Lancaster, PA – Over 330 people gathered inside the Lancaster Host Resort & Conference Center on Saturday night to salute the 2014 point champions of Lanco’s Clyde Martin Memorial Speedway.
Manheim’s Heath Hehnly collected the big hardware and cash for winning his second consecutive – and fourth overall – point title in the 600cc Micro-Sprint Class. All four championships have occurred behind the wheel of car owner Sonny Cooke’s Hyper/Spar No. 2, but it’s the last crown Hehnly will win for Cooke, who is retiring as a car owner. And it may be the final time that Hehnly makes the champion’s speech on the stage at the Host, too.
“Right now, I have nothing lined up for next season,” said the two-time feature winner in 2014. “Thought I might have another 600 ride lined up, but it didn’t pan out. And I’m not coming back just to run in other classes…I love the 600’s, and if I can’t get a ride in one, then I’m gonna stay home on Saturday nights.”
After 43 years of owning and wrenching on race cars, Cooke has decided to sell all his equipment and spend more time with his family, especially his twin grandsons who have not yet turned one-year-old.
“I am tired of washing race cars all by myself on Sunday mornings,” quipped Cooke, who made the 2.5 hour tow, one way, to compete at the Clyde for many seasons from his home in north Jersey.
Cooke’s involvement in racing as a car owner began in 1971, when he purchased a TQ Midget. Twenty-three years later, he and Jon Holmquist Jr. built a 270cc Micro-Sprint, and Cooke has been winning races and championships, with drivers such as Holmquist, Angelo Mercado, Jack Spence, and Hehnly, ever since. Cooke switched from 270’s to 600’s in 2001, when Spence was his driver. Hehnly took over when Spence went racing with ARDC in 2008.
Several of Cooke’s former drivers, close friends, and family members attended Saturday’s banquet to help celebrate his final car owner’s championship and send him into retirement.
Mike Rutherford, from Lititz, captured his fourth Clyde Martin point crown in the 270cc division in the recently completed campaign, and his third straight title in Ken Kaylor’s No. 5k, but this one was probably the most difficult to attain.
Rutherford trailed Kyle Spence by 48 points when the last feature of the season went green on September 13. Early in the race, Spence was collected in a tangle, forcing him to limp to an 18th place finish. Rutherford worked his way into the runner-up spot with five laps remaining, and his second-place finish was enough to snare the title from Spence by a mere nine points.
The Rutherford/Kaylor combination has been together for ten years, resulting in numerous victories and championships at several speedways in the region. “Somehow, I’ve put up with Ken and Tony for ten years,” grinned Rutherford as he stood at the podium on Saturday. “And I’m sure they’re thinking, ‘wow, how have we put up with him for this many years’. But really, it’s been a great and very successful relationship. I couldn’t ask for anything better,” said Rutherford.
Darren Miller, from Mount Joy, was officially crowned as the new 125cc point champion at Saturday’s banquet…which happened to be his birthday. Miller drove Gary Gorski’s Harrington Body Shop/ Pork Producers No. 29 to the title over Dave Grube.
Miller won five times during the season, starting with an Opening Night triumph, then adding one victory per month in May, June, July, and August. He’s planning to go 305 Sprint Car racing in 2015, so his first Micro-Sprint championship was even more meaningful because it came in his final full season in the 125cc division.
The point title was the fifth in a row for Gorski in the 125cc Class, and the third straight for his Car No. 29 (the last two with Richie Hartman, and now with Miller).
The closest point battle in the Clyde’s five weekly divisions occurred in the 250cc Four-Stroke Class, where David Ravel of Sinking Spring narrowly defeated Kenny Miller III for the championship. Ravel chalked up five feature wins en route to the title, while Miller won six times, including the season finale. That triumph, combined with Ravel’s seventh place effort, closed the gap to just three points, but the crown belonged to Ravel.
Near the end of the 2013 season, Earl Eveland asked Ravel to build him a Four-Stroke motor. Then he asked if Ravel would be interested in driving his car; thus began the championship journey. “I’ve never been more relaxed when I got to the track than I was this year,” noted Ravel. “I knew how meticulous Earl is, so I knew the car would be ready and reliable. It’s been a lot of fun and I’m really happy that I could win the championship for him.”
A bit of history was created in the Sportsman Class this season, as Curtis R. Miller of Mertztown became the third generation of his family to win a point title in this division. It is the first time in Lanco’s 57 years of sanctioning Micro-Sprint competition at the Clyde Martin Memorial Speedway that three generations of the same family have won a track championship, let alone in the same Class.
Curtis A. Miller, the grandfather of this year’s champ, won the Sportsman title in 2001. Then Curtis T. Miller, the father of this year’s title holder, reeled off five straight Sportsman championships. Now Curtis R. Miller, the son and grandson of the former champs, is taking his turn at the top of the standings…and he’s still in high school!
Four feature wins and nine top-3 finishes propelled Miller to the crown as he topped his cousin, Anthony Yerger, by 56 points in a Sportsman Class that was bolstered by higher car counts and some high profile drivers entering the weekly events due to some rule revisions that enticed competitors to run with the Sportsman regulars.
Winners of the JS Weld-Rite Heat Race Challenge included Yerger in the Sportsman Class, Chase Gutshall (125cc), Eddie Nocera (250cc Four-Stroke), Kyle Spence (270cc), and Heath Hehnly (600cc).
The 2014 Rookies of the Year are Patrick Kirn (Sportsman), William Manotti V (125cc), Kassidy Michael (250cc Four-Stroke), and Tyler Ulrich (270cc). There were no rookie contenders in the 600cc Class.
Jenna Heagy (Sportsman), Zach Hollinger (125cc), Donna Geib (250cc Four-Stroke), Heath Hehnly (270cc), and Dan Souder (600cc) were selected as Hard Luck Award winners.
The Most Improved Driver Awards went to Kerry Lengle (Sportsman), Alexis Sheely (125cc), Jarrett Imler (250cc Four-Stroke), Kyle Spence (270cc), and Brittany Brown (600cc).
Ava Bellinger received the Dick Greenawalt Best Appearing Car Award in the Sportsman Class, while Chase Gutshall (125cc), Kassidy Michael (250cc Four-Stroke), Tyler Ulrich (270cc), and Zach Light (600cc) were also chosen in their respective divisions.
The presitigious Sportsman of the Year selections, awarded to those who stand out both on the track and off it, were as follows: Kerry Lengle (Sportsman), Justin Harrington (125cc), Eddie Nocera (250cc Four-Stroke), Toby Blumenshine (270cc), and Mike Rutherford (600cc).
This year’s President’s Award was given to Barry Dicely for his many years of service to the Lanco Club. Dicely serves on Lanco’s Board of Directors, he’s on the Tech Committee, and spends countless hours each year repairing and maintaining the Clyde Martin facility.
Sonny Cooke was presented with a plaque to commemorate his years of loyalty to and support of the Lanco Club.
Bonnie and Curt Goshert of Shred Racing Photos presented all of this season’s feature winners with specially prepared can koozies, and all of the winning drivers posed for a group photo.
With championship laurels handed out and special award winners chosen, the focus now shifts to the 2015 racing season. The Clyde Martin Memorial Speedway will open on Saturday, April 11, with qualifying heats, consolations, and 25-lap features for the 600cc, 270cc, 125cc, Sportsman, and 250cc Four-Stroke Micro-Sprints. A practice session on April 4 will precede the season opener.