LOOKING TO THE FUTURE WITH THE WITH THE SWEENEY RUSH SPRINT CARS AS INAUGURAL SEASON COMPLETED & DEEMED A GREAT SUCCESS; 21 DIFFERENT CARS COMPETED WITH CHAD RUHLMAN WINNING THE $5000 BONNELL'S ROD SHOP CHAMPIONSHIP
By Doug Kennedy & Mike Leone
October 20, 2018 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(Pulaski, PA)...In October 2016, the Sweeney Chevrolet Buick GMC RUSH Racing Series powered by Pace Performance announced that they would be developing a GM Performance 602 crate engine non-wing Sprint Car division that would debut in 2018. Two meetings, two practice sessions, and 19 months later the RUSH Sprint Cars debuted at Lernerville Speedway. The inaugural season came to a close on October 13 where it started at Lernerville, and was deemed a success on all accounts. Over $23,000 in cash point funds will be paid out at the awards banquet on January 26. Drivers also shared in well over $10,000 of product that was distributed at the inaugural "Manufacturers Night" presented by MSD Performance on August 31 at Lernerville.
"I think we had a great start with the our new RUSH Sprint Car division," stated RUSH Director Vicki Emig. "In fact, it did better than the majority of all of our other RUSH divisions in their first year. As with any upstart division, the first year is always the toughest, but we couldn't have asked for anything more in our freshman season with the Sprints. We had such a diversified group of racers help us launch the class and to have 11 different speedways allow us to put them in front of their audience gave us a huge opportunity to showcase the RUSH Sprint Car concept. This has already proven to create a tremendous amount of momentum moving forward! I think we have a shot at bringing full fields plus of RUSH Sprint Cars to our host speedways in just the second year of the class' development. We're also expecting growth for the Series in the Northern part of our region."
Due to weather conditions, the Series didn’t kick off until May 16 at Lernerville with veteran driver Arnie Kent winning the opener. Twenty-three of the 29 scheduled events at 11 different tracks were completed as 21 different cars hit the speedway. Events took place in western Pa. at Lernerville Speedway, Eriez Speedway, Old Bradford Speedway, Pittsburgh's PA Motor Speedway, Tri-City Raceway Park, Thunder Mountain Speedway, and McKean County Family Raceway, in Ohio at Sharon Speedway, in West Virginia at Tyler County Speedway, and in western New York at Genesee and Stateline Speedways.
The GM 602 Crate motor is the base engine for the Series and was made available to the racers by Pace Performance for $7,850 for a fully dressed package. Racers could also purchase the base engine package for $5,270 from Pace or one of the RUSH Authorized Engine Rebuilders.
In addition to the GM 602 crate engine, there's spec Hoosier tires, sealed/spec Bilstein Shocks, and RUSH “Visual” Methanol spec fuel produced by Insinger Performance, a Sunoco Race Fuel Distributor. The engine package was developed by Pace Performance's Director of Circle Track Development, Don Blackshear.
“So far, the first is season has exceeded my expectations,” said Blackshear. “The participation throughout the year and the continued interest and excitement around the RUSH program has been amazing. From a ground level program, it’s doing just fine.”
Blackshear also sees a continued growth in the series. “Currently I'm aware of at least six more racers who have purchased cars for the 2019 season and they are coming from various different divisions; the true 'cost containment' Sprint Car package seems to be what it is pushing new competitors into the class.”
Bonnell’s Rod Shop is the RUSH Series presenting sponsor for the Weekly Series Championship. “I think it went really well,” said Scott Bonnell, the owner of Bonnell’s Auto Group. “Vicki (Emig) has done a great job of getting the cars to the right tracks and promoting the series extremely well. I’m looking forward to even better things and more cars participating next year. I think the potential for success is great and I'm certainly looking forward to being the presenting championship sponsor of the RUSH Sprints again next year. The Series has produced very competitive racing with a great mixture of drivers from Sprint Car veterans to others participating in Sprint Car racing from various other divisions for the very first time.”
After having a busy summer which included getting married in September, Bonnell's driver Dalton Daniels looks forward to a full-time RUSH Sprint Car schedule in 2019 after participating in only seven events in 2018. Daniels had a pair of thirds at Lernerville for his best finishes of the season.
Of course Chad Ruhlman made many headlines with his standout season. The 41-year-old didn't even know how to fire a Sprint Car when he made his debut on May 20 at Bradford. And what a debut it was as Ruhlman captured the $600 win that night and would go on to win 15 features including a sweep of the two-day "Topless Nationals" at Genesee, which earned him $2,000 after bonuses. Ruhlman ended the season in victory lane earning $800 at Lernerville's "Steel City Stampede". Ruhlman also of course became the inaugural Bonnell's Rod Shop $5,000 Weekly Series Champion.
