Despite an unfavorable forecast all week, a major storm front blew through the region Friday night and pushed far enough south Saturday allowing for beautiful weather conditions for the 29th annual “Jook George Steel City Classic” at Pittsburgh’s PA Motor Speedway. For the second straight year, the Sweeney Chevrolet Buick GMC RUSH Dirt Late Model Touring Series presented by Pace Performance sanctioned the event and once again brought out a record car count of 51 topping last year’s count of 43. RUSH cannot thank the efforts enough by Branden Lockwich to organize and raise all of the record amount of donations, the George Family, all of the sponsors, and the Miley Family for hosting this successful event along with the 51 drivers from five states plus Ontario, Canada.
Mike Pegher, Jr. was on cruise control for the first 18 non-stop laps; however, a caution bunched up the field and allowed Jacob Hawkins to make the winning move on the ensuing restart. Hawkins’ pass would deny Pegher of a second straight “Jook George Steel City Classic” victory as he’d make a winning season debut with the Sweeney Tour. Hawkins became the ninth different winner in 13 Tour races this season with his first victory since October 25, 2015. All told, Hawkins earned $5,110 with $5,010 for the win, $25 bonus from R2 Motorsports, $25 for winning his heat, and $50 for leading lap 28 from Bryant Hank.
“I always enjoy coming to the track,” stated the Fairmont, WV winner. “I don’t always seem to have the best luck here, but Junior (Nolan) always seems to bring a lot of speed here. I’m just lucky to drive the car. I can’t thank him and his brother enough for giving me the opportunity. It’s all Steve Baker here. Rocket Chassis has backed me for a long time and I can’t thank those guys enough for everything they do. I want to thank all the fans for coming out to support this event. It means a lot to win it. I really appreciate everyone putting on this show and giving us something to come after.”
Pegher earned the pole following his dash victory and took off in the lead over Nico Dabecco, Hawkins, Daryl Charlier, and seventh starting Jared Miley. Pegher quickly pulled away on lap two, while it was three-wide for second on lap three with no changes in track position. Hawkins and Dabecco then raced side-by-side for the next four laps with Hawkins finally clearing Dabecco on lap seven with an inside move in turn one to garner second.
Pegher caught lapped traffic on lap nine and had a half-straightaway lead on Hawkins. By lap 12, Pegher was mired in heavy traffic, but continued a fairly comfortable lead. The battle raged for third between Dabecco and Charlier as those two raced hard side-by-side with Charlier making the pass on lap 14. Two laps later, Miley advanced to fourth getting by Dabecco. Dabecco would slow to bring out the event’s first caution with 18 laps completed.
Pegher chose the inside for the double-file restart as Hawkins would then make the winning pass with a turn four slide job to lead the 19th circuit before Miley and Charlier made contact battling for third with Charlier sliding into the wall and being collected by Dan Angelicchio. Charlier, a five-time 2018 winner at Pittsburgh, was selected as the TBM Brakes “Tough Brake of the Night”.
Colton Flinner would make his way to fourth when racing resumed on lap 20, while Jeremy Wonderling was on the move taking fifth from Garret Paugh with an inside pass in turn four on lap 28. While Hawkins continued to click off laps out front, Miley closed on Pegher on lap 29. The two standouts battled side-by-side for second on laps 34 and 35 before Miley ducked under Pegher in turn four to secure the spot with five to go; meanwhile, after going 19th to fourth, Flinner exited the event with overheating issues. The event’s final caution came when Virginia invader and 2017 Sweeney Weekly Series Champion, Logan Roberson, slowed with 36 laps scored.
Hawkins would have Miley now alongside of him for the double-file restart, but Hawkins would keep him at bay over the final four non-stop laps to pick up his second career Sweeney Tour win by 1.263 seconds in the Junior Nolan-owned, 2 Brothers Motorsports/Genesis Shocks-sponsored #13.
“I wasn’t really gaining on him (Pegher) in lapped traffic before that caution so I really didn’t know if I had anything for him or not,” explained Hawkins. “When I stepped up to him on the backstretch I knew that was my only shot. Luckily he left me a lane below him. He’s a heck of a wheelman so it’s an honor to run up front with him.”
