|August 23, 1998 - Heartland Park Raceway (25 Laps)|
|Two Firsts For
Potekhen: Pole & Win
Nineteen-year-old Michael Potekhen won the Star Mazda Series race at Heartland Park Topeka, which was held as a support event at the 2.1-mile road course for NASCAR's Craftsman Truck Series. Those hearty fans, who braved the scorching temperatures and almost-unbearable humidity, were treated to a near flawless and flag-to-flag victory by Potekhen. The Star Mazda race will be televised on espn2 in late September (check your local TV listings for exact dates and times).
Potekhen, who is competing in his second full Star Mazda season, is currently 10th in the West Division's point standings with four top five finishes highlighting his year-until the Topeka race, that is. "I really liked the track," said Potekhen, whose entire family (dad and crew chief, George; mom, Joanie; and twin brother, Shawn) was there from Silverthorne, Colo., to support Mike's winning effort. "It has a nice flow to it so I could easily focus on doing faster and faster laps."
Chasing Potekhen all weekend was a worthy group of top drivers from all over the country, including fellow West Coast competitors Matt Beardsley, of Breckenridge, Colo.; Kim and Geoff Shepard, the first husband and wife team to compete in a Star Mazda race; Dan Weyland, of Denver; Larry Schwartz, of Los Angeles; and one of Valley Motor Center's crew chiefs Mike Burress, who impressed all when he took advantage of the opportunity to get behind the wheel.
From the Southwest Division, Texas Autosports' Tim Magrath led a contingent of four cars that also included Quad Boenker, Steve Golden and Tom Kraft. Indianapolis-based Nash-Malak Motorsports serviced drivers Emmett Murphy and team co-owner Jim Malakowski. Eurosport team owner Rich Dahl raced along with teammates Weyland and Schwartz, and the field was rounded out by privateer entrants Rob West, of Houston; and Roger Addison, of Edmond, Okla.
This weekend was the fifth of six SCCA Pro Racing-sanctioned Star Mazda events. This year's winner's have included Chris Neville, who won the March 21 race on the Phoenix oval; and 1997 Star Mazda champion Tony Buffomante, who claimed the Indianapolis Raceway Park victory over Memorial Day weekend. At Watkins Glen in June, Bernardo Martinez won after an exciting race with Daniel Muniz and Bob Kaminsky. Next was the oval race at Pikes Peak in July, where go-kart champion Joey Hand beat Kevin Jenkins and Sara Senske (her first top-three appearance and the first time a woman finished on the podium at the Colorado Springs track). After the Topeka race, the last Pro Racing-sanctioned event is Oct. 10, at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in conjunction with the IRL finale.
When the green flag flew at Topeka, Potekhen took the inside line into Turn One from his pole position, defending the lead from second-fast qualifier Beardsley and second row drivers Burress and Magrath. Burress' run at Potekhen was short-lived, however, when he spun in the Esses and fell back to last place. "The track was greasy and I felt the car going around, but there wasn't much I could do at that point," Burress said. Luckily, the spin was harmless and Burress was able to work his way back up to fifth by the end of the race.
With Burress temporarily out of the picture, Magrath and Beardsley battled for second while Potekhen opened up more than a three second lead at the lap-11 mark. Beardsley, whose Saturday practice session ended when his two-year-old motor went sour, was driving a little apprehensively, especially considering the Beardsley Motorsports team had just finished installing a back-up engine for the race. "I had a bad start, but the motor felt good," Beardsley said. "I would have liked a little more speed, but I'm happy I was able to hold onto third."
Magrath broke away from Beardsley on about lap five, and then focused on reeling in Potekhen. But, when Magrath would try to close the gap, Potekhen would increase his lead on the next circuit. "That was definitely frustrating," Magrath said. "At certain places on the track, I could see him and felt I was closing, but then he would just pull away again."
Potekhen, meanwhile, was unknowingly leading the race while the battery in his race car was apparently loosing its charge. "It wouldn't start after we left the podium," Potekhen said. Thankfully, the alternator kept the car running, but Potekhen was also concerned about engine temperatures throughout the race. "One lap the temperature would go up, so I'd have to cool it for a lap," said the Valvoline Runoffs-bound driver. "Then, I'd see Tim and get going again."
Finishing an impressive fourth was Boenker, who was driving a car Valley delivered to him at the track on Thursday. Fifth, as we mentioned above, was Burress, who was followed across the line by the Shepard couple (Geoff in sixth and Kim in seventh). Rounding out the top 10 was current Southwest Division points leader West, Kraft and Malakowski.
The next race on the Southwest Division's schedule is Aug. 29-30, at Texas World Speedway. For more information about Southwest Division's Star Mazda races, please call Tim Magrath at (972) 424-9897.
|Time of Race: 39m25.630s
Race Average Speed: 79.894mph
Lap Leaders: Potekhen 1-25
Fastest Lap: Magrath, 1:26.712 (87.185mph)
Margin of Victory: 1.349sec.