At the conclusion of 2012, Northampton, Pennsylvania veteran Eric Beers and the DeLange Racing team decided to depart the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and instead focus mainly on racing weekly at one track. That track was Mahoning Valley Speedway, a facility that has seen growing popularity in recent years and was the site of his first Modified track championship back in 1992.
21 years later the veteran driver, who has won numerous races and championships up and down the east coast, captured eight feature wins in 26 races on his way to a very convincing track title. After some consideration about future plans, Beers and team have decided they will be back at it again in 2014 at the Lehighton, Pennsylvania facility. Despite being the only driver in the Modified division to win more than twice last year, he knows that defending the championship will not be a walk in the park with the strong contingent once again expected.
If the regular season isn’t enough, Mahoning Valley Speedway will be putting together half a dozen major shows with some pretty big purses for the Modifieds. Races like these attract some of the region’s finest to come out for the big paycheck. Beers will have to contend with these visitors at the tough little track as well.
Here's a look at some of the other big threats to the throne at Mahoning Valley Speedway this season.
Paules was the runaway victor in 2012 before Beers joined the already talented fray full time. Consistent finishes, winning three features in the Modified division, and a dominant season in Late Models was enough to claim two championships. He followed 2012 up with another Late Model title, but came up short with only one Modified feature win in 2013. This year, Paules bypassed an annual trip to the New Smyrna World Series to focus solely on preparing his immaculate program in nearby Palmerton to get back to championship form.
Like Beers, George spent some time and had success on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour before returning home to the 1/4-mile facility. In 2012, George turned in two victories and third place in points in his first season back. In 2013, he bettered that with a runner-up result in the standings. Now he looks to improve one more position by the end of 2014.
The New Jersey driver quietly came on the scene at Mahoning in 2012, but quickly gained recognition with a feature win during a partial schedule. Coss won again in 2013 and finished third in points in his first full season at the track. With a foundation of consistent results under him, Coss now hopes to elevate that performance a step further.
Santee has been a mainstay at the bullring for several years. In fact, his entire family has. His father Floyd became track promoter at the beginning of 2012 and has played a major part in bringing the facility to prominence. Chip has shown improvement in competition with the current class of Modifieds from year to year and netted two victories and a top five points finish in 2013. With the experience he has, Chip could very well be a force to reckon with in 2014.
Weekly Modified divisions or series do not usually see many rookies adjust to the unique ground-pounding nature of the open-wheel vehicles immediately. Graver came on strong late in his first season in 2013, claiming his first two career victories. A sophomore slump is most likely out of the question for the 2012 Dirt Modified division champion at the track.
Zeiner was the last Modified winner at the track, pulling through with the victory in the 2nd Annual Octoberfast event. On that evening he showed up with former NASCAR Modified championship owner Gary Cretty’s team, but no matter what car Zeiner appears in the Bath, Pennsylvania driver is always a favorite to win.
A driver with the nickname “Big Money” cannot be counted out at the bigger shows. He won two of them in 2013, and could certainly win more even though his main focus in 2014 is on a full NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour schedule.
The 2013 Race of Champions Rookie of the Year is always pretty good at Mahoning. After all, the teenager was the 2011 Late Model champion at the speedway. Now he will be bringing last year’s RoC Modified to Mahoning for opening night and most likely some more races that do not conflict with his RoC schedule.
Eric Beers has another fact in his favor. He is the all-time leader in the longer distance races of 100 or more laps with nine victories. This year he will be sharing time between the Modified effort and his daughter Kailyn’s debut season in the Pro 4 division, so it will certainly be a challenge on any weekend.
The long weekly schedule that runs from April straight through October gets started on Saturday, and Mahoning Valley Speedway has one of their biggest nights ever planned. Their six weekly divisions will be in action with extra-distance features and extra-payouts. The Modifieds will headline with a 100 lap feature for $4,000 to win.
Speed51.com will be on hand for live Trackside Now coverage for the first time at the Northeast Pennsylvania short track, providing updates during the entire jam-packed afternoon and evening of racing.