INAUGURAL CLASS OF SWEENEY RUSH SPRINT CAR RACERS SET TO KICKOFF 27-EVENT BONNELL'S ROD SHOP SLATE BEGINNING APRIL 20 AT LERNERVILLE
By Doug Kennedy and Mike Leone
February 25, 2018 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(Pulaski, PA)...What was only a concept just over a year ago is now set to become a reality. Announced in February 2017, the Sweeney Chevrolet Buick GMC RUSH Racing Series powered by Pace Performance Series is ready to launch its newest division come April 20 at Lernerville Speedway when the non-wing RUSH Sprint Cars roll onto the speedway.
The confirmed inaugural class of racers is already at 17 strong, just about double what the RUSH Sportsman Modifieds and RUSH Pro Mods started off with in their first seasons. In addition there's been several other racers that are very interested in the class that have contacted the Series. RUSH partner speedways have come together to provide the RUSH Sprint Cars with an amazing 27 Bonnell's Rod Shop Weekly Series events to compete in at 10 different tracks across four states (Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, and New York).
The GM 602 crate engine is the base engine for the Series and is available to the racers from Pace Performance for $5,179 or $7,850 for a fully dressed package. Financing is also available. Racers can also purchase the engine package from any one of the RUSH Authorized Engine Rebuilders.
In addition to the GM 602 crate engine package that was developed by Pace Performance Director of Circle Track Development, Don Blackshear, the RUSH Sprint Car package includes, Hoosier right and left rear spec tires, sealed/spec Bilstein Shocks, and RUSH “Visual” Methanol spec fuel produced by Insinger Performance, a Sunoco Race Fuel Distributor.
"I really don't know what to say about the response we have received concerning the new RUSH Sprint Car division, stated Series director Vicki Emig. "To have 17 cars confirmed to compete and 10 different speedways work with us to put together a schedule of 27 events before a wheel is turned speaks volumes about the RUSH Sprint Car division concept. So many people have come together to help us present a true 'cost containment' Sprint Car package, and we couldn't be happier with where we're at in just the beginning stages of its development. The group of racers that have made the commitment to help us launch the division is really impressive. I know these racers are going to not only show the fans, but other racers who have always wanted an opportunity to race a Sprint Car how exciting and affordable the RUSH Sprint Cars really are!"
Neil Cowman, the Business Unit Manager for Oval Track Dirt at Hoosier Tire, thinks the Series will be successful as well. “I really think from an economical standpoint for Sprint Cars in western Pennsylvania, RUSH Sprint Cars are going to be beneficial for competitors who want to get into open wheel Sprint Car racing at an affordable cost that will put on a great show for the fans.”
Cowman led a group who tested the Hoosier Tire at Lernerville and Stateline Speedways last fall. “We were very pleased with the testing results,” said Cowman. “Vicki (Emig) has proven to have a really good business model for crate engine racing. Based on her track record, she’ll do an excellent job with the Sprint Cars as well.”
One of the leading veteran Sprint Car drivers that will be part of the RUSH Sprint Car Series is Arnie Kent, who did testing for the Series. The New Castle, Pa. driver began his career in the Micro Sprint division in the early 1990s at nearby Hickory Speedway before moving up into the "360" and "410" Sprint Car ranks where he won 20 features at Mercer Raceway Park. Kent has always moonlighted without a wing any chance he's gotten over the years.
“I think it’s a good series,” said Kent who has been racing for over 25 years. “I like that it features wingless Sprints because there’s really no place around here that you can race them and that’s what led me into it. It’s another opportunity for me to do something I like- racing wingless Sprints. I can go out and have some fun without spending a ton of money or time.”
Like Kent, Gale Ruth, Jr. also did testing for the new RUSH Sprint Car package last fall. The Pleasantville, Pa. resident comes from a racing background where his father and grandfather were racers, and his family operated the former Pleasantville Speedway. In fact, his dad, Gale, still does some Sprint Car racing. Ruth has always been considered a low-buck Sprint Car racer, but always got everything he could out of his equipment. In fact, he owns a pair of "410" Sprint Car wins at Mercer Raceway Park. Ruth was always a proponent of non-wing racing, and the new RUSH Sprint Car package is definitely right up his alley. Ruth will be the driver of the Culver Motorsports #1C out of Titusville, Pa. and should contend for the championship.
Another Sprint Car veteran of the Series is 48-year-old Mike Lutz. The Mercer, Pa. resident, whose father Andy was a big winner in the region, brings a strong resume to the Series winning "410" and "360" Sprint Car races all throughout the region including with the All Star Circuit of Champions, Empire Sprints, Patriot Sprint Tour, and more. His teenage son, Mike, Jr. a third generation racer, will also split driving duties. Lutz, Jr. is a graduate of the Junior Sprint division that competed throughout the region.
