FAMILIAR FACES TO RETURN IN 2018 TO SWEENEY RUSH LATE MODEL COMPETITION; KING & PEGHER WEIGH IN ON GM PERFORMANCE CRATE ENGINE RACING
By Doug Kennedy
March 16, 2018
(Pulaski, PA)...It's been a long journey, 12 years to be exact, but sometimes you just have a gut feeling about something, and that is exactly how it was when RUSH Series Director, Vicki Emig, was introduced to the concept of GM crate engine racing in 2007.
“Being a car owner with my father for over 40 years and a track promoter at Mercer Raceway Park for 11, I was in a very unique position to see why crate engine racing could be a positive influence on the future of racing in general," stated Emig. "I definitely knew what it took to field a competitive race car; and as a promoter, I, as well as other regional promoters, could sense that things were beginning to change in the industry; crate engine racing just made sense."
"Looking back we sure did take a lot of flack," said Emig.
"We still do sometimes actually, but I told Mike Leone we'd just keep our heads
down and continue focusing on our program. Fast forward many years later and
Emig is proudest of one thing; that RUSH simply keeps people racing!"
As the 2018 season begins, hundreds of racers from Canada to deep into the Mid-Atlantic will be competing under the RUSH banner and in 2018 will include several familiar faces who will be retuning once again to RUSH competition; while several others will be making appearances with RUSH when not competing in super late events.
Leading the way will be 53-year-old Rick Singleton, the 2014 RUSH Late Model Pace Performance "Summer Chase" Champion, who makes his home in Hesston, Pa. He began racing in 1989 and competed in Super Late and Limited Late Models beginning in 1994. In 2010, he won track championships at both Hesston and Bedford Speedways. In 2014, Singleton won 20 features driving for Huey Wilcoxin.
Prior to his racing career, Singleton was a pretty decent football player, starting two years at Virginia Tech as a 6’6” 255-pound lineman. “I was tall and could run. Those are two things they can’t do and that is to make someone fast or tall and I had both of those."
After being invited to the Seattle Seahawks training camp, a broken neck curtailed his football career before he could play a down in a regular season game. Racing, however, was always in his blood.
As cost began to escalate in Super and Limited Late Models, Rick was pulled towards the RUSH Late Model crate engine series. His philosophy is simple. “It's where you find out who can drive a racecar and not who has the fattest wallet. All things are equal. It’s the greatest form of racing I’ve ever been involved in. Everyone has the same motor and other parts. It’s very competitive and that’s when your talent and set-up can shine.”
“My catch phrase has always been I love to race, but I don’t love to spend money,” said Singleton. “It’s a very high level of racing and more and more experienced drivers are getting into it because they understand it's not about who can spend the most money, it's about the racing, not about the haves and have nots!”
After racing Super Late Models for the last few years, Singleton decided it was time to return to the RUSH. “We were winning some, but we weren’t having fun. My family and business mean more to me than keeping up with the Joneses, equipment wise. The stress of the amount of money that was involved in the motors was tremendous. I think some drivers continue to race Super Lates because it’s an ego thing. I tell them to buy a crate engine car and take it to a RUSH Touring event and see what you can do.”
There are a number of reasons why Singleton believes in the RUSH Series. “I feel the RUSH Series is fantastic; there’s a lot of money to be had, great product contingencies, and most important it's just fun! The competition is really competitive between the older guys and young racers and RUSH really has a handle on the rules.”
Another racer who is returning for 2018 is 32-year-old Tommy Schirnhofer, Jr. of Dormont, Pa. He began his career in the beginning stages of Crate Late Model racing in the Northeast and competed full-time until 2016. His last full-time season was in 2015 when he began racing Super Late Models at Lernerville and other local tracks.
“I’m coming back to RUSH because of the standard rules package RUSH provides to their sanctioned speedways,” said Schirnhofer. “I want to come back to a competitive class and with Pittsburgh's Pennsylvania Motor Speedway having a full schedule of RUSH Late Model races and only three Super Late races it just makes sense for me.”
The cost of the GM Performance crate engine utilized in RUSH competition is also making it easy for Schirnhofer to return to RUSH. “The costs from the top of the line to the base package is significantly smaller than what you get into with the Super Lates.”
His goal for 2018 is to focus on racing at PPMS and running a few touring events. He also sees the Series growing. “She (Vicki) continues to add new tracks, Dog Hollow and Raceway 7 as an example, which gives me the opportunity to get to more tracks close to home with the same consistent rules package.”
John Over of Uniontown, Pa. is returning to RUSH this season after racing with the Series up until 2014 when he took a violent flip at Virginia's Winchester Speedway. Since then he has raced a Super Late Model, but things never seemed to click.
“RUSH is a great series for racers like me who don’t want to spend big dollars on the engines,” said the 57 year old Over. “I’m just looking to have some fun at my age.”
Over was a two-time track champion at Roaring Knob Motorsports Complex and believes RUSH will continue to thrive. “I think it’s going to be the premier division at a lot of weekly tracks because it’s affordable for the local racer.”
Damian Bidwell quit running RUSH in 2016 and began racing Super Late Models at McKean, Stateline, and Thunder Mountain where he got one win last season. “The class is a lot cheaper than running the open class,” said the 25-year-old Eldred, Pa. racer.
Bidwell plans on beginning his return to RUSH with the four-night "Battle of the Bay" Speedweek Touring swing that begins at Delaware International and Georgetown Speedways in Delaware, moves on to Potomac Speedway in Potomac, Md., and concludes at Virginia's Winchester Speedway . “I’m coming back to RUSH again,” said Bidwell. “You can’t beat the point fund at the end of the year. I can’t wait for this year to get started. It’s going to be a great year and this is the best car I’ve ever had.”
