Craig VonDoren had one of the fastest cars during the 2016 season at Big Diamond Speedway and that speed was on display on Sunday night as he led 50 of the 72 laps to score his third win in the 36th running of the Jack Rich, Inc., Coalcracker 72.
It was the first win for VonDohren in the event since 2007 and third overall. He has now won the Coalcracker at three different race lengths; 50 laps in 1987; 100 laps in 2007 and 72 on Sunday. Jeff Strunk’s four Coalcracker wins have come at 50, 60, 100 and 72 laps. The race has been run at the 72-lap distance since 2012.
It took VonDohren until lap 22 to take the lead as Kevin Beach, Jr., who led the first 21 laps of the race.
Beach, Jr., who started last in his heat and won it, drew the pole and led the field to the green flag and quickly jumped out to a lead.
A three-wide battle for second took place on the opening lap as points champion Ryan Godown, Justin Grim and Ryan Grim were stacked from top to bottom off of Turn 2 before Godown took over the runner-up spot in Turn 4.
Beach, Jr., had opened a straightaway lead by lap 4 over Godown as VonDohren was beginning to close in on him for the runner-up spot.
The first caution would fly on lap 9 when J. Grim slowed on the backstretch followed by a second caution of the race a lap later when Jarred Umbenhauer spun.
VonDohren would move into second following the lap 10 restart and then begin to work on Beach, Jr.
By lap 14, Beach, Jr., was holding a 1.1 second lead over VonDohren but two laps later VonDohren was starting to close the gap.
The frontrunners would enter lapped traffic on lap 20 and that’s when VonDohren made his move to the lead as he went inside of Beach, Jr., on the frontstretch on lap 21 and he completed the pass at the line to take the lead for good on lap 22.
Once out in front, VonDohren would open the lead as the race did not see another caution until the on-track pit stop which came at lap 40.
By the halfway mark on lap 36, VonDohren’s lead had grown to 4.06 seconds over Godown who had moved into second on lap 29 as he passed Beach, Jr., on the frontstretch.
On the lap 40 restart, VonDohren maintained his lead with Godown running in second and Billy Pauch, Jr., who started seventh, having moved into third.
Andy Burkhart who won the non-winners race on Friday night to earn a spot in Sunday’s race slowed on lap 42 to bring out the caution.
While VonDohren was beginning to pull away on the restart and using the inside line to start, six-time Coalcracker winner Duane Howard had moved into third place on lap 42 and began to battle Godown for the runner-up spot.
The race would go caution-free to the end but from the lap 50 to lap 62 mark, Godown began to slowly reel in VonDohren as Godown put some distance between he and Howard.
With 10 laps to go, VonDohren began to stretch out his lead over Godown as he would finish the cross the line 2.6 second ahead of Godown.
Howard would hold on for third with Ryan Watt, who started 12th, finishing fourth and Strunk, who started 17th after winning one of the two consolation events, finished fifth.
Sixth through 10th were Billy Pauch Jr., Ryan Grim, Doug Manmiller, David VanHorn Jr. and John Willman.
Heats for the 38 358 modifieds were won by VonDohren, Pauch, Jr., J. Grim and Beach, Jr. Twin consolation events were won by Jeff Strunk and Danny Bouc.
The win was VonDohren’s fifth overall of the season at Big Diamond. He also won the Georgie Stevenson Memorial on July 8.
“We had a good car all year and I can’t think Dave Dissinger enough for giving me this opportunity to pilot this car,” VonDohren said. “Kevin (Beach Jr.) ran a good and he was fast early. I think I was waiting a little bit before pushing the car so we took it a little easy early in the race; I wanted to get ahead of Ryan (Godown) early. I chose the bottom on the restarts as we drove off good on the bottom and you can win or lose the race right there.”
Godown, who won the race last year, experienced electrical issues in his heat and limped across the line as his engine was going sour.
“We were not good off lap 1 tonight and this is our Saturday night car as we hurt the motor in the other one and we just didn’t go good and we lacked side-bite which we never usually do,” Godown said. “We were right there with Craig for a while and I thought I was a little bit better than him and I knew I had to make my move then and I just used up whatever tires I had left and it was over after that.”
Howard, who finished fourth in the points and did not score a win this year at Big Diamond, last won the Coalcracker in 2010.
“It was a good run, it was disappointing and it was a shame the race wasn’t one hundred laps for us, as we were really good at the end and we were rolling through the middle really good over the last six to eight laps,” Howard said. “All year long we were really junk here and we decided that we were going to change the whole car around and throw something at it and we put our heads together and we just didn’t have a baseline to make it good enough to run with the leaders.”
In the 20-lap, non-points roadrunner feature, Kody Sites took the lead on start and held off Chris Reichert on a lap 22 restart for the win. Points championship Andy Fayash III finished third while Terry Kramer was fourth and Steve Gromis rounded our the top five.
Sixth through 10th were Devin Trexler, Jim Kost, Kris Ney, Nate Hill and Shon Elk.
Aaron Bowes and Jon Josko battled side-by-side for two full laps following a lap 11 restart in the 20-lap 600 modified feature before Bowes took the lead at the line to start lap 13.
From there, Bowes pulled away to score the win over Josko with Brian Blankenbiller, Michael Burrows and Josh Pepe rounding out the top five.
Sixth through 10th were Richie Hitzler, Josh Bewley, Scott Heilman, Jon Pepe and Bryan Carr.
The Coalcracker weekend brings to a close the 2016 racing season at Big Diamond Speedway.