JENNERSTOWN SPEEDWAY'S 1ST YEAR PARTNERSHIP WITH SWEENEY RUSH ASPHALT SERIES DEEMED A GREAT SUCCESS; CAR COUNTS EXPECTED TO GROW IN 2018
By Doug Kennedy
September 14, 2017 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(Jennerstown, PA)...Approximately one year ago the Sweeney Chevrolet Buick GMC RUSH Racing Series powered by Pace Performance, made what some may have considered a surprise announcement; that they would be stepping out of their normal comfort zone of sanctioning dirt track GM crate engine divisions throughout the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Canada and stepping into the world of asphalt racing by sanctioning Jennerstown Speedway Complex located in Pennsylvania's beautiful Laurel Highlands.
Jennerstown, like so many other asphalt speedways throughout the country, had watched the cost of competing escalate across the board to the point that their drivers could no longer afford to participate and car counts had begun to dwindle. Speedway management began to examine options to try to realign themselves and unify asphalt racing overall throughout the region. Jennerstown had already begun to allow crate engines compete at their speedway with the their Late Models exclusively crate engines and their Modifieds and Stock Cars a mix of open engines and crate engines, with these two divisions already being on notice that these divisions would also be exclusive crate engines in 2018.
As fate would have it, Jimmy Friedline, owner of Jennerstown Engine Technologies, which was located just a few miles from the speedway, was already a RUSH Authorized Rebuilder and had mentioned to Series Director Vicki Emig some of the issues that Jennerstown was facing. Believing that the RUSH concept that had been carefully developed throughout the years could help Jennerstown, Emig suggested a meeting with speedway management to present her program and offer a solution to their concerns. Speedway officials were receptive to the idea and the first of numerous meetings with RUSH began in August of 2016 with an official announcement of RUSH sanctioning Jennerstown for 2017 in coming in October.
“We felt that it was in our best interests in the long run to align ourselves with a sanctioning body,” said third year Jennerstown Speedway General Manager, Bill Hribar. "I believe in an Albert Einstein theory which states, 'The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results'. Many asphalt tracks have continued to do the same thing and experienced declining crowds and car counts. We were looking for something that would allow all of our competitors a fair shot each and every time they went on the speedway , which led us to the decision to pursue a tie with RUSH."
"RUSH bought to the table numerous years of experience and a longstanding proven record in the policing, certification, and technical program of GM crate engines that we knew could help us equalize the competition for our competitors," continued Hribar. "Things had begun to get out of hand for us and drivers were beginning to just quit racing; now we're seeing some of those same racers are looking forward to coming back to Jennerstown with a renewed enthusiasm! It's simply unheard of to have a racer leave and come back again to compete!"
"I knew we could correct the problems Jennerstown was having," stated Series Director Vicki Emig. "To us the theory is the same across the board whether it be on dirt or asphalt. What we had developed over the years, our sealing system, authorized rebuilders, and technical rules package could be immediately applied to Jennerstown to help correct their issues."
"I won't say it wasn't a challenge to go into a facility that had previously not utilized a program such as ours for ensuring that the GM crate engines were 100% correct per the GM technical manual," explained Emig. "I knew immediately after meeting with Richard Palugrato, owner and speedway Competition Director, that they were sincere about the future of Jennerstown and wouldn't discard RUSH when the going got tough. They stepped aside and let us do our job and prove to their racers that we all had their best interest in mind in the long run."
Two of RUSH's authorized rebuilder, Jimmy Friedline and Mike Ingram of Ingram Engines were also very instrumental in working through the process and spent countless hours assisting in developing the overall final division rule packages. Contrary to the some beliefs, at the beginning the Speedway didn't lose any of their previous crate engine competitors, who were required to have their crate engines verified and RUSH sealed before they could compete in 2017.
"The racers also deserve a lot of credit as the process was totally new to them but they got through it and provided Jennerstown's fans with some of the most exciting racing they had witnessed in years," stated Emig.
In 2017 there were 6 different winners in the Late Model division, 5 in the Modifieds, and 4 Street Stocks; Jennerstown had 14 completed events.
“That goes to show you the level of competitiveness due to the RUSH sanctioning,” said Hribar. "It's really great to see everything begin to meld together and create such a positive atmosphere at the Speedway."
Most exciting is the lateral movement that Hribar sees as three current Modified drivers are pursuing a Late Model ride for 2018, which should boost their weekly Late Model count to 14-16. Hribar also expects both the Modified and Stock Car counts to increase next season due to the buzz and continued inquiries from various racers throughout the region that have expressed great interest in racing at Jennerstown in 2018.
