CONCORD, N.C. – The only 2012 national event for WKA’s Vega Speedway Pavement program took place at the scenic Chapel Hill Raceway in the rural hills of southwest upstate New York August 10-12.
The Chapel Hill Grand Nationals offered pavement-oval racers a chance to compete on a national level at the popular one-eighth-mile banked oval, which had only run two WKA divisional series events earlier in the season with limited participation.
It’s no secret the Pavement Series has struggled for entry counts in recent years. Once a strong series that routinely boasted 300, 400 and even over 500 entrants per race at times has battled through the tough economy and 105 entrants signed in at this year’s Chapel Hill event.
While veteran racers of the series playfully reminisced to the newer generation of asphalt-oval competitors about times gone by and the days when getting to the track late meant you were pitting somewhere up on the hill about a half-mile from the grid, everyone in attendance enjoyed themselves and raced hard against the drivers who were there to pull onto the track with them.
This year’s Chapel Hill Grand Nationals was based on a WKA divisional series program where divisional tracks would run “Super Regionals.” The feature winners at these Super Regional races were guaranteed main event starting spots at Chapel Hill and awarded with kart shop gift certificates and a year’s WKA membership on the house.
This attracted a faithful group of teams from Virginia, Maryland and New England to join many of the longtime New York, Pennsylvania and Midwest Speedway Pavement Series regulars.
The schedule called for Animal-powered divisions on Saturday and flatheads on Sunday. Many teams secured a flathead for Sunday’s racing to support the show and there was great competition on both days.
Rain wiped out the latter rounds of Friday practice and postponed the Champ Heavy Money Race to Saturday. An extra round of practice was added to Saturday’s schedule to make up for the canceled Friday rounds.
The weekend weather was unseasonably cool with many never shedding the sweatshirts and light jackets. A quick shower delayed Sunday’s action before skies cleared and all the features were run. As soon as podiums wrapped up Sunday, a heavy storm drenched the facility until the rain let up, allowing teams to finish loading and pulling out.
The Junior Stock Animal division kicked the weekend off as the first race Saturday. Kole Holden and Brandon McGough, a couple Pavement Series regulars from Pennsylvania, put on a great show. Holden timed on the pole over Kayla Joseph and McGough and led much of the 20-lap feature. McGough moved past Joseph and into second early in the race and began hounding Holden for the top spot.
Holden fended off McGough’s challenges until a few laps to go McGough finally got the run he needed to make an inside pass on Holden into turn three. McGough went on to win by a couple kart-lengths over Holden. Joseph was third, Austin Ousley fourth and Josh Miller fifth. DJ Powell rounded out the six-kart field.
A couple of New York veterans led the way in Stock Medium with George Curtis winning over Ronnie Flaim. Curtis started on the pole and pulled away from Flaim lap after lap to score a 1.2-second victory over the local runner. Denver Brandts came up from Virginia and finished third.
Dayne Koontz opened a strong Saturday afternoon with a Sportsman 1 flat-kart win over WKA Gold Cup Series regular Matthew Miller. Koontz, who also races the Gold Cup from time to time, won over Miller by about a half-second gap. Kevin Gardiner finished third aboard a sleek-looking red No. 15.
“I’d like to thank my family for the support and GT Machine for great power,” the 11-year-old Koontz said after his first win of the day.
Gary Jackinski was the only Masters Champ driver in attendance. Jackinski waved qualifying and made 10 laps in the feature aboard his sharp No. 69.
Sportsman 1 Champ
Dayne Koontz made it two-for-two on the day with his Sportsman 1 Champ victory in a tight race over Christian Hanson. Hanson qualified on the pole and led the first half of the 20-lapper before Koontz shot past on lap 11. Hanson wouldn’t give up, retaking the lead on lap 15 and fending off Koontz’s challenges until Dayne gunned it to the inside on the final lap to retake the lead and get the victory.
“I would like to thank my dad for giving me a great kart, Dave Koehler for the power and Rage Karts for their help,” Koontz commented after win No. 2 on the day.
William Ebert closed on the top-two at times but never made it close enough to challenge. Ebert went on to finish third in the exciting race.
The day’s largest class saw 13 starters hit the track for Senior Champ’s 20-lap main. Gavin Soraghan timed on the pole with a quick lap of 10.271 in qualifying and led the opening six laps of the feature before Ohio driver Cullen Mumaw got by. A hard-charging Kevin Baird passed Soraghan late in the race for second and made a run at Mumaw before running out of laps.
Mumaw crossed the stripe 0.214 seconds in front of Baird to capture the win. Long Island’s James Hayden was third, Nick Wiery fourth and Soraghan fifth.
Sportsman 2 Champ
New Jersey’s Matthew Addona and Maine’s Wyatt Alexander put out on terrific show in Sportsman 2 Champ. The pair traded the lead numerous times in a race for the lead that began to look like a NASCAR event at Talladega.
Addona had the lead on the white-flag lap with Alexander right behind. As anticipated Alexander shot to the inside of Addona down the backstretch but Addona gave him little room in turns three and four. Breaking Alexander’s momentum on the inside, Addona was able to hold off the Maine racer and score the big win.
Alexander settled for second. New York’s Eddie Fatscher was third, Tyler Pepin fourth, Cornelius Flynn fifth and Austin Belski sixth.
Eleven drivers signed in for Jr Champ and an accident in the first of three morning practice sessions threw a curveball to several racers early in the day. At least five karts were involved in the turn two accident and several had to make repairs. All drivers were able to make it back out for qualifying, including Ryan Lutz, who missed the rest of practice but still timed second fastest to Christian Schneider.
