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Sprint Cup drivers to take on World of Outlaws at Lernerville

| Friday, July 4, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
Valley News Dispatch
Carl Bowser of Sarver competes in his Sprint heat at Lernerville Speedway in Buffalo Township on Friday, June 27, 2014.

Lernerville's Late Model drivers had their shot at the World of Outlaws last week. Now the Sprint Car drivers get to take a swing.

The World of Outlaws Don Martin Memorial Silver Cup XXIII is July 15, so local drivers have little time to fine-tune their programs for what normally is a difficult night of racing, highlighted by a pair of 30-lap features that pay $15,000 to the winner.

“This is a tall order,” said 2011 track champion Carl Bowser of Sarver. “We've been working in the heat races and in hot laps trying to simulate qualifying, and we've hit 12.8 and 13 seconds. Those are the two most important laps of the night. If you qualify well, you can really go on to have a good night.”

The track record in qualifying is 12.334 seconds, set by Joey Saldana in 2002.

Only once since the first Silver Cup in 1992 has a local driver won the event. Ed Lynch Jr., Lernerville's all-time leader in Sprint Car victories and a four-time track champion, shocked the World of Outlaws regulars in 2002 with a victory that included a duel with 1993 Lernerville track champion Timmy Shaffer. To further illustrate how difficult it is for local drivers, only one other time has a non-touring driver won a World of Outlaws race at Lernerville. That was in 1998 when Fred Rahmer claimed victory.

Bowser is leading the 2014 championship race at Lernerville, trailed closely by Brandon Matus of Wampum. Matus also is hoping to complete a good show.

“I would say we are one of the better cars at Lernerville,” Matus said. “We have stayed steady with what we are doing this season. Qualifying is the whole night when these guys come to town. It stinks that we don't get to do it more often. I really want to make the show, to race my way in and not use a provisional. But there are 40 of the best Sprint Cars in the world there that night.”

Matus said if he was on pace that night and missed getting into the race by a spot or two that he would be willing to use a provisional. Last year, he turned down a provisional.

One of the biggest distractions to local drivers will be the focus on Steve Kinser. He's not retiring, but the king of the Outlaws is completing his final season as a full-time touring driver. It will be paramount that drivers concentrate on their driving and not the hoopla surrounding Kinser.

Kinser won the first World of Outlaws race at Lernerville on Aug. 29, 1979. That was before Bowser and Matus were born. Bowser was born in 1987, and Kinser swept both World of Outlaw races at Lernerville that season. Matus was born in 1994, and Kinser won the lone series race that season.

Despite his youth, Matus has made strides. He is more consistent, but he also struggles to pinpoint where he believes he is better than a few years ago.

“I think as a driver it is hard to tell where I have improved,” Matus said. “I think someone in the stands may have a better chance of saying. But I think things come more normal now. I don't have to think so much in the car. I know what I have to do, and I just do it.”

Bowser has worked to improve the engine program for the team, and the past few weeks the signs have been promising.

“I'd like to think that we are more experienced now, and that it will help,” he said. “The majority of that evening is the engine program. We've got a new one and have run it twice at Lernerville. We won one and were leading in the second one when we got a flat.

“You watch these guys and see what they do and think how is that possible. But I really think the key is just how simple they keep things. They have to because they run so many nights.”

Thomas Zuck is a freelance writer.

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