The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

August 1, 2013

Shawn Wood's Inside Track: Thunder on the Hill doesn't disappoint


Daily Item

---- — Wednesday night marked the 108th race in the 24-year history of the Thunder on the Hill racing series at the Grandview Speedway.

Australian sprint car driver James McFadden added his name to the likes of "The Modern Day Cowboy" Daron Clayton and the late Jesse "The Rocket" Hockett, whose driving styles won over many fans who had never seen them in person before they came to Central Pa.

Tuesday's race was an open-wheel doubleheader for the 410 sprint cars and the big block modifieds of the Race of Champions Dirt Modified Series.

McFadden, 24, from Brisbane, is the two-time defending champion of the World Series of Sprint Cars in Australia.

He's never seen Grandview before, but most of the tracks in Australia are tight quarter-mile (or less) bull rings.

While JJ Grasso was running away with the feature early on, McFadden, who timed fourth quickest on the night, made his way towards the front. He went to the outside of Alan Krimes entering Turn 3 and then stayed on the outside and moved pasted Mark Smith on the front-stretch to go from fifth to third in half a lap on lap 20.

He then passed Grasso on lap 24 with a perfect slide job in Turn 2.

Then came a bizarre moment when Selinsgrove's Blane Heimbach -- the current points leader at Port Royal Speedway -- proceeded to trade slide jobs with McFadden and Heimbach. A lapped car even went as far as to take McFadden's racing line away from him when he was going to the low side in Turn 3 late in the race.

Trying to get by Heimbach, McFadden hit the outside Turn 4. This allowed Grasso to close again. Eventually, Greg Hodnett got by Grasso and then McFadden for the win and a $5,000 payday.

Heimbach spun with two laps remaining, but kept right on going. This happened right in front of McFadden and Hodnett just as Hodnett was taking the lead in the 35-lap feature.

Even fans on McFadden's Facebook page questioned Heimbach's slide-jobs on a race leader.

The event, thanks to a rainout on July 2, was a doubleheader with the Race of Champions (RoC) big block modified 60-lap feature as the nightcap.

And Tuesday night was not a good night to be in the top-10 in RoC points.

With the exception of Billy Decker and Pat Ward -- fifth and 10th in the points, respectively -- who were no-shows, everyone in the top-10 had either on-track or mechanical issues that will shake up the top-10 when the new points are calculated.

Matt Sheppard, of Waterloo, N.Y., couldn't get his car to start and was scratched from the feature. He came into the night third in the points.

Bobby Varin, of Sharon Springs, N.Y., was the RoC points leader coming in and finished 17th.

Stewart Friesen, of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada, rallied for a sixth-place finish, the best finish for a top-10 points driver.

Rick Laubach, of Quakertown, came on strong late in the race and battled Craig VonDohren and race leader Duane Howard before pulling into the infield on lap 48. He was fourth in the RoC points entering the night.

Youngster Mike Mahaney came in sixth in the points and finished 11th.

Ryan Godown finished 24th (seventh in points) while Jimmy Horton (eighth) finished seventh.

Howard went on to hold off a late-race charge from VonDohren for the win. It was his eighth overall win at Grandview this season where he is the 358 modified points leader.

Next year, the Thunder on the Hill series turns 25. It's not too early to mark your calendars to make it to one of those special event shows. You'll never know who will be the next driver to add his name to the lure of racing on the hill.

As World of Outlaws points leader Daryn Pittman once said, "Racing at Grandview is like flying a fighter jet inside a gymnasium."

That proved true once again Tuesday night.