speedway.  He was claustrophobic and couldn’t handle all the race cars around him so he hired Davey Gallo to drive for him.”


Gallo was actually a friend from Midway, Pa., the place where Jook was born and died.  The number he chose and had for most of his racing career was the #10 and that was in honor of his racing hero, Lou Blaney.  There was a race at the Butler County Fairgrounds in the late ‘70s that had the Sprint Car drivers race in Late Models and Lou drove Jook’s car that night.  “He was pretty proud of that said “Little Jook”. 


Other highlights to his career was being nominated as the Sportsman of the Year at PPMS, being nominated into the Pittsburgh Circle Track Hall of Fame, winning the track championship at PPMS in 1990 with John Beatty behind the wheel, and winning the Fall Classic in 1993 with Bill Yakin, also at PPMS. 


His most dominant stretch as a car owner came in the late ‘70s when Earl Teeters was his driver.  “They won a bunch of races in that black and yellow car,” said “Little Jook”, who works as a manufacturer of industrial signs for Precision Sign and Awning in Carnegie, Pa.  In fact, there was a bounty placed on them at Latrobe and Expo Speedways.  “They did a lot of traveling and ran races in Canada. When I came along, the traveling stopped.” 


Other tracks that they competed at were Jennerstown, Motordrome, and Lernerville.  “We ran Lernerville 13 times and came back on a wrecker in 12 of them.  It wasn’t our best track.” 


"Big Jook" passed away from cancer in February of 1996.  There are a few connections as well with Daryl Charlier and Branden Lockwich and the George family.  Besides being neighbors in Midway Pa., Daryl’s dad, Dale, drove a couple of races for Jook and Branden’s dad, Pete, used to hang out in the pits with Jook and his crew. 


“Branden is a phenomenal promoter,” said “Little Jook”  “He took it to the next level.”


As for his dad and his love for the sport, “Little Jook” said, “He loved racing- that was his thing.  He was competitive, but was about fairness.  He just enjoyed the sport.” 


Last year’s winner of the "Jook George Steel City Classic" was Michael Reft, who took home a cool $4,110 to win.  The $10 was added onto the purse because that was always Jook’s car number (10).  The 2016 event would turn out to be the richest event in the RUSH region all of last season.  Reft was a weekly racer at PPMS, who didn’t tour, but came home with a big win over several of the top RUSH Touring drivers.  To say the least, the win was nothing short of a storybook ending.      


“It was incredible,” said the 23-year-old Reft.  “It’s the craziest racing moment I’ve ever had.  That field was stacked with drivers like Wayne Robertson, John Mollick, and a lot of others.  For us local guys, it’s the biggest race for us.  And it’s also for Jook George.  Just to have our name on the winner’s list is awesome.  We’ll definitely be back to defend our title.”


Reft, who lives in the South Hills section of Pittsburgh, has a low budget team.  “We have one car, one motor, and one pickup truck with an open trailer and not what some other guys have with a hauler and two cars.” 


Reft’s season ended last year at the Pittsburgher in turn one on lap one in a major accident that destroyed Reft's #9R.  What resulted for Reft was also a broken arm that required two plates, ten screws, and four to five months of rehab.  The accident also forced him to drop out of CCAC where he is going to become a nurse in radiology. 


“The mobility is not quite there,” Reft said, “but I’ll be there for round two this year.”        


Lockwich, whose nickname is “Cleetus”, is a database administrator who works for Premier Comp Solutions.  Prior to that, he worked 12 years at Comcast in technical support.  Branden’s main goal was to take the "Jook George Steel City Classic" race to another level, and he has succeeded.  Lockwich never had the finances to race himself so he decided to help some of his driving friends stay racing. 


Two of Lockwich’s friends, Daryl Charlier and Tommy Schirnhofer, were running the Crate Late Models.  It was then that Branden took a special interest in the division. “For the last few years I have helped with sponsorships on their cars,” said Lockwich.  Cleetus Motorsports appears on both of their cars.  Both Charlier (2014) and Schirnhofer are past winners of the event. 


“I’m close friends with Branden,” said Charlier.  “He’s down at the shop every weekend.  For the last few years he has helped by putting money into our racing program to help us continue to race.”   


Charlier has enjoyed the "Jook George Steel City Classic" ever since he was a youngster.  The families lived a half-mile from each other and Daryl went to school with Jook’s daughter, Dana. 


