Story By: JEFFREY AHLUM / GRANDVIEW SPEEDWAY – BECHTELSVILLE, PA – What a night and what a RACE!
The 52nd annual Freedom 76 put an exclamation point on another season of T.P. Trailer Modified racing Saturday night at Grandview Speedway, and it will be a race and night remembered for a long time, as Craig Von Dohren of Oley, Pa. was able to score the win in the annual classic, his first since 2015, that was a competitive thriller from start to finish.
Von Dohren became the race’s fourth and final leader on a lap 58 restart, moving past Jeff Strunk of Boyertown, Pa., then was involved in a classic duel with the season’s number two man in points, Brett Kressley of Orefield, Pa. in the final dozen laps to secure the win in the annual 76-lap classic. The winner’s share included the first place prize of $30,060 plus two additional bonuses from the NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Racing Series, each worth $1000, one for winning and the other for being a track regular and winning, bringing his winner’s take to $32.060!
A huge field of 72 cars signed in and attempted to qualify for the big race, and when qualifying was completed, 32 drivers were set to compete in the 2022 edition of the Freedom 76. Following the redraw of all twenty four heat qualifiers and the three guaranteed starters, Nick Rochinski of Dickson City, Pa. and Tim Buckwalter of Douglassville, Pa. were on the front row to start the main event.
When Starter Ray Kemp displayed the green flag to start the Freedom 76, Rochinski quickly took the top spot, only to be slowed by a caution on lap three, for a slowing Ron Kline of Salford, Pa. Following the restart, the race went on an unbelievable run of green flag action, as the next caution would not happen until 48 laps later on lap 51.
During this wild stretch of green flag action, Rochinski led, with a multi-car battle raging behind him for position between Buckwalter, Kyle Weiss of Hamburg, Pa., Logan Watt of Boyertown, Pa., Matt Stangle of Neshanic Station, NJ., Kevin Hirthler of Boyertown, Pa. and Jeff Strunk.
By lap fifteen Rochinski reached lap traffic, and things really heated up for the top spots, with Buckwalter catching Rochinski by lap twenty, and Strunk slowly picking his way forward to arrive in third by lap twenty five.
As the leader’s pace slowed just a bit through the lapped cars, eventually the top eight drivers were all in contention up front in an entertaining battle, including Rochinski, Buckwalter, Strunk, Weiss, Watt, Hirthler, Kressley, Von Dohren, and Stangle. After applying enough pressure, Buckwalter was able to move by Rochinski in turn one on lap 27 to take over the lead.
At this point a four car struggle developed for positions five through eight between youngster Logan Watt making his Grandview Modified debut, Hirthler and now fifteenth starting Brett Kressley and fourteenth starting Von Dohren.
Strunk would move in on Buckwalter, and start another crowd-pleasing duel for the lead, that would see Strunk in lapped traffic make an outside pass of Buckwalter through turn four to be scored the leader on lap 38. During this time Kressley had worked his way past Watt, Hirthler, Weiss and Rochinski to arrive in third spot by lap 37.
Kressley quickly closed in on Strunk and Buckwalter, and looked as if he would make a challenge for the lead, only to jump the cushion in turn three and tap the wall, causing him to lose valuable ground on the top two.
The action continued all around the high-banked one-third-of-a mile track, with the top three of Strunk, Buckwalter and Kressley who would eventually catch back up, all battling for first in and out of lapped traffic. While this was happening, another challenge was going on between Weiss, Hirthler, Rochinski, Von Dohren, and Billy Pauch Jr. of Milford, NJ.
The long stretch of green flag racing ended on lap 51, when Jordan Henn of Kutztown, Pa. stopped with mechanical troubles. This restart was the key to the remainder of the race, as Von Dohren looked as if he was shot from a cannon, moving from position six which he held on the restart, into position two by the time the caution waved just six laps later on lap 57. The yellow flag was for Kevin Hirthler, running in fifth, who had his great run end with a spin after contact from another car during the super close racing action.
After making great moves on the previous restart, Von Dohren did it again, motoring past Strunk off of turn four on the restart to take over a lead he would never surrender. Also following the restart, Billy Pauch Jr. was able to move into the top five after a hard fought battle for every position on his way forward from thirteenth starting position.
As if the excitement wasn’t enough already, this set up another battle, as Kressley would move by Strunk on lap 60 for second and slowly move in on Von Dohren to challenge for the huge win. With the race running for another stretch of green flag action, the leaders would again hit the back end of the pack, and the race was on.
Von Dohren led using the bottom lane in turns one and two, while using the top lane in turns three and four. Kressley would continue to circle the top of the track in exciting fashion, running right up by the boiler plate wall. Kressley would catch Von Dohren two times and appear as if he would be in position to sweep around the leader, only to tap the wall running so high, and lose ground on the strong running leader.
