AUTO RACING —
HARTFORD — Fresh off his win at Daytona Saturday night, NASCAR star and defending Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart rolled into Sharon Speedway for the 4th annual Lou Blaney Memorial.
Stewart, Kasey Kahne and Dave, Dale and Ryan Blaney took to the track for a 410 Sprint Car race as drivers and fans celebrated the memory of legendary driver Lou Blaney in one of the region’s most popular and highly-anticpated events of the summer.
Blaney, a DIRT Motorsports and Pittsburgh Circle Track Club hall-of-famer, racked up more than 600 feature wins in 47 years of racing. He health started declining from Alzheimer’s Disease and died at age 69 in January 2009.
“It’s a special night for our family," said Dave Blaney. “The coolest part for me is over at that tent (where the Friends of Lou Blaney eat and visit each other). It’s fun visiting with the drivers that raced with dad and taking pictures. It’s a great event for us and the biggest race we have all year."
“All these guys are passionate about this type of racing,” said Stewart, a 3-time Sprint Cup Series champion. “It’s a lot of fun. The Blaneys are a great family and Dave and Dale are both passionate about Sharon (Speedway). We always jump on the chance to go whenever they invite us.”
The annual event raises funds and awareness for the Alzheimer’s Association. Bricks can be bought for a walk at the track and other merchandise wa sold.
“They were so helpful with Lou when it came to information and just being there,” said his widow, Kate.
The event’s 410 Sprint Car race paid a record $5,000-to-win, while a Big-Block Modifieds race paid $2,000-to-win. There was also over $10,000 in product contingency awards for the Sprint racers.
The DIRTcar Modified portion of the event was part of the “Drive to be a Champion” Series, which looks at the racers best 10 finishes of the season. There was an extra incentive with 10 bonus points being awarded for all competing racers.
A question-and-answer session is conducted by WFMJ (TV 21) sports anchor Mike Ackelson and always provides the drivers and fans with a few laughs. Ackelson asked Stewart to tell the crowd something it didn’t know about him. He replied, “most of the time fans come up to me and tell me stuff I don’t know about me.”
“Dave was one of my heroes growing up,” said Kahne. “I loved it when the (World of) Outlaws came to town. I have a real passion for Sprint Car racing. To have my own team is great. It gives me an opportunity to go racing like fifteen times a year.”
“You get to see all the older guys that raced with dad and worked on his cars,” said Dale Blaney. “You just see a lot of people that dad interacted with and all the fans that come out to honor dad. It’s great.”
Brad Sweet, who drives for Kasey Kahne Racing, took the checkered flag in the 22-car 410 Sprints feature, with Dale Blaney taking 2nd, Kasey Kahne 3rd, Dave Blaney 4th and Stewart finished 20th.
“This is really cool," said Sweet, a 26-year old from Grass Valley, Calif. “This car was fast all night. We did struggle in qualifying, but made some changes and it really took off in the dash. The main event was treacherous. The track was rough on the high side and the lapped cars made it difficult timing them. I'm just glad I was able to hold off Dale. He was charging and I know he really wants to win this race bad."
Sweet began the race in the pole position while Dale Blaney was trying to hold off Stewart, Dave Blaney and last year's winner Sam Hafertepe Jr. On lap 3, Stewart drove hard to the bottom of turns 1 and 2 and pulled even down the backstretch with Dale.
The two made contact and Stewart flipped wildly and collected Hafertepe. Both drivers were OK, but the crash took out 2 previous winners of the event before 3 laps were even complete.
Back under green flag conditions, Sweet opened up a half-straightaway lead by the time he caught lapped traffic on the 7th lap. Adam Anderson caught the fence and flipped in turn 3 and Jack Sodeman Jr. had nowhere to go and hit the fence to end a disappointing night for the former track champion and 10-time winner.
When racing resumed, Dave Blaney was trying to get around his brother, but slipped high in turn 4 on the 11th lap, which allowed 6th-starting Kahne to move into 3rd place.