"I'm so happy we did this deal," said the Bemus Point, NY standout racer. "I think it’s a great series. There was a good selection of race tracks and a good group of guys that we raced with. All of the competitors had their strong points to compete and do well at the different tracks. My son (Kevin) has worked hard with me. We had no idea what Sprint Cars even were when we ran our first night out. I'm pretty certain Kevin will be in a car next year if we can talk mother into it. I think I'm going to do some USAC stuff. I have to thank RUSH for giving us this opportunity so we could learn without going broke doing it."
Gale Ruth, Jr. was right on Ruhlman’s tail all season long. Ruth won five times with three coming at Lernerville and one each at Thunder Mountain and Tyler County. He finished second in both the Weekly Series and "Wednesday Night Lightning" points to earn $3,000 in point fund monies. “It’s been a lot of fun,” said the 40-year-old from Pleasantville, Pa. “It’s a good series particularly if someone wants to get into Sprint Car racing. It’s very affordable and you can be really competitive and not go broke doing it. I can see next year the car count being over 30 cars. We've already had 21 and I know a lot of people who are going to get involved in the RUSH Sprint cars next season.”
Dan Culver of Titusville, Pa. is Ruth's car owner and friend over the past 15 years. “I'm glad we got on board with RUSH and supported the Series," explained Culver. "I think you’re going to continue to see an influx of drivers getting involved with the Series from young racers to guys in their 50s. It’s definitely a good series for anyone who wants to get into Sprint Car Racing. I love the 410s, but they are way too much money.”
Twenty-eight year old Zach Morrow of Gibsonia, Pa was very competitive all season long. Morrow brought some "410" experience with him and has always been a proponent of non-wing racing. Morrow was victorious twice with both wins coming at Lernerville during the "Wednesday Night Lightning" shows. Morrow also had a pair of runner-up finishes to Ruhlman in both races at Pittsburgh- a track he thoroughly enjoys. Morrow finished third in both the Weekly Series and "Wednesday Night Lightning" points to earn $2,100 in point fund monies.
“The Series had a good group of cars drivers and the travelling was fun," expressed Ruhlman. "It’s way cheaper than running my 410. Chad Ruhlman made us way better the second half of the season. I had a fun year and I'm already looking forward to next year with the Series.”
Veteran New Castle, Pa. Sprint Car driver, Arnie Kent, thought the RUSH Sprint Car Series was pretty special. Kent won twice including the Series' first ever race and the "Bill Emig Memorial" at Tri-City Raceway Park. “I really enjoyed it,” said the 54-year-old Kent who ended up winning the inaugural $1,000 "Wednesday Night Lightning" Series title at Lernerville Speedway. “This is the most I raced in a while and I was able to go to a lot of tracks that I’ve never been to before. I think the Series will continue to grow and bring more people into the sport, and it's good to see it's bringing back veterans that haven't raced in awhile.”
One of the biggest surprises of the season may have been Shawn Smith. The 36-year-old Seneca, Pa. driver competed in the Stock Car class periodically over the years after his father Bruce stepped out of the seat. Smith seemed to really get the hang of the division from late summer on. In his first 12 starts with the Series, Smith managed only one top five- a fifth at Lernerville; however, a season best fourth at Thunder Mountain on July 27 started a string of eight straight top five finishes to end his season! Smith's best runs came at Lernerville and Genesee where he recorded a second place on August 15 and September 15. He'd climb the Weekly Series standings and end up fifth.
“I thought it was good,” said Smith. “There’s a lot of competition here. I see it growing next year and into the future. In the Spring we started with 10 cars and now we’re around 20 with more to come.”
Three Hawkins family members, including Dave and his two sons Brandon and Scott, competed all season long together. The trio came out of the Micro Sprint ranks. Brandon did the best finishing sixth in the Bonnell's Rod Shop Weekly Series points, while Scott and Dave ended up eighth and ninth respectively. Scott led the way in the "Wednesday Night Lightning" Series points in fourth ahead of Dave.
“I really enjoyed it,” said Dave Hawkins, 47 of of Lower Burrell, Pa., who competed in every event. "I think it’s going to grow tremendously in a very short period of time. I don't have any negative reviews.”
"I like how everyone is pretty much equal and it becomes more driver and set-up oriented,” said 24-year-old Brandon Hawkins of Salina, Pa. “I think it will grow very quickly, and become one of the biggest grassroots Sprint Car sanctions in the near future.”
