By DOUG KENNEDY
PULASKI, PA – No sport can lay claim to having more relatives, whether it be brother to brother, father to son, uncle to nephew, or any other relationship than what is seen throughout the world of auto racing. On a national level, you have the Unsers, the Andrettis, the Earnhardts, the Pettys, and the Rahals; just to name a few. Can we say it’s nepotism at its finest.
But for now we turn our attention to the local scene and highlight some of the father-son combos that are part of the premier division of the Sweeney Chevrolet Buick GMC RUSH Racing Series powered by Pace Performance- the Late Models.
We would be remiss if we didn’t mention the most well documented father-son duo, Max and Rob Blair, whose success is like none other; however, in this we highlight a large group of drivers who currently compete in the RUSH Late Model division that maybe don’t receive as much notoriety, but have dads that have previously raced and are right by their side. And for some, the dads are still racing even competing against their sons.
In most cases, the sons, who follow their father’s footsteps, have racing careers which develop at an early age due mainly to the exposure they get with their father’s careers. And those that choose to follow that same career path usually develop a bond that only a father and son can experience. They have the help, support, and more importantly the experience that these racing fathers can lend.
“Racing has brought my dad and I closer together because we both love doing what we do,” said 19-year-old Logan Roberson of Waynesboro, Virginia, who captured the RUSH track championships at both Potomac and Winchester Speedways. “He teaches me a lot as far as racing goes and to have respect for others.”
Roberson’s father, Greg, continues to race driving for car owner Mike Smiley. His two rides are a Super Late Model and a Steel Block. Since the Robersons have four cars in their shop, which includes three MastersBilts with two of the being Steel Blocks, Logan gets the opportunity, at times, to race against his dad.
“I think it’s a blast racing with him because he has way more experience and I can learn from him and it helps me become a better racer.”
The driver of the #17 is now in his third season of RUSH Late Model racing and really likes the class. “I think it’s a phenomenal series that is heading in the right direction and on target to take over the entire East Coast. It’s great with the car counts and the rules and gives you something to look forward to. The Series makes you want to come to the track and race because of all the support RUSH gives to its racers.”
Logan, however, can’t thank his parents enough for getting him to where he is in his racing career. “My dad and mom have supported every move I’ve made,” said Logan. “They give me everything they can for me to be successful in life and I can’t thank them enough.”
Damian Bidwell’s father, Keith was a racer in the Sportsman’s/E-Mod class at McKean County Raceway. He was quite successful with his two-car operation that had Brent Rhebergen and Alan Dellinger driving his second car. His last year of racing was his son’s first year. “He gave up racing so I could get started,” said Damian.
“He doesn’t get to spend time at the racetrack anymore because of his work,” said Damian, “but when he’s home he’s in the garage working of the car to get it ready. “We have always wanted to put a Modified together so I could run it because he said I would love driving them. Now that the crate class is growing for the Modifieds, maybe we will put one together to run in the future.”
At one time, Damian was part of the Rob/Max Blair race team, but left because he felt he wasn’t going to get the necessary information when he’s racing against them every weekend. This past season, Bidwell finished second in weekly points to none other than Max Blair.
Thirty-seven year-old, Brian Knowles, and his 35-year-old brother, Jason, have a lot to be thankful for with regards to their racing father, Larry. Both Brian and Jason grew up working in the racing shop of their father which helped pique their racing interests. Brian was 15 when he started racing and Jason was 16.
“Dad has been a mentor to me,” said Brian, who hails from Corning, New York. “With his racing resume, you listen to what he says. His work ethic is to go to the track and be 100% ready.”
“We have a very strong bond between us,” said Brian, the driver of the #7. “We work together, go to dinner together, go to auctions together, we’re just best friends. And we work together everyday so we better get along.”
“Racing seems to keep us together and tight,” said Jason, who hails from Addison, New York. “He’s (dad) been a huge help- if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do.”
Larry, the patriarch, was a longtime racer who had a very successful career. “Growing up, I really never had a driver hero,” said Brian, “because when I was crewing for dad, he was that guy. He was the guy to beat at the track and it’s hard to be that guy every week.”
