What: The 5th Annual Ed Laboon Memorial Penn/Ohio Pro Stock Series
Where: Pittsburgh Pennsylvania's Motor Speedway; Imperial, PA
When: Saturday June 4th- 6:00 PM
It started with an idea from a determined driver with a vision, gained support and has now turned into the biggest stock car race in the tri state area. The annual Ed Laboon Memorial at Pittsburgh Pennsylvania's Motor Speewday in Imperial, PA will take to the clay for the fifth year on Saturday June 4th. The event has become the Super Bowl for area stocks, featuring a winner's share of the purse that is almost unheard of anywhere in the area. The event has now grown to such a magnitude and has so many moving parts that it literally takes months of planning and preparation to put together. But for
driver/promoter Vince Laboon, it is a labor of love, and it is done for not just his own family where it serves as a memorial to his late father, but also for the family on dirt who help support it.
"My dad and I and my whole family, my brothers included, always raced together," Laboon said in a recent interview. "I can still remember being a little kid and being carried to the pits at PPMS when it opened. My dad drove for a while, my brothers and I drove so we've always been real tight through racing. And then unfortunately my dad passed away from cancer in 2012, and I just thought it'd be a fitting way to honor him with how our bond kind of grew through racing. And just being at PPMS, I knew they had the Danny Burns races with the emods when I used to race them and I always thought that was a cool idea. And the Jook George race was such a great thing too, so I figured hey, why not honor my dad and I tried to throw something together as quick as I could and really that's how it started. I think he passed on a Wednesday and we had the first one that Saturday the week we put him to rest. So it was definitely a roller coaster but I'm glad we started it and it's kept growing to where it is today."
|Jody Halbedl Photo|
But once Laboon, put it all together for the first time four years ago, he might not have had any idea what he was getting into. The event took off and grew at a staggering pace each year due to an extremely good format and a purse that paid well throughout the field. When drivers typically try their hand at promoting, many times there's expertise they receive from more experienced business people that can advise them and help them. Laboon had some of that, but shoulders a lion's share of the actual work involved in not only pulling off such a big event, but helping it grow year in and year out. Laboon works diligently all winter long to help find new sponsors, retain current sponsors, and to help other details of the evening run smoothly.
"It is a lot of phone calls and a lot of chasing, but I have to say in the five years I've been doing it, everyone's paid me and I've even had some fans that have told me how much they appreciate it and gave me $20.00. It is a little bit challenging, there's a lot of man hours and spreadsheets involved. It starts in the winter when I start working with the Miley's and Shaun Hooks from the Penn/Ohio Series to see what they need and then before you know it it's March and I'm chasing people down to see if they want to help again this year. So many people support this race from all the sponsors to the random fan who throws me twenty dollars to help fill a spot. It's bigger than me, and it's bigger than my dad, it's a race for everyone locally, it's really turned into that."
And the fact that it has turned into what it is is no surprise. But the fact that the drivers who partake have their interests looked after when money could have been made that makes this special. This is truly a story of a driver looking after other drivers with Laboon making sure that those who can make the tow from further away are taken care of.
|Jody Halbedl Photo|
"Once we hit 50 cars I said man, the race is awesome but it would be nice if we had some kind of second chance or non qualifiers race. We do the group qualifying, the heats, and the dash that pays a hundred bucks to win and I think we're going to have two or three bmains which is awesome, and then we'll have a 28 car feature and then the Dobbs Automotive non qualifiers race which still pays better than many weekly home tracks offer. The winner receives 317 dollars from that and the pay back through is still very good, they can still take home a hundred bucks in a non qualifiers race. That's important to me and that's been growing as well. Obviously the A main purse is amazing, but I think it's equally important for the guys that have bad luck or break something, that they don't go home empty handed."
|Jody Halbedl Photo|
But arranging sponsors and purses are only half the battle for Laboon, for the other side of the coin, the rules, format and procedures, Laboon was given a big boost when the recently formed Penn/Ohio Pro Stock Series sanctioned the event.
And Laboon also sees the new surge of crate motors on the area stock scene as having as good a chance as any to make an impact on the podium at the end of the 20 lap feature on Saturday night, and if a crate motor and driver can find their way to victory lane there's some extra money on the line.
"Last year Corey McPherson came up, I think it was his first time racing a stock at PPMS and he finished in the top five. It might be a little tougher for those guys in qualifying, but once the track slicks up and with the weight breaks they get, I wouldn't be surprised to see a crate guy up front or winning this thing. Having said that if a crate driver does win there's another $500 from RUSH so if they won, they're taking home $3500.17 for this race and that's awesome."
But the race itself is much more than just a tribute, the action on the track has been outstanding as the surface at PPMS lends itself to fantastic racing more often than not, and Laboon has been happy to see the quality and caliber of driver improve year after year.
"The track at PPMS is so wide and in those sweeping corners you can see them going three and four wide racing hard, but racing clean. The first year we had a couple wrecks, but the second and third years I think we had only one caution, even with all that money on the line. It speaks to the quality of drivers we have that we can lean on each other and race clean like that and not take each other out for big money. I've had many people tell me after the first few shows that it was the best stock race that they've ever seen. To see that many cars on the track but not be worried that someone's going to hold someone up or dump someone, it's really incredible."
Come race day, Laboon plans to race, but that doesn't mean that he can't still get the overwhelming sense of pride and satisfaction that comes from pulling off such an emotionally draining time.
"It's the most important night of the year to me, and I love coming to the track and seeing the pits full at 4:30, it's incredible. I think the first race we put together we had 27 cars and I was so happy with that, and the next year we added another 10 cars, and now we're at 51 last year. The friendships I've made and some of the guys I've met through this are some of the best guys in the sport. That's what makes it worthwhile. Because I know every penny we raise, it's not going in my pocket, it's not going in the promoters pocket, the track's not taking anything. Every penny I get goes back out to the drivers. And I think that's why everyone supports it so much. This year alone with the additional sponsors at 50 cars, we're paying out over $14,000. On race day, I'm excited, we wake up and get to the track to see how many cars are in the pits and just walk around. And, if I don't know the driver I'll walk up and introduce myself thank them for coming out to support the race for my family and how important it is. The whole night is awesome. But the most enjoyable part to me is right at feature time when we do the parade lap where we keep the pole open for my dad and do kind of the ghost (missing man) formation and just take it all in. The stands are always packed, the pits are full, there's 28 of the best cars out there to honor my dad and I think at that point it really hits you. And after that, I'm just a fan like everyone else even though I do drive, at that point it's about the race itself."
"I want to thank the Penn/Ohio Pro Stock Series, a really great series, if you haven't joined, you should join, there's so many perks. And I'd like to thank Shaun Hooks and Bob Schwartzmiller. Their presenting sponsor Homak Manufacturing, they've done so much for this race to get it to where it is and also Brougher's Machine Shop too. And Matt Miley and Pennsylvania Motor Speedway, they've upped the purse this year as well to help get it where it is. And if I could I'd like to talk about our Platinum sponsors who really step up every single year. West Mifflin Collision, Horhut Tree Experts, Team Foley 16INC, J&J A.T.R which was my dad's old machine shop, Schwartzmiller Ground Maintenance, Supercuts Whitehall and Ground Effex Landscaping/