WEST LEBANON, N.Y. — Three Berkshire County drivers figure to be in the mix on Thursday, Aug. 14, when the Mr. Dirt Track USA tour makes its annual stop at Lebanon Valley Speedway.
The event is part of the Super Dirtcar Series that kicks off each February in Florida and ends up back below the Mason-Dixon Line at the Dirt Track of Charlotte in North Carolina in November.
The Lebanon Valley stop is always one of the highlights of the track's season and certainly one of the richest nights.
"It pays $17,500 for the winner ... and pays all the way back to, I guess, $300 or $500 for the last spot," Lebanon Valley owner/promoter Howard Commander said this week. "It's a big purse. It usually makes a guy's year."
Last year, it made the year of Great Barrington driver Andy Bachetti, one of a dozen or so Lebanon Valley regulars who will be competing in Thursday's 100-lap feature.
The series draws drivers from throughout the Northeast, including current points leader Matt Sheppard of Waterloo, N.Y.
With seven dates left before the tour heads south, Sheppard holds a five-point lead over Unadilla, N.Y.'s, Billy Decker. In third place is Brett Hearn, who calls Sussex, N.J., home but makes the weekly trip north to compete in both the Mr. Dirt series and the Saturday night features at Lebanon Valley, where he currently is second in the Modified Division, a season-long competition he has won seven times, including four straight wins from 2002-05.
The current Modified leader at Lebanon Valley (by 18 points) is Pittsfield's J.R. Heffner, who has won the Mr. Dirt feature at the track twice in the past.
"We've had a lot of winners of this race from Berkshire County," Commander said. "Two of the last three are from out of town."
But that does not mean all the faces will be familiar on Thursday night. Commander said generally about 75 percent of the four dozen cars expected for the feature will be visiting Lebanon Valley just for the Mr. Dirt tour.
That makes sense, given the high purse. Commander said Mr. Dirt tour stops regularly pay significantly less to the winner -- including last week's feature in Weedsport, N.Y., ($10,000 to Decker) and the July 30 race at Albany-Saratoga Speedway ($10,000 to Danny Johnson).
The Upstate GM Dealers and Hoosier Tire are the principal sponsors for Thursday night's race, which promises some interesting twists for track regulars.
"Kenny Tremont, the winning-est driver at Lebanon Valley, will have a brand new engine to go with his brand new car," Commander said. "Andy Bachetti, who won Saturday night after a horrible start to the year, has got a new engine for Thursday night. Brett Hearn will be bringing out his tour car, and he's got a rebuilt engine in that.
"There will be a lot of new engines."
Commander said Lebanon Valley is enjoying a successful season despite some struggles with the weather and an economy that cuts into how much its patrons can afford to spend at the track.
"The weather has been funny," he said. "When the weather is good, everything has been good. But we had one race where 10 miles south of us all the way to Long Island it was pouring, and when you look out your window and see that ...
"We've had some beautiful days, but we had a lot of clouds and rains at the beginning of the season."
Lebanon Valley opens in early April and runs every Saturday night through early September with a few special events like Thursday's feature thrown in.
"It's usually one or two thousand more then a regular night," Commander said of the Mr. Dirt events. "It's a larger crowd.
The gate opens at 5 p.m. on Thursday, and the warm-ups on the half-mile dirt oval get under way at 6 with a 7 p.m. green flag. General admission is $20 for adults, $7 for children 11 and under, and reserved seating is available in advance by calling 518-794-9965.