Larry, who is currently 65 years old, retired from full-time racing in 2011, but occasionally, has got back into a racecar since then. The elder Knowles won a number of track championships and performed his skills not only on the dirt, but on the asphalt as well. For a five-year period, all three Knowles raced against each other in the Super Stock class.
Being a divorced dad, Larry had his boys on the weekend and that’s when he raced. “They loved being at the racetrack and around racecars,” said Larry. “It was a natural for my boys to be around when I started in the early ’90s. I got addicted to racing because of my dad. They were at the track and helped me in the shop. When they got older, they just wanted to race.”
The Knowles all work at Don Gross Construction, a company that does residential and commercial construction. Larry, who started out as a partner, is now the sole owner of the business. The company is broken up into four divisions; site work, waste management, equipment sales and rental, and heavy transport that also involves snow removal.
The Knowles also get the opportunity to race against each other on a weekly basis. “Some nights it’s awesome, other nights it’s a headache,” said Brian of racing against his brother. RUSH is definitely the reason we participate. It’s the only series that frees up the racer and allows us to concentrate our funding in other areas because of the Manufacturers Nights and the giveaways.”
“I enjoy doing it,” said Jason, the driver of the #4. “I guess the biggest thing is that some days you kind of wish he could be in a different class or I could be in a different class. Both of us are really competitive. It’s very racer friend,” said Jason Knowles. “What they put out is very helpful to the drivers.”
Incidentally the Knowles finished three and four in the Touring Series points, with younger brother, Jason, coming out on top. Jason also captured the inaugural Outlaw Speedway track championship, ironically over his Brian by 16 points.
Late Model driver Daryl Charlier of Midway, Pa. has been racing for 14 years. “I’m not sure if I can tell the difference between our relationship on and off the track,” said Daryl of his dad Dale. “To me it feels like the same place.
Like his son, Dale was an E-Mod racer and still competes at times. The pair had a number of opportunities over a two-year period to race against each other in a Modified at Pittsburgh’s PA Motor Speedway.
“That was a blast,” said Daryl. “There was always constant discussion in the shop as to who would beat who the following week. I feel it was even more entertaining for our friends and family. I would say that 99% of my racing knowledge has come from him,” said Daryl. “He was able to setup a car just by watching me go around the track. I feel that as a local driver, I was able to accomplish a lot. When I wanted to race, I had to work for it.”
Wyatt Scott has been climbing the racing ladder and according to dad David, he’s really into it. This past season, Wyatt finished sixth in RUSH Late Model points at Stateline Speedway and also captured the $1,000 “Futures Cup” title.
“I feel I have the best mentor in the sport that anyone could have,” said 18-year-old Wyatt of his dad. He’s won everything that he’s raced and someone I really look up to. I think I learn something every time I talk to him. He’s a genius.”
The 46-year-old “Slow Ride” continues to race an E-Mod and a Super Late Model for two different car owners. He will occasionally compete in a few races in the RUSH Late Model Division as well, where he will race against his son. Jim and Jen Scott, Dave’s parents, are the co-owners of Stateline Speedway.
Twenty-year-old Late Model driver Eric Wilson became known as “The Shark” because of his prowess racing Go-Karts in his younger days. His dad, Chris, competed in Semi Late Models and occasionally Late Models during his racing days and captured the Raceway 7 Semi-Late championship in 1984.
Even though, he began his Go-Kart racing career when he was seven, his dad encouraged him to pursue other interests besides racing. While in high school, Eric excelled in baseball, basketball, and soccer. “Once he (Eric) got better in racing, the more we committed to move him in that direction.”
Three generations of Wilsons have raced: Grandfather Dale, Father Chris, his twin brother, Mike, and now son Eric. Dale provides the team’s motors, while Eric’s dad, Chris, is responsible for everything else that includes the fabricating and chassis set-up.
“Since he used to race, he understands the challenges I face as a driver,” said Eric of his dad. “He’s also sacrificed a lot and has worked overtime to help fund the team. He’s put me in good equipment, but he’s taught me how to appreciate it. He’s my biggest fan but also my biggest critic.”
