6/29/03, Selinsgrove, Pa -- Bob Beidleman of Walnutport won Saturday night's 2nd Annual Firecracker 40 for sprint cars at Selinsgrove Speedway. The $2,000 win was the first of the veteran's career at the track since May 4, 1996. "This is the...
6/29/03, Selinsgrove, Pa -- Bob Beidleman of Walnutport won Saturday night's 2nd Annual Firecracker 40 for sprint cars at Selinsgrove Speedway. The $2,000 win was the first of the veteran's career at the track since May 4, 1996.
"This is the 26th year of racing for me and I'm not old but I am gray," said Beidleman from victory lane. "It's been five years since we won anywhere."
To begin the night, dash winner Davie Franek of Lafayette, NJ., opted against taking the $10,000 last to first challenge that was posted. The opportunity was then extended to the scheduled second starter Don Beaver of Marysville, who also deferred. Had one of the men sacrificed their frontrow starting spot for last and returned to win the event he would have pocketed the 10G challenge bonus as well as the regularly posted $2,000 to win.
The start of the 20-mile contest was red-flagged when polesitter Davie Franek drove side by side with Don Beaver into the first turn and got sideways in front of the field. Franek's racer then collected the machines of Chad Layton, Nate Snyder, Tim Higgins, Cliff Brian and Justin Zimmerman, all of whom piled onto the scene.
New polesitter Bob Beidleman of Walnutport then took command of the field and led the field back to the stripe to complete the first circuit followed by Beaver and TJ Stutts. Beidleman was stretching it out in traffic and Stutts had just rode the top groove around Beaver for second when the races first caution flag unfurled with nine laps complete.
Fourth place runner Kyle Purks then slowed the pace with 11 completed when he rolled to a stop. Beidleman restarted ahead of Stutts, Beaver, Blane Heimbach and Nate Snyder but the red flag soon came out for a first turn flip by Scott Ausherman.
For the next six laps, Beidleman opened up a comfortable lead over Stutts but a miscue on the cushion in turn two with 18 down allowed Stutts to close dramatically. The field again regrouped one lap prior to the halfway point.
Stutts used the chance to power to the inside in the first corner to slide up in front of Beidleman and take command. And once at the front, Stutts drove off from the field, appearing to be headed to his first win at the track since September of 2001. But bad luck in the form of a right rear flat tire ruined Stutts' night and brightened Beidlemans with just five laps remaining.
Heimbach of Selinsgrove restarted second and although able to pull even on the restart, Beidleman rode his fashionable high-groove to a convincing win. Cory Hass got by for second on the final lap. "I returned to Walnutport, Pennsylvania with a new frame at 5 AM this morning -- three guys, four women and three kids and we got it built," said Beidleman of his No. 81 as it rested in the winner's circle.
He then remembered fallen racer Joe Whitcomb.
"I raced ever since he started racing. You could drive beside him, you could race beside him, and those are the kind of people you like to race with."
Heats for the 31-car field went to Chad Layton, Stutts, Beidleman and Kyle Purks. Nate Snyder won the consolation event. Davie Franek won the five-lap dash to get first chance at the $10,000 last-to-first challenge.
Eighth starter Jeff Rine of Danville took the lead from racelong leader JR Kieffer with two laps to go to win the 20-lap late model feature event. Kieffer looked unbeatable during the early to mid stages of the race but Rine rallied late while running the cushion to take the lead off of the fourth corner.
"This track tonight was about as perfect as you could get," commented Rine. "The cushion was there and you could run up there if you needed to. It was just our night to win I guess. I raced go-karts with Joe Whitcomb down in Florida and I just want to dedicate this race to him and his family."
Late Model qualifiers went to Glenn Heddings and Kieffer.
The son of late model veteran star Dale Kerstetter, Nate Kerstetter of Liverpool inherited the lead from Don Murphy to claim his first career pro stock main event, 15-laps in distance.
