When "Fast" Eddie Semlitsch yearned to compete in drag racing many years ago he relied on his cousin Dale Eckert, one of the best, to serve as his mentor.
As his own career attests, Semlitsch has learned well. He hopes to use those lessons, good luck and his own experience to turn the tables and emerge as champion of the Street ET class at Lancaster National Speedway and Dragway at the conclusion of their IHRA drag racing season finale Friday night.
Semlitsch, 68, of West Seneca, held the Street ET points lead at Lancaster until last week, when he lost in the second round of eliminations. Semlitsch now trails Mason Fix, who has won the last two races at Lancaster, by 20 points, 770-750.
In each weekly class at Lancaster, 10 points are awarded to a driver for each round of eliminations that they win. Bonus points are available in the Bikes/Sleds class only. If drag racers are tied in a points championship lead at season's end, the first tiebreaker is based on wins. Fix has two wins at Lancaster while Semlitsch has one.
Therefore, Semlitsch has to hope that Fix loses very early in eliminations and that he advances at least two more rounds to snatch away the championship. Semlitsch says it all begins with the first round.
"I have my work cut out for me this Friday," Semlitsch said. "I talked to Mason this week. He says that we're going to line up next to each other in the first round Friday and settle the championship. One way or another that will be the tale. If he wins, I'm done. If I beat him in that first round and I keep going far enough in eliminations, then I will get my first-ever Lancaster championship.
"Somehow I've never won a championship at Lancaster. In finished fourth or fifth in the Mod ET class all these years at Lancaster but I was never in the Street ET class until recently."
Whatever happens Friday, Semlitsch has had a successful career. He is a nine-time Street ET champion at Empire Dragway in Leicester, winning his first title there in 1995 and the last in 2011. Semlitsch amassed five of his nine Empire championship by 2001. He is a six-time Summit Super Series champion and in 1995 was Empire's Grand Champion. He has 75 career wins for all classes and tracks.
"I first got involved in drag racing by helping and watching Dale Eckert ...," Semlitsch said. "Then I asked him if I could run with the Street class in a Chevelle we had and he said yeah. That's the way it started. I started at New York International Raceway Park (now Empire) and I raced at both Lancaster and Empire about 15 years. I learned the basics from Dale. I hang out with him all the time."
Eckert has won 10 Lancaster championships in the last 11 years and leads the Top ET class by 10 markers over Jan Winkowski, 700-690.
Semlitsch drives a 1963 Nova with a 355-cubic inch Chevy small-block engine.
Semlitsch has no plans to retire anytime soon although his career schedule is changing.
"Earlier in my career, my strength was cutting good lights as I was better when I was younger but I've still got to cut good lights and have a good car," Semlitsch said. "I always had good reaction times when I was younger but now I have my good and my bad days.
"I've been racing in prior years at both Lancaster and New York (Empire) but I've cut my schedule down now to just one night, Lancaster, because of my wife, Kathy, after 20 years of being gone every weekend. My wife does come to the races occasionally, but now I want to spend more time with her."
Semlitsch has depended on his crew and other supporters, Kathy, Mike Oertly, Eckert, Ray Gretzky and Bob Parrish as well as sponsors O&L Engine Works, Jet Express Delivery, Sahlem's Roofing, Thurnherr Auto, ATEC Transmissions, George's Collision and West Seneca Auto.
As far as his nickname "Fast" Eddie, Semlitsch says, "I gave that nickname to myself," he said laughing. Perhaps based on his career record he should rename himself "Successful" Eddie.
In other Lancaster drag classes heading into Friday's finale, Reid Ricketson has already clinched the Mod ET title. He sports an impressive 90-point advantage, 890-800, over brother Ryan Ricketson. Mike Peters is poised to win his third Bikes/Sleds championship in the last four years. While not yet clinched, Peters leads Lucas Salemi by 50 points, 775-725. The TNT Super Series will also be on the Lancaster 6 p.m. drag racing card.
ROC At Lake Erie
Fresh off his victory in the Race of Champions Asphalt Modified Series 125 Sunday at Lancaster, Andy Jankowiak will seek a win in the 67th annual Race of Champion Modified 250 Saturday at Lake Erie Speedway. The weekend will showcase the ROC Sportsman 75 and ROC Super Stock 40 Friday, with Saturday's competition the ROC 250 and ROC Late Models, Street Stocks and 4-Cylinders.
As fans exited an extremely hot Lancaster after Sunday's final day of the U.S. Open, one gentlemen noted that he thought he'd never see a day where a stock car event sold more bottled water than beer.