By DOUG KENNEDY & MIKE LEONE
PULASKI, PA – Not only does the Sweeney Chevrolet Buick GMC RUSH Racing Series powered by Pace Performance have a large group of drivers that will be returning to RUSH competition in 2018, but the Series also has a whole new class of drivers that will be testing RUSH for the first time in their racing careers. Included in this group are drivers that will be moving into RUSH from “open” engine division, other who have never been behind the wheel of a race car, and a couple that are moving laterally from one RUSH-sanctioned division to another.
All told, Series Directors Vicki Emig and Mike Leone expect to welcome approximately 50 new racers to RUSH throughout the entire Series in 2018. As recently reported, there are 20 confirmed drivers in the new RUSH Sprint Car division; 13 new Late Model drivers are ready to kick-off the new season, as well as several in the RUSH Sportsman Modifieds, Pro Mods, and Pro Stocks on dirt.
The second-year RUSH Asphalt Series, with the beautiful Jennerstown Speedway in Jennerstown, PA as its home base, is expected to see its highest car counts in several years in their Late Model, Modified, and Stock Car divisions. Many new drivers are returning to compete at Jennerstown now that it is sanctioned under the RUSH banner. A story spotlighting these racers is forthcoming.
In almost every case these new racers realize how important RUSH’S’ concept of “cost containment” racing is, the competitiveness it creates, and the benefits they can enjoy by being part of the Series.
“I swear Vicki (Emig) is one of the only people out there who wants to reduce the costs of racing.” Those are the words of new RUSH Sportsman Modified competitor, Tony Tatgenhorst of Columbiana, Ohio.
The 38-year-old Tatgenhorst raced go-karts since he was a kid, but quit when he had to pay for it himself. “I’ve been dirt track circle racing since 2005 with some time off.” For six years, he raced a Mod Lite, a Crate Late Model for a year, and then an E-Mod until he sold it this past October. “I sold it out of frustration because of the costs,” Tatgenhorst said. “After having problems with two motors, it was a no brainer to sell the car.”
“I had an empty spot in my garage when I went to see the (Steel City) Stampede at Lernerville and I was hooked,” said Tatgenhorst. “They have great technical support for these Modifieds and that’s good for guys on a budget. The cost effectiveness of this class is what drew me to it. I’m a one man band, a blue collar guy who works a ton of overtime, and who pays and works on his car by himself. It’s a user friendly class for a guy who does things on his own. I’m looking forward to racing in a class that’s in the drivers’ hands and not in their wallets. If you get beat, you’re probably being out driven and I’m perfectly okay with that.”
Jon Ellsworth will be moving up to the RUSH Late Models in 2018. The Marion, NY driver competed the past six years in the Sportsman Modified division throughout New York. The 41-year-old driver hopes to follow in the footsteps of another Empire State driver in friend Chad Homan, who made a successful transition from the Northeast-style, center-steer Modifieds. In his first full season of Late Models, Homan had a breakout yearin 2017 with the RUSH Late Models scoring 11 victories including the track championship at Humberstone.
Ellsworth will drive the Jon and Shannon Ellsworth Harvest Motorsports #316 in memory of his father and brother, who both passed away last year. Ellsworth’s Rayburn car is sponsored by Macedon Parts Plus, Slices Pizza, JJC Custom Graphix, Horsepower Racing Photos, and Alberti & Sons Plumbing. Ellsworth will focus his efforts at the RUSH-sanctioned New York speedways of Outlaw, Fulton, and Genesee Speedways.
Jimmy Jesmer, Jr. is 24 years old and lives in Pasadena, Maryland. His intentions for the 2018 season was to race his Mid-Atlantic (E) Modified but after he lost his ride, he decided to race a RUSH Late Model because it was affordable. Family is also very special for Jesmer as his parents enjoy going to their campground that is near Delaware International and Georgetown Speedways, both sanctioned by RUSH, which will allow them to be close and attend a lot of Jimmy’s races.
“I want my family together and keep my parents involved so that’s why it’s RUSH,” explained Jesmer. “Anything we do is family oriented. The family not only stays together with the racing program but Jimmy, his mom, his dad, and younger brother Justin all work together at United States Gypsum Corporation.
Younger brother Justin, who is 18, is also looking forward to the upcoming RUSH Late Model season. “I’m doing the RUSH Late Model thing mainly because of my brother,” said Justin. “My brother said he was going crate racing so I said I might as well too. For us, it’s a family thing. This will give us a chance to race against each other.”
While both boys will race Delaware and Georgetown, Jimmy will do a little bit of travelling something Justin won’t although Justin did compete at Potomac Speedway for their second show on April 6.
Thirty-five year old Ronnie Martin of Lexington, Virginia did do some Crate Late Model racing last year competing in three races. Besides that, Martin was running a Sportsman for the last five years. After experiencing some motor problems, he decided that racing a RUSH Late Model was what he was going to do for 2018. “I wanted to do some travelling and RUSH was it,” said Martin. “The rules package and the people that RUSH have are great.”