After failing to start the two Sweeney Weekly Series events he entered this season at Pittsburgh, Miley came from seventh to finish second at his home track in his 2018 Tour debut, worth $2,510 in feature earnings plus $200 cash from Cleetus Motorsports and a $100 Close Racing Supply gift card for being the highest finisher that contributed to the event.
“Not too bad for starting seventh,” said the 32-year-old Pittsburgh, Pa. driver. “There were a lot of good cars and this was the first crate feature I’ve got to run this year as we’ve had problems. The car was a little bit better tonight, but still too tight. It was fast, but I needed the longer runs. The restarts kind of hurt me. I wish we would have freed it up a little more. I hit (turns) one and two perfect then three and four, but then I kind of got too close to him entering the turn and it took air off the nose that one time. Congrats to Jake on the win and Mike on third. This was a good night to get a good run in this #99 car. I hated that incident with Daryl. I really had nowhere to go.”
Pegher, who won last Saturday’s $1,000 tune-up race, took third worth $1,210 plus an additional $50 for his dash win. “I’m not too disappointed, but obviously wanted to be up two more spots,” said the 32-year-old Cranberry Township, Pa. driver. “Hats off to those guys. We struggled a bit in the beginning of the night and were just way too tight. We kept freeing the car up all night. I think we may have freed it up a little too much in the feature, but to finish third with the group of cars here I’ll take it.”
Wonderling was the highest finishing Tour regular in fourth duplicating last year’s event finish, which was his first ever visit to the “Monster Half-Mile”. Wonderling, who earned $1,110, was also selected as the Dirt Defender “Defensive Drive of the Night” holding off track regular Ben Policz in a spirited battle for the fourth position. It was Wonderling’s 10th straight top nine finish, which now unofficially ties him for the points lead. Policz meanwhile picked up the $100 Precise Racing Products “Pedal Down” Hard Charger gift card for going 17th to fifth and earned $1,010.
Paugh was sixth after starting 10th. Damian Bidwell, who won the last Sweeney Tour race on July 28 at Stateline, had a great run going 17th to seventh and also picked up an additional $75 in bonus lap money with $50 coming from the George Family and $25 from the Brady Wonderling race team. Pittsburgh regulars Christian Schneider and Tommy Schirnhofer, Jr. were eighth and ninth. Schirnhofer added $50 from the George Family for running 10th on lap 10. Jason Genco, who entered the night as the Tour points leader, came home a respectable 10th in his first ever Pittsburgh start.
New York racers Wayne Robertson and David Pangrazio put on a great battle in the non-qualifier event with Robertson ending the night victorious in the 12-lap affair over the 15 starters. Robertson earned $375 thanks to additional monies put up by Ralyea Racing and an anonymous donor in memory of Dickie Thomas, Don Dibert, and Mike Bodnar.
“I’d really to thank RUSH, Branden Lockwich for all he does, and all the great supporters of this Jook race,” expressed the 36-year-old Avoca, NY driver. “Branden think about me being five hours away and lets me know what’s going on. This was a family thing for me. I brought my wife and kids along with my crew. This makes it a little better, but we had a tough night. It’s been a mechanical issue season and it struck again. I’d like to thank Dan Angelicchio and crew. They had a rough wreck, but really helped me figure out the electrical issue. They had the same thing happen to them this season. Hopefully we’ve got that solved. It’s really hurt us the last three Tour races and puts me behind the eight-ball when I can’t go out and qualify. I think the car was really good all night, but we couldn’t make the changes we wanted just to get the car running. I appreciate all the fans for coming out and letting us come down and put on a show for you.”
Robertson and Pangrazio started on the front row and literally battled side-by-side for the first 10 laps. On lap 10, Robertson split the lapped cars of Brian Goebel and Chris Lander, which would seal the deal. Robertson then pulled away on the last lap to become the 31st different non-qualifier winner in 35 races run all-time. Pangrazio, a two-time winner at Genesee Speedway this season, was second in his first ever Pittsburgh start. Bill Kessler debuted a new car after a crash last Saturday night at Pittsburgh and was third to take over the “Wheelman Bonus Event Challenge Series” points lead. Zach Gunn came from seventh to fourth over Michael Duritsky, Jr.
