SWEENEY RUSH SPRINT CARS CONTINUE STEADY GROWTH IN SOPHOMORE SEASON WITH AT LEAST A DOZEN NEW RACERS SET TO COMPETE FOR BONNELL'S ROD SHOP WEEKLY SERIES TITLE
By Doug Kennedy & Mike Leone
January 30, 2019 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(Pulaski, PA)...After more than a year of planning, the Sweeney Chevrolet Buick GMC RUSH Sprint Car Series powered by Pace Performance debuted back on May 16, 2018 at Lernerville Speedway with 12 cars in the pit area. Twenty-four events later, the inaugural season concluded at Lernerville that saw 21 different cars compete throughout the region. The Series is now geared up for its second season that boasts a minimum of 32 Bonnell's Rod Shop events at 10 different speedways in Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, and West Virginia.
Over 30 drivers are expected in competition in 2019 including the addition of at least 12 new confirmed racers. That list of new drivers includes Jarod Larson, Brandon Blackshear, Ryan Fraley, Jeremy Weaver, the father-son duo of Pat and Zack Bealer, Brain Hartzell, Kevin Ruhlman, Nolan Groves, Matt Sherlock, Scott Dean, and Frank Wilson, Jr. This group ranges in age from 15 to 54.
"The various backgrounds of these new racers is what makes the RUSH Sprint Car class so unique," stated RUSH Director Vicki Emig. "We had a lot of diversity last year and that's obviously going to continue with this new crop of racers that are looking for an affordable way to race Sprint Cars competitively. This class is already ahead of the growth curve of our other RUSH divisions including the RUSH Sportsman Modifieds, which has grown each and every year since its inception in 2014."
The RUSH Sprint Cars feature traditional non-wing Sprint Cars powered by GM 602 crate engines from Pace Performance on RUSH Visual Methanol shod on spec Hoosier Tires with $140 sealed, spec Bilstein Shocks.
“I think last year pretty much met what I thought we were capable of doing,” said Don Blackshear, Director of Circle Track Development at Pace Performance. “We had growth in the Series and multiple winners. The main draw is the competitiveness of the series and the costs involved. The interest from the racetracks has been great and there are a number of new racers for 2019.”
Leading the list of new competitors is Jarod Larson. The 50-year-old racer was a standout "410" Sprint Car racer from the mid 1990s through 2007 winning numerous championships at Sharon Speedway, Mercer Raceway Park, and Tri-City Speedway. At Sharon alone, where the RUSH Sprint Cars will have at least 10 events, Larson owns 26 "410" wins and an impressive seven track championships. Larson started his career in the Stock Car division, which is what he has competed in over the past two seasons.
"I had the opportunity to buy back the last Sprint Car I raced in 2007 and decided I wanted to race a little more," explained the Jefferson, Ohio driver. "At first I was skeptical about the class, but there are a lot of things I like. For one the class and the engine is fairly inexpensive compared to the other classes that are out of hand. I like the point fund and the fact that you don't have to run all of the races, which was appealing to me. It makes it family-oriented. The races are fairly local and the money is decent."
After racing against each other for a number of years in the Econo Mods, 28-year-old Brandon Blackshear will join his 22-year-old brother, Brad, for 2019. Brad, who ran 15 races last year plans on running the full schedule for 2019 as will his brother, Brandon, who has championships at Sharon and Raceway 7. There were a number of times when the brothers finished 1-2.
“He’s fun to race against,” said Brandon of his younger brother. “We have a lot of respect for each other and even though we race each other hard, we race each other clean.” Brad agreed and added that he is looking forward to racing this upcoming season against his older brother.
“I think last year was great,” said Brad. “I really enjoyed it. There was a lot of competitive racing and I liked the chance we got to travel to a lot of different tracks. I think it will continue to grow. Going into this season there are more drivers finding out about it.”
Brandon’s interest in racing the Sprint Car came last year when he tested Brad’s car at Lernerville. “It was different and a challenge to drive,” said Brandon. “But once I got into that car, I knew that is what I wanted to do.” He also knew that to keep his E-Mod competitive it would have cost him more than what he will experience this year with the RUSH Sprint.
“I’m pretty excited about it…it’s definitely something different,” said Brandon. “The affordability of the Sprint Car is what got me excited. The costs are controlled with the rules including the motors, tires, and shocks and that tells me that you can’t get outrun by someone’s checkbook.”
“Bradley is a hammer down type while Brandon is more of a calculating racer,” said Don of his two sons. Don owns both cars and it will truly be a family operation racing under the auspicious of Blackshear Racing.
Ryan Fraley, a good friend of the Blackshears, is 29 years old and lives in Wheatland, Pa, a town across the border from Sharon Speedway. For five seasons, he raced an E-Mod. Last year he ran sporadically for a few car owners, but nothing full-time. In addition, for a number of years Fraley’s been helping Will Thomas, who formerly competed in a RUSH Late Model and now campaigns a Big-Block Modified and a RUSH Sportsman Modified. Now a whole new challenge awaits Fraley with the RUSH Sprint Car Series.
