THE SWEENEY RUSH RACING SERIES- PROVIDING OPPORTUNITIES FOR YOUTH THROUGHOUT THE REGION
By Doug Kennedy
March 1, 2017 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(Pulaski, PA)…The Sweeney Chevrolet Buick GMC RUSH Racing Series powered by Pace Performance is now in its 11th year of existence and for many young drivers, there would not be an opportunity for them to race if it wasn’t for this Series. In short, RUSH continues to influence the youth and their racing programs in regional racing.
"It's hard to believe it's been 10 years since Mike (Leone) and I introduced the concept of crate racing throughout our region," stated RUSH Series Director Vicki Emig. "Time always gives us a better perspective and looking back now there is not a better feeling than knowing that we had the opportunity to watch some of today's most talented young racers come up through our ranks. It's definitely a continuous cycle and perhaps more so today as all our the RUSH divisions are loaded with phenomenal young racers who have already started to make their mark."
Two of western Pennsylvania’s best and nationally recognized for that matter, Mike Pegher, Jr. and Max Blair, cut their teeth racing Crate Late Models. And while both are focusing on Super Late Model competition, the two still race a crate in the RUSH Late Model Series with much success. Pegher recently returned from East Bay Raceway Park near Tampa, FL where he won the Crate Late Model Championship at the 41st annual Winter Nationals by winning two of the three features. Pegher actually finished in the top six of all six features in FL including the three run at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala. His longtime rival, Max Blair, finished third at East Bay.
Blair has numerous RUSH championships (2013, 2015 and 2016 Weekly, 2015 Northern and Southern Tours, and 2013 & 2016 Summer Chase) while Pegher has one, the Tour title, that he captured in 2013. Pegher plans on again racing the Lynn Geisler-owned Super Late Model and a RUSH Crate Late Model for car owner, Jerry Haseleu. This will be the second season that Pegher and Haseleu have hooked up.
“The RUSH Crate Late Model Series is good for someone who wants to jump into a Super Late Model,” said Pegher. “You do that and get the seat time in the crate. If you want to move up, all it takes is a motor because the cars are pretty much the same. With RUSH and Vicki and all the things that she does, it gives the driver a chance to move up and afford it. I would highly suggest for the younger kids to do RUSH for a few years to get their feet wet.”
Blair has been involved with a Crate Late Model and directors Emig and Leone since 2008. “If it wasn’t for crate racing, I probably wouldn’t have been racing today,” said Blair, whose team, Blair Racing, is owned by Max and his dad, Rob. “It’s a really good thing and gives somebody an affordable way to go racing. For me, it opened up a lot of doors by meeting some good people and getting me to where I am now.”
Blair won last year’s $5,000 Sweeney Weekly Series and $3,000 Pace “Summer Chase” titles even though it wasn’t his intention at the beginning of the season. “It kind of came to me,” said Blair. “We ran Eriez each week and some of the bigger races, and it put us in contention to win the Series.”
Each year, longtime racing historian, Walt Wimer, heads up the prestigious Western Pennsylvania “Rookie-of-the-Year” voted on by members of the media and track officials; and for four of the last seven seasons, it’s been a driver from the RUSH Series. In 2009, it was Joe Martin, then Billy Stile III in 2010, Ryan Montgomery took the award in 2011, and finally it was Kole Holden in 2015. Twelve of the 22 2016 nominees are RUSH racers.
To further the development of young racing talent, RUSH instituted the “Futures Cup” program back in 2011. The program showcases the extremely large base of talented racers that compete in RUSH by giving them their own championship to achieve. RUSH currently has the Futures Cup Program in three of its divisions: Late Models, Sportsman Mods, and Pro Mods, and will debut in the new Sprint Car division in 2018.
The “Futures Cup” has become a major stepping stone for a number of drivers. 2011 winner Ryan Montgomery went onto become the 2014 RUSH Late Model Series Touring champion. Michael Lake, who also won a Super Late Model feature at Roaring Knob when he was 14, was the 2014 “Futures Cup” champion, while Eric Wilson, the 2013 champion, was the youngest, at the age of 14, to win a feature at Sharon Speedway.
Bobby Lake is the car owner for his grandson, Michael, who began racing Late Models at the age of 11. He is nothing short of being a racing protégé. On June 15, 2013, Michael became the youngest driver in Pennsylvania to ever win a Late Model feature. He would win five more times that season.