Schneider had the field covered in the 20-lap feature, leading every lap on his way to the win by half-second over Lutz. Brandon McGough qualified a disappointing ninth but advanced all the way to third before the checkers waved. Bryan Noel was fourth and John Paul Kraisinger rounded out the top five.
George Curtis swept the senior flat-kart divisions with his second win of the day, this time in Stock Heavy.
Curtis qualified a couple tenths faster than Virginia’s Dale Portner and proceeded to pull away to a convincing 5.5-second win over Long Island’s James Hayden, who passed Portner late in the race for the runner-up position. Portner held on for third and Jason Ness was fourth.
“I would like to thank Mike Denning for the chassis, Bud Denning for the setup, Kevin Smith, my dad and grandpa and my friends and family for the support,” the 19-year-old Curtis said after his second win of the day.
Champ Heavy Money Race
Thirteen drivers entered the $500-to-win Champ Heavy Money Race which consisted of qualifying and two 25-lap segments. Jeff Hoisington of Rage Karts put up a $100 bonus to the winner of the first 25-lap segment, meaning racers had a shot at a cool $600 payday.
And Gary Lawson took full advantage.
Lawson started fifth and quickly moved to the front of the pack in the opening 25-lap affair. Gavin Soraghan closed on Lawson and looked to be setting the Ohio driver up for a pass when the caution flag waved on lap 17.
Once the race restarted Soraghan had his hands full holding off Kevin Cockerham and others and slipped back outside the top five. Lawson cruised to the win in the first 25 and started on the pole in the final segment.
The second 25-lapper was all Lawson. The multi-time national champion in the WKA Gold Cup Series led wire-to-wire to score a big win and secure the full $600 winner’s share over his teammate, Nick Wiery. Cockerham was third, Cullen Mumaw fourth and Soraghan fifth. A total of $1400 was awarded among the top-five finishers.
Jr Medium Flathead
Sunday opened with three drivers taking the green flag in Jr Medium. Kole Holden found redemption from his second-place run on Sunday and passed pole-sitter Kayla Joseph several laps into the 20-lap main on his way to the win. Joseph held tough with Holden and crossed the stripe only 0.207 seconds behind. Josh Miller was third.
Sportsman 1 Flathead
Matthew Miller denied Dayne Koontz of a weekend hat trick with his 2.3-second win over Koontz in the flathead version of Sportsman 1. Miller timed on the pole with a lap of 11.828 around Chapel’s 0.8-mile oval and pulled away from Koontz throughout the 20-lap main. Koontz didn’t seem to have the same power with the flathead that he displayed on Saturday in the Animal divisions, while Miller was just as strong with the Raptor bolted on his flat-kart.
The Jr Champ competitors unanimously elected to run the Animal on Sunday, instead of the flathead. The day’s only Animal-powered division featured more of what we saw Saturday from Christian Schneider.
Schneider wheeled his sharp No. 5 to another convincing win to sweep the Jr Champ classes on the weekend. This time Daniel Wesson finished about a half-second back of Schneider in second. John Paul Kraisinger improved on his fifth-place Saturday performance to take third. John Hawley made the long trek from Indiana and was fourth. Ryan Lutz rounded out the top five.
Sportsman 1 Champ Flathead
Christian Hanson qualified on the pole and pulled away in the feature to win by a two-second gap over William Ebert. Dayne Koontz was third, again denied of his third win of the weekend. Owen Kraisinger decided he wanted to race late Saturday night and finished fourth after his father put a champ-kart together for him into the early hours of Sunday morning.
Sportsman 2 Champ Flathead
One could argue the Sportsman 2 Champ competitors put on the best show all weekend. After Matthew Addona and Wyatt Alexander traded the lead over a half-dozen times in Saturday’s race, Eddie Fatscher joined the two on Sunday to make it a three-kart battle for the flathead win.
After battling and swapping the lead throughout the race, Fatscher led Addona into the final corner when the pair made contact and Fatscher spun around. Addona slowed as a result, allowing third-place running Alexander to shoot past both drivers and cross the finish line first. Addona slid through the grass and crossed the stripe a mere 0.002 seconds after Alexander.
Cornelius Flynn came round to take third while Fatscher was the bad-luck recipient and was credited with fourth after nearly earning the win.
Senior Champ Flathead
Nine senior champ racers bolted on the flathead for Sunday’s race and Michael Nolan qualified on the pole. Nolan led early until Saturday winner Cullen Mumaw made it past. Mumaw waved the Rage flag high and proceeded to win the race and both national Senior Champ mains on the weekend.
Nick Wiery was second, 0.384 seconds back of Mumaw. Nolan held on for third, James Hayden fourth and local Olean, N.Y., racer Skip Giberson fifth.
Senior Champ Mix
A new mixed-engine class for senior champ racers was added to the schedule for the Grand Nationals. Three flatheads and three restricted Animals took the green, and it was Kevin Cockerham getting the popular victory after Dustin Hayes was disqualified for tipping the scales too light.
Cockerham, running a flathead, won over Emily Flaim’s Animal. Skip Giberson was third, Alex Colasanto fourth and New Hampshire’s John Berger fifth.
WKA thanks the racers, teams and families who came out to Chapel Hill for the Grand Nationals. The event went smooth by accounts, and the teams and families enjoyed seeing friends from past seasons and meeting the new people who had never been to Chapel in years’ past.
Chuck Jaquith photos from the Chapel Hill Grand Nationals can be found on WKA’s Facebook page.