“It looks to be a fun series,” said Fraley. “It puts everyone on a level playing field and has good pay and better yet gives the drivers the opportunity to race at tracks that they normally wouldn’t,” said Fraley. “This series puts it in the hands of the driver and what he does on the track and what he does in the garage to prepare.”
Seventeen year old Jeremy Weaver has competed in the RUSH Sportsman Modified series for the past four seasons. Weaver owns two career wins, and finished eighth in points in both the Weekly and Touring Series in 2018. This past season Weaver had the opportunity to test drive Arnie Kent’s Sprint Car and knew that is what he wanted to do. He will continue racing the Mod Series for new car owner Jerry Schaffer, but wants to concentrate his efforts on the Sprint Car that will be owned by Ted Hull. Hull has been helping Weaver for quite some time with the car set-ups on the Modified.
“At first I wondered how many guys were going to be racing in the series, but then I saw they had 15 or so cars with some great racing,” explained Jeremy, who also plays basketball and golf at Lakeview (PA) High School. “The class is very competitive. When Ted reached out to me in the offseason and asked if I would drive his Sprint Car and knowing the success that he's had over the years, I thought it would be the right thing to do. I think we are going to be very competitive and I’m really excited for the overall opportunity.”
“The Series is great,” said Jennifer Weaver, Jeremy's mother. “It’s a good starting point for any driver looking to start a racing career because of its affordability. One day, he would like to run with the World of Outlaws and I’m totally a big supporter of his dreams. As a mom, I’m terrified when he straps into that Sprint Car and would rather see him playing chess, but I support him 100% and will be there to watch every race.”
An interesting story is 23-year-old Zack Bealer and his 44-year-old father, Pat. Both will be racing under the Phil Thornton banner for 2019. Thornton will field a third car or as he says, the first car, for himself. Zack’s career began in a Junior Go-Kart and then the Slingshots. His first Micro Sprint Car ride came with Chuck Clark. Clark fielded a car for both Zack and Pat. Zack would drive for Clark until 2013 when he got his first 600cc family-owned Micro Sprint.
In 2015, Zack fractured his T3 vertebrae and ended up selling the car. In 2016, he drove for four different car owners before taking a break from racing in 2017. After racing 10 times in 2018, he got hooked up with Phil Thornton’s brother, Russ, and drove six races for him, winning twice. His opportunity with Thornton came last year when he filled in for Phil in his RUSH Sprint Car during the two-day "Empire State Classic". Bealer's performance impressed Thornton enough to get a ride in 2019, along with his father, in the RUSH Sprint Car Series. By the way, Zack finished fifth and second in those two races, his first ever in a full-size Sprint Car.
Zack plans on running the full season in 2019, while Pat will try to do a 12-race schedule. “I think it’s a pretty good class,” said Zack of the RUSH series. “It seems affordable and all the guys you're racing with have their heads in the right place and not have to worry about the big wallet guys. I think it will grow. You don’t hear anybody saying bad things about the Series.”
Pat, who has been racing since 1993 and has amassed better than 200 wins in a non-winged car, has some good feelings about the Series. “It gets the average racer into a Sprint Car and there are a bunch of good guys. I think it will take off especially if things start migrating East. We don’t have an affordable class out here.” The Bealers live in Lehighton, Pa., a town midway between Philadelphia and Scranton.
Pat is also excited about racing against his son. “We raced together a lot in the 600 Micro class,” said Pat. My wife (Kristina) says we race against each other harder than anybody else, but on the track he’s just another competitor. I’m pretty excited overall about the series.”
Thornton, who ran a partial RUSH Sprint schedule last year after debuting in late July, plans on going for it this season. With 12 career wins in Modifieds and Late Models, Thornton is looking forward to his second season in a RUSH Sprint. “We’re going after the championship this year. It’s a good series, especially for someone who is just starting. I take my hat off to Vicki and what she has done.”
Thornton is looking forward to racing against his two drivers. “I’ll put them into the wall if they get in my way," joked Thornton. "I’m hiring the best to be in this series. They can be in my car or not, but I’m going for one thing this year and that is wins.”
Brian Hartzell is 46 years old and lives in Oil City, Pa. The last time he raced was in 2003 when he was racing "410" Sprints at Sharon, Mercer, and Tri-City Speedways. In the 90s, Brian raced Street Stocks and then in 1996 he moved to Go-Karts. For the last few years, he and his step son, Aden Shaffer, have been racing Go-Karts. Hartzell always enjoyed the non-wing Sprints.
“We only got to do it once or twice a year,” said Hartzell of non-wing racing. “When I saw the whole RUSH deal put together with the rules and the motor and tire combination, it looked like something I wanted to get into. It’s (RUSH) probably the most economical chance for a driver to at least make some money, and the point fund and the Manufacturers Night are great as well. I’m definitely looking forward to the start of the season.”
