WEST LEBANON — Saturday night was the final night of racing for the Modified and Pro Stock classes at Lebanon Valley and history was made as 74-year-old Denny Soltis picked up a hard-fought win.
The championships had already been clinched, but that didn’t stop everyone from racing hard.
Soltis, by virtue of winning his heat race, started from the overall pole with Niverville’s John Ruchel alongside. With cool conditions at night, Soltis was able to get a lot of bit and pull out to a decent margin over Ruchel.
Further back, it was rather difficult for drivers to advance up the order early on. J.R. Heffner, Eddie Marshall and Kenny Tremont Jr. spent the early portion of the feature just trying to get into the top 10.
Champion-elect Brett Hearn was the exception to the rule. Hearn was 10th by lap 5 and seventh by lap 10.
As the race continued, Hearn, Marshall and Keith Flach battled hard to move up the order. That allowed Soltis and Ruchel to get further and further away.
With six laps to go, Hearn was able to take third from Kyle Sheldon and set off in search of Soltis. However, it was way too late as the veteran campaigner took his first victory at Lebanon Valley since 2002.
At 74, Soltis is the oldest driver to ever win a feature on the high banks. He has also won features in five different decades.
Afterward, Soltis was overjoyed with his luck.
“Early in the night, [my car] wasn’t too good. I was actually pretty depressed,” Soltis said in the pits. “We made some changes… and finally got it where we needed to have it. The motor ran good, got lucky with no cautions. Pretty decent track with a lot of bite in it. We got lucky.”
By no means is Soltis done racing. He has already indicated that he will be back next year for another full season.
Soltis’ margin of victory was 3.877 seconds over Ruchel.
For Ruchel, Saturday night was his best career finish after 28 years of racing open-wheeled cars at Lebanon Valley.
“When we started the main event, we were really good,” Ruchel said in the pits. “I couldn’t catch Denny [Soltis] at all, but it was good. Toward the end, I got a little loose after I burned off the right rear. Regardless, I’m happy. It’s like winning for me.”
Hearn was third, followed by Sheldon and Kyle Armstrong.
In the Small Block Modifieds, Brian Sandstedt started from the pole and was able to hold a steady lead over Kim LaVoy. Further back, J.R. Heffner was the man on the move.
Starting 14th, Heffner quickly moved up into the top 10. By lap 11, he was fifth and knocking on Jason Herrington’s rear bumper for fourth.
However, Heffner’s charge more or less stalled there as the field got more and more stretched out. Meanwhile, LaVoy was consistently turning in faster lap times and slowly began to reel in Sandstedt.
Ultimately, Sandstedt and LaVoy were left alone as Frank Harper fell back into the clutches of Herrington.
Herrington managed to take third away with five laps to go, but no one could prevent Sandstedt from taking his first win in five years.
For Sandstedt, just being able to race at all Saturday night was quite the accomplishment. Last weekend, his car was thrashed in a turn 4 crash.
“The car was pretty much totaled,” Sandstedt explained. “We worked about every night to get it back together with used stuff. We had to replace pieces of the frame, motor mounts, motor plate and a bunch of bars. We [were able to get it] here and it paid off.”
LaVoy was second, followed by Herrington. Heffner was fourth, while Brett Haas was fifth.
In Sportsman, Peter Carlotto led from the pole, but Whitey Slavin was right there from the start. Slavin desperately needed points to close in on Michael Sabia for the title.
For much of the race, the two PMC chassis racers drove away from the field. However, Carlotto’s handling seemed to go away late in the race. That allowed Slavin to get to the inside on lap 15 and take away the lead.
From there, Slavin pulled away to take his first win of the season. For Slavin, the victory was key.
“My car was hooked up,” Slavin said following post-race engine inspection. “The Cedar Peaks No. 53 was on rails all night. I thought we were going to be even all race, but [Carlotto] was coming back to me.
