(Jennerstown, PA)…With the New Year just around the corner, the relationship formed in October 2016 between the Sweeney Chevrolet Buick GMC RUSH Asphalt Series powered by Pace Performance and Jennerstown Speedway as the Series’ flagship asphalt facility has been steadily moving forward with anticipation of the Speedway’s opening night on May 13, 2017.
RUSH Series Directors have been very excited about the partnership with Jennerstown, which is nestled in the picturesque Laurel Highlands area, and has a rich tradition in NASCAR seeing some of its finest, including Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt, Sr.& Jr., Darrell Waltrip, and Joey Logano race on the half-mile asphalt track.
Three divisions at Jennerstown, Late Models, Modifieds, and Street Stocks, will compete under the RUSH technical package, and be governed under the same strict and consistent rules enforcement that has brought success to RUSH in the world of dirt racing throughout the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Canada.
“The entire RUSH Racing Series is surrounded by respect and integrity and bring a great deal of expertise and professionalism to the table,” said Jennerstown General Manager Billy Hribar. “We are very excited for our fans and race teams in that Jennerstown will be the first asphalt track operating under the RUSH Asphalt Racing Series banner. It’s such a strong and proven system that has been nationally recognized for controlling the economics of racing while providing some of the stiffest competition.”
“This sport has evolved so much over the last 10 years that economics and many other factors have made speedways look at options to try to realign and unify racing overall and we felt that it was in our best interest to align ourselves with a sanctioning body,” added Hribar. “We have no doubts that our own Jennerstown drivers will hit the expectations of the quality of racing that is associated with the other RUSH labels.”
The RUSH asphalt technical rules package was released mid-December for the three divisions at Jennerstown that fall under the RUSH sanction. One of the most important pieces of the rules and just slightly different from the dirt side of RUSH is the “verification” process.
This process will require all crate engine competitors that competed at Jennerstown in 2016 to have their engine verified for legality by one of RUSH’s Authorized Rebuilders. Upon verification, these engines will be sealed with RUSH seal tags with all pertinent information recorded in the Series’ database. The verification process is detailed in the RUSH rules.
Two of the most respected engine builders in the RUSH system are Jimmy Friedline and Mike Ingram, both of whom have spent countless hours with Jennerstown and RUSH to help blend the RUSH rules package with the previous Jennerstown rules packages and specifically help develop the “verification” process.
“Things were really starting to get out of control with the engines, specifically the cost,” said Friedline, a 25-year engine builder who has been a RUSH rebuilder for several years, and whose shop is actually located in Jennerstown. “Without controlling the cost you’re going to keep losing cars without gaining any. The speedway management is defiantly getting the fans in the stands, now if they can continue to grow the car count, which the RUSH sanction will help them with, Jennerstown can be a template for other asphalt tracks to follow. ”
“It’s going to be a process getting everyone’s crate engine on the same page and making sure everything is legal,” explained Ingram. “Once we get through this process, it will tighten up the racing and make it more competitive; it’s going to be for the better.”
Sharpsville, Pennsylvania’s Will Thomas III, one of RUSH’s Touring racers, is one of the Series few drivers who actually started on asphalt and then converted to the dirt.
“If the RUSH sanctioning would have happened five or six years ago I probably would have never made the move to dirt and stayed with the asphalt,” revealed Thomas. “The disappearance of a number of asphalt tracks also made Thomas’ decision easier.”
Thomas is a fierce competitor who won the short-lived MAARA Series championships in the 2006 and 2007 seasons. He also won track championships at Lake Erie Speedway in 2008, 2009, and 2010. These were all done on the pavement.
Following the 2011 season, Thomas purchased a used Rocket Late Model from Johnny Johnson. It didn’t take Thomas long to adjust to the dirt as he won the Crate Late Model track championship at Sharon Speedway in 2012 and then again in 2014. During that season, Thomas had four wins in the 16 races he ran. One special win came on May 24, 2014 when he won a race on his father’s birthday. The elder Thomas, the longtime car owner of dirt car legend Lou Blaney, was very instrumental in developing his son’s racing career, and had passed away just a month earlier.
The only asphalt that Thomas currently runs is the ROC Modified Tour and Hribar is hoping that Thomas will make the trip to Jennerstown for the ROC Modified Tour race on June 17.
The name Gault is legendary in racing and includes Arlie, Glenn, Sr., and Glenn, Jr. Last summer, Gault, Sr., was inducted into the Jennerstown Hall of Fame. And even though, Jr. doesn’t race at Jennerstown, he’s hoping that the exposure will spread into the Ohio region, where he lives and mainly races.
