Lernerville drivers prep for Outlaw invasion
One of the year’s most anticipated races — and, at the same time, one local drivers dread most — is here.
The 12th annual World of Outlaws Firecracker 100 is set to begin Thursday and conclude with Saturday’s 100-lap, $30,000-to-win Late Model feature.
The three-day event at Lernerville Speedway features complete shows Thursday and Friday building up to Saturday’s main event, where the divide between local drivers and the WoO drivers is on display.
Since the first Firecracker in 2007, the top finishes by a local driver have been by South Park’s Jared Miley. He finished eighth in the inaugural event and third in 2015.
Miley won last week’s Lernerville Late Model feature and secured a spot in the 100. Miley bested defending track champion and current points leader Michael Norris with a Lap 23 pass for the checkered flag. Norris opened the season in dominating fashion with four victories.
Despite the hot start to the season, Norris said he is unsure how ready he will be for the event.
“We keep trying new stuff each week to get ready for the Firecracker, so I guess we are as ready as we can be,” said Norris, a Sarver native. “We’ve found some speed in some stuff, and with some others, we just had to say that it didn’t work.”
In last year’s Firecracker, which was won by Brandon Overton of Evans, Ga., Norris finished ninth.
Bristolville, Ohio’s Russell King, Lernerville’s 2016 track champion, finished seventh.
Gregg Satterlee of Rochester Mills finished fourth in 2013, and, like Miley, has become more of a touring driver, picking and choosing which big-money events to attend. Satterlee finished seventh in 2015 and ninth (the top local finish) in ’14.
Alex Ferree of Saxonburg, a six-time Lernerville champion, earned his top finish, 12th, in 2015.
King, the 2009 World of Outlaws Rookie of the Year, has twice won the Uncle Sam 30, a race for those who don’t qualify for the 100-lap main event. Overton dominated last year, leading all 100 laps.
Mike Marlar finished second, Timmy McCreadie third, Don O’Neal fourth and Chris Madden rounded out the top five.
Weather has also played a prominent role in the Firecracker’s history.
Last year’s race was forced to run a doubleheader event Saturday. In 2015, the main event was rained out and moved to Labor Day weekend, with Rick Eckert prevailing.
“Equipment, help, every aspect of the team I think we are better than we were in the past,” Norris said. “On my part, I think I have more knowledge of the car. I also don’t drive as much of an idiot. I think we are head and shoulders above where we used to be.”
That also raises the expectation Norris puts on himself.
“You want to race your way into the race, and I want to be competitive,” Norris said. “Speed rubs off, and anytime you run with these guys, you can’t help but go faster. These guys are so good at every aspect of this sport. And none of us run a lot of 100-lap races. They know when to go and when to hold back.”
Mike Pegher Jr. of Cranberry has been fighting horrible luck this season in his attempts to prepare, and that has made his level of preparedness hard to determine.
“More or less it’s just ‘boom’ here it is,” Pegher said. “We haven’t raced a whole lot, and when we have raced, I haven’t had any really good luck. That makes it tough to gain anything to get ready. Hopefully, we can start to get things turned around and make the race.”
Pegher qualified in the middle of the 45-car field during the final day of last year’s event, but he suffered more bad luck and didn’t even start his heat race. In 2016, he finished ninth in the main event.
“This year, we had a motor break twice, a rear end, a flat tire, you name it, I can mess it up,” Pegher said. “We’ve been to five or six different tracks just trying to have some fun racing. All of them have been some bigger-money shows. Hopefully, we can get to something that works well and here and go from there and race my way in.”
Thomas Zuck is a freelance writer.