Thrilling Big Diamond Season Opener Checker Goes to Umbenhauer – DTD Exclusive

By KEN BRUCE

Big Diamond Speedway was the place to be last Friday night and judging by the crowd that was on-hand that is where many racing fans choose to spend their Friday night. With most Northeast race fans chomping at the bit to attend a race, Big Diamond was the place to be last night as promoters Jake and Jasmine Smulley opened the gates for the first time in 2020.

The fans and racers came out in droves to the Schuylkill County dirt oval and what they witnessed was one of the best modified races ever at the speedway. Jared Umbenhauer and Craig Von Dohren put on a show to remember for the better part of 20 laps as they thrilled the standing room only crowd lap after lap with a dazzling display of skill and speed.

Umbenhauer started the race in the second spot with Von Dohren coming from sixth and it didn’t take long for both drivers to be out front. The “Richland Rocket” Umbenhauer got around early race leader Cale Ross on lap six with Von Dohren blasting past Ross one lap later. Von Dohren quickly chased down Umbenhauer and on lap nine took the lead away from the young veteran. Usually once Von Dohren moves into the lead it is lights out and onto victory circle he goes. But on this night, Umbenhauer was able to stick with the veteran Von Dohren not wanting to give up the chase. The complextion of the race changed when Matt Stangle brought the race’s final yellow out on lap 17.

That was the break Umbenhauer was searching for and he knew he had to make it count. Firing off on the restart, Umbenhauer was able to take advantage of the outside lane and power around Von Dohren coming down the frontstretch. Not giving up, Von Dohren threw it in hard and low in turn one trying to slide back up in front of Umbenhauer and retake the lead but to no avail as Umbenhauer had the momentum and was able to get in front of Von Dohren coming off of turn two to take control of the race.




“I hadn’t really run up top the who race and I saw he was running up there for awhile but he came back down to the bottom and we were running nose to tail there during that long green flag run,” mentioned Umbenhauer standing in the tech shed next to his No. 1H Modified. “I saw when the caution came out that his brakes were really red as he was overheating them a lot on the bottom so I thought if I could get a good run on him on the start and stay with him down the straightaway I thought I could ride the cushion into one and two and get by. The car stuck and I was able to get a good run off of two and get the lead back.”

You knew Von Dohren wasn’t happy with losing the lead and would do everything he could to get back by his young protégé. Von Dohren tried the high groove and the low groove to make his move but to no avail as Umbenhauer kept changing his line to try and keep Von Dohren guessing and Umbenhauer’s strategy worked to perfection as he was able to hold off Von Dohren for the win and the $4,000 first place prize.

“I knew Craig wasn’t going to give up and the last two laps I saw his left front tire a couple of times there next to me,” as Umbenhauer explained the last few laps. “I knew I had to just get enough coming off to slide up and break his momentum and take his line away then I started to worry there that he was going sneak under me but I was able to hold him off.”

Anytime a driver gets a win is special but, for Umbenhauer, the win was extra special. Opening night wins at any track are a great way to get your season off on a good note but when you get passed and then re-pass the tracks all-time feature event winner that is a feat worth celebrating with some extra fist pumps. And, oh yeah when that driver that you just beat happens to be your idol as a kid growing up and one of your closest friends that tends to give any win an extra special meaning.

“Man, I just beat Craig Von Dohren!” said an ecstatic Umbenhauer. “Craig is the best here and one of Pennsylvania’s best and I passed him on a restart for the win. Can you believe that?This has to be my biggest win ever, we had a fast car last week at Susky but went backwards in the feature and we were determined to not let that happen again and here we are, my name is on the big check. I can’t believe it. I have to thank Mike and Jen Harvey; they give me the best of the best equipment and everything we need and of course my great crew. I have the best guys

Big Diamond Bits:

A total of 37 Modifieds signed in for the night’s action with Cale Ross, Jared Umbenhauer, Frank Cozze and Doug Hendricks winning the four heats. Timmy Buckwalter and Rick Laubach won the two consolations…

A total of 44 Sportsman were on hand with Brad Brightbill winning the feature event…

Jeff Strunk looked to be the fastest car on the track early on, but a deflating left front tire hindered his speed late in the race. Strunk did hang on for a third-place finish…

Doug Manmiller was involved in multi-car tangle on lap two but continued and brought the Miller No. 44 to a nice fourth-place finish…

The above-mentioned accident started when Billy Pauch Jr got sideways between turns three and four and slowed. With nowhere to go, Frank Cozze, Doug Hendricks and Dominick Buffalino all piled in. All drivers returned to the race except for Hendricks…

Speaking of Hendricks, last years Sportsman champion brought out his brand-new Bicknell chassis at last week’s open practice and the team had nothing but trouble. The team had trouble with the fuel pickup and was never able to turn a lap at practice. It looked like the team sorted out their problems as Hendricks was fast last night running away with his heat race. Unfortunately for Hendricks, he was involved in an early race wreck ending their evening…

Rick Laubach made his Big Diamond debut in the Dick Biever owned No. 14S. Laubach looked a little bit off most of the night but did manage a 10th place finish in the feature event. Look for this team to be strong as the year gets going at Big Diamond…

Duane Howard’s early season streak of bad luck continued Friday night. After a strong showing in his heat race, Howard was forced to pull off during the feature event when the motor started to lay down…

Matt Stangle had a good run going in the feature event when his No. 6 modified started to smoke badly ending his race…

Open wheel star Eddie Strada who also wheels a Modified at Big Diamond when his schedule allows had his No. 33 in a qualified position in his heat race when he spun coming off turn two and hit the yuke tire severely damaging his front end. Strada and the team made repairs but came up short in the consolation race…

I have been to Big Diamond Speedway many, many times over the years and have never witnessed a crowd as big as was on hand last night along with a packed pit area. It was a great way to get the 2020 season underway. Great field of cars, standing room only crowd and fantastic racing surface as told to me by many drivers. Thank you to track owners and promoters Jake & Jasmine Smulley for taking the well needed step to get racing underway here in the PA/NJ region…

If you have any questions or comments, I can reached by email at dirtracefan25@hotmail.com or on Twitter @dirtracefan25