Rob Marhefka last raced with RUSH in 2015. For the last two seasons he ran Super Late Models at a number of local tracks, including Bedford, McKean, Dog Hollow, Roaring Knob, Lernerville, and Thunder Mountain.
“I'm returning to RUSH because of the cost of a Super Late versus the GM crate engine,” said the 50-year-old resident of Windber, Pa. “RUSH continues to grow because of her (Vicki) relationships with her track promoters, and RUSH'S corporate sponsors who provide tens of thousands of product contingencies to her racers. Any racing is too expensive, but RUSH definitely has done a great job in controlling many of those cost.”
Forty-six year old Tom Snyder, Jr. of Mayport, Pennsylvania has been racing on and off since 1994. He is a two-time track champion in crate engine racing at Dog Hollow, which came on board with RUSH for weekly-sanctioned racing in 2018.
“I see the RUSH Series getting bigger and bigger every year,” said Snyder. “I’m sure it’s going to be around for quite some time. What I like the most is the additional payouts and product contingencies the distribute, they do a lot of extra stuff for the drivers.”
Ross Robinson and Amanda Whaley, are a couple who compete in their Super Late Models throughout the Mid-Atlantic region and have done quite well for themselves. This year however, they will be competing as well with a crate in the RUSH Late Model Series. They enjoy racing against each other which happens about 75% of the time they compete.
“We’re always competitive,” said the 23-year-old Whaley who lives in Millsboro, De. “We bring the best out in each other,” said Robinson. “When we get near each other we always seem to find more speed.”
The couple plan on running the four race "Battle of the Bay" Speedweek and about six other local RUSH races including the opener at Georgetown (March 16). “I’ve heard more and more about the RUSH deal over the last couple of years,” said Whaley, who first raced a Crate when she was 14. “They're definitely growing. You never know, we might end up doing better in our Crate than with the Super Late.”
Robinson, who is 27 and lives right across the street from Georgetown Speedway, was the Super Late Model track champion at Delaware International last season.
“I think it’s a good deal,” said Robinson regarding RUSH. “RUSH is definitely a Series for racers who need to get their costs down and it’s not easy to keep going with the Super Late. It might come to the point where I have to step back and say it might be time to move to the RUSH program instead of the open motors because of the rising costs.”
Robinson also sees how the RUSH has branched out throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. “It’s blown up,” said Robinson. “There’s a lot of name drivers doing it. It makes sense to go to those races now, it's not the financial strain that you get with the open motors.”
Super Late Model and former Big-Block Modified standout driver Russ King of Bristolville, Ohio sees Crate racing as the wave of the future. “I think realistically in the next 10 years there will be no local Super Late Model racing and it will be all Crate,” said King. “I know what it takes to run my Super Late Model and what it costs to run the Crate. We make the same money and the bills on the car are more. When you are spending more and running the same amount of laps and making more money, then Crate racing makes sense. It’s a quarter of what it cost to run a Super Late. It’s now become a premier class and not a support or beginner’s class.”
With car counts down and the number of races at local tracks being cut back or eliminated all together, King says that eventually to watch a Super Late Model race you will have to go to a Lucas Oil or an Outlaw event. “When you go to see a Super Late Model race, there will be two to three guys who can win and the others are blue collar drivers who at times get lapped in heat races,” said King. “With Crate they have a better chance to win.”
Last year, King built his own RUSH car from one of Will Thomas’ old cars. “I ran it seven or eight times last year and won a couple of races but probably should have won a few more if it wasn’t for the old Russ King factor,” he laughed. He plans on running upwards of 10 RUSH races this year and will probably run with the Series more than his Super Late.
He also helps support the RUSH Sportsman Modified drivers in the area. “I compare Big-Block Modified racing to what we have with the Super Lates,” said King. “It’s just becoming too expensive. I’m helping support local drivers like Alan Dellinger and many others with their RUSH Sportsman Mods. I sell new and used parts to the drivers. It’s a great way to keep Modified racing alive in this area.”
Mike Pegher, Jr. is a championship racer who has been with RUSH since its inception, but is currently focusing on Super Late Model racing driving for Lynn Geisler. “I personally think RUSH is one of the top notch Crate Late Model Series out there,” said Pegher. “A lot of series have a hard time following the rules, but with Vicki (Emig) and Mike (Leone) a rule is a rule. With RUSH, they might not find someone cheating today, but they will tomorrow.”
“The biggest thing we have locally is the RUSH Series,” continued Pegher. “With all the different RUSH divisions she has it gives the young racers who are coming from Go-Karts, 4 Cylinders, and Micro Sprints to become part of one of the many classes she (Vicki) has. Now they have a chance to pick a division without spending $40,000 on a motor.”
As for the future of Late Model racing, Pegher said, “I don’t know if it will happen in two years or ten years, but RUSH is the wave of the future. “With the motors and technology going crazy, it’s taking the low budget guys out of Late Model racing. RUSH is helping keep guys racing with their program.”
Perhaps Rick Singleton said it best when he assessed Crate Racing and RUSH, “When you can race for a decent amount of money and race a high caliber race car, it’s a lot of fun. I’m out there to have fun and not outspend the competition. There’s not a future for racing if we don’t get the costs under control and that is what RUSH is doing.”
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, Schoenfeld Headers, Jones Racing Products, Racing Electronics, Dirt Defender, Dynamic Drivelines, Wrisco, Alternative Power Sources, Precise Racing Products, ARbodies, TBM Brakes, K&N Filters, Lincoln Electric, Velocita-USA, Classic Ink USA, Landrum Performance Spring, CrateInsider.com, RockAuto.com, and Valley Fashions.
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