Despite drawing the second worst pill, Dabecco went out and set fast time over the 51-car field in FK Rod Ends “Shock the Clock” Qualifying to earn $100. Dabecco then added another $25 for winning the first FK Rod Ends heat race. Other $25 FK Rod Ends heat race winners were Charlier, Hawkins, Schneider, Pegher, and Russ Matejka. The last chance B mains went to Flinner, Jamie Wrightsman, and Roberson.
“On behalf of the Jook George Family and myself we want to thank all the drivers and fans who came out to support the race,” stated event organizer Branden Lockwich. “To have 51 cars support the race was unbelievable. Also thank you to Rachel Miley for all of her hard work in organizing the kids fest which was a great addition to the event.”
The Sweeney Tour will resume action on Thursday (August 16) for the annual McKean County Fair race in a $1,500 to-win Platinum event. Warm-ups begin at 7 p.m. with racing at 7:30. Then on Sunday is the second and final appearance of the season at Tri-City Raceway Park in a $2,000 to-win Marquee Event for the annual “Manufacturers Night” presented by MSD Performance. Pits open at 3:00 p.m. with warm-ups at approximately 5 followed by qualifying and racing.
Sweeney Chevrolet Buick GMC RUSH Late Model Touring Series “Jook George Steel City Classic” Race #13
FK Rod Ends “Shock the Clock” Qualifying ($100 for fast time): 1. Nico Dabecco 19.333 2. Daryl Charlier 19.419 3. Jacob Hawkins 19.444 4. Christian Schneider 19.517 5. Ben Policz 19.520 6. Ron Hall 19.601 7. Jared Miley 19.678 8. Colby Beighey 19.712 9. Damian Bidwell 19.787 10. Garret Paugh 19.797 11. Tommy Schirnhofer, Jr. 19.802 12. Russ Matejka 19.834 13. Zach Kane 19.878 14. Jeremy Wonderling 19.880 15. Dan Angelicchio 19.896 16. Jason Genco 19.897 17. Logan Roberson 19.914 18. Logan Zarin 19.944 19. John Waters 19.980 20. Justin Lamb 19.980 21. Matt Dobnak 20.148 22. Jamie Wrightsman 20.169 23. Mike Pegher, Jr. 20.193 24. Cory Lawler 20.198 25. Corey McPherson 20.205 26. Colton Flinner 20.252 27. David Pangrazio 20.262 28. Chad Sines 20.315 29. Bryan Hoffman 20.342 30. Michael Duritsky, Jr. 20.375 31. Wayne Robertson 20.384 32. Bill Kessler 20.390 33. Chuck Medved 20.395 34. Troy Shields 20.432 35. Brady Wonderling 20.503 36. Pete Wearing 20.511 37. Brian Goebel 20.537 38. Cory Sines 20.882 39. Bruce Hordusky, Jr. 20.885 40. Joey Zambotti 20.907 41. Paul Jablonski 20.931 42. Adam Ferri 21.000 43. D.J Nakutis 21.254 44. J.J. Mazur 21.296 45. Chris Lander 21.427 46. W.L. Stile 22.148 47. Zach Gunn 22.520 48. Jake Gunn NT 49. Andy Spooner NT 50. John Mollick DSQ 51. Josh Stoica DSQ.
FK Rod Ends Heat 1 (8 laps, $25 to-win): 1. Dabecco 2. Miley 3. Waters 4. Kane 5. Robertson 6. Goebel 7. McPherson 8. Nakutis 9. Mollick-DSQ.
FK Rod Ends Heat 2 (8 laps, Top 3 transfer to A, $25 to-win): 1. Charlier 2. J. Wonderling 3. Lamb 4. Flinner 5. Mazur 6. Kessler 7. Co. Sines 8. Beighey 9. Stoica-DSQ.
FK Rod Ends Heat 3 (8 laps, Top 3 transfer to A, $25 to-win): 1. Hawkins 2. Angelicchio 3. Bidwell 4. Pangrazio 5. Dobnak 6. Hordusky 7. Medved 8. Lander.
FK Rod Ends Heat 4 (8 laps, Top 3 transfer to A, $25 to-win): 1. Schneider 2. Paugh 3. Genco 4. Wrightsman 5. Shields 6. Zambotti 7. Stile 8. Ch. Sines.
