By Dino Oberto

(LEHIGHTON, PA 5-21-11) Don Wagner of Wharton, NJ has been yearning to win one of the infamous Mahoning Valley Speedway 100-lap features for years. He always seems to be in the mix at each event but the end results would always fall short of the top prize for the talented veteran.
Saturday night he finally got the job done with a sterling performance in Hand One of the Modified 100 Poker Series.
“We took an RoC race here a few years back and that was a 75-lapper and I never won anything longer so this feels great to win one of these 100-lappers especially against this feild,” said Wagner who also collected $3000 for his night’s work.
“These are such good cars here and it’s always a pleasure to come race with these guys and the fans here are some of the best, animated fans anywhere, they’re the greatest.”
Wagner started seventh and passed Earl Paules for the lead on lap 58. Once in front he was the cream of the crop but getting there was a whole other story as an amazing array of close action had been unfolding prior to his top spot taking.
In time trials Paules ran the quickest lap at 9.876-seconds and then drew an eight for the inversion number. That put Chip Santee and Brian DeFebo on the front row and at the race commencing green it was DeFebo jumping out front first. Santee settled into second with 2010 Poker Series champ John Markovic third. Santee’s stay near the front would be short lived as he spun on lap two which than advanced Markovic and John Bennett.
On the restart DeFebo was holding down the lead while fending off Bennett and then Lonnie Behler who turned things into a torrid three car battle. Several cautions for minor incidents also kept the racing close during this period.
After one of those yellow flags on lap 25, Bennett was able to overpower DeFebo and the two-time and defending champ was now leading for the first time this season.
Paules had slithered his way to runner-up soon after Bennett took the lead and made the race a very intense duel as most times they ran side-by-side. Hot on their tails were Behler and Matt Hirschman while Wagner came onto the scene with his front five appearance on lap 33.
Just prior to midrace the top two where still running neck and neck and by running the top side Paules was able to eke into first.
His new challenger was now Behler who did his best to run alongside but could never squeeze out enough power to overtake the leader. While the front two kept busy with their dogfight their rear bumpers where occupied with Wagner and Tyler Haydt who were racing in much the same fashion.
Wagner then took advantage of a lap 55 restart to check into second. He then began to eye up Paules eventually striking two laps later with an inside pass in turn four. With Wagner now in control Behler found the path to get by for second. Haydt and Hirschman waged their own battle as well while Paules slipped back to fifth.
With a run of extended green flags laps it was clear to see that Wagner was the strongest car on track as he had steadily built a safe distance from the rest of the pack.
With five laps to go the caution was out for a final time which bunched the field and had Haydt and Hirschman behind Wagner, however, over the final circuits there was no denying him as the popular star drove to his first win of the year.
“There was a lot of good clean racing upfront. I saw some rubbing and banging and sparks but that’s why we have bumpers and that’s what makes this so exciting,” said Wagner.
“I love racing with Earl (Paules) and they don’t get any tougher than Lonnie (Behler) when it comes to getting around this place but they all ran me clean.”
For Haydt it marked his third runner-up finish in as many races held thus far and although he fell short of victory he did take the early hand lead in the Poker Series with a pair of Kings.
“That’s getting old. We’re close and it’s got to come soon,” said Haydt. “Donny (Wagner) was a really good car tonight. When we started out we were no good and had to come in early and try to work on it or else we weren’t going to be anything at the end,” said Haydt.
Hirschman’s third gives him a pair of Queens heading into the next Poker race on June 18. Mike Carroll put in a fine run to finish fourth while Paules rounded out the top five.
Defending Late Model champion Paul Koehler, Jr., parlayed his pole starting spot into his first wins of the season and in doing so becomes Mahoning’s all-time leading wins in class victories with 35.
Koehler had current point leader Austin Kochenash alongside him for the start but once the green waved there was no hesitating by as the immediately dashed into ahead and would not look back the rest of the way.
Dave Wallace was a strong second while Paul Skodacek notched his third straight third place tally.
Street Stock point leader TJ Gursky of Palmerton continued his great start to the 2011 season as the 27-year old picked up his second win in three starts.
Jon Moser jumped out to the early lead and was in pursuit of his second straight win until lap 16 when fourth starting Gursky moved upfront. Also in the fray was Josh Mooney who turned the final ten laps into a wild crowd pleasing clash. String running Chip Wanamaker added to that excitement as well.
At the finish it was Gursky holding on over Mooney for his 20th career overall win.
For the first two weeks in the Dirt Mod features no one could have guessed that Lehighton’s Kris Graver had never wheeled such a brute of a car. He led in each race with a second and third to his credit.
This time the third generation standout showed even more of his prowess as he overhauled defending champ Randy Thomas on a lap four and then powered away to his career first class win. Bill Briggs came home as runner-up.
Bryan Ahner of Lehighton inherited the lead on lap eight in the Pro4 Late Model main and then went on to score his first triumph since October 3, 2008.
Ahner started fourth and pulled into third behind Corey Hill and Barry Christman at the start. The top two, who were in tight formation, then tangle just prior to scoring the completion of lap seven. They were subsequently sent to the rear with Ahner taking over the lead and going onto the win.
Aleia Geisler continues on an upward swing as she picked up a career best second.
Wes Gilbert of Preston, MD made a daring last lap pass on Mike Renn to earn the win in the 4c Super Mod feature.

Modified Feature Finish, 100 Laps: 1.Don Wagner 2.Tyler Haydt 3.Matt Hirschman 4.Mike Carroll 5.Earl Paules 6.John Bennett 7.Rob Shultz 8.Terry Markovic 9.Chip Santee 10.John Markovic 11.Matt Higgins 12.Lonnie Behler 13.Brian DeFebo 14.Brian Sones 15.Troy Bollinger 16.Joe Mooney 17.Frankie Althouse 18.Doug Bell 19.Ken Sones

Late Model Feature Finish, 25 Laps: 1.Paul Koehler, Jr. 2.Dave Wallace 3.Paul Skodacek 4.Mike Sweeney 5.Ed Bauer 6.Austin Kochenash 7.Tony Zatsko 8.Rick Wallace 9.Raven Schrantz 10.Geno Steigerwalt 11.George Ramos 12.Joe Edinger

Street Stock Feature Finish, 25 Laps: 1.TJ Gursky 2.Josh Mooney 3.Chip Wanamaker 4.Jon Moser 5.Jason Frey 6.Shawn Sitarchyk 7.Kevin Smith 8.Randy Ahner, Jr. 9.Jeremy Miller 10.Steve Steigerwalt 11.Adam Santee 12.Steve Hoffman 13.Todd Ahner 14.Gene Bowers 15.Jillian Long 16.Austin Santee 17.Brandon Oltra 18.Justin Mooney 19.Paul Effrig 20.Jamie Smith 21.JR Moser 22.Joe Stamm
Did not qualify: Jason Arthofer, Tony Turrano

Dirt Modified Feature Finish, 20 Laps: 1.Kris Graver 2.Bill Briggs 3.Mike Stofflet 4.Scott Hulmes 5.Randy Thomas 6.DJ Wagner 7.Joe Stangle 8.Dave Thomas 9.Bill Sitler

Pro4 Late Model Feature, 20 Laps: 1.Bryan Ahner 2.Aleia Geisler 3.Jason Bair 4.Corey Hill 5.Jake Kibler 6.Barry Christman, Jr. 7.Dustin Bair 8.Chad Keiser 9.Taya Wentz

4C Super Modified Feature Finish, 15 Laps: 1.Wes Gilbert 2.Mike Renn 3.Steve Renn 4.26 5.Bob Renn 6.Anthony Merlino