Gary Stuhler of Westminster continues on top in the competitive world of dirt track late-model racing.
Last weekend in Pittsburgh, Stuhler won the biggest race of his career, the Penn National 100 at Pennsylvania Motor Speedway against the best professional drivers.
Stuhler has been the top late-model driver in the Northeast for more than a decade. He has won every big race at Hagerstown and Winchester speedways. He has won big late model events at other speedways, including Delaware International, Williams Grove, Bedford and Potomac. He keeps winning even when the professional drivers on the Short Track Auto Racing Stars (STARS) tour come to town.
Last year, Stuhler dominated back-to-back events at Williams Grove and Hagerstown speedways in STARS-sanctioned events and won again at Hagerstown this year. In 1994, Stuhler led all late-model drivers with 25 feature wins.
When Stuhler's car owner, Ronnie Hayes of Middletown, decided to skip the race at Hagerstown to go against the STARS at Pittsburgh, Stuhler was up to the challenge.
In 1987, Stuhler first gained national attention when he won the Gold Cup at the same speedway by lapping all but four cars for the win. The win was worth $7,500. It was his biggest until last Saturday night.
The night started well for Stuhler and kept getting better.
"The car felt good in hot laps," said Stuhler. "Each time I went out, the car felt good. It was a little tight at first, so we kept making little changes each time we came off the track."
To start the night, Stuhler was sixth-fastest of 43 drivers from across the country, many of them full-time professional drivers. That qualified him for the -- for the six-fastest drivers that would determine the starting positions for the 100-lap race.
Stuhler finished second to Davey Johnson, the defending STARS national champion.
At the start of the race, Johnson quickly pulled out in front by several car lengths.
"Davey got away from me, and I got away from the rest of the field," said Stuhler. "I am not sure he was that much faster than me. I didn't run all that I had. I just knew there were 100 laps, so I didn't want to wear my tires out. I was just trying to be good enough to stay in second."
On lap 12, Johnson dropped from the race with overheating woes, moving Stuhler into the lead. Stuhler was also worried about the heat.
"I was worried about the motor getting hot, since we were on gasoline instead of alcohol," said Stuhler. On lap 34, two cars were involved in a wreck that forced a long break in the action.
"The red flag really helped because the motor was hot," said Stuhler. "The delay gave it a chance to cool down. I am not sure if I could have made it without the stop."
When the race resumed, veteran Freddy Smith of Baton Rouge, La., was second.
"I kept getting hand signs from the crew," said Stuhler. "I was running hard enough to stay in front to give me enough time to mess around in lapped traffic. It also allowed me to run easy enough to keep the motor from getting big-time hot."
Stuhler kept the pace at the speed he needed, keeping an eye on the scoreboard in the infield. As long as he saw Smith in second, he felt OK.
The only anxious moment occurred around lap 75, as Stuhler moved up on slower traffic. Stuhler slowed his pace, waiting for the two to straighten out their differences. Meanwhile, Smith closed in and stuck his nose underneath Stuhler. But Stuhler was able to get around the two cars pulling back to a small but comfortable lead. Stuhler paced himself the rest of the way, fast enough to keep a cushion between himself and Smith, but easy enough to keep the car from overheating.
"I knew I was OK," said Stuhler.
On lap 100, 1 hour, 25 minutes after the start of the race, Stuhler had won the biggest race of the career and $10,000. It wasn't the money -- Stuhler has won that much at Hagerstown several times -- it was winning against the best drivers in the country away from his home tracks.
When Stuhler beat the STARS drivers at home, they said it was because it was on his home track, racing surfaces he knew like the back of his hand. Now he has proved what local fans knew, that the 39-year-old from Westminster is as good as they come.
Gary Stuhler placed second at the Williams Grove Speedway in a STARS-sanctioned event.
At Trail-Way Speedway, Brad McClelland and Mike Stull of Westminster finished third and fourth in the micro-sprint feature. Steve Owings and David Parrish of Westminster placed in the sixth and seventh spots, and Wayne Karcher of Upperco was eighth. Mark Shorb of Westminster was eighth in the thundercar feature, and Tom Walls Jr. of Taneytown was ninth. Jeff Young of Westminster was sixth in the 4-cylinder feature, Craig Mann of Westminster was eighth and Matt Barnes of Westminster rounded out the top 10.
Winchester Speedway was rained out. Westminster's Rick Jones back on top in the late-model point standings. His brother Ernie Jones stands sixth.
In sprint car action, Cris Eash of Woodbine was fifth at Williams Grove Speedway.
At Lincoln Speedway, Randy Zechman of Westminster was sixth, followed by Kenny Angell of Taneytown and Howard Williams of Westminster.
In drag racing at 75-80, Sev Tingle of Mt. Airy won Class I. Matt Repp of Taneytown, Buddy Wilson and Jim Peddicord of Westminster and Joe Mayne of Mt. Airy went three rounds. In Class II competition, Steve Hoff of Sykesville went five rounds. Roger Jorss of Sykesville, Erve Hare and Ben Snouffer of Mt. Airy went three rounds of elimination.
The World of Outlaws Tour was at Red River Valley Speedway in Fargo, N.D., for a two-day program. Jeff Shepard of Finksburg won his qualifying heat and placed fifth in the preliminary feature. Shepard finished 10th in the A-Main feature on the second night.