Gary Kerstetter won a B-Main for the pro stocks.
Joey Keister won the roadrunner feature.
SELINSGROVE SPEEDWAY REMEMBERS JOE WHITCOMB
Saturday night was one of memories, grief and perseverance for fans, officials and drivers alike at Selinsgrove Speedway. Those who gathered for another night of racing did so with this week's tragic death of Millersburg sprint car driver Joe Whitcomb weighing on their mind.
Whitcomb, 35, succumbed to head injuries early Monday morning at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville. He sustained the injuries in a qualifying event at Selinsgrove last Saturday. His death was the first on area ovals since 1988 at Williams Grove Speedway when sprint driver Daryl Gohn was killed and it was the first fatality at Selinsgrove since two occurred just months apart in 1976.
"Anything I could do to help," said Sharon Stutts of Etters, the parent of sprint driver TJ Stutts. She and track employee Christine Kline of Kratzerville spent the week making blue and yellow ribbons for anyone who wanted to wear them on Saturday night. Whitcomb was known for the familiar blue and yellow paint scheme on his No. 71 racer.
"I just don't know what to expect when I get up there," said track flagman Randy Kline before climbing to his perch. "I've just never experienced anything like this. This happened on my watch, I've seen terrible crashes and seen people walk away but never had to deal with anything like this."
Speedway officials displayed photos of Whitcomb and hung a giant blue and yellow banner displaying the number "71" in victory lane. In addition, 71 blue and yellow balloons were released over the grounds as Allison Cody of New Berlin performed Amazing Grace. Rev. David Park of Selinsgrove delivered an invocation and Whitcomb's close friend and fellow competitor Nate Snyder eulogized his comrade.
Speedway publicity director Steve Inch addressed the somber crowd, which included Whitcomb's widow, parents and pit crew.
"Throughout my career in auto racing, I prayed that I would never have to make an address of this nature to the racing community regarding a tragic accident such as the one that took the life of Joe Whitcomb this week. I hope that by being here today, it will help all of us bring some closure to this tragedy," said Inch.
"A beautiful weekend is upon us -- it seems we've been waiting for this nice weather all season long. I believe our friend Joe Whitcomb helped us out with that today. He always liked to help people whenever he could."
"Joe loved the fans. He was a great father and husband and I ask you to never forget him," said Whitcomb's widow Shelly. "He was my best friend."
"He was at my house every day for 25-years," said Joe Whitcomb Sr. "For 25-years all we did was race. He was my buddy and now I'll never see him again."
Never was a speedway so silent.
A live version of the National Anthem was performed and every driver was given a blue and yellow 71 sticker to display on their racer for the night. The familiar missing man formation - open pole position was observed before the field took the feature green flag.
A seat to seat collection by drivers in the stands and donations from businesses netted more than four thousand dollars to help alleviate financial burden placed on Whitcomb's family.
Throughout, the drivers and fans reflected on Whitcomb the man and what this tragedy means to them.
"He was definitely one hell of a racer," noted Snyder of Halifax. "One of the things I admired most about him is for instance on one occasion last summer, he had a bare block Saturday morning, he built the whole motor that day and went out and won that night at Selinsgrove. He was real mechanically inclined. Most of us know how to gas it up but we don't know how to work on the motors. I'll try to gas it up for him tonight."
That said, Snyder will be working to help everyone learn a safety lesson from the accident that claimed his friend.
"We are going to come up with something to put on the top of the roll cages. But you have to come up with something that allows you to get out as well. We don't want to create an additional safety issue but if we research it, we should be able to come up with something to protect the top of our heads. The sides on the cars are pretty well closed in now but not the tops."
"He was just kind of a quiet guy, didn't say much and kind of kept to himself," said Selinsgrove sprint driver Blane Heimbach. He was a walk softly but carry a big stick kind of guy, a sort of gentle-gentleman giant, according to Heimbach and Snyder.