Just when it appeared as if the fans were in for a possible photo finish to an unbelievably exciting feature, the race would come to a grinding stop on lap 74, with a scary front straight flip by Ryan Watt of Boyertown, Pa., who was battling for a top ten position with Mike Gular of Boyertown, Pa., Michael Storms of Mohnton, Pa. and Danny Bouc of Pipersville, Pa.. Watt hopped another driver’s wheel and flipped several times, but thankfully was able to walk away from the wreck.
The restart gave Kressley one last chance at Von Dohren, but the 2022 Track Champion was able to run the final two laps unchallenged to the big win, his sixth career Freedom 76 win, and overall (counting Saturday NASCAR and Thunder on the Hill 358 Modified) 130th career Grandview Speedway win.
The final top ten at the finish were Von Dohren, Kressley, Strunk, Pauch Jr., Weiss, Stangle, Gular up from 23rd starting spot, Storms who moved up from 18th starting spot, Bouc up from 24th starting position, and Mike LIsowski of Minersville, Pa.
Qualifying heat races for the 72 cars on hand were won by Jim Housworth of Rieglesville, Pa., Ryan Grim of Laurys Station, Pa., Kevin Hirthler, Matt Stangle, Tim Buckwalter and Ray Swinehart of Boyertown, Pa.. Consolations were run that qualified drivers to the Minuteman 20, and they were won by Dylan Swinehart of Fleetwood, Pa., and Cole Stangle of Neshanic Station, NJ.
A cash dash for heat race winners and the three guaranteed starters, Von Dohren, Strunk, and Kressley, was won by Kevin Hirthler worth $1000 to the winner.
The Schaeffer Racing Minuteman 20 was contested, qualifying the final five drivers to the Freedom 76, after twenty four drivers advanced from the six heat races. Jared Umbenhauer of Richland, Pa. started up front and led the entire 20-lap distance, surviving two early cautions, to go on for the victory and a spot in the Freedom 76. Kyle Lilick of Collegeville, Pa. (4th), Brandon Grosso of Belle Meade, NJ (7th), Duane Howard of Oley, Pa. (6th), and Doug Manmiller of Shoemakersville, Pa (10th) all advanced into the top five during the remaining stretch of green flag racing action to also move into the main event.
Saturday, September 24 will feature Round 9 with the Outlaw Racing Series Enduro and Outlaw Racing Series Vintage Cars along with the Xcel Modifieds and the Roadrunners in action starting at 5 pm. Pit gates open at 2 pm., Grandstand gates open at 4 pm. Grandstand admission will be $10, with children ages 12 and under admitted for free. Pit admission is $30 for the Outlaw Racing Series event.
The final racing event of the 2022 season will also be another double-header with the Outlaw Racing Series Enduro and Outlaw Racing Series Vintage Cars in action on Saturday, October 15, with the same times and prices as the September 24 event.
T.P. TRAILER MODIFIED FREEDOM 76 FEATURE FINISH (76 laps): CRAIG VON DOHREN ($32,060), Brett Kressley, Jeff Strunk, Billy Pauch Jr., Kyle Weiss, Matt Stangle, Mike Gular, Michael Storms, Danny Bouc, Mike Lisowski, Ryan Krachun, Duane Howard, Nick Rochinski, Jared Umbenhauer, Doug Manmiller, Logan Watt, Jack Butler, Rick Laubach, Lance Willix, Justin Grim, Ryan Watt, Ron Kline, Brandon Grosso, Tim Buckwalter, Kevin Hirthler, Jordan Henn, Kyle Lilick, Brian Hirthler, Ryan Grim, Jim Housworth, Ray Swinehart, Tanner Van Doren
DID NOT QUALIFY: Sam Martz Sr., Cole Stangle, Cale Ross, Kyle Smith, Ryan Beltz, Dave Dissinger, Chris Gambler, Dylan Swinehart, Kevin Graver Jr., Mike Trautschold, Frank Yankowski, Jimmy Leiby, Cory Merkel, Bobby Trapper Jr., Jesse Leiby, Eddie Strada, Brett Gilmore, Ron Haring Jr., Dan Waisempacher, Steve Swinehart, Mark Kratz, Adrianna Delliponti, Bobby Gunther-Walsh, Nate Brinker, Frank Cozze, Steve Young, Sam Martz Jr., Brad Arnold, Craig Whitmoyer, Joe Funk, Louden Reimert, Cody Manmiller, Lex Shive, Ryan Lilick, Eric Kormann, Bobby Trapper Sr., Mike Laise, John Willman, Eric Biehn, Doug Smith