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The Firecracker 100 Story from Lernerville; Eckert Etches Name In Books

Tyler Beichner Photo

And so it concluded, two and half months later at Lernerville Speedway, and when the final night of the 2015 Firecracker 100 was in the books Rick Eckert became the first Pennsylvania driver in the history of the event to etch his name on the trophy.  It was a race that could very well have seen another in state driver take home the honors as former track champion Jared Miley threw the kitchen sink and then some at the 26 car field through the first 60 laps.  But Eckert was able to patiently make his way around the upstart driver and then hold off prohibitive favorite Shane Clanton down the stretch to claim the $30,000 winner’s share.

Pat Miller Photo

“I’ve won a bunch of cool trophies, but this ranks right up there with the best of them,” an emotional Eckert said in victory lane.  ” I knew I as in trouble when he showed himself (Clanton) with 30 some laps to go and knew I needed to pick my pace up. I knew Shane must have been getting a good run on me because he drove right beside me on the front straightaway and I just had to fend him off.”

Eckert and Miley led the field to the green flag and from the moment it waved, Miley headed upstairs on the Lernerville surface which had a mix of tacky and slick spots, and did so with authority, setting a blistering pace that stretched out to a 2.2 second advantage over Eckert during the first extended green flag period. Behind them, fourth starting Darrell Lanigan had made his way underneath Eckert in turn two on lap five and then set his sights on Miley who started entering lapped traffic.  Chase Junghans, Davey Johnson, and Clanton then started to battle for advancement through the top five until the first caution of the night came out on lap 16 when Pancho Lawler spun.

The ensuing stretch of action saw multiple cautions and on the restarts, Miley was often challenged by Lanigan going into the first set of turns, but maintained a strong enough push off of turn two to bolt down the backstretch with the lead while Clanton moved up top in search of a faster line running fourth.  The race then took a dramatic turn during a lap 31 restart that saw Lanigan break a drive shaft, ending his bid for consecutive Firecracker 100 victories. Lanigan then slowed in front of the field in turn two causing Gregg Satterlee and Jordan Yaggy to make heavy contact.  Satterlee rebounded and would eventually wind up seventh when all was said and done.

Pat Miller Photo

On the restart, the action went three wide for the lead between Miley, Eckert and Clanton, but Miley emerged with the lead again, and would display of the finest moments of his young career to this date as he not only maneuvered through lapped traffic during a 30 lap green flag run, but did so with authority, using all grooves and putting distance between his closest pursuers and two formidable drivers on a familiar track.  Dan Angellichio put an end to the lengthy green flag stretch when he brought out the yellow on lap 61.  When action resumed, Miley’s time up front came to an end just three laps later when Eckert made his way underneath on lap 64.  Miley wouldn’t go away and stayed as close to Eckert as he could in the subsequent laps, but Clanton had found his best way around the track on the bottom groove and eventually overtook him on lap 76.

“We were really good there on the cushion and it died a little and I had to get down in the middle of the track where Rick and Shane were really good and they’re used to this racing a little more than us,” Miley said afterwards. “But to run third to those guys means a lot and I learned a lot during the race. As soon as you get the lead you want it to be over, you just can never run fast enough when you’re out front, but that’s just how it goes and we can’t hang our head or anything against these guys…we had a good run.”

The battle for the win then took center stage for the next 24 laps as Eckert found himself in heavy lapped traffic with a fast closing Clanton in pursuit. Clanton pulled to within two tenths of Eckert  from time to time, but found himself in need of clean air as Eckert dispatched one lapped car after another by finding perfect seams and threading them with precision to keep Clanton behind him over the course of the remaining laps.  The critical moment occurred on lap 85 when the soon to be lapped car of Boom Briggs appeared just in front of Eckert who used what little space there was to slide by, providing just enough of a margin to clear, while Clanton had to use his precious remaining time to find a way around Briggs as the laps and his golden chance to get around Eckert evaporated.

Pat Miller Photo

“The line changed three or four times and I found the bottom there and passed passed Jared and caught up to Eckert,” Clanton said.  “Somebody else behind me started running the bottom and threw too many crumbs up to get the traction down the straightaway I needed but overall, we had a good night.”

Gary Heeman Photo

Eckert then was able to drive away to a comfortable victory in the final ten laps en route to his first Firecracker 100 victory.

“There were so many lanes out there that you could maneuver in lapped traffic and Jared Miley did one heck of a job. I was putting all the pressure I could on him. Every time I thought I could drive by him, he picked the tempo up and took off. It’s an honor to win here.”

Final:

1. Rick Eckert
2. Shane Clanton
3. Jared Miley
4. Chase Junghans
5. Josh Richards
6. Tim McCreadie
7. Gregg Satterlee
8. Morgan Bagley
9. Eric Wells
10. Frank Heckenast Jr.
11. Morgan Bagley
12. Alex Ferree
13. Chub Frank
14. Boom Briggs
15. Pancho Lawler
16. Brandon Overton
17. Davey Johnson
18. Paul Wilmouth
19. Austin Hubbard
20. Dan Angellichio
21. Jordan Yaggy
22. Ken Schaltenbrand
23. Billy Moyer
24. Michael Lake
25. Darrell Lanigan
26. Mike Norris

Gary Heeman Photo

Uncle Sam 30:

Kenny Pettyjohn put a field of 11 cars behind him after he wrested the early lead away from John Mollick on lap 11 en route to the $3,000 victory in the “Uncle Sam 30” non qualifiers race.  Mollick, who’d traded the second spot with Bump Hedman in the early action, held on to the position while Hedman rounded out the podium.  Pettyjohn then proceeded to donate all of his winnings on the evening to the Wounded Warrior Project in a class move which has become a tradition with the driver for years. !

Finish:

1. Kenny Pettyjohn
2. John Mollick
3. Bump Hedman
4. Dan Swartzlander
5. Colton Flinner
6. Todd Bachmann
7. Devin Lewis
8. Herman Bertollini
9. Ross Robinson
10. Chuck Sarver
11. Derek Stefanick

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