Sometimes the events worth saving and in need of uplifting are helped most, by the people that they mean a great deal to personally, and it's not always the person that immediately comes to mind. Mr. Branden Lockwich...who goes by the nickname "Cleetus" operates a small promotional support group called CLEETUS INC. in the western Pennsylvania area and found an opportunity to raise such an event to another level, the annual Jook George Memorial at Pittsburgh Pennsylvania's Motor Speedway.
"I've never been in a position financially where I could go out there myself and race," Lockwich said in a recent interview. "So I figured if I can't race myself, the next best way to stay involved in the sport is to help my friends out. Just helping them stay on the track"
What started as simply way to help drivers that might need a tire or two once in a while, or a little lift by way of some necessary part or financial support to get them through the year, has now turned into his first endeavor at promoting a race.
"I pretty much came forward and volunteered to help, two of my good friends, Daryl Charlier and Tommy Schirnhofer were running in the crates and I took a special interest in the division. I started going to PPMS when I was just a young child with my parents and I remembered Jook, he was quite a character, he always had good drivers in his car. So I remembered when I was younger when it started, it was the biggest race of the year for what was then called the semi late division and it stayed that way for way while. But it seemed like it kind of fell off in the 90's and early part of the 2000's. When it first started it payed about $2,000 to win and it was 40 laps and there were always full fields. I don't want to say it was neglected, but it just kind of went on the back burner where it became just another normal race, just 20 laps and the normal purse to win. So since some of my friends were in it, you could say I had a vested interest in it. I pretty much approached Matt Miley last year with it and told him that Vince Laboon does such a great thing for his dad's race and that I'd be interested in doing something like that for the Jook George Memorial for the crate guys and that's pretty much what started the whole deal."
|Lockwich w/Daryl Charlier- Photo -Jody Halbedl|
The dirt racing landscape has seen many drivers throughout the sport promote special shows, and sometimes corporations or area business have come through to help lift an event. However, to raise an event's status, not to mention it's purse by virtue of a local fan is behavior that is often not touted enough. The industry is the one where fans can not only take an active part in, but helping build at the same time. Even if they can't fully support such an endeavor out of their own pockets, they can still work to raise the funds and raise awareness to support an event, an act that driver's have come to appreciate. But the burden of time and expertise can be hurdles that many don't often realize or are willing to overcome. Lockwich had no intention of being tripped up by any such inconveniences and has worked diligently to help put together the richest crate late model purse of the season within it's geography, while honoring the person who the race is named after. To do so, took some help, and he's had some great support from people who have been there before.
"Matt's been great to deal with. I bounce a lot of ideas off him and he does likewise. He's even reached out to other companies to get some contributions for the race. All the Miley's, they've been in the racing game for so long and they're a good resource to go to. There's really no restrictions, they put out the base purse and said that anything you collect goes straight to the purse on top of what we're offering. There was no amount that I had to give to them, everything we could collect went straight to the drivers. It's definitely been a big learning experience. And I couldn't have done it without my friend Ben Policz who was a huge help and and a lot of work to get some of the sponsors we have for this race.
I've gone to the races my whole life so I knew a lot of the people that I approached and asked to contribute to the race and that makes it a little bit easier. But at the same time, everyone has to watch what they spend so you have to be careful in how you approach it, you don't want to come off too pushy. I've met a lot of great people that I've really never talked to before and made some new friends along the way. I think it gave me a whole new level of respect for the track promoter because this is just one race and it's been a lot of work in the last two months. I couldn't imagine doing it on a weekly basis.
"The George family has been fantastic, not only did they put money into the race, but it was through them that we had an anonymous individual step up and contribute $8,000 for the purse in memory of Jook which was unbelieveable. Without that, what we've put together would not have been possible. Normally a weekly crate show at PPMS pays $700 to win, this week, that's what the ninth place driver will take home, and it goes like that on down the line"
|Jody Halbedl Photo|
And now that the bulk of the work is finished, with the exception of race night itself, Lockwich can undertake the fan side of the show at the same time. And what a show it promises to be, offering many of the area's biggest crate late model stars, regional and local drivers and touring drivers a chance at a $4110 payday, plus numerous contingency awards. Quite literally, no driver will go home empty handed, and with Lockwich's purse funds drive, many of them will go home with more than they would have had on a regular night. The drivers in attendance will make it seem like a true all star race for drivers in the PA/OH/NY region and even beyond.
"We can expect to see Wayne Robertson, John Waters, Bryce Davis and Will Thomas coming down for this if the weather works out, they've all indicated that they plan on attending. One good thing about the Jook George is that it does start 32 cars. I think most of the RUSH tour races start 24 to 26 cars so everybody has a good chance to make the race right off the bat. And the purse pays out through the field really well too. My goal would be to walk into the pits that night and be looking at 50 cars, but in this day and age there's so many events going on and people do things with their families and it's a holiday weekend too. I'm hoping for at least 40 for the kind of payout we were able to put together. This isn't a RUSH touring event per se, but it is sanctioned by them and it is the highest payout of any sanctioned event touring or weekly. So we can expect all the heavy hitters to be there."
|Jody Halbedl Photo|
Even though he's on the promotional side of the Jook George, Lockwich still retains the fan side, and offered up who to expect in the mix to take home the trophy.
"When it's all said and done it should be a mix of touring guys and locals for the win. You look at drivers that have experience in the longer races and know how to manage tires and navigate lapped traffic, guys like Charlier and perhaps John Mollick who's done really well in a crate at PPMS this year and you definitely have to look at guys like Waters and Davis who won a race at Lernerville earlier this year, they guys that come from the touring side. Or an Eric Wilson who does really well at Wayne County Speedway. There's so many good cars that are going to be here and the guys that race there week in and week out are so tough."
Sometimes it takes a special fan, to raise a special event. Sometimes they're the best caretakers of them, because it means very much to them. Lockwich is such an individual, and Saturday night at PPMS will have that much more to race for because of the care and passion he brings.
What: The Annual Jook George Memorial at PPMS
When: Saturday September 3rd; Gates Open at 5PM; Hot Laps at 6 PM; Racing at 7PM
Tickets: $20 Adult
Why: The area's highest paying RUSH sanctioned crate late model race promises to bring together the cream of the crop from the area. Also on the card, 410 Sprints and RUSH Sportsman Modifieds
Nationwide Insurance - Chris Carilli
Schwartzmiller Ground Maintenance
In Loving Memory of Jook
Taylo Auto Body
Vince Laboon in Memory of Ed Laboon
Jook George Family
Tri State Motorsports
Dirt on Dirt
Ben Policz in memory of Mark Policz
Kim Charlier Bouchon
RebelYell Motorsports Graphics
Vince Laboon in memory of Ed Laboon
Kurt Thompson Howard Hanna Real Estate Agent
Rush Racing Series
Bobby Lake Motorsports
Producers Supply Co
Daryl Charlier Racing
The Dirt Network
Imperial Tire and Auto
Schwartzmiller Ground Maintenance
D & T Autobody
Taylor Auto Body