When John Bockhorn buckles into his sharp looking No. 97 this weekend at Five Mile Point Speedway in Kirkwood, NY, he will continue an impressive
rookie season in the USAC All Pro SpeedSTR division.
Bockhorn, who hails from Bloomingdale, NJ, was a fixture on the various Slingshot Tours for five years before he decided to make the switch to the increasingly popular SpeedSTR class. The mechanic at Ebers Auto notched ten victories during his time in the Slingers, with the biggest coming in Penn Can’s Small Car Nationals in 2014.
“They are the best thing to learn in,” says Bockhorn about the All Star Slingshots. “I really feel like they prepared me for whatever step I took next, and that step was into the SpeedSTRs.” With a chuckle he added that he “bought my Slingshot on a Wednesday and raced it at Hamlin on Saturday.”
His foray into the SpeedSTR division took a bit longer, but he was fully prepared and rarin’ to go when the 2015 season began at the JeffreyHogueRealtor.com Action Track USA on the Kutztown Fairgrounds.
“I bought a car from Frank Yankowski – it belonged to Paul Lotier before that – and over the winter we put a new rear and front end on the car, along with pretty much everything else that bolts on…the chassis was the same, but that was about it by the time we were finished with it,” explained Bockhorn.
Lotier told him it would take at least one full season to learn to drive the SpeedSTR. “I thought ‘no way’, but he was right,” notes Bockhorn, who started slowly but quickly gained speed in the car after listening to fellow chauffeur Tim Buckwalter.
“Timmy said ‘you’ve really got to throw the car into the corner’, and once I learned to do that and got myself to do it all the time, my speed picked up and I was definitely more competitive,” said Bockhorn.
He used the group time trial sessions utilized by Action Track USA to gauge his progress. “We went from around 25th fastest in the beginning to the teens, and then into the top ten,” he pointed out. And his rise in the qualifying sessions occurred in rapid fashion, as his immaculate white No. 97 timed seventh quickest for the Ronnie Tobias Memorial event in mid-June.
The major highlights – so far – of Bockhorn’s rookie season happened on successive Wednesdays, with a heat race triumph on July 22nd trumped only by an exciting third place finish in the following week’s 30-lap main event.
“You really have to pedal these things,” he says, “and I’m getting used to that. To summarize my first year of running in this class, I’d have to say ‘so far, so good.’ There’s definitely more give and take in this class, and I like that.”
While the third place effort produced some thoughts about possibly winning in his rookie season, Bockhorn is realistic and knows he’s competing against some of the best in the business; drivers who have, quite literally, thousands more laps in a race car than he does. You simply don’t go out and beat guys with last names like Pauch, Brightbill, Mahaney, Planck, Buckwalter, and Paules on a regular basis when you’re the new kid on the block.
Bockhorn became a steady heat race qualifier on the progressive banking of Action Track USA, but several feature finishes of 12th through 15th led to a 15th place when the final points were tallied. Not too shabby, especially when the caliber of competition at the Berks County oval is taken into consideration.
Now come the National All Pro Tour races, and Bockhorn started out with a steady run at Linda’s Speedway on September 19. He is heading to Five Mile Point’s American Racer Cup event this Saturday, October 10, to gain more experience and, hopefully, impress even more folks who will be watching.
Bockhorn’s rookie campaign will end at Grandview’s Fall Jamboree on October 31st and November 1st, when the Action Track USA staff takes over the Bechtelsville oval for its annual season ending biggie, where National Championships are decided for the SpeedSTRs, All Star and Junior Slingshots. The Pioneer Pole Building Wingless 600cc Sprints will also be on the menu at the Fall Jamboree.
And the white No. 97 SpeedSTR will be towed to all these races, as is the norm, using an old school style open trailer. “I like the fact that people can see the race car,” says Bockhorn, “and it’s cool when they go by and give us a thumbs up.”
John and his fiance`, Michelle, travel up and down the highway going to the speedways where the SpeedSTRs compete. And Bockhorn can see himself staying in the class for years to come.
“Financially, these cars make sense. We’re runnin’ for more money than most modifieds and crate modifieds run for, and I know that some of the ‘crate guys’ have about $40,000 in their cars and they run for $400 to win. And these SpeedSTRs, they’re economical to run. As long as you don’t bust ’em up too bad, it doesn’t cost that much to run them each week. And one person can maintain the car, too…you don’t need a large crew to get them ready to race.”
When he was a kid, Bockhorn’s grandparents took him to Orange County Fair Speedway in Middletown, NY, as well as to other tracks where the dirt Modifieds race. His grandparents were friends with Ed Farley and the Bottcher family, along with Jerry Higbie. Hanging around well known, veteran racers like them proved to be an education of sorts for Bockhorn, and he learned the value of being able to go to others for advice and suggestions.
He credits Lotier, who gladly provides guidance to the rookie, for his marked improvement over the course of the year. Bockhorn also says that Tim Buckwalter has been very helpful with advice and tips on how to get faster in the SpeedSTR.
In addition to Michelle’s support as a crew member, Walter Bennett also helps out at the track. And Bockhorn has been able to line up a nice array of sponsors for his effort, too.
Lending financial and product backing are Creative Auto Interiors, Ebers Auto, D&D Produce, John Fogg Exc., JBJ Electric, Lakeland Auto Parts, Stosh’s Pickles, Slinger Warehouse, and Bagel Rack.
John Bockhorn’s outgoing and friendly personality have made him a favorite with the fans and with his competitors. His improvement on the track, along with a ‘keep your nose clean’ driving style, has also opened many eyes during his first season of SpeedSTR competition.
By Barry Angstadt – https://www.facebook.com/barry.angstadt?fref=ts&ref=br_tf