SELINSGROVE, Pa. – T.J. Stutts held off numerous challenges to score the 30-lap Lucas Oil Empire Super Sprint (ESS) season opener for 360 sprint cars sponsored by Mach 1 Chassis Saturday night at Selinsgrove Speedway.
Stutts, who has won three of the last four ESS-sanctioned races at Selinsgrove, collected $3,000 for his 18th career victory at the track in 358-360 sprint car competition driving the Mountain View Travel/Mach 1 Chassis No. 23.
Steve Poirier was the night’s Fast Tees Fast Qualifier over the 26-car field with a lap time of 17.384 seconds.
Defending champion Jeff Rine wired the field for his 86th career feature win at Selinsgrove in the 25-lap late model season opener.
Brad Mitch, last year’s leading pro stock feature winner, scored his 10th career victory in the division’s 15-lap main event, while Keith Bissinger returned to the roadrunner class and scored his 41st career victory in the 12-lap feature.
The first lap of the 360 sprint car feature produced a few hair-raising moments as polesitter Mike Walter took the lead and fourth-place starter Stutts and sixth-place starter Mark Smith stormed into the second and third positions, respectively. Pat Cannon, who started second, held down the fourth position for most of the event.
The race’s first caution flag unfurled on lap four when Brian Carber’s No. 8C sprinter spun in turn two. On the lap five restart, Walter and Stutts see-sawed for the front spot on the first of several occasions during the 30-lap contest, but it was Stutts who came away with the lead using the inside lane off turn four.
On a lap six restart, ninth-place starter Derek Locke advanced to fifth behind Stutts, Walter, Smith, and Cannon. On lap eight, the red flag waved when Steve Collins and Ryan Kissinger crashed in turn three. Both drivers walked away without injury.
When the race resumed, a war on wheels unfolded at the front of the pack. By the midway point, the race for the lead heated up between Stutts and Walter while the battle for third also escalated between Smith and Cannon.
Davie Franek, who started 12th, showed a lot of speed in the second half of the race and was racing eighth when his car rolled to a stop on lap 19. On the final restart on lap 22, Smith secured the second position and started to track down Stutts at the front the pack. At the checkered flag, Stutts was victorious by three seconds over Smith, Walter, Cannon, and 10th-place starter Brock Zearfoss.
Jeff Rine drew the pole position for the start the late model main event and powered into the lead at the drop of the green flag. The race was stopped on the first lap for a hard crash on the backstretch involving Chad Davis, Eric Hons, Dave Brouse Sr., and Chad Hollenbeck, whose car flipped upside down. All drivers escaped injury.
When the race resumed, Rine quickly checked out from the field despite the subsequent restarts. Second-place starter Tony Adams held down the runner up position while fourth-place starter Steve Campbell raced fourth. In the early laps of the race, fifth-place starter Jim Yoder closed in on Campbell in a race for the third spot.
On the eighth circuit, Yoder advanced to third and started to reel in Adams in the race for second. At the halfway point, Rine was leading Adams, Yoder, ninth-place starter Jim Bernheisel, and Campbell. Yoder powered into the runner up position on lap 17 and attempted to catch Rine.
The final caution flag unfurled on lap 18, regrouping the field for a seven-lap shootout. Rine held the field at bay and posted a convincing 4.9-second margin of victory over Yoder, eighth-place starter Bryan Bernheisel, Adams, and J. Bernheisel.
Third-place starter Brad Mitch rocketed into the lead at the start of the pro stock feature. Mitch was followed by last year’s pro stock Rookie of the Year and second-place starter Brandon Moser for the first two laps until Moser’s strong run came to an end on lap three.
Polesitter Peanut Heintzelman inherited the runner-up position with 11th-place starter Kyle Bachman in the third spot for the restart. Bachman took over second on lap five and attempted to reel in Mitch to no avail. At the finish, Mitch took the checkered flag over Bachman. In the post-race inspection, however, Bachman’s and Nathan Long’s cars were disqualified for rev-limiter infractions. Those penalties placed Heintzelman, Tommy Slanker, Adam Campbell, and Andrew Shoop in the top five spots behind Mitch.
Second-place starter Bob Bussey took the early lead in the roadrunner feature and was chased by fourth-place starter Keith Bissinger for the first four laps. On the fifth circuit, Bissinger made the winning pass by Bussey in the second turn.
Late in the race, polesitter John Fowler Jr. made a charge into second as sixth-place starter Curtis Lawton pulled into the third position. At the finish, Bissinger was victorious by a mere .61 of a second over Fowler, Lawton, Dave Kamp, and Jeremy Kline.