Late Model driver Austin Busler started racing a go-kart when he was 11 years old. The Leonardtown, Maryland resident is now 20. Busler spent two years in college playing baseball, but decided it was racing that he wanted to follow. Last year he helped “Futures Cup” racer Megan Mann with the set-ups on her RUSH Late Model and that’s when the racing bug bit Busler.
“My dad (“Pistol”) and I decided to put something together and split it 50-50,” said Busler. “I think RUSH is a great series that allows us to run a lot of different tracks under one set of rules. I’m really excited to have the opportunity, but it’s going to be a learning experience for me. We’re going to take it one step at a time and every time I go out I hope to get better each time.”
Another newcomer to oval dirt track racing is Brandon Lott. His prior experience in racing was mainly with dirt bikes, quads, and UTV racing. This will be Lott’s first year in a Late Model as well. “I got hooked on racing last year when they had the Kenny Wallace Racing Experience at Lernerville,” said the 37-year-old Lott of nearby Plum, Pa. “We did pretty well and I got hooked. I’m ready to go racing. I got the car, the trailer, and the whole deal.”
Lott has been a fan of racing since he was five when his dad took him to watch the races at Pittsburgh’s PA Motor Speedway and Lernerville. “I like that RUSH is based locally,” said Lott. “I like their program because it gives racers an opportunity to race competitively instead of racing against somebody’s wallet.”
Forty-six year old Andy Proper of Warren, Pa. is also in a Late Model for the very first time in his racing career, albeit a career that didn’t start until he was 41. For the last three years, Proper raced a Mini Stock at both Stateline and Eriez Speedway and won the track championship at both tracks. He also ventured down to Sharon Speedway in Hartford, Ohio where he won three features when his scheduled permitted.
“My first year of racing was a learning curve and my second year became total, full blown dominance,” said Proper. “I was a late bloomer,” he laughed.
For him the next step would have been a Street Stock, but with the cost to be competitive in this class in a continuing to rise, RUSH Late Models made the most sense. “If you’re going to make the investment, then you might as well go with the Late Model,” said Proper. “It’s going to be fierce competition and that’s what I like. He will team this year with longtime car owner Terry Suppa in a Rayburn chassis. Suppa has had success in several divisions including RUSH with winning drivers Chad Ruhlman, Ward Schell, and Randy Hall.
Fifty-one year old Joe Watson of Smethport, Pa. first ran a Crate Late Model in 2008, but hasn’t done any racing since then. Out of the blue, Watson decided to tell his wife that he wanted to get back into racing and do some travelling.
“RUSH has a great Touring program and the pay is pretty good,” said Watson. “I’ve been following the RUSH Series over the last two years and talked to a lot of guys. I like their program and am looking forward to following the Tour. I just wanted to run a few more times before I retire. Even though my heart is with an open Late Model, I don’t want to spend all the money to do it. RUSH has built such an awesome series and that is what attracted me to it.”
Watson’s crew will include his son, Joel, and his wife. “She’s a pretty good wrench,” said Joe of his wife. His goal this year is to go out and keep his nose clean and get the feel of the car and go from there.
Billy Thompson of Georgetown, Delaware, is also in his first season with RUSH. “I think it’s a real good series for drivers to run at different places,” said the 28-year-old. “We can travel and I think it will be good to go to a number of different places and race.” Thompson will drive for car owner Carl Klink for the 2018 season. His plans are to run Potomac and Winchester and the “Battle of the Bay” and then set his sights on winning the championship at Delaware International.
There are five new competitors in the RUSH Sportsman Modified class including 29-year-old Garrett Krummert of Ellwood City, Pa. Krummert raced a Big-Block Modified for the last five seasons. “We’ve been okay,” said Krummert. His new Sportsman Mod car owner, Jerry Schaffer, wants to run for points so Garrett will race and all of the RUSH races and about 20 big-block shows. “If it’s a RUSH-sanctioned race, we will be there. RUSH has the most races close to home and that’s what it came down to.”
Rob Kristyak of Bristolville, Ohio has also been a Big-Block Modified racer for a number of years. “I got rid of all of my big-block stuff so we’ll be running with RUSH this year,” said the 39-year-old Kristyak, who actually started his racing career in the West Penn Modified division back in the 90s at Mercer Raceway Park. His biggest win in a big-block was the “Lou Blaney Memorial” race at Sharon Speedway, a track where he owns 11 career wins.
“We’ve always been a budget team so that’s the big reason for the move,” explained Kristyak. “I think it’s more affordable and the competition is going to be great. There’s so many more cars than there is with the Big Blocks. There should be a lot of side-by-side racing and I’m excited to do that. I’m thinking that this year there’s going to be consolation races to get into the feature on many nights. I’ve been watching the series since it started and was going to make the move two years ago, but once I blew my big-lock motor at the beginning of last year, I knew I was going to make the move to RUSH.”