On the 18th lap, Sweet, who had stretched the lead to a half-straightaway, had his hands full in heavy lapped traffic. By the 20th lap, Kahne and Dave Blaney were able to catch up.
Sweet bobbled, slipping high, in turn 4 on lap 25, which allowed Dale Blaney to really close in, but Sweet put the pedal to the metal and took the checkered flag. His margin of victory was 1.030 seconds and he became Sharon's 151st different all-time Sprint Car winner.
“Hats off to my guys," said Sweet. "They gave me a great car and I was just along for the ride. It's an awesome feeling as I haven't raced a Sprint Car in about a month. To come out here in front of all these awesome fans and to win the Lou Blaney Memorial is pretty special.
“It's a different shape running these Sprint Cars. They're pretty rough and wild. It's always good to get back in these things, but it takes a few races to get back going. I have to thank all of my guys, Ollie's (Bargain Outlet), who have been with me for 3 years now, plus all of these great fans because without them, we wouldn't have this cool race."
Stewart was the fastest car in warm-ups with a lap of 13.038, just less than two-tenths off the track record of 12.844 set by Danny Lasoski on July 3, 2003.
Kevin Bolland of New Brighton captured the Big-Block Modified race for his 3rd win at Sharon this season (21st in his career). Rex King was 2nd and Kevin Hoffman 3rd. Eric Gabany of Mercer placed 6th.
“I raced a lot of years with Lou (Blaney)," said 52-year old Bolland of New Brighton. "He was the guy I always looked at. I'd always sneak around his cars to see how to go fast. I finally got to a point in my career where I could compete with him. We miss Lou. He was a great racer."
Stewart, who has 47 Sprint Cup wins, was the inaugural winner of the Lou Blaney Memorial in 2009, his 1st 410 winged feature win. He placed 5th in 2010 and 9th in '11.
Stewart was docked 6 points by NASCAR on Tuesday and his crew chief, Steve Addington, was fined $25,000 because a cooling hose was found in his car after the win at Daytona International Raceway.
Kahne has 13 wins in the Sprint Cup Series and took 6th, 7th and 12th the past 3 seasons.
Dave Blaney won 27 Sprint Car features at Sharon Speedway and 2 Modified races. He is still winless in NASCAR but has 28 top-10 finishes and has copped 2 poles.
Dale Blaney has 13 career Sprint Car feature wins at Sharon, including last year's Ohio All Star Speedweek event. His career All Star win total is 90.
The All-Star Sprint Cars visit Sharon this Saturday as the BOSS Wingless Sprint Series hits the dirt in Hartford.
Ryan Blaney, Dave's son, is competing in 6 NASCAR Nationwide Series races this season for Tommy Baldwin Racing and already has a top ten finish. He also competes in the PASS Super Late Model Series and the K&N Pro Series East.
ä 410 Sprints: 1. Brad Sweet; 2. Dale Blaney; 3. Kasey Kahne; 4. Dave Blaney; 5. Carl Bowser; 6. Mike Lutz; 7. Dan Kuriger; 8. Brandon Spithaler; 9. Jason Dolick; 10. Roger Campbell; 11. Adam Kekich; 12. Eric Williams; 13. Brandon Matus; 14. Gary Edwards; 15. Brent Matus; 16. Bob McMillin; 17. Jimmy Morris III; 18. Jack Sodeman Jr.; 19. Adam Anderson; 20. Tony Stewart.
ä DIRTcar Big-Block Modifieds: 1. Kevin Bolland; 2. Rex King; 3. Kevin Hoffman; 4. Chad Brachmann; 5. Jim Weller Jr.; 6. Eric Gabany; 7. Brad Rapp; 8. Jimmy Weller III; 9. Chris Haines; 10. Tom Glenn; 11. Carl Murdick; 12. Tom Mattocks; 13. Dillion Barr; 14. Don Brown; 15. Bob Warren; 16. Jeremiah Shingledecker; 17. Rob Curtis; 18. Rex King Jr. 19. Skip Moore; 20. Justin Rasey.