“I think it will work,” said Gault, Jr., a former ASA racer and two-time track champion at Lake Erie Speedway. “I just wish it would have happened years ago. What they’ve (RUSH) done on dirt I think will happen on the pavement too. The fact of having a sanctioning body come in that will enforce rules and show they’re serious and actually market and promote their brand is extremely important.”
Gault, Jr. won the track championship last season at Barberton Speedway located in Norton, Ohio, but this year, he might try some different venues and one he will keep his eye on is Jennerstown Speedway.
At 68 years of age and retired from racing in 2005, Glenn Gault, Sr. thinks the RUSH sanctioning move is great. “When we were racing at Motordrome, we were pushing for something like this,” said Gault, Sr., who has won a number of track championships and was the 1988 NASCAR Northeast champion; he was also inducted into the Jennerstown Hall of Fame this past summer. When Lake Erie Speedway closed, it would have been nice for RUSH to have been there at that time.”
The #32 orange, white, and black colors of Gault racing has been around since 1959. The orange and white are the colors of Gault Heating, located in Hubbard, Ohio. The #32 was chosen by Arlie because he felt that Dale Johnson was the best driver he ever saw. Johnson’s number was 64 and Arlie said he could only wish he was half as good as Dale, thus the #32.
The Gault cars have been scripted with the words, “The Orange Blossom Special”. “I really liked the Johnny Cash song Orange Blossom Special, so for the last 57 years, it’s been the #32 Orange Blossom Special,” explained Gault, Sr.
“I appreciate the positive comments Will Thomas and the Gaults have said about RUSH and how they feel we can make a difference in regional asphalt racing,” stated Series director Vicki Emig. “They have years of combined experience on asphalt and are very aware of the issues that the asphalt world is facing today. I’d venture to say that Glenn Gault, Sr. has known me for over 40 years and to know that he supports the RUSH concept with his Hall of Fame status is a huge asset as we move forward. Will has actually raced under the RUSH banner for the past five years and knows first-hand how we run our program and the positives we can bring to the racers.”
Bryan Shipp of Scottdale, Pa., will be in his third season of racing at Jennerstown. In his first season, he raced a Modified, but converted to a Late Model in 2016 and won the track’s Rookie of the Year award. Prior to Jennerstown, Shipp raced at Motordrome. And even though he was a mere 15 minutes from Motordrome, Shipp preferred to take the one-hour trek to Jennerstown.
“It was a pretty easy transition for me,” said Shipp regarding his move to a Late Model. “The Late Models handle a lot better but whenever they snap loose, they will go around on you, not like the Modifieds where you can drive through it.”
“I’m looking forward to the RUSH sanctioning,” said the 31-year-old Shipp, who actually had a GM 604 crate motor last season. “I’m happy because there were a whole lot of cars in the class that had a whole lot of power and now everyone will be on an even plane.”
Twenty-four year-old Zane Ferrell of Ruffs Dale, Pa. won the Jennerstown Modified championship in 2016, and plans to race full-time for 2017 and defend his title. “Winning that title was pretty cool- something I never expected being it was my first year in the Modified division,” said Ferrell. “I think the RUSH sanctioning will be good for the track, and once it takes off, I think you’ll see more asphalt tracks around the area go to the sanctioning. I think the Modified class is one of the best divisions for Saturday night racing.”
Jason Busch, who finished ninth in Modified points during the 2016 season at Jennerstown, has been racing the asphalt Modifieds since 1999. At 37 years of age, he’s been racing, beginning in a Go-Kart, since he was seven.
“Last year was my first year with a crate motor and honestly I didn’t see a lot of difference,” explained Busch. “It might even have a little more spunk with the 4-barrel carburetor. Overall, I really like it and am looking forward to RUSH being at Jennerstown.”
Ron Eiford III and Lauren Butler will both be competing in the Street Stock division for 2017. Lauren’s dad, Eddie, is an important person in her racing career, acting as her crew chief. “I’m the guy she gets mad at when her car’s not right,” laughed Eddie.
At 29 and a resident of West Mifflin, Pa., Butler has been racing Street Stocks since 2006. She’s had two near misses in winning the track title, the first in 2008 when she finished third and just last year when she was within two points of the top before suffering a fractured knee in July in a personal accident that ended her season.