“The crate stuff is a great stepping stone for drivers who want to further their career,” said Bobby Lake. “He learned so much in the years he raced with RUSH. I would suggest that anybody who has the desire to get to a Late Model start with the RUSH Series. You have a smaller motor and you can better keep your car under control and when you get that additional horsepower, it will be easier to adapt. Overall, the RUSH Series gave him the chance to adapt to the Super Late Model. Learning car control really helped him a lot.”
Longtime driver and now car owner, Dave Scott likes the “Futures Cup” Series. His son Wyatt was the most recent Late Model Champion. “I think the Futures Cup program is great. We have to get the kids into the sport because that is the future of racing.”
Roland Mann of Chaptico, MD, supplies the RUSH Late Model for his 18-year-old daughter, Megan, who finished third in the “Future’s Cup” this past season. Mann also co-owns a Super Late Model for Jason Covert. Mann’s plans for Megan in 2017 is to run the full 22-race schedule at Potomac.
“I think RUSH has helped the younger drivers by giving them the chance to come up from the lower ranks instead of jumping into a Limited Late or Super Late from the beginning,” said Mann. “There are a lot of young drivers that can get in at a decent price and not break the bank, and there are some big money races.”
Tim Martell, the father of the 2016 RUSH Sportsman Modified “Futures Cup” champion, Kyle, is a believer in the RUSH Series. “I think it offers a very good opportunity for drivers coming out of other classes,” said Martell, who lives in Rootstown, OH. “It gives a good platform for kids moving out of the smaller car classes to move into a large car series and be competitive in the first few years without the parents spending a ton on equipment.”
Tim, who works as the Director of Programs and Business Management at NMG Aerospace, knows what it’s like to try and race in the open motor series. “We started out in a 358 Small-Block Modified and quickly realized that it was going to be very expensive to race against guys who have been doing it for quite some time. Moving to RUSH has allowed us to be competitive at a reasonable cost.”
Preston Cope of Warren, OH finished fourth in the RUSH Sportsman Modified “Futures Cup” this past season. The team is owned by Preston’s dad, Tim. “RUSH has done an excellent job of making it affordable and making things equal for all the drivers,” said Tim, who calls Sharon Speedway their home track. “It was a great experience for us to start with a novice driver who is 15 years old. It is doubtful if we would have had my son racing if it wasn’t for the class that they (RUSH) offered. I’m very thrilled with the Series and how they promote it and the scheduling. It was the best experience I could ask for in my first year of owning a race car.”
“I like how everyone has equal motors and shocks,” said Preston. “The Series shows off how the young drivers can come in and compete on an equal playing field with the veteran drivers. We get to go to different tracks at an affordable cost. It gives the young driver the opportunity to be in a real series and to give them the adrenalin rush to be in a race car.”
Fifteen year-old Zach Johnson of Busti, NY won the 2016 RUSH Pro Mod “Futures Cup”. The runner-up by a mere two points was Gowanda, NY’s Brian Mohawk. Johnson and Mohawk plan to race at Stateline, McKean, and Bradford in 2017.
“If it weren’t for RUSH, we couldn’t own two race cars,” said Zach’s father, Greg, who has been racing himself for the past 25 years. Greg’s dad, Mick, owns Zach’s Pro Mod, while Greg owns his open Modified. “If we only had the finances for one car, I would probably retire and let Zach race,” said Greg.
“We love it,” said Greg of RUSH. “I’ve been doing the open Modifieds for quite a while and that’s got out of hand. It’s nice to have an economical class we can race in; hopefully, it will stay that way.”
“It’s been a pretty good Series,” said Brian, who is 18 years old. “It’s opening doors for me. I’ve only raced for three years, but my skills as a driver has been helped out by the Pro Mod Series. The Series really takes care of their drivers.” The car owner for Brian is his dad, Wade.
A number of other RUSH racers have also captured the “Rookie-of-the-Year” honors with the Twin-State Auto Racing Club, an organization that concentrates on speedways in eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania. Besides the “ROY” award, Twin-State recognizes various other accomplishments with awards.
Chelsie Kriegisch, whose been competing in RUSH for three seasons, won Twin-State’s “Most Improved Driver” award this past season. She, along with her sister, Jessica, races in the RUSH Sportsman Modified Series. The Kriegischs make Ellwood City, Pa. their home. This year, Randy Kriegisch will field a car for his younger daughter, Jessica, while older daughter, Chelsea, will have her own car.