"If someone had asked me about Joe Whitcomb, I would have said, 'when you go out to race there are drivers that you are going to have to worry about racing to win. Joe was one.' He was definitely one of them guys you had to account for. He was always pretty fast," said Heimbach"
"On the track, he was one of them guys who was going to race you really hard. He wasn't one of those guys who you had to worry about him sticking you into a wall. That's because he had his own money in his racecar. He was going to take the chance but he was also not going to put you in the wall because he had respect for your equipment."
Heimbach has his perspective, "Joe Whitcomb was in a wreck, and wrecks happen. If you're a race car driver, you have to think of things like this happening as - when it's your time, it's your time - when God pulls your number, you're done," he emphasized.
"I work on a farm and I do things every day that could potentially be dangerous and life threatening. The only difference is racing is an elective. You do it because you love to do it. Joe's crash wasn't that bad and he got hit in the wrong spot and you're going to have this. If that happened to me, I would tell people 'don't feel bad for me cause I was doing what I wanted to do.' It's just one of them deals. There's nothing you can do. If you let something like this get to you, you will honestly drive yourself crazy."
"This just reminds me of when Toby Tobias was killed back in the seventies," remembered 50-year race fan Donald Keister of Middleburg of the late sprint and modified stars fatal accident. "To this day I remember where I was when I heard that news and it was just so stunning to racing and this is just as bad. This accident was so easy but it always seemed Whitcomb had such bad luck."
Selinsgrove resident Nathan Ritter has been sitting in the stands at Selinsgrove Speedway non-stop for 13 years and remembers Whitcomb.
"He seemed like a gentleman, seemed very sportsman like and never talked about anybody," said Ritter. "He was a very good racer. Pretty clean and I never seen him get into anybody. I always liked how he had his car designed, it was his own style. It was simple, kind of like him and I will miss him."
After Saturday night's emotional events at Selinsgrove Speedway, it's clear everyone is going to miss Joe Whitcomb.
6/28/03 Race Summary
Heat winners: Chad Layton, TJ Stutts, Bob Beidleman, Kyle Purks
Consolation winner: Nate Snyder
Firecracker 40 Feature Finish: Bob Beidleman, Cory Haas, Blane Heimbach, Nate Snyder, Kyle Purks, TJ Stutts, Jake Raudabaugh, Don Beaver, Troy Long, Jason Schultz, Bob Camilli, James Layton, Jeff Weaver, Rory Janney, Justin Zimmerman, Bill Fannasy, Dave Emory, Scott Ausherman, Babe Mader, Tony Smolenyak, Davie Franek, Chad Layton, Cliff Brian, Tim Higgins.
Heat winners: Glenn Heddings, JR Kieffer
Feature finish 20 laps: Jeff Rine, JR Kieffer, Don Schick, Glenn Heddings, Dale Kerstetter, Eric Hons, Dave Reed, Tony Adams, Nick Dickson, Brian Cochran, Dave Schulski, Jeff Smith, Tony Smith, Bill Thubbron, Bob Spahr, Chris Wilkinson, Erick Metzger, Jimmy Adams
B Main winner: Gary Kerstetter
Feature finish 15 laps: Nate Kerstetter, Jason Schmidt, Kyle Bachman, Peanut Heintzelman, Gerald Kratzer, Troy Miller, Gary Beward, Steve Stitt, Matt Drum, Gary Welsh, Mark Benson, Matt Johnson, Ken Stitt, Bill Glass, Sammy Troup, Todd Keister, Bob Baker, Jake Buck, John Schmidt, Steve Byers, Don Murphy, Meade Hahn, Bill Conrad, Gary Kerstetter
Roadrunners: 15 entries
Feature finish 12 Laps: Joey Keister, Matt Drum, Chris Eckert, Brian Mitch, Don Scheib, Jeff Baney, Cory Long, Jim Somers, Frank Petroski, Dennis Conrad, Dave Miller, Jason Brosius, Joe Lower, Rick Bixler, Jim Nieman