|Date: 3/31/2014 11:00:08 PM|
By DINO OBERTO … “Keeping Track”
(3-31-14) At eastern Pennsylvania’s two asphalt short tracks, Mahoning Valley Speedway in Lehighton and Evergreen Raceway Park in St. Johns, the Modifieds rule, but when it comes to support divisions arguably it’s the Street Stocks that garner the most limelight and over the past several seasons no one has shined brighter than Kenneth “Chip” Wanamaker.
In 2013 the 37-year old Palmerton racer of the C & D Landscaping No. 44c won the track title at Mahoning Valley after the doing the same the previous year at Evergreen (formerly Mountain Speedway). That accomplishment made him the first driver to ever win a Street Stock championship at each facility. Aside from that he has also risen to the number one rank in Street Stock feature wins between both speedways with 34. At Evergreen he is the record holder at 29. Wanamaker actually came close to three straight titles but got edged out in 2011 by Steve Shultz at Evergreen.
“We came back down to Mahoning from Evergreen, a track I would be able to work my way through the pack. At Mahoning everyone is so tightly bunched and I learned a lot on who you’re racing with. You can run inches apart from each other and barely touch,” said Wanamaker.
During the early part of each season, Evergreen runs Sunday afternoons while Mahoning is Saturday nights and Wanamaker is one of a number of drivers who take advantage and race both tracks. However when Evergreen switches to Saturday’s in late May, a decision has to be made on which track to race.
Wanamaker had called Evergreen home since 2008 and last year when it came time to pick and choose he was faced with a tough call. He had already won several races and was leading the points at Evergreen but was also high in the standings at Mahoning, sitting second at the time to Randy Ahner, Jr.
After seasons of wrestling with the Street Stock tire used at Mahoning, he decided it was time to take on the ¼-mile once and for all. Despite being embroiled in one of the best seasons in track history in which a record 20 different winners emerged, Wanamaker conquered. A year long run of consistent finishes and two key wins during the last four weeks earned him his place in the record books.
“I raced Mahoning Valley with six tires all year. When you go to Evergreen you have to put tires on and that makes a big difference when it comes to cost. The tires they run at Mahoning really discipline you as a driver. If you don’t spin and run clean then those tires will carry you through a whole year, especially if you have the car set-up right,” said Wanamaker ,who had only one flat tire all year which came in a 100-lapper that he was leading prior to.
“I couldn’t figure out Mahoning for a couple years. We ran well there but being on those tires was frustrating and I guess that’s why more guys don’t come there. I was really against them but as time went on and we started learning them better that’s when we got more interest in putting our time in and racing there like we did.”
As noted Street Stocks at both tracks have great racing thanks to solid fields and talented drivers who support not only the tracks but each other as well. They are a genuine fraternity.
“You watch the Modifieds and yes that is the top class and I’ll tell you there are some good guys at wheeling Street Stocks at Mahoning that have the talent to be in a Modified. Same goes for Evergreen. There is a good core group in the class at both tracks. I have the opportunity to run in a Modified from time to time but for me Street Stock racing is a thrill,” said Wanamaker.
“Getting your car to go – there is a lot of time in the shop and that’s where the results come from. We spend hours upon hours to get the car right every week. That’s the fun of it, when you really get the car dialed in.”
While battling for the Mahoning crown Wanamaker made return trips to Evergreen late in the season when Sunday afternoon racing returned and without missing a beat was back winning there.
“We came close to two back-to-back titles at Evergreen but things didn’t go our way at the end of the season in 2011 and Steve Shultz won. He’s (Shultz) a class act. You can race clean with him and he’s the kind of guy who is great competition and his accomplishments speak for themselves,” noted Wanamaker, who beat Shultz in 2012.
“The thing is we go into this game with a heads up attitude that we’re going to win races. Our ultimate goal the last two-three years was to just win races and the points where secondary and I never really looked at winning championships.”
He now has both the wins and the championships. His first time in Victory Lane was in 2005 at Evergreen. Two years later he got his first score at Mahoning and it’s been ongoing since.
“Awesome is the best way to describe it. In the past we had some really good starts there (Mahoning) and then raced at Evergreen.
To win a championship at Mahoning with the caliber of competition that is there is the greatest feeling. We race with 30-35 cars almost every week and to be the one who comes out on top is a big accomplishment especially in that class,” said Wanamaker.
“What I saw was how amazing the Santee’s (promoters) did things at Mahoning. The local interest in the track showed. I’m a business owner and you want to put your name out there in front of such good crowds and fields of cars,” he continued.
“I have nothing against Evergreen. I raced up there the last couple years, won a championship and a lot of races. But to run at Mahoning last year was a no brainer for me. The competition was awesome and you really had to race your way into the show. They were sending guys home and you don’t really find racing like that pretty much anywhere.”
Street Stocks weren’t the only thing Wanamaker was turning laps in last year. At Evergreen he drove a Factory Stock to a win and at Mahoning’s season ending Octoberfast event he jumped into Zane Zeiner’s back-up Modified and nearly pulled off the upset of the year by finishing second to his car owner in 130-lap feature.
“I look up to Zane in a big way and learned a lot from him and his crew. He’s just finishing up a Modified for me to race with this year. He’s going to help me with that this season and I will run it a few times but focus mainly on the Street Stock,” Wanamaker noted.
“The Factory Stock was neat and good fun. They (Evergreen) run the same tire as the Street Stocks at Mahoning so we were familiar with the tire and that helped to not be to over aggressive. It was another accomplishment.”
With the 2014 season just around the corner, Mahoning opens on April 12 and Evergreen on April 27, the question is where Wanamaker will call home. He’ll hit both tracks as usual until the Saturday night matter comes into play.
“I’d love to see more of the Mahoning guys run at Evergreen and likewise with the Evergreen guys racing at Mahoning. It would be a blast for the fans. I told Harry Buchman (Evergreen track manager) at his meet and greet gathering back in November, ‘Why are we going to run head-to-head with Mahoning on Saturday nights?’ I’m upset by that because I would have loved to run both tracks but at the same time I realize he has important decisions and I’ll support both tracks. When the time comes to make a choice on Saturday nights we won’t know until that time what we plan to do.
“Our goal is to figure out how to
win races consistently, challenge all the great competition and have those good
consistent finishes. I want to knock off wins this year.”
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