FK Rod Ends Heat 5 (8 laps, Top 3 transfer to A, $25 to-win): 1. Pegher 2. Schirnhofer 3. Policz 4. Roberson 5. B. Wonderling 6. Hoffman 7. Z. Gunn 8. Jablonski-DNS.
FK Rod Ends Heat 6 (8 laps, Top 3 transfer to A, $25 to-win): 1. Matejka 2. Zarin 3. Ferri 4. Duritsky 5. Lawler 6. Wearing 7. Spooner 8. Hoffman 9. J. Gunn-DNS.
Last Chance B Main 1 (10 laps, Top 2 transfer to A): 1. Flinner 2. Kane 3. Robertson 4. Kessler 5. Beighey 6. Mazur 7. Co. Sines 8. McPherson 9. Goebel 10. Nakutis-DNS 11. Mollick-DSQ 12. Stoica-DSQ.
Last Chance B Main 2 (10 laps, Top 2 transfer to A): 1. Wrightsman 2. Shields 3. Pangrazio 4. Ch. Sines 5. Dobnak 6. Zambotti 7. Hordusky 8. Medved 9. Lander 10. Stile.
Last Chance B Main 3 (10 laps, Top 2 transfer to A): 1. Roberson 2. B. Wonderling 3. Duritsky 4. Hoffman 5. Z. Gunn 6. Lawler 7. Wearing 8. Spooner 9. Hall-DNS 10. Jablonski-DNS 11. J. Gunn-DNS.
Dash (6 laps, $50 to win): 1. Pegher 2. Dabecco 3. Hawkins 4. Charlier 5. Schneider 6. Matejka.
Non-Qualifier (12 laps, $375 to-win): 1. Wayne Robertson (20) 2. David Pangrazio (136) 3. Bill Kessler (09) 4. Zach Gunn (114G) 5. Michael Duritsky, Jr. (90J) 6. Matt Dobnak (42) 7. Joey Zambotti (948) 8. Cory Sines (9S) 9. J.J. Mazur (13) 10. Chuck Medved (2M) 11. Corey McPherson (c33) 12. Andy Spooner (3) 13. Brian Goebel (12G) 14. Chris Lander (18) 15. Colby Beighey (36B) 16. Bryan Hoffman (15H)-DNS 17. Bruce Hordusky, Jr. (3)-DNS 18. Pete Wearing (111)-DNS 19. W.L. Stile (51)-DNS 20. D.J. Nakutis (31)-DNS 21. Ron Hall (01)-DNS 22. Paul Jablonski (3J)-DNS 23. Jake Gunn (14G)-DNS 25. John Mollick (Bentz 60M)-DSQ (fuel cell) 26. Josh Stoica (22J)-DSQ (seals).
A Main (40 laps, $5,035 to-win): 1. JACOB HAWKINS (Nolan 13) 2. Jared Miley (99) 3. Mike Pegher, Jr. (Geisler 1c) 4. Jeremy Wonderling (3J) 5. Ben Policz (14B) 6. Garret Paugh (03) 7. Damian Bidwell (1/2-Pint) 8. Christian Schneider (Maniecki 1ST) 9. Tommy Schirnhofer, Jr. (8s) 10. Jason Genco (Badgley/Craig 29J) 11. John Waters (LeBarron 11) 12. Troy Shields (11) 13. Logan Zarin (1z) 14. Justin Lamb (93x) 15. Chad Sines (15) 16. Zach Kane (10) 17. Jamie Wrightsman (21J) 18. Adam Ferri (66) 19. Russ Matejka (17M) 20. Logan Roberson (17) 21. Brady Wonderling (Ralyea z1) 22. Colton Flinner (75) 23. Cory Lawler (93) 24. Daryl Charlier (12) 25. Dan Angelicchio (14) 26. Nico Dabecco (F1). (Note: Cory Lawler took a Series provisional & Chad Sines took a Track provisional)
Feature Lap Leaders: Mike Pegher, Jr. (1-18), Jacob Hawkins (19-40)
Precise Racing Products “Pedal Down Hard Charger”: Ben Policz (+12)
Dirt Defender “Defensive Drive of the Night”: Jeremy Wonderling
TBM Brakes “Tough Brake of the Night”: Daryl Charlier
Original story by Mike Leone. Reprinted with permission.