MECHANICSBURG, Pa. – Steve Buckwalter noticed something wasn’t quite right recently with his sprint car program.
After posting three podium finishes in a four-race span in late May and early June, he lumbered through Pennsylvania Speedweek and failed to qualify for three of the five races he entered.
So, just like he did over the offseason, Buckwalter overhauled his engine program. And just like before, it paid dividends.
Friday night at Williams Grove Speedway, those findings and refinements steered Buckwalter back to victory lane, as he led all 25 laps to notch his first 410 sprint car victory in central Pennsylvania since 2018.
It came with late-race dramatics, as Buckwalter held off a charging Matt Campbell, who finished just .223 seconds behind.
“It’s good to get a win,” Buckwalter said. “I think we should be [in victory lane] more often. We have good equipment. It’s just getting it all hitting correctly. We’ve had so much engine trouble the past couple years. I can’t blame it on [Buzz Wilson of A-1 Engines]. He’s giving it 100 percent. It’s just things weren’t working out like they were supposed to.”
As it turns out, Buckwalter’s findings linked back to ignition timing.
After a troubling go of it just a week ago during Pennsylvania Speedweek, things happened to workout on Friday for Buckwalter, who took advantage of the handicap event that inverts heat race lineups based on position in the track point standings.
Buckwalter started on the outside of the front row in heat one but powered around Campbell, the polesitter, on lap one and never looked back to rekindle his winning fortunes.
Since the feature lineup was heads-up off heat race finishes, Buckwalter secured the pole and the all-important clean air that came with it.
The Royersford, Pa. driver jumped out to a one-second lead on second-place starter Kyle Reinhardt, before a lap-three caution occurred for Trenton Sheaffer, who spun in turn two.
From there, the feature ended on a 22-lap green flag run, where Buckwalter built a lead as large as two seconds and had it shrink to as little as a car length with nine laps to go.
Lapped traffic piled up in front him and Buckwalter didn’t have much room to operate, which allowed Campbell to close up to the leader in the late stages.
In the final turn, Campbell drove it in deep on the bottom, while Buckwalter stayed glued to the top.
Though Campbell pulled alongside Buckwalter as the two exited the final turn, in the end, it was Buckwalter and his livened motor program that sealed the deal.
It’s Buckwalter’s first podium finish since his runner-up effort at BAPS Motor Speedway on June 7, which marked the third podium in that four-race span before things went wayward for the No. 17b camp.
“We were really strong there at the beginning, but then ran into some issues,” Buckwalter said.
Buckwalter tried saving the same engine he found success with for Speedweek, but on the second night of the nine-race series, he junked one of his two cars in a heat race at Lincoln Speedway and stunted his momentum.
After ending the week with finishes of sixth and 13th at Port Royal and another missed feature at Williams Grove, that’s when Buckwalter began the deep search within his engine program.
“We just do what we can,” Buckwalter said. “It’s just good with the budget we have to win some races.”
Reinhardt, Ryan Smith, and Brent Marks rounded out the top five finishers.
Brian Montieth, Danny Dietrich, Freddie Rahmer, Anthony Macri, and Lance Dewease – from 19th on the grid – completed the top 10.
1. Steve Buckwalter, 2. Matt Campbell, 3. Kyle Reinhardt, 4. Ryan Smith, 5. Brent Marks, 6. Brian Montieth, 7. Danny Dietrich, 8. Freddie Rahmer, 9. Anthony Macri, 10. Lance Dewease, 11. Adrian Shaffer, 12. Chad Trout, 13. T.J. Stutts, 14. Brett Michalski, 15. Tyler Bear, 16. Rick Lafferty, 17. Dwight Leppo, 18. Brent Shearer, 19. Steven Downs, 20. Trenton Sheaffer, 21. Steve Wilbur, 22. Troy Fraker, 23. Landon Myers, 24. Lucas Wolfe (DNS), 25. Kyle Moody (DNS).