When the Street Stocks are called to the lineup chute this season at Elegant Builders Raceway Park to get ready for their races, driver Jeff Whalen better not be late for the call.
Whalen laughed at this notion because for the last few seasons the shoe has been on the other foot. It was Whalen’s responsibility as the pit steward to make sure that the stock cars at the Lancaster track were in the chute ready to race on time to keep the program on schedule.
Whalen, 41, served as an official at the track for the last six to seven seasons as the pit steward. A falling out with promoter Ralph Galluzzi last year ended his officiating days. Whalen returns this season behind the wheel as a driver of the No. 19 RJP Motorsports Street Stock owned by fellow driver and car owner Rob “Pokey” Pocobello. EBRP opens its 2013 stock car season this Saturday.
“I enjoyed my time as an official at Lancaster but I had some disagreements with Ralph last season about some personal changes he was trying to make,” said Whalen. “A short time after that, Ralph informed me that I would not be welcomed back this season as an official.
“So a few days later I jokingly put on Facebook that I was going to become a race car driver and race my restored 1972 Mustang in Lancaster’s Street Stock class and pretty soon I was getting a lot of responses that it would be cool to see a Mustang on the track.
“I guess more people thought that I was more serious about it so I went to my good friend Rob Pocobello and started to discuss with him how it would work to weld a roll cage in the Mustang and get it race ready.”
Toward the end of the conversation, as Rob was getting another race car ready to run for himself in the new Big 10 Super Stock Series, he told me to just take his No. 19 car and look for sponsors and if things worked out I could race that car.”
Whalen was successful and will drive the car in the Street Stock class as well as the Big 10 events at both the EBRP and Holland. In addition to his car owner role, Pocobello will serve as crew chief with assistance from Rob’s father Joe “Pops” Pocobello. Whalen will have teammates in the form of fellow racers Nate Straus and Jim Stein. Rich Pocobello does not own either Straus or Stein’s cars but is offering some sponsorship and technical support to them.
This will be Whalen’s initiation in the cockpit of a race car but he is hopeful the learning curve will not be too difficult.
“A few years ago I attended the Richard Petty driving school but that was it,” said the Silver Creek native who now resides in South Buffalo. “As a young kid I grew up watching a close family friend, Mort White, race in the six cylinders at Holland. After that I started going to Lancaster in the mid-to-late 1990s.
“As far as becoming an official goes, I was camping a few years ago at Lancaster and this one year at the U.S. Open, John Nelson asked me if I wanted to work at the race and I did,” Whalen recalled. “The next year an opening came up and that’s how I became an official.”
The biggest adjustment that Whalen says he faces in switching from official to driver is one he knows will be hard to overcome.
“When I was an official I was up in the pit booth at the top of the pit grandstand and part of my responsibilities was watching all the races for officiating purposes. Now I will be in the pits working on the car and the only race I might see all night will be the Street Stock races I’m in. That will be different.”
Sponsorship is secured from Fast Cash and Ride, Just Pizza and Wing Co., Armored Access.com and Sutton Architecture among others.
On another note, for only the second time in Lancaster history a female will be the stock-car race director at the track. This past Saturday, Emily Johnson of Attica, a longtime Lancaster track official, was named to the position after serving most recently as the track’s head scorer. She has also worked at Lake Erie, Oswego and Wyoming County International speedways.
Eileen Czarnecki served as Lancaster’s first full-time female stock car race director under the late promoter Alex Friesen beginning in late 1995 and then she returned to the same position for the entire 1996 campaign.
• When Ransomville Speedway opens its 2013 season Friday night, 2011 Ransomville 358 Modified champion Chad Brachmann will have plenty of momentum on his side.
Brachmann won a thriller in the season opener last Saturday at Merrittville Speedway, winning the 35-lap main event by six inches in a duel with Pete Bicknell.
Brachmann also won earlier this month at Lernerville Speedway in Sarver, Pa. Brachmann time-trialed second to pole sitter Erick Rudolph in last Friday’s session at Ransomville, which determined the front row starters for this Friday’s race.
“After tonight’s win here we’re going to go home and go through our car,” Brachmann said during last Saturday night’s Victory Lane festivities at Merrittville. “We’re going to make sure we have everything right for Ransomville. I got a great core of guys. I got a great bunch of sponsors and we worked hard over the wintertime with a lot of nights in the garage. These wins make it worthwhile. Perhaps we can get the laurels at Ransomville in the opener.”
• For the second year in a row, Jesse Cotriss will start the Ransomville opener for the Sportsman class on the pole with Scott George next to him.
The front row in the Street Stock feature will be made up of Alex Morris and Ken Camidge. Pat O’Keefe earned the pole in the Fireball class followed by Chris Leone. Mike Hossfeld will lead the 4-Bangers to green with Brett Senek to his outside.