Monday, June 23rd, 2014
Holtgraver wins first Eldora feature
By Mike Ernst
ROSSBURG - Driving around Eldora Speedway under caution on lap 27 of Saturday night's 30-lap UNOH All Star Circuit of Champions Sprint Speedweek feature event, 24 year-old Danny Holtgraver knew he would have his hands full in an attempt to capture his first win at the hallowed 1/2-mile.
Veteran Dale Blaney, the All-Stars all-time leader in wins and a four-time series champion, had charged through the pack running the bottom of the racetrack and had pulled even with Holtgraver a few laps prior to the yellow flag waving.
"I just knew I had to put it up top and run it has hard as it would go," Holtgraver said of his mindset prior to the three-lap dash for the $5,000 top prize.
Holtgraver, from Pittsburgh, stuck his winged sprint car inches from the Eldora concrete wall and ran a flawless final three laps to pick up his first Eldora checkered flag and kicked off a busy week for the All Stars, which features seven more events in the next week.
"I told Rob (car owner Rob Hunter) this week I didn't care if we won anywhere else, I wanted to win Eldora. So I got it," Holtgraver said from victory lane. "I started to get more comfortable here last year and would race here seven days a week if I could. This is unbelievable, I couldn't ask for more. This is amazing."
Tim Shaffer jumped to the early lead from his pole position but Holtgraver, who started outside the front row, moved around Shaffer, with the two nearly making contact, on lap five. Once out front, Holtgraver began to pull away, but back in the pack some veterans were working their way to the front.
Blaney was charging from eighth place and ninth-starting Jac Haudenschild, who swept last year's two All Star events at Eldora, was coming to the front. Blaney ran the bottom groove of the track while Haudenschild was in his familiar ride around the rim at the top of the speedway.
Haudenschild's bid for a third consecutive All Star win at Eldora ended when his tire went flat during the final caution period, forcing him to the pit area to have his crew change the right rear tire. The pit stop forced Haudenschild to restart at the tail end of the pack, knocking him out of contention for the win and eventually finishing 13th.
"When that yellow came out with 15 to go, we were (running) really good. We probably had a harder left rear tire than these guys and I still had a shot at him (Holtgraver) with about five laps to go. He got held up a little bit but I made about three bad corners and didn't capitalize and there it goes," said Blaney after his runner-up finish.
Randy Hannagan drove a consistent race, even challenging Holtgraver briefly for the top spot on the lap 15 restart, but settled for third place at the finish.
"We definitely had a good race car. We were kind of limited in our tire choice for the feature and we gambled and it didn't pay off. From lap 15 on I was just kind of holding on," said Hannagan. "I could be frustrated if I couldn't see why we slowed up but we know why and we'll carry that on to the King's Royal."
Shaffer, who was the fastest of the 44 cars that took a time trial lap, ended up fourth and Shane Stewart, who started 24th, rounded out the top five. Kevin Swindell, Greg Wilson, Chad Kemenah, Danny Dietrich and James McFadden completed the top 10.
Matt Westfall extended the St. Marys-based Best Performance Motorsports team winning streak to six, with his third win of the 2014 season. It wasn't easy for the driver from Ludlow Falls as he started ninth in the 18-lap chase.
John "Weasel" Phlipot, driving Burkettsville's Mike Garke machine, led the opening three laps before mechanical issues knocked him from the top spot and handed the lead to Jonathan Taylor. Taylor held the top spot until lap 13 when Westfall made the winning move with a pass in turns three and four.
Jonathan Taylor ended up in second-place while his brother Evan Taylor finished in third-place. Jeff Koz. Zach Schroeder completed the top five. Coldwater's Ryan Sutter, who had won a heat race, finished ninth in the main event, while St. Marys' Casey Luedeke finished 11th after working his way back to the front after early contact with Jonathan Taylor spun him around and knocked him from the top three.
Paul Pardo held off repeated Nick Bowers' challenges to pick up his second win of 2014 in the 15-lap Eldora Stock Car main event. Bowers finished in second-place ahead of Dean Pitts, Barney Craig and Jeff Koz.
Eldora sits idle the next couple of weeks before the next major event of the 2014 season, The 31st annual Kings Royal weekend, featuring the World of Outlaw STP Sprint Car Series, takes place July 11-12 with the winner of the main event on July 12 earning $50,000.