The RUSH racing series is the perfect series for someone in my position,” said Eric Wilson. “It’s an affordable way of racing but it’s also extremely competitive.”
Seventeen-year-old Clinton Hersh of Somerset, Pa. competed for the first time this past season in the RUSH Late Model Touring Series where he finished 12th in points. Last season, Clinton won the Futures Cup title and had a pair of wins at Roaring Knob. This season, he added a victory at Dog Hollow. His dad, Tony, used to race Street Stocks at Thunder Valley and asphalt cars at Jennerstown.
“Clinton and I have a good relationship,” said Tony. “I try to help him by showing him how to work on the cars and teach him how to set them up for different tracks.”
As mentioned earlier, Jim Johnson, Sr. promotes Genesee Speedway which prompted him to cut back on his racing schedule for 2017. Both his son, Jimmy, Jr. and his daughter, Sarah, competed at Genesee this past season. Jimmy finished fourth in Late Model points while Sarah took home fifth place in the Sportsman Modified class. Besides racing, Jimmy also helps out at the track and works on both Late Models and his sister’s Modified. Incidentally, Jim, Sr. finished 21st in points with a victory to his credit.
“I try to teach both my kids when they started racing that control meant more than speed,” said Jim, Sr. “The smoother they were, the faster they would be. Off the track, I have told him (Jimmy, Jr.) that he needs four hours of maintenance for every 10 minutes of fun.” He also says that the goal of both of his kids is to win the track championship.
Humberstone Speedway regular Tim Gillespie is carrying on his father, Brian’s footsteps. Brian began racing a ’40 flathead Mercury at Humberstone in 1960 and even towed from Canada to Woodhull, NY once in 1974 with a towbar! Tim began in Go-Karts and eventually moved up to Street Stocks and even built an IMCA Modified together with his father racing at tracks such as Freedom, Eriez, and Woodhull. After breaking his leg badly in 2010 and suffering from prostate cancer, Brian gave up racing.
“I’m lucky to have him crew chief for me and still help build my RUSH Late Model bodies,” explained Tim. “Sometimes there’s a quiet ride home from the track, but mostly all good times which I wouldn’t trade for the world. He loved the father-son picture Vicki (Emig) took of us at Merrittville and has starred at it for a long time. It is those moments that make racing most enjoyable.”
“Eighteen-year-old Colton Ledingham of Port Colborne, Ontario, Canada grew up in a shop with race cars,” said his dad Rob Ledingham. Rob was a racer himself, having competed for 35 years in a number of divisions. For a period of time, Rob drove the Late Model, while Colton drove in the Truck division. After Colton spent some time in the Late Model in practice, Rob knew that he was going to be out and his son would be in.
The Ledingham are a three generation low budget racing operation which makes it so special and fun when they can compete. Colton has only raced at Humberstone, Merrittville, and Ohsweken, but that could change this year as the team plans on travelling. Currently, Colton is attending college and majoring in Automotive Engineering.
“He’s not only my son, but my best friend as well,” said Rob of Colton. Rob’s racing philosophy is simple: If you can’t fix it, don’t understand it, or don’t work on it, then you’re not driving it.
Another Humberstone father-son tandem is Ridgeway, Ontario’s Merv and Ken Winfield. Ken has been a regular in the RUSH Late Model division at Humberstone since 2012. Merv was a former Six-Cylinder Modified racer at Humberstone competing against Tim Gillespie’s father, and now helps his son in the pits every Sunday night.
With his home track being Eriez Speedway, 29-year-old Bruce Hordusky, Jr. went on the road for the first time ever and finished seventh in points in the Sweeney RUSH Late Model Touring Series this past season. Because of racing, Bruce has had the luxury of having both his dad, Bruce, Sr., and his grandfather, George, being with him on nights and weekends.
Bruce, Sr. has won multiple track championships at Raceway 7 and also has a Stateline-Eriez Circuit championship. He is fourth in all time Late Model wins at Raceway 7 and is in the top five in wins at Eriez as well.
“My dad has been a great influence on my racing career,” said Bruce, Jr. “It’s such an advantage for me to have his knowledge and his experience as a mentor and a crew chief. I owe everything I have in my career to him. He was so fun to watch in a 50 or 100 lap event when the racetrack was slick and tire management was critical.”