“We are going to have one complete car that is owned by Jerry Schaffer ( who has and still does own several RUSH Sportsman Modifieds since the inception of that class)," said Mike Lutz. I’m going to drive it the majority of the time and go for the championship while my son will get limited seat time in the car.”
Lutz plans on running a few winged races this year, but will focus on the RUSH Series. “I think the deal is excellent,” said Lutz. “You can take a car with a $7,000 motor and win a $5,000 championship where in a 410 you’re dealing with a $60,000 motor. I like the concept that everyone’s motor is the same. Everything about it is where the sports needs to go.”
Despite making a career for himself in Late Models, Chad Ruhlman of Bemus Point, NY has always been a fan of non-wing USAC Sprint Cars. Ruhlman has won features in the RUSH Late Model division before taking a couple seasons off to get his son Kevin started in the RUSH Pro Mods.
“I think the class is needed class in this area," said the 40-year-old Ruhlman who plans on just racing the RUSH Sprint Series this year. "My deciding factor to get into this was because of Pittsburgh and Lernerville’s involvement in the Series. The bigger speedways are something I love and I’m excited about it.”
Forty-six year old Dave Hawkins of Lower Burrell, Pa., will be the patriarch of the Hawkins family as he'll be joined by his two sons in the RUSH Sprint Series; 23-year-old Brandon and 26-year-old Scott, although the two boys will each own their own cars. The trio have been a household name in the Micro Sprint ranks throughout the region for many years.
“I think it’s going to be a tremendous Series,” said Dave Hawkins. “The guidelines, the rules, the extra stuff put out for the drivers, the participation- these are all great things. The stringent enforcement of the RUSH guidelines and the rules is something I like. By the time we bought the car and the motor for a Micro Sprint, we had $16,000 tied up; now we’re looking at the RUSH Series with about the same amount of money we can race the big car.”
Dave and Brandon plan on running the full schedule, while Scott will pick and choose races he can make. The trio also enjoy racing against each other. “It’s definitely family competition,” said Dave. “I like the cost of it,” said Brandon. “I hope they can stay that same way instead of making it become a money sport.”
At 27 years old, Zach Morrow of Gibsonia, Pa. has been racing since he was 13. He moved up out of the Mod Lites, and for the past three seasons has been running a "410" Sprint Car. He's another driver that has enjoyed competing without the wings. “I’m optimistic about the Series,” said Morrow. “I think it will be a good deal because the racing will be competitive. I was not the biggest crate motor fan, but in a Sprint Car, I think it’s going to be better.”
Veteran Sprint Car driver Joe McEwen, also of Mercer, will be driving for Jack Mahoney and Larry Eckert this year and plans on making 14 or so shows. McEwen has raced a Stock Car, a "305", "360", and a "410" Sprint Car throughout the region. At Mercer, he owns three Stock Car wins and a track championship and would later go on to score an upset "410" Car win. He will also run his "410" Sprint for 10 to 15 shows this season as well.
“It’s going to be good competition and will come down to who gets their car set right,” said McEwen. “There’s not a lot of maintenance with these cars. The wingless thing is fun.”
Bruce Powell started his racing career in a Micro Sprint in the early ‘90s and then ran "410" Sprints in the late 90s. For the last 12 seasons, he raced an E-Mod. This season Bruce will not be racing, but dedicating his time to nurturing the career of his 23-year-old son, Tyler of Cochranton, Pa. Bruce and his wife, Tammy, own the car that Tyler will compete in. Bruce likes the rules package that will put everyone on an equal playing field.
“We’re going to have some good veteran drivers and some racers who will be new to Sprint Car racing- that will make this Series fun,” said Bruce. “Hopefully we’re going to try and put some fun back into racing instead of just spending money. This is a cost effective way to get back into a Sprint Car.”
Bruce’s son, Tyler, has been racing since he was seven, beginning in a Go-Kart. When he was 13, he switched to a Mini Stock and then an E-Mod for one season. Ironically, Tyler got his start in full-size racing in a Mini Stock at Mercer when Emig started that affordable, start-up class when she owned the track. “I’ve been kind of out of it after that because dad was racing and now I’m getting back into it this year,” said Tyler. “I think this Series is a great idea. I’m really excited to see how it's already taken off. It’s going to come down to how well you can drive the car and not who has the biggest motors.”
Longtime and now retired Sprint Car driver Scott Bonnell immediately jumped on board and will be the presenting sponsor of the $5,000 to-win Bonnell’s Rod Shop Weekly Series Championship. Bonnell was a competitor at the track that Series Director, Vicki Emig, once owned- Mercer Raceway Park. He'll also have a car in the Series for Dalton Daniels.