“I just showed him the nose in [turns 3 and 4], crowded him down the frontstretch and lifted early,” Slavin continued. “I thought he was going to overdrive the car and he did. I slipped out and got him in turn 2.”
Carlotto held on for second, followed by Kevin Ward, Sabia and Virgilio.
Pro Stock saw Scott Govertsen start from the pole and lead early. Rick Dempsey pressured Govertsen quite a bit for the lead, but could not quite get alongside.
Dempsey continued to pressure Govertsen until he suddenly dropped off the pace on lap 9 and stopped on track to bring out a yellow. Dempsey tried to continue after repairs, but eventually pulled in and was credited with 18th. Steven LaRochelle took over second as a result.
Even though he’d already clinched the championship, Rob Yetman still wanted to snatch one more win. However, getting through the field was relatively difficult.
On lap 11, Yetman had contact with Tom Dean on the frontstretch. While Yetman’s car wasn’t hurt all that bad, Dean’s hood flew up and blocked his vision, causing another yellow.
After the restart, Govertsen’s No. 117 began to fade. That put a big smile on LaRochelle’s face. The Dalton, Mass. native immediately put the pressure on Govertsen and snatched the lead away on lap 13.
From there, LaRochelle pulled away to take his second win of the season (the first to count for Lebanon Valley points). Following the win, LaRochelle was overjoyed.
“Scott [Govertsen] was pretty good. He had a good car, but I noticed that his car was starting to go away in the handling department,” LaRochelle said. “I was able to set up him and pass him down low. Honestly, I think I got lucky, but it was a miracle for me.”
Nick Hilt finished in second, followed by Jason Meltz, Yetman and Jon Routhier. Govertsen eventually finished seventh.
In Pure Stock Feature No. 1, Brian Walsh started from the pole and immediately pulled out an advantage over Mike Arnold. Further back, Chad Arsenault was back in Tom Murphy’s normal car (renumbered to No. 04) and was on the charge.
Arsenault quickly drove his Chevrolet Malibu up to second behind Walsh. Once there, he tried to run Walsh down.
A yellow due to a spin for Adam Schneider in turn 2 closed the field back up for a three-lap sprint. However, Walsh was able to get a good jump and held on for the win.
Arsenault was second, followed by Zach Sorrentino. Arnold was fourth, followed by Jordan Miller.
Pure Stock Feature No. 2 saw Luke Van Allen start from the pole in the orange and blue No. 69. However, the field got stacked up on the first lap.
No incidents resulted because of it, but Mark Dwyer was able to get through the pack to the lead by the end of the first lap from eighth.
Half a lap later, Van Allen was hit from behind by Zach Seyerlein and spun. Seyerlein also spun and collected Aaron Fachini to bring out the race’s only yellow.
As the race continued on, Jesse Murphy came into his own in the No. 013. The scrum at the start helped him move forward from the fifth row, but it was his pace that got him to the front.
Jesse Murphy ran down Dwyer and passed him for the lead with two laps to go. From there, he held on to take his third win of 2017. Dwyer was second, followed by Dave Stickles, Mike Eichstedt and Seyerlein.
Pure Stock Feature No. 3 started off a little inauspiciously when Tim Thompson spun on the start exiting turn 4. Thompson was able to continue without assistance. Before the first lap of the race was over, Dom Denue spun in turn 3 to bring out a yellow.
During that yellow, pole-sitter Shawn Perez pulled off the track with a mechanical issue. Bill Deak Jr. assumed the lead as a result.
Once the race restarted, Deak opened up a big gap on the field. Gary O’Brien elevated himself to second, but had a snarling pack behind him.
Deak easily held on to take his third win of the year, but O’Brien was under constant assault over the last couple of laps.
On the final lap, Jeff Kreutziger was able to get underneath O’Brien and just beat him back to the line by eight-thousandths of a second to take second. O’Brien had to settle for third, followed by Jeff Meltz Jr. and Jeff Meltz Sr.