As for the RUSH Series, Bruce Hordusky, Jr. said, “Competing against guys like Max Blair, John Waters, Bryce Davis, and Will Thomas has made my racing program better. It’s great to race under a consistent and fair rules package. It’s been a pleasure for our team to compete with RUSH weekly and I’m proud to support it.”
Thirty-four year-old Kyle Zimmerman of Albion, Pa. had the advantage of having a father who spent 35 years in racing. Keith raced Sportsman, Thunder Cars, and Late Models at various tracks with Lernerville Speedway being his home track.
At 12 years of age, Kyle put his first racecar together, and at 16 became his dad’s crew chief. However, with the rising costs associated with racing, Keith was forced to sell his Late Model motor and retire from racing in 2006.
Kyle’s own racing program didn’t begin until he was 21, but by 2010 he won the Mercer Raceway championship and the Eriez title a year later. In 2014, he won championships at both Eriez and Raceway 7.
As for his father Keith, “He’s the mastermind of my racing program,” said Kyle, who is very technically oriented. “He is just a wealth of knowledge. If I can have it my way, I’ll be racing and I’m sure my dad won’t be far away. It’s something we both love and enjoy doing it together. Besides, I’ve been doing this so long I have no idea what normal people do all summer. The RUSH Series has really been the key to growing the sport in this region and the reason I’m able to race today.”
Twenty-six year-old Jamie Wrightsman of Cortland, Ohio didn’t start racing until he was 20. His career started racing school buses at Expo Speedway before racing full-time in 2010 at Sharon Speedway in the Mini Stock division. His dad, Jim, started racing in 1979 in a Stock before moving to a Modified and a Limited Late Model. He raced three nights a week, pulling double duty on many nights, at Raceway 7, Tri-City, and Sharon.
As for his dad and the help he gives, Jamie said, “Without his help, there would be no way I could be able to race. He spends countless hours in the garage fixing something or just getting the car ready to go for next week. We butt heads on certain things…in the end, it all works out, sometimes with me saying I told you so. I see myself racing with RUSH for years to come…it’s an excellent program.”
Twenty-seven year-old Brad Mesler of Wellsville, NY began racing Go-Karts against his dad, Bill, when he was 11 years old. Bill got into a Late Model after his son had, but one thing he always wanted was to beat his son. Brad remembers back to a night at Bradford when the two of them were coming to the checkered flag and racing for second and ended up in the infield with both cars tore up.
“He was my dad and a friend for life and racing brought a way for me to compete against him,” said Brad.
Forty-five year-old Matt Aber of Wooster, Ohio competes at Wayne County Speedway. His dad, Blaine, has been racing for 51 years. Blaine has eight track championships to his credit. He is actually Matt’s step dad, but he’s raised Matt since he was six years old after the death of his real father.
“He taught me a lot about life and racing,” said Matt of his dad. “He is my go to guy for everything. We’re more like best friends these days. At the track, he gives me suggestions, sometimes good, sometimes bad and are each other’s biggest fans.”
Another driver who has the luxury of having their dad race as well is Mike Duritsky, Jr. of Masontown, Pa., whose dad, Mike, raced Street Stocks. The younger Duritsky competed against his father in the Stocks before moving up to the Late Models in 2015 where he finished third in the “Futures Cup” points.
2016 RUSH Late Model marketing partners include Sweeney Chevrolet Buick GMC, Pace Performance, Hoosier Tire, Bilstein Shocks, Sunoco Race Fuels, Bazell Race Fuels, Insinger Performance, MSD Performance, Maxima Racing Oil, Jones Racing Products, Alternative Power Sources, Precise Racing Products, ARbodies, TBM Brakes, K&N Filters, Lincoln Electric, Beyea Headers, FK Rod Ends, Bobby Lake Motorsports, Velocita-USA, High Gear Speed Shop, CrateInsider.com, B.R.A.K.E.S., RockAuto.com, 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 Racing Series website is www.rushracingseries.com. Like our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/rushlatemodels and follow us on Twitter @RUSHLM.