By DINO OBERTO
(LEHIGHTON, PA. 10-28-17) Mahoning Valley Speedway’s Octoberfast 2017 will be an event long talked about as the 200 lap feature went right down to the wire in an electrifying finish.
Bobby Jones won in a three-wide battle to the checkers and nipped Gene Bowers by just .007-seconds with Zane Zeiner right there as well.
There was much anticipation in the lead up to the race, being the longest distance in track history for the headline class and awarding the highest payout ever at $6000 to win.
With the never before run distance strategies were varied among on how to make a game plan. As expected, however, the first half of the race was a steady pace, most of it being headed by newly crowned track champion Brian DeFebo. It would not be until a lap 127 caution when DeFebo would take his No. 53 pit side for change of American Racer tires. Things from then on would get interesting.
That calculated move to pits by DeFebo was followed by those who were in chase including Earl Paules, Zeiner, Eric Beers, Jones and Bowers.
Todd Baer would assume the lead under the caution with Jack Ely and James Pritchard Jr., second and third. Ely, who had yet to pit, was leading within seven laps and looking strong in the process.
With 50 circuits to go Zeiner motored up to second and made use of the inside lane for a lead pass six laps later. At the same time a caution was out and Ely would duck to the pits for fresh rubber.
That put Beers to second but Jones was able to unseat him within a few tours. Beers then had to make an unscheduled pit stop while under a caution period at lap 165.
When the action would resume the stage was now set for the thrilling shootout to the finish. Zeiner was the leading over Jones, DeFebo and Bowers.
The lead battle was now in overdrive as Jones and Zener went side-by-side for several laps. Jones finally squeezed his way on the inside of turn three with 27 laps to go in gaining the top spot. Bowers and DeFebo where in their own double wide tussle as well keeping the excitement to a maximum.
With 15 laps remaining Ely was back in the fold making it anyone’s guess as who within the top five to would emerge the winner. The answer would soon come to light among either Jones, Zeiner or Bowers over the waning laps.
With the top two back in a neck-and-neck battle Bowers hovered closely in their tire tracks. When chief starter Bob Stull waved the white flag it was still anyone’s race. Jones was pushing Zeiner to the topside in order to protect his spot. Bowers quickly seized the opening from that as they entered turn three.
As the trio flatfooted out of the final corner Bowers was barely ahead but by the time they reached the checkers Jones had just enough momentum to eke forward for the spine-tingling victory.
“I really thought I was in trouble near the end because my right rear (tire) was shaking badly. I didn’t know if I was losing the tire or grip or what. But I stayed with it and figured if I’m going to go out it will be in a blaze of glory,” said Jones on the biggest win of his career.
“There was a lot of respect out there even in those final laps. It was for a win and $6000 and we did what we had to do. It was a great race and I was very happy with how my guys setup the car. This was for them,” he continued.
“My car just really turned so well on the bottom so that’s where I went all race long. I was very pleased with the tire wear. To run 200 laps there was really no issues.”
Ely and DeFebo rounded out the top five. Paules was making his first start of the season and never missed a beat. He was sixth at the end. John Markovic, Baer, Beers and Don Wagner completed the top 10. 13 cars completed the 200 lap distance.
For Bowers it was understandable to his dejection as he sat in his car trying to collect his thoughts afterwards.
“I’m good with it. I came second to Bobby (Jones) and he’s a good guy and to finish behind him, I’ll take it,” said Bowers, who collected $3000 for his hard fought effort.
“I knew that I could run the car as hard as anyone else. If I could have gotten out front I feel that we I could have pulled away but Bobby and Zane where just so hard to pass, they were very fast – what a race.”
Zeiner noted afterwards that trying to get around Jones was a tough deal as his car became tight.
“I just couldn’t get back ahead of him (Jones) in those final laps. We were both tight but I wasn’t able to keep him down in order to make a pass,” said Zeiner.
“It was just hard clean racing. We leaned on each other but we still gave each other room coming off the turns. That last lap was amazing.”
Heat races were won by Baer, DeFebo and Ely.
Modified Feature Finish (200 Laps): 1. Bobby Jones, 2. Gene Bowers, 3. Zane Zeiner, 4. Jack Ely, 5. Brian DeFebo, 6. Earl Paules, 7. John Markovic, 8. Todd Baer, 9. Lou Strohl, 10. Eric Beers, 11. Don Wagner, 12. James Pritchard Jr., 13. Nick Baer, 14. Joey Jarowicz, 15. DJ Wagner, 16. Kevin Rex Jr., 17. Matt Wentz, 18. Josh Scherer, 19. Kyle Strohl
Lap leaders: Todd Baer 1-6, Brian DeFebo 7-127, Baer 128-133, Jack Ely 134-156, Zane Zeiner 157-172, Bobby Jones 173-200