Twenty-seven year old, Scott Hawkins of Sarver, Pa. said, “I’m loving it. I’m getting a new Sprint Car for next season and I’m really looking forward to racing with RUSH again!”
At 56 years old, Joe McEwen of Mercer, Pa. enjoyed the season, that is until he took a violent flip at Genesee Speedway when he jumped Steve Pedley's right rear and completely destroyed the Jack Mahoney/Larry Eckart-owned #9J. “I don’t know what I’m going to do next season,” said McEwen. "It’s junk right now, but I enjoyed the Series. A lot of people are enthused about it because it’s a cost-controlled series. There’s a lot of momentum and enthusiasm and a lot of people are interested in it. The future has great potential.”
Don Blackshear's 24-year-old son, Bradley, competed in the Series, and after a late start the former Econo Mod racer worked his way to 10th in the Bonnell's Rod Shop Weekly Series points, which looks at drivers' best 12 finishes. “I think it was great,” said the younger Blackshear. “It gave drivers the opportunity to get into a Sprint Car at an affordable cost. I grew up around Sprint Cars and having the opportunity to race one was something I really enjoyed.”
Steve Cousins of Eldred, Pa. was a true raw rookie having never raced before, but learned a lot from the veteran drivers. Despite being one of the furthest away, Cousins competed in every event including making all five of the "Wednesday Night Lightning" shows, which was a good six-hour roundtrip. He had a trio of sixth place finishes coming at Bradford, McKean, and Tyler County, which was a near 11-hour roundtrip.
"To have never driven any type of race car before and by the end of the season be knocking on the door for top five finishes was very exciting,” said the 38-year-old. "I wasn't prepared for the talent that came into the Series in the first year, but in the end was a plus for me. Vicki (Emig) is a great promoter and is great at what she does. I do everything to promote the Series through my social media outlets and videos I have taken."
You can follow Cousins' exploits by liking his page on Facebook at SC Motorsports. As for the future of the RUSH Sprint Car Series, Cousins said, “I think it expand very quickly throughout the eastern part of the country and someday be as big as the RUSH Late Model Series.”
At 24 years old, Tyler Powell of Cochranton, Pa. is one of the younger competitors. Powell's father Bruce was a longtime racer in the region starting in Micro Sprints before moving into "410" Sprints then E-Mods. The younger Powell got his start in the Mini Stock division at Mercer when Emig owned the track then did some E-Mod racing before the family decided to go with the RUSH Sprint Car route. Powell had a couple hard crashes including one at Pittsburgh on August 25 that cut his season short. His season's best effort came at Stateline Speedway where he finished third in an event run with the All Star Circuit of Champions Sprint Cars.
“It’s cool to see how much it has grown with new drivers coming in even over the last several weeks- the class just continues to grow," said the younger Powell. "I think we are going to see many new drivers continue to join the RUSH Sprints, and we intend on building another car for 2019."
Chad Ruhlman's older brother Brian was a surprise addition to the class late in the season. For the past 12 years, Brian and Chad have been building racecars for their business, Ruhlman Race Cars, that they founded. Brian has been a longtime competitor in Super Late Models and E-Mods in the Midwest winning several championships at the famed Eldora Speedway. In fact, after the season ending RUSH Sprint show at Lernerville on October 13, Brian headed to Eldora where he won the Mod feature on Sunday. Brian debuted on August 25 at Pittsburgh where he finished third and ended the year with his best finish in runner-up to Chad at Lernerville.
“It’s affordable and a lot of fun,” said the 48-year-old from Clarklake, Michigan. “I’m hoping they can grow it out to Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana. There’s a lot of guys out here who have Sprint Cars but can’t afford the motors. This RUSH deal will allow them to go racing.”
Thirty-four year old Brian Woodall hails from Apollo, Pa. Woodhall made his mark in racing over the years running Mod Lites and had a brief, but successful stint racing "410" Sprint Cars back when Emig owned Mercer. In fact, Woodhall even won a pair of Sprint races at Mercer including the first in 2002 when he was just 17 years old, and received the "Horizon Award" from Emig and Mike Leone at the Mercer banquet.
“We didn’t run a lot of races this year as we got on the track in September, but when we did it was great," said Woodhall who made his debut at "Manufacturers Night" at Lernerville where he won the top prize of TBM Brake calipers with a drum of RUSH Visual Methanol valued at $1,025. "We’re going to run as many races as work permits next season. I like the fact that it seems like anyone can win on any given night. We’re also all on the same page as far as the rules go.”
