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ROOKIE MANKO HAS CLOSE SHAVE IN SPORTSMAN RACE

At age 15, Joey Manko may still be too young to shave, but he certainly is old enough to pilot a Sportsman division stock car at Lancaster Motorsports Park.

The rookie came close to winning this year's Sportsman championship, losing by 29 points to champion Jeff Ulrich.

"Our goal this season was just to get into this division, stay out of trouble, learn and try to win rookie of the year," said the Lancaster youth.

"I won my first race on July 3 and I was surprised by that somewhat. I never thought we'd win in our first year."

Manko came into last Saturday's points finale leading Ulrich by four points but his championship bid got derailed by an accident.

While he did grab the rookie of the year award in Sportsman, Manko has a great deal of racing experience.

"I raced Go-Karts for six years and won national championships with WKA," said the Timon/St. Jude sophomore. "I won the Junior Restricted WKA national championship in 1996 and both the Junior Stock championships in 1996 and 1997. I also raced TQ Midgets for half a year last year before deciding to move up to Sportsman this past winter."

Manko had his doubters when he moved into the Sportsman, one of LMP's faster classes.

"I heard from some people that I was too young to go to Sportsman," said Manko. "They said I wouldn't do a thing. We won a race, led the points and learned a great deal, so I guessed I proved them all wrong.

"You know a lot of people who never raced before went right into Sportsman and other fast stock car classes over the last many years and that was their first time ever racing.

"I had six years of Go-Kart driving experience. Back over the years, many older stock car guys never had my type of experience at my age because Go-Karts were not around back then like they are today. I also attended the Finish Line Driving School in St. Augustine (Fla.) this past February and got a great deal of help from Mike Loescher there.

"Also, I never said I was going to come in and run right up front. I knew we had to just be careful, ride around and learn. We didn't even get into a wreck until each of the last two weeks of the season."

Manko's father, Tom, said each parent must make up their own mind as to what they think their children can do.

"This thing is about kids," said Tom Manko. "All kids have dreams and have a right to try to live them. We have a word that appears in big type on Joey's dashboard. The word is 'think.' If I saw evidence he wasn't thinking, we would have pulled him in."

His parents are in good position to do so. Manko's mother, Pattie, owns the Manko Wiper Check Windshields/Olear's Inc./Wilde Custom Art car and his father serves as his crew chief. Rick Prindiville, Patrick Bernas and Paul Phillips make up the pit crew.

The Sportsman division will next race Sept. 25-26 for LMP's season ending NAPA US Open Weekend. The team will also run in the Race of Champions Weekend, Oct. 9 at Oswego Speedway.

LMP showcases Triple 50-lap features for the Late Models, Street Stocks and Strictly Stocks plus Midgets during Fabulous 50s Night, Saturday at 6:30 p.m. Drag racing, including pick-up trucks, is Friday at 7:30 p.m.

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