LEHIGHTON, Pa. — Recap, audio and photo by Race Chaser Online Northeast Correspondent Kyle Magda —
Mahoning Valley Speedway (MVS) regular Don Wagner tested his No. 22 Modified at the track’s Test & Tune session last weekend.
On Saturday night, he found himself in victory lane and $5,000 richer.
Wagner pulled away from Zane Zeiner late in the 125-lap race to win the Central States Modified Gamblers Series opener. The two were side-by-side, restart after restart, on a night where surviving to the end was key.
“Too many cautions, but it was to be expected,” Wagner said. “It’s Opening Night, 125-lap race, you’re going to have that.”
Wagner hovered around the top-five all night before taking the lead for the final time.
Zeiner was also in contention for the track’s last extra-distance race, a 130-lap feature at Octoberfast 2014, finishing second to Matt Hirschman.
The Bath, Pa. native ran the same car Saturday night that he drove in the Turkey Derby at Wall Stadium last November. The only difference was a number change, running his customary No. 76 at Opening Night. Zeiner dropped to third in the final rundown when he used up his tires while leading.
“I think the right-front tire actually gave up on me, in which it got real tight,” Zeiner said. “I spun my tires and Donny [Wagner] got me on the restart and we ran side-by-side and Donny’s car was pretty good up top.”
Hirschman led most of the first half of the race and looked for his fourth-consecutive win in a extra-distance Modified race at MVS. He and Eric Beers ran top-two until the half-way break at lap 65, as teams were allowed to change a tire and also have the option to swap tires on the car.
Right after the race resumed, the same side-by-side racing with the two drivers continued, until Hirschman made contact with Beers and also collected Lou and Kyle Strohl (no relation) in the wreck). Officials sent Hirschman to the rear for the contact and never made it back to the front, coming home in 11th.
With a sunny day in Northeastern Pennsylvania, the temperatures cooled down when the lights came on and speeds picked up. A handful of drivers were able to run laps under 10 seconds, but not close enough to Zeiner’s one-lap record in the 9.5 second bracket set in 2007.
One of those drivers was Kevin Rex, who wheeled his No. 48 Modified to a second-place showing in the Modified feature. Rex passed Zeiner for second under 10 laps to go and never believed he would run as well as he did.
“I came in here hoping for a top-five, clean run, but half-way through to the end, we got banged there with someone,” Rex said. “I had to come in and pit and headed back out and started last again. Somehow I came up through and ended up second.”
Candor, N.Y. driver Jimmy Zacharias was always snake-bitten at MVS, but led his first-ever laps at the Lehighton track to pick up the win in the first heat race. Zacharias started on pole for the feature and was never a factor in the race. Wall Stadium regular and three-time Atlantic City Gambler’s Classic champ Anthony Sesley also made an appearance in a modified.
Paul Hartwig, Jr. didn’t qualify for the Modified feature in the No. 73, but replaced teammate Neil Rutt to drive the No. 73F in the feature. Hartwig made his NASCAR Southern Whelen Modified Tour debut last weekend at South Boston Speedway in Virginia.
The modifieds weren’t the only series on the Opening Night bill Saturday. The Pro 4-Cylinder, Late Model and Hobby Stock series also ran their features.
Bob Kibler Sr. won his first Pro-4 feature since 2004 at MVS, while Paul Koehler Jr. took home the Late Model win. Harry O’Neill picked up a second-straight win in the Hobby Stock division, after winning Octoberfast 2014.
The Street Stocks and Dirt Modifieds didn’t get to run their respective features due to the midnight curfew. Make-up dates will be announced.
Racing resumes at MVS next weekend featuring all divisions and the Micro Stocks.
Audio with race winner Don Wagner:
Audio with second-place finisher Kevin Rex:
Audio with third-place finisher Zane Zeiner:
RESULTS: Central States Modified Gamblers Series 125; Mahoning Valley Speedway; April 11, 2015
1. Don Wagner
2. Kevin Rex
3. Zane Zeiner
4. Nevin George
5. Kris Graver
6. Todd Baer
7. Chip Santee
8. Eric Beers
9. Austin Kochenash
10. Eric Kocher
11. Matt Hirschman
12. Anthony Sesley
13. Lou Strohl
14. Paul Frantz
15. Pat Verwys
16. John Markovic
17. Mike Quinn
18. Kyle Strohl
19. Bobby Jones
20. DJ Wagner
21. Paul Hartwig Jr.
22. Earl Paules
23. Jimmy Zacharias