John Mollick was another driver that got a late start with the Series in September. The 48-year-old has been racing for 33 years including success with Super Late Models, Big-Block Modifieds, and RUSH Late Models. Mollick sees a lot of potential within the division. “I think it’s a really neat class, and to have people like the Ruhlmans and Kent in it makes it great," acknowledged the Toronto, Ohio resident who had a season best third in the final Wednesday Night Lightning show at Lernerville. "It’s a fun class and you spend so, so much less money to race.”
Fifty-seven year old Stephen Pedley raced "410" Sprints back in the 90s before Emig purchased Mercer Raceway Park in 1999. Pedley took 20 years off from racing then decided to return to racing with the RUSH Sprint Cars. "I think it’s a really good deal and it’s just going to get better," stated the Seneca, Pa. racer. "I know a couple of people who are already planning on building cars for next year.”
Phil Thornton made his RUSH Sprint Car debut on July 27 when the Series visited Thunder Mountain Speedway, a track located just 15 minutes from his home in Punxsutawney, Pa. Thonrton's best finish came at Tyler County as he finished fifth in the first ever RUSH race in the Mountaineer State. Thornton did put eastern Pa. Micro Sprint racer, Zack Bealer, in his car for the two events at Genesee where Bealer finished fifth and second.
For next season, Thornton plans on having a three-car team called "Barnyard Racing" as he teams up with the "Rooster" Steve Cousins along with 24-year-old Bealer. “It’s just more affordable,” said the 46-year-old. “We ran Late Models and Modifieds for a number of years and I just couldn’t afford it anymore, but with the RUSH Sprint Cars we’re having fun and are able to travel to a lot of different tracks. We may also have a spare car, and I hope to find another up and coming driver for that one.”
Jim Kurpakus of Leechburg, Pa. has been racing since the mid ‘80s. During that time he has raced winged and non-winged Sprint Cars as well as Big Block Modifieds. “This is the perfect race car with the package that RUSH has developed with the GM 602 engine, Hoosier tires, Bilstein shocks and spec methanol,” said the 58-year-old driver.
The future of the RUSH Spring Cars certainly looks bright for the upstart division as drivers who always wanted to race Sprint Cars now have a great, affordable opportunity to do so in a non-wing car surrounded by RUSH's true cost-containment package and valuable championship point funds.
For additional information, to be added to the e-mail list or to receive an informational packet, please contact the RUSH Office at 724-964-9300 or e-mail [email protected]
2018 Bonnell's Rod Shop Weekly Series FINAL Points (based on best 12 finishes): 1. Chad Ruhlman 1343 ($5000) 2. Gale Ruth, Jr. 1313 ($2500) 3. Zach Morrow 1305 ($1750) 4. Arnie Kent 1304 ($1500) 5. Shawn Smith 1262 ($1200) 6. Brandon Hawkins 1350 ($1000) 7. Joe McEwen 1247 ($800) 8. Scott Hawkins 1224 ($750) 9. Dave Hawkins 1222 ($700) 10. Brad Blackshear 1203 ($650) 11. Steve Cousins 1195 ($600) 12. Tyler Powell 1192 ($500) 13. Steve Pedley 963 ($450) 14. Jim Kurpakus 730 ($425) 15. Dalton Daniels 717 ($400) 16. Brian Woodhall 689 ($390) 17. Phil Thornton 676 ($380) 18. Brian Ruhlman 596 ($370) 19. Mike Lutz 419 ($360) 20. John Mollick 292 ($350) 21. Darin Gallagher 272 22. Kevin Mohney 189.
2018 "Wednesday Night Lightning" FINAL Points: 1. Arnie Kent 484 ($1000) 2. Gale Ruth, Jr. 478 ($500) 3. Zach Morrow 474 ($350) 4. Scott Hawkins 453 ($225) 5. Dave Hawkins 451 ($200) 6. Steve Cousins 436 ($180) 7. Brandon Hawkins 352 ($150) 8. Dalton Daniels & Joe McEwen 282 ($135) 10. Brad Blackshear 269 ($125) 11. Shawn Smith 257 12. Phil Thornton 169 13. Jim Kurpakus 140 14. John Mollick 96 15. Brian Woodhall 90 16. Tyler Powell 88 17. Mike Lutz 87 18. Darin Gallagher 84.
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, Racing Electronics, Dirt Defender, Frankland Racing Supply, Earl's Performance Plumbing, FK Rod Ends, Schoenfeld Headers, Jones Racing Products, Precise Racing Products, TBM Brakes, Lincoln Electric, Pancho's Racing Products, 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 Racing Series website is www.rushracingseries.com. Like our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/rushsprintcars and follow us on Twitter @RUSHSprints.