By KEN BRUCE
It’s that time again as the season winds down at Big Diamond Speedway and that can only mean it’s Coalcracker 72 time at the PA dirt oval nestled up in the hills of Schuylkill County. This will be the 41st running of the annual Coalcracker 72 race. Just like last year, the race will pay a healthy $17,000 to the winner of the 72-lap feature race. Let’s take a little time to go over the history of the Coalcracker and look at some of this year’s favorites and contenders.
History and past winners:
The first Coalcracker race was run back in 1979 with Bobby Emerich taking the inaugural win. Since then, the prestigious race has been run a total of 40 times. There were no Coalcracker races run in 1983 and 2005. Duane Howard is the leader in Coalcracker wins with a total of seven wins with the latest coming back in 2017. After Howard comes both Craig Von Dohren and Jeff Strunk with a total of four wins apiece. Drivers who have won the classic race three times include Charlie Eckert, the late Doug Hoffman and Ryan Godown. Two-time winners are Kenny Brightbill, Billy Pauch (Sr) with single wins going to Bobby Emerich, Paul Koch, Fred Rahmer, Richie Tobias, Rick Schaeffer, Billy Schinkel, Tom Mayberry, Keith Hoffman, Doug Manmiller, Matt Sheppard, Danny Bouc and Ryan Watt.
Winners listed by year – 1979 Bobby Emerich, 1980 Charlie Eckert, 1981 Paul Koch, 1982 Charlie Eckert, 1983 No Race, 1984 Charlie Eckert, 1985 Fred Rahmer, 1986 Doug Hoffman, 1987 Craig Von Dohren, 1988 Doug Hoffman, 1989 Richie Tobias, 1990 Jeff Strunk, 1991 Rick Schaeffer, 1992 Kenny Brightbill, 1993 Billy Schinkel, 1994 Kenny Brightbill, 1995 Tom Mayberry, 1996 Jeff Strunk, 1997 Jeff Strunk, 1998 Duane Howard, 1999 Duane Howard, 2000 Billy Pauch, 2001 Duane Howard, 2002 Billy Pauch, 2003 Keith Hoffman, 2004 Doug Hoffman, 2005 No Race, 2006 Duane Howard, 2007 Craig Von Dohren, 2008 Duane Howard, 2009 Ryan Godown, 2010 Duane Howard, 2011 Ryan Godown, 2012 Doug Manmiller, 2013 Jeff Strunk, 2014 Matt Sheppard, 2015 Ryan Godown, 2016 Craig Von Dohren, 2017 Duane Howard, 2018 Danny Bouc, 2019 Craig Von Dohren and Ryan Watt.
The Coalcracker race has been run in many different distances over the years. The original race was 50 laps in distance, but the number of laps has run the gamut until 2013 when it was switched to the current 72 laps in distance. The race has been run in the following distances over the years; 25 Laps (1 time), 40 laps (1 time), 50 laps (11 times), 60 laps (3 times), 72 laps (8 times), 82 laps (1 time) and 100 laps (13 times).
Duane Howard – How can Howard not be named as one of the favorites for this race. Nicknamed “The Diamond Cutter,” Howard has won this race a total of seven times and is a master when it comes to saving his car in extra distance races. Howard aboard the Butch Getz owned, Big Concrete No. 15G is also the current points leader at Big Diamond and has to be the top choice to get Coalcracker win number eight.
Jeff Strunk – After struggling for a few years at Big Diamond, Strunk has certainly found his groove again starting last season. Strunk, who has a total of three wins this season at Big Diamond, is masterful when it comes to the season ending money races at both Big Diamond and Grandview. Strunk is a four-time winner of the Coalcracker and most recently won the big $10,000 to win Prelude to the Coalcracker race only two weeks ago. Strunk will be driving the Dave Zubikowski owned Zubi’s Racing No. 88Z.
Mike Gular – Gular has had an up and down season so far in 2021 at Big Diamond, but the former track champion has still managed to grab three checkered flags this season and is always a threat in the big money races aboard the Terry Fastnacht, Conestoga Custom Kitchens No. 2A. Gular would love to add a Coalcracker win to resume to go along with his Freedom 76er win two years ago at Grandview.
Timmy Buckwalter – The Norm Saxton No. 23X team has roared to life in the past month at Big Diamond with a win only a few weeks ago to go along with several top five finishes. Buckwalter has erased over a 100-point deficit to points leader Duane Howard and now sits only nine points behind as we head into the last points race of the season this Friday. Buckwalter, who has won many prestigious open wheel races over his career, would like nothing better than to add a win in the classic modified race to his already impressive career statistics.
Billy Pauch Jr. – The Kid’s Kid would like nothing better than to add a Coalcracker win to his already impressive resume. Pauch started the season out well at Big Diamond with two early season wins. Then the wheels came off as the team encountered engine problems in the middle of the season forcing the team to take a few weeks off. Pauch Jr., was back for the Prelude to the Coalcracker debuting a new No. 15 Bicknell Chassis, Morgantini powered Modified and looked fast as he battled for a top five spot. I know this is a race Pauch Jr., would really like to win.
