|Patrick Miller Photo|
“My role is promoter. I try to make this race feel special. I don’t want it to feel like fans are coming out to see just another race at Pittsburgh. I’ve tried to make it into an event.”
And so he did. In four years, Branden Lockwich has helped revive a race that had become not quite once what it was, and turned it into one of the most anticipated races in Western Pennsylvania in any division. It has gone from a better paying Limited Late Model/Crate Late Model race, to one of the highest paying RUSH Late Model events in history through countless hours cultivating sponsors and managing relationships with them and the drivers who turn out year after year.
All the hard work will once again pay off on Saturday, August 11 as the Annual Jook George Memorial, honoring the very much beloved car owner who holds a spot in the heart of many in the racing family at Pittsburgh Pennsylvania’s Motor Speedway. Lockwich undertook the role he currently maintains as a labor of love and has learned valuable lessons over his four years of involvement which he’s turned into knowledge that has enabled him to not just revive the race, but to make it stand out in the area.
“There were some lean years in the middle where it kind of became a regular race, another weekly show. I’d say that’s one of the things I’m most proud of. We’ve built this event back up to where it’s a crown jewel of Crate Late Model racing.This year we’ve got a guy coming to film the races and the highlights are going to appear on DirtOnDirt.com. That’s huge for the track, huge for RUSH, and huge for the drivers. It adds a little more pzazz to the event. This is the 29th year of the race. So besides the Pittsburgher, it’s the longest standing annual race that there at PPMS. And there’s definitely some prestige there.”
So what does it take to make a crown jewel event? Start with a reason for being. That was provided by George and his passion for racing and his fond remembrances in the racing community, and his family has been at the forefront, assisting Lockwich every step of the way. Next, assemble a purse worthy of crown jewel status. On Saturday night, drivers will be battling it out at the “Monster Half Mile” for $5,010 to win. It’s an amount that is head and shoulders above any other RUSH touring series race by more than double to be precise. It’s a purse that also pays $325 just to take the green flag, an amount which is normally reserved for top five finishers at weekly shows. It was important to Lockwich to make the Jook George Memorial something that stood out, and make an event that drivers will want to come back to.
|Patrick Miller Photo|
“You look at some of these shows and it’s all this money to win then you look down at fifth place and you’re like, What the hell, the purse just totally dropped off the cliff?
When it comes to the race’s place in the area’s landscape, it’s hard to find a more meaningful or better paying race, and you can even throw regional Super Late Model races into the particular mix as 40 to 50 cars are expected to take part on the wide, racy surface at PPMS that has become hallowed ground for Late Model racing in it’s long and storied history. The Jook George holds up very well in that history now, as a race that both weekly competitors and invading superstars both look capture.
“And it’s not just me,” Lockwich remarks with a nod to all that assist in sponsoring, and all that help with the work that goes into the making of the event. “It’s everyone who helps and everyone in Jook’s family that contribute to the event. We all built this together. I think it’s pretty neat that you get this buzz for this race. I’ve had a few guys from New York who were coming just because of the work that goes into the event and the payout is good and they want to be there to support it.”
But for all the hard work, the labor of love is fun for Lockwich and has led to relationships with many others who help keep his dream of making the Jook George Memorial among the most prestigious of races in the area.
“I’d say about 75 percent of the sponsors I have are people that have been with me since I took over the race. That makes me feel good. To know that so many people believe in what I do. People just don’t throw money around for anything. And I cherish all the friendships I’ve made during the process so far. I get to meet people that I’d probably never get to talk to, it’s awesome all the way around.
Who To Watch
Expect to see top drivers from the weekly RUSH racing series at PPMS and invaders have a relatively equal chance at taking the trophy on Saturday night. Drivers will be coming from New York, Ohio, and perhaps West Virginia to join the native Pennsylvanians who will be formidable on their home track. From New York, John Waters, Brian Knowles and Wayne Robertson will be on hand as will Jeremy and Brady Wonderling. Current points leader Jason Genco who typically races in Pennsylvania’s northern tier will be in attendance and Ohio’s Eric Wilson will be there to try his hand as well. It might as well be an All Star Race for the Crate Late Models within the tri state area.
Weekly at PPMS, Justin Lamb is the current points leader and will certainly be in the hunt as he leads the local charge with John Mollick, Logan Zarin, Christian Schneider and Josh Stoica.
“So many guys here are fast and can win,” Lockwich said. “Jared Miley’s going to be there, Dan Angellichio, Mike Pegher, Jacob Hawkins will be coming back again this year too. We’re going to have some heavy hitters in this field. It’s probably going to be the strongest field in a RUSH Touring Series event this season. It’s a testament to the work that goes into this race.”
This year, don’t miss Kids Fest starting at 4 PM with a charity Dunk Tank ramping up at 3:45 PM. There’ll be face painting, a petting zoo, balloon art, pony rides and much more.
“Jared Miley’s wife is organizing everything,” Lockwich said. People can make donations to the Ronald McDonald house in the name of their favorite drivers and they have 13 drivers that volunteered for the dunk tank I believe. There’s a $150 bounty on Matt Miley, which I kind of added to actually.”
What: 30th Annual Jook George Memorial RUSH Late Model Touring Series Event
Where: Pittsburgh Pennsylvania’s Motor Speedway
When: Saturday, August 11; Racing beings at 7:00 PM
At Stake: $5,010 and a chance to make history