Story By: DINO OBERTO / MAHONING VALLEY SPEEDWAY – LEHIGHTON, PA – The third attempt of getting the 2022 season underway at Mahoning Valley Speedway proved to be well worth the wait as race hungry fans witnessed one of the most prolific drivers to ever turn a lap at the paved ¼-mile oval make a triumphant return to Victory Lane as 58-year old Rod Snyder Jr., of Lehighton drove to his first Modified win in 15 years.
Snyder – a five time track champion (1995-99) – had been on hiatus since 2007 but made a comeback two years ago with JD Motorsports, only running a partial schedule. However, the team felt they were ready to make a full season commitment and in Saturday night’s opener came loaded for bear.
Snyder was the quickest car during heat races giving the early indication of just how the night would go.
The feature began with Brian DeFebo leading early on while holding off Austin Kochenash and then Zane Zeiner. While battling closely DeFebo and Zeiner got into each other on lap 12 and handed the lead over to Lou Strohl with Kochenash, Snyder and Kyle Strohl in tow.
It was after that restart the driver dubbed “Mr. Outside” went into his all too familiar high line style. He ran a few side-by-side laps before picking off Kochenash and then still riding the top lane did the same to L. Strohl and at the start of lap 22 was in the lead of a feature for the first time in 15 years.
In the handful of starts the past two years it never really gave the team enough opportunity to showcase what they had. On this night, however, this was classic Rod Snyder at his finest as the rest of the way he left no doubt he was the car to beat, driving off to a two car length margin of victor over K. Strohl.
“We lost so many close family and friends over the past two years and it felt as though someone else was driving this car tonight and it wasn’t me. The guys on this team do an awesome job and our performances may not have shown that but I assure you it’s there and it’s going to continue to show,” said Snyder.
“All those guys out there tonight are really good, Brian (DeFebo), Zane (Zeiner), Austin (Kochenash) all raced hard but things unfortunately happened in front of us and honestly I feel we had the best car tonight. The track was great and the car was great.”
Kochenash was third with L. Strohl and Cody Kohler rounding out the front five.
In the Street Stocks reigning champion TJ Gursky of Palmerton picked up right where he left off, in Victory Lane. Gursky closed out 2021 with a win and started this season the same way.
For half the race Gursky and pole sitter Brandon Christman battled in a rubber match as they exchanged the lead several times. It wasn’t until a lap-18 restart that Gursky finally said enough was enough and sprung to the front for good.
As the race went on he was then able extend his lead and cruise effortlessly to his 34th overall career win.
Christman remained surefooted in taking second spot with Stacey Brown, Todd Ahner and Randy Ahner Jr., completing the top five.
Thrilling is only one of several exciting ways to describe the Hobby Stock feature as the battle for the lead went on from lap one to 25 and when the checkers waved it was Lehighton’s Travis Solomon who earned a hard fought victory. Matter of fact Solomon didn’t factor into play until very late in the going.
At the outset Justin Merkel lead but was under immense pressure from BJ Wambold, Cody Boehm and Shayne Geist. Nearly every lap from the aforementioned where being run under a tight blanket with quite a few circuits going in three wide formation.
With nine laps to go a caution was out when the lead pack came upon slower traffic and Geist got tripped up and spun. Just prior to that Boehm had been scored as the leader.
Boehm’s time at the front was short lived as Merkel retook the lead and at the same time Solomon powered his way to second although Boehm was still right there. Solomon then hounded Merkel and waited for just the right time to strike and it came with three laps left as he edged his way to the front and then clung to a narrow victory, his sixth with the class.
Merkel, Boehm, Wambold and Tad Snyder rounded out the top five.
For Randy Schaffer of Lehighton, all you can say is “Finally!” After being a perennial bridesmaid in the Pro 4 for oh-to-long he definitively landed that elusive career first win and it came in quite the barnburner too.
Tyler Stangle had the lead from the get-go and was steadily maintaining consistent laps while keeping everyone else at bay.
But Schaffer, who had been racing close with Jake Kibler, was able to shake free of that battle and then began to zero in on Stangle. With one lap to go he then made a squeeze play inside of Stangle and they went side-by-side right to the finish where Schaffer just eked ahead for the win.
Adam Steigerwalt of Lehighton held off a very determined Parker Ahner to claim the 15-lap Futures feature. Ahner was just about ready to complete an inside pass for the lead with three laps to go when the caution waved and negated his effort. On the restart Steigerwalt raced perfectly in the remaining laps to secure the win with Ahner a close second.
Modified Feature finish (35 laps): 1. Rod Snyder Jr., 2. Kyle Strohl, 3. Austin Kochenash, 4. Lou Strohl, 5. Cody Kohler, 6. Josh Scherer, 7. Brian DeFebo, 8. Jesse Strohl, 9. Nick Baer, 10. Carl Altemose, 11. Gene Bowers, 12. Jacob Kerstetter, 13. Terry Markovic, 14. Geary Rinehimer Jr., 15. Zane Zeiner, 16. Wes Gilbert, 17. Gunnar Zeiner
Street Stock feature finish (30 laps): 1. TJ Gursky, 2. Brandon Christman, 3. Todd Ahner, 4. Stacey Brown, 5. Randy Ahner Jr., 6. Jillian Snyder, 7. Johnny Bennett, 8. Mark Deysher, 9. Tommy Flanagan, 10. Thomas Flanagan, 11. Tucker Muffley, 12. Logan Boyer, 13. Randy Green, 14. Scott Lesher, 15. Bobby Kibler Jr., 16. Jamie Smith, 17. Jason Finken, 18. Al Arthofer, 19. Cody Geist
Pro 4 feature finish (20 laps): 1. Randy Schaffer, 2. Tyler Stangle, 3. Jake Kibler, 4. Cody Kohler, 5. Kadie Pursell, 6. Terry Peters, 7. Ken Reeder
Hobby Stock feature finish (25 laps): 1. Travis Solomon, 2. Justin Merkel, 3. Cody Boehm, 4. BJ Wambold, 5. Tad Snyder, 6. Lyndsay Buss, 7. Shayne Geist, 8. Jacob Boehm, 9. Nick Schaeffer, 10. Don Bauder, 11. Ed Herman, 12. Mallory Kutz, 13. Nicholas Kerstetter, 14. Ralph Boger Jr., 15. Dave Kerr, 16. Jared Green, 17, Jared Frye, 19. Dave Imler Jr., 20. Tony Hilliard, 21. Doug DeHaven DNS: James Tout
Futures feature finish (15 laps): 1. Adam Steigerwalt, 2. Parker Ahner, 3. Makayla Kohler, 4. Michael Klotz, 5. Maggie Yeakel, 6. Lexus Kutz, 7. Rocco Proccacini, 9. Gabrielle Steigerwalt