Another teenager, Kevin Ruhlman (16), the son of last year’s $5,000 Bonnell's Rod Shop RUSH Sprint Car Weekly Series champion, Chad Ruhlman will be racing against his dad and at times, his uncle, Brian in 2019. “Racing against dad is something I’m really looking forward to doing,” said Kevin of Bemus Point, NY. “I can’t wait to hopefully win against them, but racing against family makes things even more exciting.”
“I’m excited as heck,” said the 41-year-old Chad regarding racing against his son. “He’s very competitive and aggressive when he races me and very conservative when he races anyone else. I’m hoping between the two of us that our overall performance is great and I certainly don’t mind finishing second to him. He’s chomping at the bit to get out there. I think RUSH has a great selection of tracks and I think we put on a good show for them. I’m hoping they get even more tracks and bigger shows become available for us.”
Kevin’s prior racing experience was in a RUSH Pro Mod for two years. Last year he took a hiatus from racing to learn the Sprint Car. Kevin will be driving dad’s championship car from last year, while Chad will be driving a new Sprint Car this year. Kevin will also compete for the "Futures Cup" Championship in 2019.
“I’m looking forward to it because it’s a very affordable class, plus I know a lot of the drivers from last year,” said Kevin. “The RUSH Series is beautiful. It’s precise and they know what they are doing. It’s well planned out and the Sprint Series is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to get into racing. For any outside racers, they can actually have a chance to buy a car and compete. That’s why we moved to the Sprint Car Series because of the affordability, plus we just love Sprint Cars.”
Jay Groves will have his 15-year-old son, Nolan, driving his RUSH Sprint car for 2019. In his earlier days, Jay was a standout Micro Sprint racer throughout the region for 16 years and then moved up to the "360" Sprint Cars for three years. For the last eight years, Nolan has been racing Go-Karts.
“My goal for Nolan is to get out there and get our feet wet and see how it goes,” said Jay, who lives in Chub Frank territory, Sugar Grove, Pa. “We still have a lot of karting to do, but we will try to do as many shows as possible on the weekends. If it goes real well, we’ll see if we can run for the rookie of the year title. The series is fairly economical to get into a Sprint Car and that is the goal for Nolan.”
Matt Sherlock of Beaver Falls, Pa. raced Go-Karts for a couple of years and a UTV last year. His dad, Matt, also raced Late Models and Limited Lates for a number of years in the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s. This will be 26-year-old Matt’s first chance to get behind the wheel of a Sprint Car. Matt and his dad purchased the Sprint Car. They have also received some sponsorships, which has helped them purchase a motor.
“RUSH made it very affordable for me to give it a try,” said the younger Sherlock. “I have high expectations of myself. RUSH is a very good series and they have made it very affordable and realistic for families who work all the time.”
Fifty-four year old Scott Dean of Mt. Pocono, Pa. has been running a 600cc Micro Sprint for the last six years. “I’m getting rid of them and moving onto the big ones,” said Dean, who grew up in western Pa. in Meadville and went to Edinboro University. Even though he is funding his own racing operation, he likes what he sees of the RUSH Series. “I like it because when I started looking for a series to run, I knew that RUSH was starting up a non-wing series. I looked at the rules and watched a couple of the races and liked how organized the RUSH Series is.”
Frank Wilson, Jr., a former dirt Late Model racer that moved on to the world of asphalt including ARCA competition, will make his RUSH Sprint Car debut in 2019. Wilson picked up a car last year and had hoped to make it out for competition in a few events, but just recently purchased an engine from Pace Performance. Wilson was a former promoter at Tyler County Speedway in Middlebourne, WV where the RUSH Sprints will kick-off their 2019 season on Saturday, April 27 in a $600 to-win, $150 to-start event.
Sharon Speedway, which will host the RUSH Sprint Cars, at least 10 times in 2019 will have their first event on Saturday, May 4 with the All Star Circuit of Champions. Other tracks besides Tyler County and Sharon hosting events in 2019 included Pittsburgh's PA Motor Speedway, Lernerville Speedway, Eriez Speedway, Old Bradford Speedway, Genesee Speedway, Ransomville Speedway, Stateline Speedway, and Ransomville Speedway. The complete schedule of events is posted at www.rushsprintcars.com.
RUSH Sprint Car marketing partners include Sweeney Chevrolet Buick GMC, Pace Performance, Hoosier Tire, Bonnell's Rod Shop, Bilstein Shocks, Insinger Performance, MSD Performance, Holley Performance Products, Racing Electronics, Dirt Defender, Frankland Racing Supply, Earl's Performance Plumbing, FK Rod Ends, Schoenfeld Headers, Jones Racing Products, Precise Racing Products, TBM Brakes, K&N Filters, Lincoln Electric, Velocita-USA, Classic Ink USA, Landrum Performance Spring, 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.
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