|Date: 9/4/2014 11:50:48 PM|
Rich Emel scores career first, then second, win on same night at Mahoning Valley Speedway
By DINO OBERTO … “Keeping Track”
In racing, it’s all about the pursuit of the checkered flag. As a driver you strive for it and once you’ve achieved it you crave for more. Winning a race is never easy, especially when your competition is equal as and sometimes better than you. But when that moment does arrive it is a feeling of euphoria and for 20-year old Rich Emel of Hunlock Creek no sooner had he experienced the elation of a career first win, within an hour of that he was back in the Winner’s Circle and enjoying a surreal moment in his young and budding career for a second time.
It was at Mahoning Valley Speedway last Saturday evening for the 3rd Annual Mike Krempasky Street Stock Memorial Triple 19s. The event is run in honor of the former championship car owner who passed away unexpectedly prior to the start of the 2012 season. The previous year his car won the class title with driver TJ Gursky. The 19 is a reflection of that team’s car number and thus the triple 19s which is a very exciting and popular fan favorite event.
Emel is still a comparative newcomer to the paved ¼-mile oval in Lehighton so to pull off the feat in such a short period of time is somewhat unheard of for a track like Mahoning Valley, especially in the Street Stock division where 30 plus cars are the norm almost every week. And what was just as amazing was the fact that when he was in Victory Lane after the first 19-lap feature, it was only the second time he had qualified for a Mahoning race. In five previous tries he made only one starting grid and finished 21st out of 22.
Now in his second season of racing Street Stocks, Emel was more familiar with Evergreen Raceway which is closer to home. However, when that track temporarily ceased operation in mid-July, he decided to give Mahoning a try. Despite the tough going of qualifying only one other time, he never got discouraged. Remember, it’s about that pursuit of chasing the checkered flag and Emel was confident of himself and his team, which is headed by his dad, Max Emel Sr.
There was talk of converting the car over from an asphalt racer to a dirt car but after the first few times at Mahoning Valley that idea fell by the wayside.
“I began to like it more and more each week so we just stuck with Mahoning. In the back of my mind I wouldn’t have minded going back to dirt racing but now that I pretty much got a feel for Mahoning, I’m sticking to the pavement,” said Emel, who is currently in his second year Pennsylvania College of Technology and majoring in engineering.
When the night got underway Emel was off to a good start by winning his heat which then earned him the pole in race number one. When the action began he would never relinquish that spot and went on to win his career first stock car feature over point leader Gursky.
“We only wanted to go that night and win the heat race. We never expected anything more. When I was out front in the feature I knew that someone fast was sitting right behind me but I just kept focused and hit all my marks each lap,” said Emel.
In the second main Randy Ahner Jr., passed early leader Jonathan Tracey on a lap 11 restart and then went on to his division leading third win of the season. After a redraw by Ahner to invert the field for the final race, 14 was picked and Emel would start second next to defending track champion Chip Wanamaker.
This was a David vs. Goliath type setting. Wanamaker is not only the reigning kingpin at Mahoning but the previous year won the title at Evergreen and is the region’s leading winner in Street Stock features with 37.
Emel, though, would show that his early win was no fluke. He slipped back to third at the start and by lap four pulled behind Wanamaker. He didn’t settle very long there either as on lap seven of 19 Emel hustled to the inside of the leader and after an exciting few laps of side-by-side action, he grabbed the top spot with nine laps to go and held on for a second and very exhilarating win.
“Honestly I felt he (Wanamaker) was just going to take off and I would just follow him through the rest of the race. But as soon as I saw a hole open up to take the lead I went for it and never looked back,” said Emel.
“To be honest I didn’t expect to get one (win) at Evergreen let alone Mahoning. The one at Evergreen never came and I never thought I’d ever win a race at Mahoning. To win two in one night is pretty epic. I didn’t even think about it until I pulled into Victory Lane and I thought to myself, ‘Wow! Did I just win another race?”
Like most aspiring racers Emel began in quarter midgets. He then advanced into Micro Sprints which he ran at Greenwood Valley Action Track. A racing accident with the Micro put an end to that but led to the Street Stock two years ago.
The car was a former Glen Heckman driven mount. Emel turned it over to master Street Stock racer Steve Shultz to work his magic in getting it updated. The rest of the mechanical effort goes to Rich’s dad, Max, who works on the car during the week while he is at school.
Emel has been close to winning, having a few second place finishes earlier this year at Evergreen. He also led a time or two but it wasn’t until last Saturday night that he got his first real taste of leading the most laps and ultimately earning the top prize.
While most newcomers to Mahoning Valley have to adapt because of its unique circular configuration, Emel felt right at home. It all stemmed from his days of driving at Greenwood Valley.
“I always ran short track and at Mahoning once I got the throttle control down it’s been pretty much a breeze,” he said.
“It is very tough there. When you’re driving in traffic you have to have eyes all around. There’s 22 other cars out there and you have to be on your game at all times, looking for the right time to pass, when to go high, when to go low. You always have to have a plan. It’s going to take a lot to win again and it’s never easy at that place. Luck was on my side.”
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