Winning that 2014 race was very special for Charlier.  “That was special for me because of the relationship I had with the George family and being from the same town.  It’s nice to bring that win back to our hometown.”


But the race is all about the memory of one Jock George, a car owner who always had good drivers behind the wheel of his racecars.  The memorial race became the biggest race of the season at PPMS for a number of years for the Semi-Late Models, but by the late ‘90s and early 2000s, the event had lost some of its luster.  For a race that paid $2,000 to win and had 40 laps, and a full field, the race was cut back to 20 laps with just a normal weekend purse to win. 


With all that in mind, Lockwich approached PPMS promoter, Matt Miley, and discussed the possibility of Branden getting involved promoting the 2015 race. “I probably didn’t get started on it until a month before the race,” said Branden.  “I didn’t have much time but we were able to raise a good amount of money.”  Colton Flinner was the winner of the race that year and pocketed $2,100. 


The 2016 event turned out to be a lot more successful since Lockwich had more time to raise funds for the race. With the blessing of PPMS promoter, Matt Miley, Lockwich succeeded by having the richest RUSH Late Model purse of the season while honoring the man he admired, Jook George. 


Besides Miley and PPMS, Lockwich received sponsor help from his friend, Ben Policz.  The George family also put some money into the race; however, the big factor was receiving an $8,000 donation from an anonymous source. All toll, the groups raised about $12,000 for the race!  “I know who he is, but the person just doesn’t want his name divulged,” said Lockwich regarding the anonymous donor.


What transpired last year was a event that had an outstanding field of racers that included regional and local drivers as well as several of the RUSH Touring drivers, all for a payday of $4,110 to win.  There were also a number of contingency awards, so not one of the 27 drivers went home empty handed.  The drivers came from Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, and some other areas as well.  The New York roster included drivers like Robertson, John Waters, Bryce Davis, and the Knowles brothers, Jason and Brian.


“Last year was awesome,” said Brian, the older of the racing Knowles brothers regarding the Memorial race.  “I had never been on the track before, but it was nice to get an opportunity to check out the racetrack prior to the Pittsburgher.  I ran so good in that race and then didn’t qualify for the Pittsburgher.  It gave me a false sense of security.  It certainly is one of the bigger places I’ve raced and for me, it was a little intimidating.”   


Brian went onto say that on the night of the Jook George race there was a bottom to the track.  “We were mowing the grass near the guardrails and there is the wall on the outside.” 


Younger brother Jason agreed, “I never raced at PPMS before and for that first time it was a little intimidating because of its size.  I started 16th and finished 4th, so that was pretty good and I will be doing it again this year.” 


The positive thing for 2017 is that the anonymous $8,000 is back into the pot and Lockwich and already at a minimum of $3,000 to-win with still five months to go to raise more donations.  His goals are to better the purse from last year and also increase the car count.  Donations are being accepted to increase the purse as well as lap money is being sold. 


“Since it’s going to be a touring race, I wanted to take it to another level,” said Lockwich.  “By being associated with the RUSH Tour, it will give us more prestige.  I really respect the professionalism of RUSH.  With the touring guys, the PPMS regulars, and anyone else who may come in, it will make this a great race.” 


Each season, the "Jook George Steel City Classic" race is part of the PPMS racing schedule.  The 28th running of the event will be held on Saturday, August 12. 


“We are extremely excited about the 28th running of the Jook George…it is second only to the Pittsburgher,” said PPMS promoter Matt Miley.  “It has as much tradition as any other event we run.  Many fine racers have come through the division and we all feel Jook would be proud of the effort Branden has made to make it a must see regional event.  The RUSH Touring Series takes it to another level and we are proud to by flying the RUSH banner.  Jook’s family, which will include his wife, Patty, will again be our honored guests…can’t wait.”



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 Performance, Holley Performance Products, Earl's Performance Plumbing, Quick Fuel Technology, FK Rod Ends, Maxima Racing Oil, Schoenfeld Headers, Jones Racing Products, Alternative Power Sources, Precise Racing Products, ARbodies, TBM Brakes, K&N Filters, Lincoln Electric, Velocita-USA, Classic Ink USA, Rocket Chassis, Landrum Performance Spring, CrateInsider.com, RockAuto.com, and Valley Fashions.


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