There were plenty of fireworks Friday night at Lernerville Speedway.
Not only was there the annual fireworks display, but the track action was hot, too, especially in the first two features — the Late Models and V-8 Modifieds.
Davey Johnson opened the night with his first Late Model win at Lernerville since April 2005, and Dean Pearson won the V-8 Modified feature for the first time. It was Pearson’s first victory at Lernerville since he started there in 1980.
The Late Models were first up, and four of the top-five finishers claimed that their cars were too tight during the feature. The exception was Johnson, which helps explain how he rode to his 10th Lernerville victory.
“I could steer all through the turns, like driving a street car,” Johnson said. “Me and my brother (Mike) and my dad (Bucky) have been putting a lot of work in on this car. After running a Rocket for so long, we have been working on this Warrior (chassis) really hard now, and it is starting to go pretty well.”
Johnson started on the pole, and though he was challenged, he never relinquished the lead.
Much of the action was in the battle for spots two through six. Brian Swartzlander was running fifth, but his car broke down. Chub Frank finished second, Mike Pegher Jr. was third, Jared Miley was fourth and Doug Eck was fifth.
“After the heat race, we just tightened up the car a bit,” Johnson said. “We have really been working to just make the car comfortable. We’ve been gearing up for the Firecracker and some of the other big races that are coming up, so this was a good night.”
For Miley, who had run the first 16 laps in second, the result wasn’t what he wanted, but it also wasn’t too much of a disappointment.
“It was not much fun out there,” Miley said. “It was pretty rough. On that one last restart, I tried to get up there for the lead, and I pushed it too hard and had to check up. And then, I went from second to fourth. I really needed to free the car up some more tonight. But the car is in one piece, so I will take it.”
Pegher was in the 1C car for just the second time this season because it was Cochran Night, so the car’s usual driver, Lynn Geisler, was occupied with sponsorship details.
“The track was really rough for us, so even if you were not best there, you had to go to where the track was smoothest,” Pegher said. “We were a bit tight tonight at the end. But the car is in one piece, and it was a nice finish for us.”
Frank worked his way from 10th at the start to finish second. Though the car was good, there isn’t much he can take from last night.
“It was plenty tight tonight, but that is really just an adjustment you have to make,” Frank said. “I think I could have rolled a bit more on the top, and I probably should have. It was tough passing out there tonight, and some of the stuff we learned is not really something we can use for later in the season.”
Eck’s finish was his best of the season at Lernerville. He previoulsy had two sixth-place finishes.
“My car is always tight, so for those other guys to be a bit too tight is really saying something,” Eck said of Miley, Pegher and Frank. “We really needed to commit to the top tonight. The middle was decent for us. But those guys were wide open going through there, and I couldn’t make it happen where I was.
“That was probably as good as I have been in a feature this season. We have been good in the heats but just haven’t carried to a feature yet, so this is a good finish.”
Before last night, Pearson had broken his back (twice) more times than he had won (none) at Lernerville. He cut that ratio in half with an impressive ride, passing for the lead on lap 23 of 25.
“When (Steve Feder) went to the bottom, I said, ‘Thank you very much,’ ” Pearson said. “He changed his line, and I was worried about (Jeremiah) Shingledecker getting beside me and taking my line away. On that last lap, I just wanted to drive as hard as I had been going, because if you slow down, you are going to screw it up.”
Feder’s run, while disappointing, was good for him because he’s getting close to earning his first Lernerville win.
“I am ecstatic about the finish, but I probably should have held my line on that restart and just see what happens,” Feder said. “After (Pearson and he) bumped, something just didn’t feel right. But the car is fine, and it was probably just me worrying.”
Shingledecker finished third, Brad Rapp fourth and Swartzlander fifth.
In other action, Brian Ellenberger won his eighth career Lernerville Sprint Car feature, and in Sportsman Stocks, Corey McPherson survived numerous late-race cautions to score his third victory of the season.
Thomas Zuck is a freelance writer.