“I got to know Vicki (Emig) when she purchased Mercer,” said the 57-year-old Bonnell, who has a rod shop and two body shops in Erie and Fairvew, Pa. “She is very professional and has always been straightforward with everything and everybody. She asked me to sit in on a meeting when she was thinking about putting this deal together and I felt I needed to be a part of it. I didn’t hesitate at all. Seeing what she’s done with the other RUSH classes, I couldn’t see how not to be part of the Sprint Car deal. I will own Dalton's car, but will be in the background."
Bonnell likes the Series because he feels it will be a great way for guys who normally wouldn’t be able to be in a Sprint Car to do so and be competitive. “Everybody’s equal and that’s the best part. It’s usually the most money that equates with success, but this is going to be more of a driver’s deal and I’m excited.”
Daniels, 20 of Albion, Pa, started his career like so many others in Go-Karts before moving on to the Micro Sprints and then spent three years running various Sprint Car divisions, but has only run a non-wing car a couple nights. Daniels and Bonnell have known each other for about seven years stemming from a friendship that Bonnell and Dalton’s dad formed years before. Daniels also works for Scott at Bonnell’s Collision in Fairview.
“I have the winged Sprints somewhat figured out, but judging a non-wing Sprint is a completely different deal,” said Daniels. “I took last year off and I’m really looking forward to giving wingless Sprints and the crate motor a chance. I've watched the RUSH Series run and I like what they do and I think this will be the same with this Series. It will also be nice to travel and run a number of tracks and not be limited to a home track.”
Leechburg, Pennsylvania’s Jim Kurpakus has been racing since the mid ‘80s. The 57-year-old drove a non-wing Sprint Car for 15 races. He’s also raced a winged Sprint Car and has a Big Block Modified that he competed in during a limited basis in 2017. Kurpakus will split the driving time in the RUSH Sprint Cars with Kevin “Marbles” Mahoney.
“I’ve raced a little bit of everything,” Kurpakus said. “I like the idea of travelling and going to different tracks. This is the perfect race car package with the engine, tires, fuel, and shocks. It should be an exciting class and the cars will be plenty fast. I’m going to run most of the schedule, if possible.”
Shawn Smith took a different path to the RUSH Sprint Car division. The Seneca, Pa. resident spent time working on standout Bob Felmlee's Sprint Car for several years. Shawn's father, Bruce, was one of the top Stock Cars at Tri-City Speedway for many years before Shawn took over the driving duties in recent years.
"I've always liked Sprint Cars," stated Smith. "I always said if there was a non-wing Sprint Car class in the area I would do it. This class came along and is so affordable compared to other divisions. I'm really looking forward to it."
Don Blackshear's 23-year-old son, Brad, will also be competing in the Series this season. Brad owns four career wins in the Econo Mod division at Sharon Speedway and was the track champion in 2010. Brad also spent a season in a RUSH Late Model at Sharon. “I think it’s great,” said the younger Blackshear of the RUSH Sprint Cars. “It really gives people the opportunity to get into a Sprint Car at an affordable cost. I grew up around Sprint Cars and now having the opportunity to race one is something I’m looking forward to.”
“We have 17 racers set to go and we haven’t even started yet,” said Don Blackshear. “There’s been a need for years to have a cost contained program for Sprint Car racing, and to give racers in Micro Sprints and Outlaw Karts the opportunity to move up and race a full-fledge Sprint Cars is great. This format gives them a structured program and makes them just as competitive as the next guy regardless of what their financial status is.”
Another of the elder statesman of the RUSH Sprint Cars thus far will be 56-year-old Don Blaney. The Blaney name is legendary in the western Pennsylvania/Ohio region. Blaney’s father, George, and Lou were cousins. Lou’s two sons, Dave and Dale, are his second cousins. For three seasons he worked on Dave’s Sprint Car crew before driving the race hauler for Ward Burton in the NASCAR Busch Series. For 18 years he drove a Sprint Car at tracks like Sharon, Mercer, Pittsburgh, Lernerville, and The Dirt Track at Charlotte. Most recently, Blaney was a competitor in the RUSH Sportsman Modifieds.
“I prefer a winged Sprint Car and really don’t know anything about a non-wing Sprint Car, but I’m going into it with an open mind,” said Blaney. “I have my car in place and am ready to go. I need to get comfortable with the non-wing Sprint, but will be cautiously optimistic. I’m 56 and I know I have to go to work on Monday.”
The RUSH Sprint Car class has certainly drawn interest from all types of racing backgrounds and experiences levels. Brian Mathieson is one such racer. The Mercer, Pa. resident has a long career in Go-Kart racing; in fact, Mathieson teamed with RUSH to start the RUSH Memorial Cup Karting Series several years ago. In between, Mathieson spent several seasons behind the wheel of a Stock Car at Mercer Raceway Park before the costs forced him to the grandstands. The 41-year-old, who has always been a Sprint Car fan, said he feels this is his last chance to get behind the wheel of a full-size car.
