By DOUG KENNEDY
PULASKI, PA – After five years of consistent steady growth, the Sweeney Chevrolet Buick GMC RUSH Sportsman Modified division powered by Pace Performance is set to embark on what is expected to be a banner year in 2019. Thirty-two events are scheduled at seven of the region’s premier speedways; Sharon, Lernerville, Pittsburgh, Raceway 7, Expo, along with the division’s first ever visits to West Virginia’s famous “Bullring” Tyler County Speedway and Dog Hollow Speedway for Tour events. The Tyler County show will open the Tour season on April 27.
The division has been a study in evolution from its scant debut at Sharon Speedway in 2014 when only 10 cars showed up for the inaugural event; but as with its other sister RUSH divisions, the RUSH Sportsman Modifieds have steadily and progressively grown to now showcase highly competitive fields of cars driven by a very diversified racers. Sharon, considered the division’s home base, has seen an annual average car count increase each year since 2014 averaging 27 car per night in 2018 including an all-time record high of 38 cars for the “Manufacturers Night” presented by MSD Performance.
“It’s been amazing to watch the development of the RUSH Sportsman Modified division throughout our region,” said Series director Vicki Emig. “I think the continual increase in car count speaks volumes for the RUSH technical rules package as well as our valuable championship point funds and contingency programs. We expect to disperse well over $42,500 of cash point funds and valuable product to our Sportsman Modified racers alone in 2019.”
One of the key factors in the success of the division has been RUSH’s true “cost containment” technical rules package, which contains many important pieces; the Series also keeps a watchful eye over ever evolving technology in all respects to ensure the health and well being of the division into the future.
At the heart of the RUSH Sportsman Modified program is the the Chevrolet Performance GM 602 engine that is surrounded with the very comprehensive RUSH “Authorized” rebuild/repair and sealing system. Other key factors in the success of the division are the RUSH/Bilstein $140 sealed shocks, RUSH 91 fuel, and the RUSH Hoosier tire package on steel wheels. All of these items have factored in dramatically in the ongoing success and growth of the division.
Emig is a strong believer that by removing any one of those important pieces from the formula, racer’s costs will quickly escalate. A perfect example of this is the “steel” versus “aluminum” wheel debate; coupled with the RUSH mandated tire versus the “open” modified tire.
To put it in perspective, a right rear RUSH tire (Hoosier M45) mounted on a “steel” wheel would have a combined cost of approximately $360, while an “open” right rear modified tire mounted on an “aluminum” wheel would cost $528. A substantial difference overall of $168. Both wheel prices include a right rear beadlock. Multiply this cost difference by several tires/wheels purchased over the course of a season and the cost escalation is easy to see.
The same applies to limiting RUSH competitors to only three RUSH/Bilstein shock choices. It is not uncommon for Sportsman Modified competitors in other regions to carry numerous differently valved shocks, again quickly escalating unnecessary cost for the racers.
Remove the RUSH 91 fuel, which provides a very strong techable platform, from the equation in lieu of “pump gas” that more often than not is not consistent from pump to pump, and racers run the risk of competing against expensive performance enhancing additives.
Dave Willoughby, Sharon Speedway’s General Manager for the past 10 years, knows the importance of having this division as part of his weekly program. “We’re extremely pleased with the RUSH Sportsman Modifieds, said Willoughby. “Sharon was the first track to run the RUSH Sportsman Modifieds and had maybe 12-14 cars by the end of the first year. It’s pretty impressive at this stage because here we are a few years later and we’re running B mains every week. With the overall cost of racing increasing in general. it’s great to see a division continue to grow!”
“RUSH is a very successful sanctioning body that brings their sanctioned speedways good car counts, and more importantly puts money back into their driver’s pockets,” continued Willoughby. “I think it’s a fantastic organization. We’re also looking forward to becoming the new home base for the RUSH Sprint Cars in 2019, as we will be hosting 11 events including showcasing them with two of our All Star Sprint events as well as our Super DIRTcar Modified event.”
Thirty-nine year old Tony Tatgenhorst of Columbiana, Ohio will be starting his second season with the RUSH Sportsman Mods. “It’s a good place to race for a budgeted guy,” Tatgenhorst said. “The cars are fun to drive and it’s a very competitive class that puts it into the driver’s hands. I also got some help from a few other racers last year, specifically Garrett Krummert and Chas Wolbert, when I was starting out and that’s something you don’t see very often in other classes.”
“RUSH has given the blue collar guy like me the opportunity to race,” said Tatgenhorst. “It’s cost effective for guys like me. I’m 100% on my own and if we had to do an open motor deal, I couldn’t do it, it’s that simple. My goal this year is to keep working and racing as many times as I can. I raced 24 times last year and this year I want to run the entire weekly and touring schedules. I finished in every position but first last year, so I’m really going to try and sneak out a win this year!”
Preston Cope, a 17-year old Champion (OH) High School junior, will be beginning his third year of competition in the RUSH Mods, whose team consists of his father Tim, mother Tracy, grandpa, and Tim Wolfe. “I think RUSH is really great and has provided me with the experience I need to become a better racecar driver,” said Cope. “They handle things really well and are very good with the rules to make sure everything is fair. It’s been a great Series for me to start out in.”
In response to the drivers, Cope said of the competition, “We respect each other a lot. No one makes it easy for anyone, but race together really well to provide a great show for the fans while having a lot of fun doing it!”
There is however one goal Preston Cope has for this year. “I don’t have any wins yet, but that’s my goal for this year to get that first one!”
Forty year old Rob Kristyak, who makes his home in Bristolville, Ohio, comes from a racing family that includes his cousins Tommy and Marty and his uncle Mike. Modifieds have always been a part of the Kristyak family.