“Everything is falling into place and it’s what we can afford to do,” said Randy. “I doubt if I could have done this if it wasn’t for RUSH,” said Randy regarding being a car owner. “If it weren’t for the motors and the limitations, I wouldn’t be able to do this. I’m retired and my wife had a stroke, so this is affordable.”
Both girls intend to run the Sportsman Modifieds Bicknell Racing Products Weekly and Touring Series. “I really like the RUSH Series,” said Randy. “It’s a good division. It’s competitive because everyone is so equal.”
Noah Brunell of New Alexandria, Pa. and Sadie Siegel of Saxonburg, Pa., both raced in the RUSH Pro Stock Division at Lernerville Speedway in 2016.
“The crates are a great stepping stone that help open up a lot of doors,” said Sadie’s father Bobby Siegel. “If it wasn’t for the crate motors with RUSH, we probably would still be racing Go-Karts. If we don’t run the 410 Sprints this year then we plan on racing in the new RUSH Sprint Car Series next year. I’ve been a RUSH supporter from the beginning.”
In the case of the Brunell family, 18 year old Noah owns his Stock. His dad, Dave, raced for 23 years in a Charger and a Truck at both Motordrome and Jennerstown Speedways.
“I told him if he was going to learn how to race he had to learn things about the car,” said his dad. “Originally we weren’t wild about running a crate motor, but now RUSH has made it very decent to race.”
Noah’s first win came last year at Marion Center. Noah estimates that it costs him around $20,000 to $25,000 to put his current Stock together. Nearly half of that came from sponsor money, the rest from Noah’s savings and what he made from work. “I work on it and do the maintenance,” said Noah. “Very few times have I asked for help except from sponsors.”
What Noah likes about RUSH is bringing the crate motor to the Stocks to keep things level and preventing one car from running away from the field. “I also like what RUSH is doing to keeping things affordable.” For 2017, Noah plans on racing the RUSH Pro Stock Series at Lernerville and do some other races when there are open dates.
Colton Ledingham of Port Colborne, Ontario, races RUSH Late Models for his dad, Rob, at Humberstone Speedway, where he finished fourth in points in 2016. “I think that RUSH is the best series for racing right now because we don’t have any affordable sanctioning bodies around here,” said 19-year-old Colton. “I will definitely stay in this class for this year. The only other move I would make would be to move to a Super Late. Right now the RUSH Series is affordable and it’s great for us.”
“I think it’s a phenomenal stepping stone,” said Colton’s car owner, Rob, his dad. “It’s very reasonable to run and that’s why I love the class. You can still compete with the bigger budget guys. The cars are low maintenance. It brought the fun back into the sport for us.”
Mike Lutz was a standout Sprint Car driver from the western Pennsylvania area for 30 years, winning 96 features. He is also the promoter of the Young Guns Series. “I started it up because my son was racing in the Junior Sprint Class in Ohio,” said Lutz. “I tried to make a traveling series for the kids. They now have the opportunity to go to the RUSH Series. Now we have a system.” Lutz says that last year they were averaging 10 to 12 cars per show and sees as many as 16 for 2017. This season, the Young Guns will have six races at Mercer, four at Sharon, one at Tri-City, and the chance for a few more. The age bracket for the Young Guns is 7 to 15.
Now being a car owner, Lutz sees the advantage of the RUSH Series. “Without the RUSH Series, that third generation driver wouldn’t be able to race because of the affordability.” Lutz is referring to his dad, Andy, who won 200 features during his racing career, himself, and now his son, Mike, Jr. “It’s a great racing opportunity for the kids to move to the RUSH Series. Moving to RUSH is an affordable way to race.”
Last year, the Young Gun Co-Champs were Mike’s son and Alstan Randall. Both will now get the opportunity to test a Jerry Schaffer RUSH Sportsman Modified at Sharon Speedway. Lutz plans on buying a Sprint Car from his old car owner, Jim Chappel, and perhaps give his son the chance to race it this year, but either way, he plans on racing in the newly formed RUSH Sprint Car Series for 2018. Emig involved Lutz when discussions were ongoing regarding this new RUSH Sprint Series.
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.