“I think it’s pretty positive,” said Late Model driver Brian Shipp regarding RUSH’s involvement with Jennerstown. “I went from finishing in the top five every once in a while to being a top five car every week.” Shipp captured his first ever Late Model feature win this season. “The program has helped me a ton. I’m a pretty low budget racer and I can’t afford to dump a lot of money into my engine. The RUSH program certainly leveled the playing field.” Shipp says that a number of drivers that he used to race against in the Modified Division have said that if he was able to move up and find success then why not them.
Thirty-eight year-old Jason Busch, who has two feature wins in the Modified division at Jennerstown this season said, “RUSH has made the racing closer overall and defiantly much better. The Modifieds have put on some of the most exciting racing of the season.”
Busch also likes the feel of his GM crate engine. “Honestly I don’t notice much difference between my GM crate engine and my open engine. It’s a good situation right now at Jennerstown because of the RUSH sanction”
A fellow competitor of Busch's is Zane Ferrell, Jennerstown's 2015 defending Modified champion. As for his thoughts on the RUSH and Jennerstown marriage, Ferrell said, “They really enforce the rules and that’s what the track has been missing for the past couple of years. It’s nice to see the track and RUSH working together to see the track succeed. So far I haven’t been hit with any rules violations but if it happens RUSH provides the rules and enforces the penalties and that's the way it should be; there's no playing favorites with anyone.”
Lauren Butler of West Mifflin, Pa. secured the Jennerstown Street Stock Championship to become the first female in the history of Jennerstown and the RUSH Series, dirt or asphalt, to ever to win a track title!
“I’ve been excited about the program from the beginning,” said Butler who works in Central Sterile at Magee Women’s hospital. “I’ve seen a change in competition at Jennerstown. At the beginning of the year I was most excited about the teching and the rules; it's been the best I’ve seen in 15 years. The purpose of RUSH is to keep everyone together, that was the whole idea. I know some people were not happy at first, but you don’t want to see one person run away with a race, you want to see drivers racing hard and together and that’s what RUSH has brought to us as competitors.”
Another issue that had to be overcome was the two crate engines, GM and Ford, that have is the norm in the asphalt racing world. In the end everything worked out well and evened itself out through the efforts of Friedline and Ingram who continuously worked throughout the season to equalize the two brands via weight, RPM and other means. RUSH sanctions "only" the GM 602 and the GM 604 engines for competition. The Ford Blue Oval 347SR and the Jr. were permitted to compete, but were also required to be certified. Both the GM crate engine and Ford Blue oval crate won feature events throughout the season at Jennerstown.
"We realize that the Ford Blue Oval crate engine has been permitted in asphalt racing for years," stated Sweeney Chevrolet/Pace Performance Circle Track Developer, Don Blackshear. "After speaking with Vicki we felt that in the long run it was in the best interest of the future of asphalt racing in general to allow them to compete in this part of RUSH, which of course has always been an exclusive GM crate engine series."
Hribar realizes that there will always be detractors when change is made. “Like any new venture will have people in opposition, but RUSH continued to show their dedication to the Jennerstown and our racers. We've worked together through that opposition and created a respectable racing environment.”
“Over the years people have referred to Jennerstown as being on an island,” said Hribar. “My reaction to that is the Jennerstown has always been on an island but now we have the resources to bring racers to our island with a successful program. I really hope other asphalt speedways throughout the region take a hard look at and put in place the RUSH program. If they would it be nothing but positive and give us all a tremendous opportunity to provide exciting opportunities for our racers, just as RUSH has already for their hundreds of racers with their numerous programs on dirt.”
The best part of the relationship according to Hribar has been that it took a lot of pressure off the speedway officials and management. “The amount of resources and knowledge they bring is what has alleviated that. There’s always someone to call when you have a question. On a side note it's been a pleasant surprise to see our charger stock car competitors actually start asking us if they too can have the GM crate engine option offered in their 2018 rules package.”
Perhaps Hribar summed the relationship up the best when he said, “Overall, it’s been like any new venture. We are confident that RUSH is going to keep us on the right track and be also be a leader in the world of asphalt racing and the future. Jennerstown may have been the RUSH's flagship asphalt facility, but it definitely will not be the last.”
E-mail can be sent to the RUSH Racing Series at [email protected] and mail to 4368 Route 422, Pulaski, PA 16143. Office phone is 724-964-9300 and fax is 724-964-0604. The RUSH Asphalt Racing Series website is www.rushasphaltseries.com. Like our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/rushasphaltseries and follow us on Twitter @RUSHAsphalt.