At 38 years of age, Steve Cousins of Eldred, Pa. will be racing against competition for the first time in his life. Cousins, who was the first driver to send in his RUSH membership, has only raced a Crate Late Model for 25 or so practice laps. Cousins plans on running 20 to 23 races this season.
“I won’t be afraid of the throttle, but I don’t want to tear up my car or anyone else’s," revealed Cousins. "I’d be a fool to say that I’m going to go out there and kill it, but you can give me the rookie title. I think it’s going to be a big pull for the tracks with the fans having the ability to watch wingless Sprint Cars. We’re super excited and we’ll make things work.”
Emig and co-director Mike Leone have been working on the GM Crate racing concept since 2007 and have made great strides in developing the crate engine racing throughout the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Canada, as over 30 different speedways will host a RUSH-sanctioned event in 2018.
As racing costs continue to escalate, RUSH overall has found a way to keep racing fair and affordable. “We want our rules to help people afford to race, that’s our niche,” said Emig. “All of the various pieces that we’re bringing to the RUSH Sprint Cars have been developed and proven over the years with our other divisions, and we know this combination will once again prove to be successful in the RUSH Sprint Cars."
Lernerville Speedway will host 10 events including the season opener on Friday, April 20. On May 4, the RUSH Sprints will join up with Tony Stewart’s All Star Circuit of Champions. There will also be two Sprint Spectacular events on June 29 and August 31 with the latter being the inaugural Manufacturers Night presented by MSD Performance. Lernerville will host the season finale, the "Steel City Stampede" on October 12-13.
The RUSH Sprint Cars will headline Lernerville’s new monthly “RK Virgile Wednesday Night Can’t Wait For the Weekend Mayhem Series", which will begin in May and feature the “Wednesday Night Lightning Series”- a five-event Series with a $3,000 point fund. The events will count toward the Bonnell's Rod Shop Weekly Series Championship as well.
Pittsburgh's PA Motor Speedway will feature monthly Bonnell’s Rod Shop events from June through September. Three of the four events are combined with "410" Sprint Car events including the All Star event on July 21.
The RUSH Sprints will twice visit Sharon Speedway in Hartford, Ohio on June 2 and at the “Apple Festival Nationals” September 7th or 8th.
Tri-City Raceway Park in Franklin, Pa. will twice feature the RUSH Sprints on June 17 and July 15 with both events paying $500 to-win. Eriez Speedway will feature the RUSH Sprints on Sunday, May 13 while Old Bradford Speedway will hold a pair of $600 to-win events on May 20 and August 5. The RUSH Sprints will join up with the All Stars on June 9 at Stateline Speedway and then again on June 30 as part of the “Open Wheel Mania” with both events paying $600 to-win.
Thunder Mountain Speedway, located south of Brookville, Pennsylvania will play host to the RUSH Sprints on July 27 in a $500 to-win event. Tyler County Speedway in West Virginia will host the RUSH Sprints on August 11 in a much-anticipated event, which will pay $600 to-win.
The RUSH Sprints will also be part of Genesee Speedway’s second annual “Topless Nationals” on September 15 and 16. The RUSH Sprints will run a complete show paying $800 to-win each night at the Batavia, NY 1/3-mile with the overall top point driver receiving a $300 bonus from RUSH for the “Empire State Classic”.
All events in 2018 will be part of the $20,000+ Bonnell’s Rod Shop Weekly Series Championship that will pay $5000 to win and down 20 spots. As with all of RUSH’s other divisions, the drivers’ best 12 point finishes will be utilized.
There will also be a “Future’s Cup” Championship for eligible teenage racers and combined with the “Wednesday Night Lightning” Series will bring the 2018 championship point funds to better than $23,700.
2018 RUSH Sprint Car marketing partners include partners include Sweeney Chevrolet Buick GMC, Pace Performance, Hoosier Tire, Bonnell's Rod Shop, Bilstein Shocks, Insinger Performance, MSD Performance, Holley Performance Products, Earl's Performance Plumbing, FK Rod Ends, Racing Electronics, Schoenfeld Headers, Dirt Defender, Jones Racing Products, Precise Racing Products, TBM Brakes, K&N Filters, Lincoln Electric, Velocita-USA, Classic Ink USA, Landrum Performance Spring, RockAuto.com, and Valley Fashions.
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 Sprint Car website is www.rushsprintcars.com. "Like" our Facebook page at ww.facebook.com/rushsprintcars and follow us on Twitter @RUSHSprints for the latest news and updates.