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Stuhler shines with STARS at Speedway

August 18, 1998|By MIKE SIRBAUGH / Staff Correspondent

Nationally recognized drivers once again visited the Hagerstown Speedway, this time for a two-day event celebrating the Speedway's 51st anniversary.

Once again, the top prizes went to local favorites.

On Saturday, Gary Stuhler of Greencastle, Pa., took home the $10,000 purse by winning the STARS 100-lap feature for the late models. It was his sixth win of the year at Hagerstown and his eighth STARS victory.

Stuhler started third and dropped back quickly, looking like he might continue a recent run of bad luck with mechanical problems. By lap 17, he moved into fourth, where he stayed until he began smoking on lap 32, pitting with a loose oil line.

Stuhler's crew worked feverishly, and got him back on the track with the help of two yellow flags, just yards ahead of the field as it rounded the first turn on the restart. It saved him from losing a lap.

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In the meantime, pole-sitter Rodney Franklin was battling Rick Eckert and Steve Francis for first. Franklin was running low, and Francis took the high groove.

Another caution on the ensuing lap allowed Stuhler to catch the rear of the field to begin his improbable first-to-last comeback against national competition.

Stuhler worked up to third by lap 55, putting him in position to challenge Charlie Schaffer and leader Franklin.

The crowd began to sense it was witnessing something special as Stuhler passed Schaffer on the inside of the back straightaway on lap 68. His old rival Franklin was the only obstacle left, and Stuhler exploded past him with the same move just two laps later.

He won the race by 10 car lengths over Schaffer.

"I've got to thank a lot of people," Stuhler said. "My crew there just didn't give up. It was a little slow at the beginning, but it just kept getting better and better.''

Jeff Robinson and Nathan Durboraw finished third and fourth, completing the superb showing by the locals. Franklin dropped out on lap 96 with a broken drive shaft, again raising the question of whether he can win the big race.

On Sunday, Franklin proved he could by winning the Maryland Silver Cup Nationals, a HAV-A-TAMPA 100-lap feature with a $15,000 purse.

He started eighth and was in fourth by lap 7, the same lap Stuhler was forced to drop out on after losing his drive shaft.

Four cars battled for first, and there were 10 lead changes among them. Billy Moyer led early, riding side-by-side with Tim Hitt, who took the lead for the first time on lap 14. They traded the lead for the next 36 laps while Scott Bloomquist, and Franklin fought a similar battle just a car length or two behind.

Bloomquist took over the top spot on lap 50 and began to look uncatchable, but Franklin was not to be denied. He dropped back as far as fifth behind Hitt, and they were both running the low groove, giving Franklin no room to pass.

Finally, Franklin passed Hitt on lap 71 up high and began his methodical assault on the leader. He took third on lap 75 and second on lap 79.

Unbelievably, the rest of the field seemed to get slower from the wear and tear of so many laps, but Franklin closed the gap on Bloomquist. On lap 91, Franklin put to rest all questions of his ability to win the big one with a pass before opening up a 10-car length lead by the time the checkered flag waved.

"This was very satisfying and very gratifying," Franklin said. "I'll remember this for a long time. Scott took off and got away from all of us. I didn't know if I could catch him. We've been trying so hard to win a big one. I think it's been several years. My crew worked hard last night and this morning to get the car ready. You can be sure we're going to celebrate this."

The Summer Championships were part of the Anniversary Weekend and offered double points for the other three divisions, making the points races even more exciting.

In the V-8 pure stock class, Bruce Leibowitz took the lead on lap 3 of the 20-lap feature and held on for his second victory of the season.

He was challenged early by David Mikolajski but his strongest threat came from Kim Ramer, who made up six positions to get second place and regain the lead in the points race. Mikolajski finished third, Jim Snyder was fourth, and Bill Funk came in fifth.

Ed Corbin held the pole and led for 10 laps in the 25-lap late model sportsman feature but was overtaken by Scott Andrews, who held on for his fourth victory of the season.

Richard Walls avoided a big crash on the first lap and challenged for the lead but had to settle for second with Devin Friese coming in third and Alan Sagi finishing fourth.

Art Jerin also won his fourth feature of the year in the 12-lap 4-cylinder race. Jerin started fourth, took second by the third lap and edged ahead of Andy Holmes on lap 6. He then held off a late charge by Brian Miller to win.

Tommy Jerin was third, Holmes was fourth and Eric Mellott finished fifth.

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