Bill Barr of Leechburg, Pa. will have his significant other, Leslie Couch, driving his Sportsman Mod for 2018. This will also be Couch’s first year racing. “I’ve never done any racing in my life so I’m a total newbie,” said the 30-year-old Couch. “I’m excited, but a little nervous. We have friends who do it so I’ve just been around it without being in the car that much. I want to get a feel for what I’m doing. I’m not afraid, but I don’t want to wreck anyone either. Once I get more comfortable, I will push it to the floor and go as fast as I can.”
Kyle Babcock of Port Allegheny, Pa. is one of four new participants in the third year RUSH Pro Mod class. After racing a Mini Stock for the last five years, this will be his first in a Pro Mod. “I can’t wait,” said the 34-year-old Babcock. “I was debating going to the Stocks but I decided to jump up and run the Pro Mods for RUSH this year. I think the series is a great idea, budget friendly, and a good opportunity for guys to move up. The class is growing and it looks like we’re going to have a good field of cars each night and I like that. I’m excited to give it a try and race against some different guys and just learning.”
At 35 years old, Adam Ashcroft of Sardinia, NY is another Pro Mod driver who began his career with Mini Stocks. After one season, he moved to a Street Stock and then to a Sportsman Modified in New York. Ashcroft has two Street Stock titles at both Little Valley and McKean and another at Freedom. There were 10 years spent in a Street Stock and five more in an Open Mod.
“I like the RUSH Series because of the rules package and how they enforce their rules. They have made it more affordable for lower budget teams to be more competitive,” said Ashcroft. He and his wife, Rachel, will own the Pro Mod. “She’s into it as much as I am,” said Ashcroft.
RUSH has always given racers the ability to move up into a type of car they so desire that they otherwise may not have been able to without its affordable rules package. A perfect example is 25-year-old William Bigley. The Port Allegany, Pa. resident is a third generation racer following in the footsteps of his grandfather Bill and father Larry. William’s family including his parents and sister Krystin will also be busy this summer as they are the new leaseholders of McKean County Raceway in East Smethport, Pa.
William meanwhile has raced seven years; two in motocross, three in go-karts, and the last two in a Pure Stock. He’ll now move into the RUSH Pro Mods with a Shaw Chassis powered by a Chevrolet Performance 604 by 955 Automotive sponsored by CZ Logging, Johnson Trucking, Little Power Shop, Phillips & Roeder Well Service, and Bigley Welding & Fabricating.
“I chose the Pro Mods because I watched my father drive a similar car from the time he was born until the time he quit in 2005,” explained William, who considers two “Bill Layfield Memorial” victories as the biggest of his career. “The E-Mod type cars hold a special meaning to our family. I believe the Pro Mods is a good, competitive class with lots of room to advance.”
A newcomer to the RUSH Pro Stock class is 30-year-old Kyle Nelson of Mechanicsville, Maryland. Nelson began his career in 2001 when he was 14. At the time he was racing in the Bomber class. Two years later he moved up to the Hobby Stocks and then from 2007 through 2017, Nelson raced a Street Stock. He was able to win a Hobby Stock title in 2006 and a Street Stock championship in 2009. Both of those came at Potomac Speedway.
After losing a motor last year, he put a crate motor in and liked what he saw. “I like the reliability of the motors,” said Nelson. “And the crate motor is affordable.” His goal this year is to get to his 50th career feature win. “I have 49 wins and that’s what I’m shooting for this year.”
Two of the drivers changing RUSH divisions are Alan Dellinger and Collin Burke. The 54-year-old Dellinger has been racing since 1979. The Niles, Ohio native, who now calls Hermitage, Pa. home, has been a RUSH Late Model participant throughout the past several seasons but this year will be his first in a RUSH Sportsman Mod.
Dellinger was set to run the RUSH Sprint class this year but things didn’t work out. At the end of last season at Sharon, Dellinger was driving a Mod Lite on a slick track and thought that a 602 Sportsman Mod might be the ticket. “Two weeks later we had the 602,” said Dellinger, who will continue to drive a #8 for Bob Williams of Canfield, Ohio
“Sharon and Lernerville are close to home,” said Dellinger. “We wanted to race closer to home, race for fun, and not spend a lot of money so the RUSH Sportsman Mod was a perfect fit for us.”
Twenty-three year-old Collin Burke of Sarver, Pa., likes the idea of having a consistent rules package that RUSH provides. “I would like to travel down South so now I can do it because the rules are very similar to many tracks throughout the South.”
This will be Burke’s first season in a Late Model after having driven a Pro Stock since 2013 including the last two seasons under the RUSH banner at Lernerville. “I’m looking forward to the challenge of it and the new tracks we’re going to get the opportunity to go.” Since he was 15, Collin served as the crew chief on his dad’s (Tony) Super Late Model. Tony, who raced for nearly 40 years, will bring a plethora of experience to his son’s race team.
Seeing approximately 50 new racers set to compete in the RUSH Racing Series this season for the first time ever is incredible. Series Director Vicki Emig feels that by continuing to provide true “cost containment” technical rules packages surrounded by stringent tech, as well as valuable championship and contingency programs that RUSH will continue to grow, but most importantly “keep people racing” for all concerned!
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 website is www.rushracingseries.com.