AUTO RACING: Mooney takes learning curve to dirt

·4 min read

Jun. 11—FORESTVILLE — It was a tough price for Lehighton's Josh Mooney to pay to enjoy his best finish yet in a 602 crate sportsman.

Mooney placed 10th in last Friday's feature at Big Diamond Speedway, but not before he was involved in a six-car pileup entering the frontstretch that badly dented his No. 17's bodywork.

Despite his mangled car, Mooney finished all 20 laps, adding to his education about a new racing surface.

"I only ever did asphalt, and it's good to change up and try something new," he said in the pits prior to last Friday's program. "I've only ever known Mahoning (Valley Speedway) and Evergreen (Raceway) and that's about it."

Competing in a street stock in 2020 on the quarter-mile pavement at Mahoning Valley, Mooney placed in the top 10 in six of seven starts, including a third-place finish, and was 18th in points.

But Mooney had already set his future in motion with the purchase of a Troyer modified chassis from former Big Diamond competitor Warren Floyd.

"I bought it off him a couple of years ago. It was in pieces, and I pieced it together and got it ready," he said. "We finally got it done this offseason."

The 2021 season is a new chapter for Mooney, whose community has deep ties to auto racing.

Lehighton High School's Multi-Purpose Stadium is on the site of a former dirt speedway. That was long gone by the time Mooney began a decade-long run at Lehighton's current track, Mahoning Valley.

Lehighton's racing alumni include Mike Bugarewicz, a crew chief for Stewart-Haas Racing on the NASCAR Cup Series, and Mooney's older brother Joe. A former modified driver, Joe works for the World of Outlaws sprint car team fielded by former NASCAR Cup Series driver Kasey Kahne.

"He's a single man and they travel all over the place, so it's not something for me," Josh, 31, said about his older brother. "I have two young kids at home and a wife."

A production supervisor at Altium Packaging, Allentown, Josh's routine is more modest.

"On a Friday, I get up, go to work about 4:30, 5 o'clock, leave work about 3:30, 4 o'clock, and right to the garage and right to here," he said.

Funded in part by a few sponsors who continued from his days racing on pavement, Mooney arrives at Big Diamond with a car powered by a used General Motors crate sportsman engine purchased from Hoffman Discount Parts, New Tripoli.

"It's a good starter car and something to get my feet wet in," Josh said, aware that his pavement racing experience only helps to a point on Big Diamond's 3/8-mile oval.

Those lessons on dirt started with patience that helped him to a 12th-place finish in his first appearance at Big Diamond on May 21.

"I had to learn to slow myself down a little bit from the asphalt to this," he said. "Slow my hands a little bit so I'm not too jerky on the (steering) wheel. I've learned a lot the couple of times I've been out."

He added, "Track conditions are the big thing. If it gets too slick, sometimes it's hard for passing because they are so evenly matched. These are crate motors, so everyone's got the same motor, same horsepower, same everything. It puts it more in the driver's hands, the setup more than everything."

As frustrating as that might sound, Mooney sees a big future for the division competing in its second season at Big Diamond.

"It's growing bigger and bigger all over the Northeast," he said. "It's an attractive place. You can basically pick up and go racing anywhere from Thursday through Sunday at three or four different states."

That won't be Mooney's plans for now. Father of daughters Callie and Hannah, he will miss Big Diamond's next few races to attend a dance recital and to celebrate his wedding anniversary.

"It's something to do for fun," Mooney said about driving a race car. "It's not a big thing, but it's nice to get out and play when you can. Work hard all week and then get to play all weekend."

That play might still include his asphalt street stock.

"It's still up in my garage buried under a bunch of parts," Mooney said. "I just have to put a body on it and it's ready to go if I want to run it."

Contact the writer: ccurley@republicanherald.com; 570-628-6019; @ChuckCurley on Twitter

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