“We’re really liking the RUSH Modifieds,” said Kristyak. “It’s really competitive and there are a lot of top runners in the division. We didn’t win any features last year, but our team was coming together near the end of the year and we caught onto something. We were running older equipment last year, but this year we bought a new Bicknell so now everything is updated to 2019 standards and we should be good to go for this season.” Kristyak also feels he will get a boost from his new crew chief, Scott Kennedy.
“We do our racing as a family thing,” said Kristyak. The family includes he, his wife Carrie, and their son Jackson. This season their business, C&R Tires, will be co-sponsoring the “Wheelman” non-winners race each night at Sharon with fellow competitor Chas Wolbert’s business, Ohio Intra Express. The race will have a purse with $75 to-win for include drivers that have never won in a full-size car (excluding Mini Stocks). RUSH will also post a $1,000 point fund for the top five member drivers in points with $300 to the champion.
At 25 years of age, Jordan Ehrenberg of New Castle, Pa. began racing in 2007 in a Mini Stock before moving to a Modified. “Ever since I was growing up, the Modifieds always caught my attention,” said Ehrenberg, whose dad, Doug, also tried racing for a few seasons, but couldn’t keep up with the financial side of it.
“The RUSH Sportsman division is amazing,” continued Ehrenberg. “If it wasn’t for Vicki developing the class in our area I wouldn’t be racing a Modified at all. What other Series offers the championship programs and contingencies like they do? They recently began to allow more experienced drivers compete in the Series, which will only help small teams like me get better. I love the Series!”
His goal for 2019 is consistency. “I hope to make every race, if possible, and not do a hit and miss like I did last year. My game plan is to get the monkey off our backs and finish in the top 10 every night and of course get my first win!” Ehrenberg is also is looking forward to the “Wheelman” race each night at Sharon that he will be eligible for.
Twenty-eight year old Josh Deems of Volant, Pa. has been racing for seven years starting in the Mod Lites. This year will be Deems’ fourth year running in the Sportsman Mod division. Josh also comes from a family of Modified racers as his uncle Matt Reeher raced a Modified with his uncle Ron as car owner.
“I feel like it’s a good economic class to race,” Deems said. “It’s definitely gotten more competitive with more people racing. As the years go by, we’re getting better drivers. I like RUSH overall because of the cost control, and we have also have some pretty decent paying races. I fund my own team so that’s important. I’m pretty good at taking used parts and making the best of what I have. At times it’s difficult, but with the RUSH package I still feel I can stay competitive with used stuff.”
Deems must be right, because on any given night you are sure to find his familiar yellow #9D at the front of the pack and he found himself third overall in the 2018 RUSH “Weekly” Championship point battle. At Sharon, Deems had six podium finishes and never finished worse than ninth in the 10 completed races.
One of the racers that Deems and the rest of the RUSH Sportsman Modified racers will be gunning for is 30-year-old, Garrett Krummert, who has been racing for 20 years. The Ellwood City, Pa. racer claimed the title at Sharon Speedway as well as earning $3,800 by capturing the RUSH Weekly and Tour Championships in his first season of RUSH.
“They (RUSH) have the most races and they actually have teching,” stated Krummert. “Every year, she (Vicki) gets more drivers, more tracks, and more product sponsors and what racing series gives you free products once a year?”
In cooperation with Sharon Speedway, Miley Motorsports is looking forward to hosting the RUSH Sportsman Mods nine times in 2019 at Pittsburgh’s Pennsylvania Motor Speedway including adding them to their marquee 31st annual Pittsburgher 100 weekend with a $1,000 to-win Tour event!
“The RUSH Sportsman Modifieds have been a breath of fresh air for our sport,” said PPMS promoter, Matt Miley. “It’s a great mix of competitive drivers who all seem to really appreciate the opportunity to race at their local speedways.”
“We love the rules packages RUSH has put together for all of their divisions, said Miley. “The cars are FAST on the ‘Monster Half Mile’, which adheres to momentum that the crate cars like. Last season I had a fan say to me, ‘Matt, I didn’t know you were having the Big-Block Modifieds here tonight, they look really fast!’ Those are RUSH Mods I said, same type of car with a more cost effective engine package. Plan on seeing them a lot in the future at Pittsburgh because we’ll take them anytime there’s an opportunity to add them to the nightly card at PPMS. I welcome them with open arms!!”
The 2019 season will get underway on Friday, April 12 at Sharon Speedway when the RUSH Sportsman Modifieds join up with the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series to kickoff the Hartford, Ohio oval’s 90th anniversary season.
The RUSH Sportsman Modified Series is brought to you by Sweeney Chevrolet Buick GMC & Pace Performance along with the support of Hoosier Tire, Bilstein Shocks, Sunoco Race Fuels, Bazell Race Fuels, Insinger Performance, MSD Performance, Holley Performance Products, FK Rod Ends, Wehrs Machine & Racing Products, Schoenfeld Headers, Jones Racing Products, TBM Brakes, Racing Electronics, Dirt Defender, Dynamic Drivelines, Wrisco Industries, Frankland Racing Supply, Landrum Performance Spring, Trailer-Alarms.com, Sherwood Wheels, Alternative Power Sources, Precise Racing Products, Lincoln Electric, Velocita-USA, Classic Ink USA, and Valley Fashions.
E-mail can be sent to the RUSH Racing Series at firstname.lastname@example.org and snail mail to 4368 Route 422, Pulaski, PA 16143. Office phone is 724-964-9300 and fax is 724-964-0604. The RUSH Sportsman Modified website is www.rushsportsmanmods.com. Like our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/rushsportsmanmods and follow us on Twitter @RUSHSportMods.