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Delmont raceway set for ATV Motocross National Championship tour

| Saturday, July 6, 2013, 12:06 a.m.
Lindsay Dill | Tribune-Review
Rocky Heupel, 30, of Tennessee pulls ahead on a hill during the 2013 ATV Motocross practice run Friday, July 5, 2013 at the Steel City Raceway.
Lindsay Dill | Tribune-Review
The Renninger family, (from left) Lilee, father Bill, Logan, mother Erin, and Lydia, watches the 2013 ATV Motocross practice run Friday, July 5, 2013 at the Steel City Raceway. Bill and Erin will race at this competition, and the kids race bikes.
Lindsay Dill | Tribune-Review
Marc Neilson, 8, of Ontario takes off his helmet after completing the 2013 ATV Motocross practice run Friday, July 5, 2013 at the Steel City Raceway.
Lindsay Dill | Tribune-Review
Jen Imburgia, 41, of Rochester watches and waits for her husband and son to race by Friday, July 5, 2013 during the 2013 ATV Motocross practice run at the Steel City Raceway.
Lindsay Dill | Tribune-Review
Bodie Derrer, 6, of Georgia lands a jump at the Steel City Raceway track Friday, July 5, 2013 during the 2013 ATV Motocross practice run.

More than 800 ATV racers from as far as Australia and Argentina have flocked to Steel City Raceway near Delmont for the seventh stop on this year's ATV Motocross National Championship tour.

Organizers expect several thousand fans, racers and crew members will pass through the gates throughout the weekend of racing, which started Friday with amateur practice sessions.

“It's a great facility to view from as a spectator,” event organizer Dean VanLeeuwen said of the track, which opened in 1983. “You can come and stand almost anywhere and see the entire race. It's a good place to showcase what these ATV riders can do on a motocross circuit.

“We'll have a couple thousand come through” this weekend, he said.

Kevin Stover, 35, of Penn Hills was among those testing out the track on Friday afternoon. An ATV racer for more than 15 years, Stover will be racing in the Veteran C class and one of the 4-stroke classes on Saturday.

“Steel City always brings a good crowd; it really does,” Stover said. “We go all over the country, but this one here really brings a good crowd.”

The series has been plagued by bad weather this season, making for entertaining races but hurting attendance slightly. Today's forecast calls for scattered thunderstorms in the afternoon, with a 40 percent chance of precipitation.

“On the spectators' side, if it's raining on pro day, which is Saturday, I'm sure that affects our attendance,” VanLeeuwen said. “But these guys race rain or shine. This year, particularly, we've really been getting hit with a lot of rain, a lot of mud races. ... It makes for interesting racing.”

More spectators means a bigger boost for nearby businesses.

An employee at Astorri's Tavern, about a mile from the track, said race weekends bring an uptick in business, with racers and spectators stopping in for meals and six-packs.

Although many race teams spend the weekend in recreational vehicles parked on land around the track, local hotels attract others.

“All our events, they always generate a little extra money to the local economy from the restaurants and the hotels,” VanLeeuwen said.

One racing team made the trip from Minnesota, with team members from as far away as Texas.

“If we could get the boss to get some cargo planes, we'd be set, but we bring three trailers, plus some of our riders bring their own trailers,” said Root River Racing mechanic Tony Subjek, whose team is based in LaCrescent, Minn. “We drove about 13 hours. Every race, we go back to Minnesota, go through every nut and bolt on every bike, pack them back up and move on to the next round a week-and-a-half later.”

Root River's Sam Rowe, 17, of Menasha, Wis., is leading the college-class standings after five national championships in the youth classes. Megan Manshack, 22, of Cleveland, Texas, made her full-time debut on the team this season and is third overall in the women's standings.

“Back when I first started racing, there were only two or three (women),” Manshack said. “Now, locally, we have 10-plus girls and at the nationals, there's a ton, especially a ton of younger girls coming in. ... Women can do this, too, and they can beat the guys.”

A pair of Pennsylvania natives will be looking to make the podium in the pro class. John Natalie of Warriors Mark, near Tyrone, and Joel “Kid Dynamite” Hetrick of Seneca, Venango County, are fourth and sixth, respectively, in the points standings heading into Saturday's action.

Last season, Natalie finished second in points, with Hetrick third. Chad Weinen of Illinois is defending last year's title, leading the series in points after five wins in the first six tour stops.

“Since it's so close, it just feels good to be here. We're confident about racing and just ready to go, pretty much. We'll see how the weekend turns out,” said Hetrick, 20, who was second in points when he broke his collar bone in May.

“We've got a lot of people coming out — family, friends. I just want to put on a good show and hopefully try to win some races,” Hetrick said.

Greg Reinbold is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2913.

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