King Leads Steel City Stampede Winners

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Russ King (John Stivason photo)
Russ King (John Stivason photo)

SARVER, Pa. — Three days of racing during the Steel City Stampede at Lernerville Speedway wrapped up on Saturday with 324 cars in 15 classes having participated in the 11th annual event.

Super Late Models
In what was one of the most action-packed Features of the night, 2016 Lernerville Speedway Track Champion Russ King pulled off an incredible pass for the win on leader Max Blair with just 11 laps remaining, then survived a green-white-checkered dash to the stripe for the second Stampede belt buckle trophy of his career.

“We just fired off and I started getting a little angry and into a rhythm,” King explained in Victory Lane. “I don’t race these things all the time, I haven’t raced in two months, so to beat Blair and those guys, it’s a big deal.”

Blair, having just climbed out of his RUSH Crate Late Model in Victory Lane in the race prior, started on the pole and led the first nine laps before 2018 Lernerville Track Champion Michael Norris got a run underneath the No. 111 and threw a big slide-job into turns three and four to take the lead at the stripe. That lead wouldn’t last long, though, as “The Crusher Kid” slipped off the edge of the banking in the very next corner, handing the lead back over to Blair.

King, stalking the leaders back in third, took advantage of Norris’ mistake and jumped into the runner-up spot down the backstretch. He then went to work on Blair, gaining on him every corner until it was time to pull the trigger on lap 14. King dove to the bottom of the track in turn one and swiped the lead away from Blair on the low side.

Holding his momentum, King led for the next 10 laps before another caution flag flew as he was getting into turn three on the final lap. This brought up a green-white-checkered, which King braved masterfully, holding off the field to earn his second win of 2019 at “The Action Track.”

UMP Modifieds
With under five laps remaining in the 20-lap UMP modified feature, it looked as though Brian Ruhlman could have just put it in cruise control and coasted to his second-ever Stampede win. Until he took the white flag.

Three-time and defending race winner Jonathan Taylor had closed the gap in a hurry and knew he was going to have one last shot at the leader, but it would have to be a last-second dive at the finish line in order to have a chance.

Taylor drove the car hard into turns three and four, pulling up beside Ruhlman and drag racing him to the line. But the effort went unrewarded, as Ruhlman hung on by .062 seconds to lead all 20 laps and pick up the win.

“[Taylor] had me pinned in behind some lap cars, and I didn’t know how much of a lead I had, but he’s a good guy. He’ll run you clean, so it was a good one,” Ruhlman said in Victory Lane.

Pulling double duty at the Stampede this weekend, Ruhlman then headed pit-side to prepare for his second Feature event of the evening, piloting his RUSH Wingless Sprint Car to a runner-up finish in the 20-lap contest.

Big-Block Modifieds
On paper, it would have been so fitting for the newly crowned eight-time Lernerville Track Champion Brian Swartzlander to cap his terrific season off with the third Stampede belt buckle of his career.

But in reality, it was 2014/2018 Track Champion Rex King Jr.’s turn to win his third belt buckle trophy on Saturday night. He charged from his sixth-place starting spot to the lead around Swartzlander on lap 3 and never looked back, leading each of the remaining 28 laps en route to his third Big-Block Feature win at Lernerville in 2019.

This win made it back-to-back Features for the King family on Saturday night. It’s a family affair for them in competition in different classes, and that was certainly on display in Rex’s Victory Lane interview.

“I was going for the win either way, and I don’t have to prove anything to [Russ]. I’m better than him anyway,” Rex jokingly replied to Track Announcer Eric Westendorf’s question about brother Russ winning the Super Late Model Feature right before.

Open Pro Stocks
Sometimes, it’s difficult to be the opening act in a large show of entertainment. But that was no challenge for the Lernerville Speedway veteran Chris Schneider, as he led the 24-car field to the green in the first Feature event of the evening.

The 4-time and defending Stampede winner, behind the wheel of his #55 Pro Stock, put on another dominating display of driving ability and car control though 20 laps to win his fifth belt buckle in nine years.

“I just have a belt buckle fetish, that’s all it is,” Schneider joked.

Leading every lap, Schneider battled through numerous restarts due to several caution flags en route to Victory Lane. But like all veteran talents do, he persevered and held off the tough competition behind him, which included the likes of Alan Dellinger, former track champion Corey McPherson and Jackson Humanic.

Schneider was very appreciative of everyone who contributed to his win in Victory Lane, mentioning a few people and groups that the DIRTcar Racing family would like to extend their personal thanks to as well.

“I’ve got to thank the Tomsons for keeping this racetrack running,” Schneider said. “[My engine builder], who put another great motor together out of a bucket of junk. The old faithful car, that’s now about 16 or 17 years old. And all of the fans for coming out.”

Now in the Stampede’s 11th year of completion, the entire staff at DIRTcar Racing would just as well like to thank the Tomson family, all of the Lernerville Speedway staff, management and safety crew, all of the competitors who took part in this giant event, and of course, the loyal fans who came out to spend the weekend at the track in support of dirt track racing’s finest.