Craig Von Dohren – I know some of you might be wondering why I have not put Von Dohren in the favorites category and that is a good question, and I might be wrong for not putting him there. Von Dohren does have two wins at Big Diamond this season, but just hasn’t been the Von Dohren of past years and if you ask Craig himself, I am sure he will tell you the same thing. Von Dohren just seems a tick off this season with more DNF’s this year than in the past five years combined. All that being said, you can never count Von Dohren out in big money races and it will not surprise me one bit if he parks the Dave Dissinger No. 88X in victory lane on Sunday.
Alex Yankowski – The driver known as “Kid Rocket” could very easily park his family-owned No. 84Y in victory lane. Yankowski does have a win this season at Big Diamond by winning the Money in the Mountains race early in the year. After that, the kid has been very consistent and currently sits in third place in the race for the points title.
Ryan Godown – Although not confirmed that he will be there on Sunday, I fully expect the three-time Coalcracker winner to be in attendance. Godown a former Big Diamond champion and regular has not been there much over the past two years, but when he does show up you can always count on him being near the front. No matter if Godown is driving his own No. 26 or the Danny’s Pizza Pizzazz No. 51, look for Godown to be in contention for the win.
Brett Kressley – Kressley has returned this season as a track regular and has had an up and down year, but he definitely has shown speed throughout the season. Kressley has one win on the season at Big Diamond but could easily have had at least two more if not for circumstances. Kressley put on quite a show a couple of years ago at the Coalcracker by going outside of everyone to take the lead only to have a flat tire end his good run. Would not be surprised at all to see Brett “The Threat” park the No. 1B in the winner’s circle.
Ryan Watt – It’s hard to not put last year’s Coalcracker winner in the contender’s category. Watt completely dominated the CC last season and with lap money included took home over $20,000 for his efforts. Watt, who has focused his efforts this season at Big Diamond mentoring his son Logan Watt’s crate 602 effort, has only raced at Big Diamond Speedway once this season, but the “Electric Company” has a propensity for taking home the big checks and it wouldn’t surprise anyone to see him win two CC’s in a row. Watt will be aboard the familiar Ron Roberts owned No. 14W.
Brian Rochinski – Rochinski has shown speed throughout the season, but the results have just not been what the team has hoped. Rochinski does have some good finishes throughout the year, but the team has not just shown consistency.
Ryan Krachun – This one was tough; I really would’ve liked to put Krachun in the contender’s category. Krachun has sometimes been the fastest car on the track as witnessed by his three runner-up finishes, but something always seems to happen to the personable driver to prevent him from getting that elusive first win.
Max McLaughlin – Max has confirmed to me that he will be in attendance on Sunday behind the wheel of the Norm Hansell No. 357. McLaughlin has only raced one time this season at Big Diamond in the Prelude to the Coalcracker and raced to an impressive top five finish. The Mooresville, N.C., native is always fast and Sunday could be the day for him to grab that first Big Diamond win.
Louden Reimert and Dillon Steuer – I put both young men in same category. Both drivers are fearless and fast and would like nothing better than to register their first ever Big Diamond wins in the track’s biggest race of the year.
Danny Bouc – Bouc shocked the world in 2018 when he came in and won the Coalcracker race in his family owned car. Bouc started out this year as a track regular in the Norm Hansell No. 357, but car issues and work schedules forced the team to scale down their racing to one night a week. It has not been decided if Bouc will be driving his own No. 32 or a second No. 357 but he will be in attendance.
Jared Umbenhauer – It has been an up and down season this year at Big Diamond for the “Richland Rocket” aboard the Mike Harvey No. 1H but the speed is there on most nights.
Dominick Buffalino – Although there is not much of footprint to go off for Buffalino, who has very few career starts at Big Diamond. However, Buffalino will be aboard the Glenn Hyneman No. 126 which has had much success over the years at Big Diamond.
Purse and Lap Money
The winner of the 72 Lap Coalcracker 72 will receive $17,000 plus lap money. 10th place will pay $1,000 with $500 to take the green. Last year Ryan Watt, by virtue of leading all but one lap, took home over $20,000 for his efforts.
The Big Diamond Dog Pound led by Brad Keitsock and Kevan Schaeffer have once again circled the wagons to come up with a plethora of bonus awards for all divisions. Modifieds – $100 will be added to finishing positions 14th through 24th which will now make them worth $600 instead of the track’s posted $500. The Dog Pound will also be doing what it called “The Pound Adds One” which will add a 25th starter to the field, that spot will go to a track regular who has had perfect attendance all year long at Big Diamond and who finished highest in the season long points. Friday night the Dog Pound will award a $250 hard luck award to a team in the Open Sportsman division. On Sunday night, the Crate Sportsman and the Roadrunners will have a hard luck award given out to each division, the final amount has not been determined yet, but it will be at least $100.
Both nights will be available to purchase via pay-per-view from Dirttrackdigest.tv (DTD.TV)
Big Diamond Speedway, 392 Forest Lane, Pottsville, PA 17901 / Phone #570-294-7715 / Website – www.bigdspeedway.net
Pit gates and grandstand gates will open at 3:00 PM, Warmups begin at 7:15 PM with Racing getting underway at 7:45 PM
Sunday’s general admission will be $35, Children 6 to 11 is $10, Children under 6 are free. Active Military with a valid ID are also free. Pit Admission on Sunday will be $40
If you have any questions or comments. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @dirtracefan25.