The 2016 season started way back in March for some folks including those that filled the place at Hilltop Speedway for opening night. Hilltop would
provide many memorable moments throughout the season as always. We saw Corey Conley become so dominate early on that a bounty was placed on him. The
bounty would bring in plenty of heavy hitters but it was that young fella from West Virginia that came to town to pick up the bonus money. Tyler
Carpenter didn't even have his own ride that night so he borrowed the Kryptonite of Mike Lonas for the tough task. Carpenter would go on to have an
extraordinary season of his own including a wild and crazy Speed Week. Shucks he even got a purrrty lil' crown at the end of the season by winning the
DTRN points championship for the second year in a row. That will look very nice beside all those shiny new trophies and giant checks he snagged this
year. Kryptonite Race Cars doesn't need a salesman with this kid and his father strapping into them weekly. The smart competition including Corey Conley
starting ordering their own this season. Carpenter wouldn't be the youngest star to show up at Hilltop this season though.
Harrison Hall turned 12 years old the weekend he brought his Modified and Super Late Model to Millersburg and take on a huge field of veteran drivers
for the "Weekend On The Hill" event. Harrison has been racing and winning championships since the age of 5! Sure we've heard may stories about drivers
getting started early and having success, but this kid is just plain impressive! He showed absolutely no signs of being intimidated by the strong field
he was facing and demonstrated better car control in the pack than some drivers that have been racing for decades. He barely missed making the A-Main
with the Late Model, but brought home a very strong 9th place finish with his Modified. The youngster doesn't seem satisfied with just playing in the
dirt either as he's already been testing an asphalt Super Late Model in his spare time. Keep an eye on this young fella in the future for sure!
Speaking of asphalt, congrats go out to Cody Jaberg for picking up his very first feature win on June 18th. I'd like to credit that win to his DFC
Racing carburetor but Cody has been a threat to win for some time now. Keep up the good work young man!
Another racer that's always a threat to win at any track is Bob Daugherty. Facing the domination of Lonas at Hilltop Bob often found himself running
second, and that's just not good enough for this guy. He would travel to a few other tracks to get his mo-jo back and once again prove that he can win anywhere. His travels would take him to 9 different tracks in 3 states adding up to 37 races this season. His reward would be 11 feature wins and 26 top
5's for the year. He brought that mo-jo back to Hilltop to win the last show of the season as icing on the cake. Those kind of stats aren't easy to come by now that this division has gotten so far from what it was meant to be. Not too shabby for
an old bottom feeder. ;-)
While the racing season brought us many great memories all summer long, there was plenty of sadness as the season came to a close. Not just because we'd
have to survive another long winter before smelling those sweet fumes again either. First came the announcement from Rick Bond that he would be hanging
up his helmet for good after the last race of 2016. For those that have watched Rick for decades, there's no doubt that guys like him are not common
enough in the world of racing. Besides being a very strong competitor, Rick has always been one that I've used as an example of a real class act on and
off the track. Soft spoken for sure, but fierce in battle behind the wheel on every lap he ever turned. He'd fight for every inch on the track and give
the shirt off his back to help anybody anywhere. From watching him from the pits, to dealing with him as a track official, I've only seen him lose his
cool once and it was well deserved. Rick has always been respectful to fellow racers, fans, and yes even track officials in all the years I've known
him. That's what heroes are made of folks. It's always tough to see one of the great old timers step away from the cockpit but lucky for us we can
usually still find them at the local tracks taking in the show. My advice is to take advantage of those opportunities and chat with them. You'll learn
much more than setup tricks, trust me.
Sad news also came just as the season was ending when one of my childhood heroes and a great friend of my dad passed away. Carl Graber may not be a name
many people remember in the racing world but they remember his work when you mention the old "Snoopy Car" that Pete Bonewit and Dean Alexander drove.
Even more memorable were probably the beautiful Mustangs driven by Dean Alexander. Yep this old farmer and my old man were partners in those cars and
built them the old fashioned way in a little 2 car garage. I still remember as a little kid watching them build a car trailer overnight in that garage
with nothing more than a stick welder, chalk lines on the floor, and pure determination. After my dad passed away I spent some time with Carl and I'm
damn glad I got that chance. We shared plenty of laughs and more racing stories than I ever expected the old fart to remember. I suppose Carl and Pop are
up there building race cars again, and I'd bet they'll be building nothing but more of those damn Fords. I never could convert those old timers to
Mopars as hard as I tried.
Even more sad news came when we lost one of the pillars of Hilltop Speedway after the season ended. Wanda Brinker was probably the strongest supporter
of Hilltop since the days when Jeff Norris got the crazy idea to bring racing action back to what had become an overgrown junk yard. You could always
find Wanda along with her daughter Carly spreading cheer through the pits in their golf cart. When it was time for the features I always try get up to
the top of the stands with these two to enjoy the action. There will be quite an emptiness up there from now on for me and many others. The top of "The
Hill" will certainly be different without Wanda, but she will never be forgotten.