“Jennerstown is a beautiful track that is smooth and fast,” said Lauren. “I wouldn’t race anywhere else. We’re very excited that Jennerstown is going to be the first RUSH-sanctioned asphalt track. I think it’s a needed thing because of the teching and the rules enforcement. It’s really going to show who your skilled drivers are. We’re going to give them hell this year.”
“It’s like anything else, when there’s something new, it’s a wait and see type of thing, but I think it’s a good thing overall,” said her dad Eddie.
Eiford has been racing for 11 years, but 2017 will be only his third year of racing a Street Stock. Like Shipp, Eiford lives in Scottdale, Pa. “I’m for it, because I’ve always been underpowered,” said Eiford. “If the RUSH sanction works like it’s supposed to, it’s going to put everyone on a level playing field power-wise, which will make drivers work more on their setups and driving abilities and that’s the way it should be.”
As for his hopes for what 2017 and beyond will bring to Jennerstown, Hribar continued, “I feel you will see new drivers and former Late Model drivers returning to the Late Model division with car counts possibly increasing 25% over last year’s numbers to 16-18 per week. I also expect increases in both the Modifieds and Street Stocks car counts. In the big scheme of things we feel that from 2018 and beyond there’s a good possibility of seeing our own Modified drivers progress upwards to the Late Model division.”
The marriage between RUSH and Jennerstown appears to be a good one; one that will continue to bring life back into asphalt racing at the Laurel Highlands facility. Perhaps Hribar summed it up the best when he said, “Jennerstown may be the first RUSH Asphalt Racing Series track, but it definitely will not be the last.”
A brief history of Jennerstown Speedway:
In the spring of 2015 a group known as the Gang of Six signed a deal to purchase Jennerstown Speedway. That group included Dennis Neri, the owner of Boswell Lumber, Doug Domico, the Vice-President of Boswell Lumber, Snooky Williams a driver and owner of Snooky’s Sunoco, Larry Hemminger, North Star Equipment owner, John Morocco, the owner of Morocco Welding, and Richard Pologruto of Speclin Emergency, who is also the car owner of Late Model drivers Garry Wiltrout and Bobby Henry.
To get their feet firmly planted, the group decided to run a 10-week racing package in 2015 before jumping in full time in 2016.
“We had a good response from the drivers and the community and that helped to make things go right,” said Pologruto regarding the track.
Larry Hemminger said after the track’s last re-opening, “The track was closed just long enough for everybody to still want it, but not long enough for everyone to forget about it.”
One of the first pieces of business for the track owners was to name a General Manager and that title and responsibility went to Bill Hribar. Hribar was quoted as saying, “Being the GM of the track is more of a hobby and a passion rather than being a job.”
During his six years as a racer, Hribar competed at Motordrome Speedway in the Modified division where he had five feature wins and finished second in points in his final season of racing.
Jennerstown is actually one of the older short track racing facilities in the United States. The track has undergone numerous transformations since it opened in 1927. At that time, it was one of four tracks nationwide that was dedicated strictly to auto racing.
Following some rebuilds and other construction to the track, Jennerstown was purchased in 1967 by a group that included John Frambaugh, Sam Turrillo, Bill and John Philson, Doc Whiney, Harry Horne, and Stanley “Piney” Lasky.
Lasky finally took control and converted the facility from a dirt track to an asphalt track in 1987. Following his death in 1994, “Piney’s” son, Stanley took over the reins before selling it in 2000 to former Late Model track champion, Steve Peles and Hooters Restaurant founder, Bob Brooks.
Following their third season of ownership, the pair sold the track to Dave Wheeler, who then kept it through the 2008 racing season.
Jennerstown remained dormant for the second time from the end of 2009 through 2013 when a group named Zero Time Entertainment bought the facility from Dave Wheeler; but following the completion of the 2014 season the group returned the deed back to Wheeler and that’s when the Gang of Six stepped in to revive the facility
With the closing of Motordrome Speedway following the 2015 season, Jennerstown became the only asphalt facility in the western Pennsylvania region.
For more information on Jennerstown, check out their website at www.jennerstown.org. Like their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/jennerstownspeedwaycomplex. The track’s phone number is 814-703-8009.
E-mail can be sent to the RUSH Racing Series at email@example.com and snail mail to 4368 Route 422, Pulaski, PA 16143. Office phone is 724-964-9300 and fax is 724-964-0604. The RUSH Asphalt Racing Series website is www.rushasphaltseries.com. Like our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/rushasphaltseries. Follow us on Twitter @RUSHAsphalt.