With rain falling lightly last Friday evening at Lancaster National Speedway and Dragway, Bike/Sleds class drag racers Mike Peters and Rob Brandel stood in the staging lanes knowing that their respective bids to emerge as season points champions were no longer solely in their hands. Mother Nature would be a factor as well.
Eventually the rains stopped, racing resumed and Peters went to not only clinch the championship in the second round but for good measure win the Bike/Sleds final.
“There’s no better way to end the season than a win and that’s what we had here tonight,” said Peters. “It’s amazing.”
Peters and the point teammates of Brandel and Pete Marston arrived at Lancaster’s IHRA drag racing season point finale deadlocked in first place. At Lancaster, drivers can join the points as teammates but only one of those drivers can run for the points on a given race night. Brandel raced for his team’s points in the majority of the 19 events in the 2016 season, including Friday, while Marston ran for the points on four occasions. Peters does not have a teammate.
Peters and the Brandel/Marston team started eliminations with 960 points each but the Brandel/Marston pairing did have a potential advantage. If the rains had forced the cancellation of the event, Brandel/Marston, based on the tiebreaker procedure, would have been declared the champions.
At Lancaster, if drag racers are tied in a points championship lead at season’s end, then the first tiebreaker is how many wins each team had this season. In this case both Peters and the Brandel/Marston team had three 2016 victories. Brandel had won for his team twice and Marston once.
The second tiebreaker is determined by how many runner-up finishes each has. Brandel had three and Peters two, so Brandel/Marston would have won the title if the rain persisted.
When the weather cleared, it gave Peters his shot at the title and he took full advantage.
When the first round resumed about 45 minutes later, Peters defeated Lucas Salemi and Brandel bested a red-lighting Gerry Vaughan, to both advance to the second round with 970 points apiece. The second round would decide the title.
In that round, Mike Puglia defeated Brandel as Peters looked on. A minute later Peters pulled up to the starting line to race against Dick Nearhoof, knowing that if he won the round he would be champion. If Peters failed to win, then both he and Brandel/Marston would end their season in that round with still 970 points each and Brandel/Marston would take the title on the tiebreaker.
Proving he was up to the immense season championship pressure, Peters prevailed when Nearhoof suffered a red-light disqualification. At that moment Peters clinched the championship with 980 points.
“I knew in that second round that ‘Pugs’ (Puglia) took the win light and I knew Rob was out,” said Peters. “I had to win the next race to get the championship. It was tons of pressure. I just tried playing it cool. I knew what I had to do and just followed my routine. In my race I saw Dick’s red light and I knew right there the championship was mine.
“When the rain was starting to get heavy in the first round and when we were waiting I went and talked to Glenn (Hughes, Lancaster head starter) and he said we can’t run now but we’ll just have to wait it out. Thank goodness that they didn’t call it. That’s really awesome of this place to honor their points runners that come faithfully every week and they let us get it in when the rain rolled out of here so it worked to my favor.”
After enjoying a bye solo run in the third round, Peters defeated Marston in the fourth round and then Brian Babiak in the Bike/Sleds final. Peters ended the season with 1,010 points.
Brandel drives a snowmobile that is modified for asphalt drag racing while Peters, 34, of Angola, rides a 1980 Kawasaki drag racing motorcycle. Both have one previous Lancaster Bike/Sleds class season point championship on their resumes, Brandel in 2012 and Peters 2014.
“I was doing a rain dance all week long,” said Brandel, 62, who resides in Williamsville. “But I was happy to race for it. We earned our way to this point so either way would have been good. In my second round race I lost traction about half track and it got a little bit loose so (Puglia) drove by me. That was the end of that.
“It’s so competitive all year long. Just making one mistake four months ago can be the difference for a championship or not. We’ll be back here again next season.”
Unfortunately for Brandel, had he won in Friday’s second round he would have faced his teammate Marston in the next round, which would have spelled an automatic win of sorts in that round for Brandel.
“I’m sure Pete would have taken the fall for me so that I would have won that round,” said Brandel. “That’s how the teammate thing works.”
Jan Winkowski ended his season on a high note when he defeated 2016 Top ET class champion Shawn Beatty in the final.
“I had two second places and no wins here this season,” said Winkowski. “I guess I finally got it all figured out.”
Other class winners Friday were Ben Haight, Mod ET; Mike Nowak, Top 8, and Dave Weller, Street.
Other Lancaster drag champions for 2016 are Shawn Beatty, Top ET; teammates Dale Eckert/Clay Ricketson, Mod ET, and teammates Mason Fix/Jim Bruckman/Nick Morrissey, Street.
Lancaster announced that the 2017 IHRA drag racing season will begin with a test session on April 28 followed by the IHRA points opener, May 5. The Buffalo Street Outlaws will make monthly appearances throughout the season.