Duke adds Keystone Challenge to IMCA RaceSaver resume

In the right place at the right time, Ken Duke capitalized on a late opportunity to win the season opening Pennsylvania Sprint Series Keystone RaceSaver Challenge Saturday at Port Royal Speedway. (Photo by WRT Brian Rhoad)

By Frank Buhrman

PORT ROYAL, Pa. (April 6, 2024) – Drew Young and Doug Dodson seemed ready to settle the 12th annual Keystone RaceSaver Challenge between themselves; third-running Ken Duke admitted he had nothing for the leaders.

Then, with two laps to go in the River Valley Builders Pennsylvania Sprint Series’ biggest race of the year Saturday at Port Royal Speedway, both Young and Dodson slowed with flat tires. Duke admitted he broke out in a smile when he saw that had happened.

He had the lead, but he had veteran Roger Irvine, 2023 PASS points runner-up Zach Rhodes, Jeffrey Weaver and high-riding Nick Sweigert on his bumper for the restart. Known for strong restarts, Duke didn’t flinch, but then he had to do it again after Rhodes brought out the caution with yet another flat tire with one lap to go.

No matter. Duke’s second restart was as good as the first, and the two-time PASS champion and 2019 IMCA RaceSaver Sprint Ca national champion again held off the challenges and returned to victory lane for the first time since 2022, adding the Keystone to his already stellar resume.

“I’m really blessed to be here today,” he would say to conclude his victory lane interview.

Duke’s margin of victory ended up being almost a full second over Irvine, who is celebrating his 20th season of PASS competition. Weaver was the race’s guaranteed starter as a result of winning the Founders Cup non-qualifiers’ race in 2022, the last time the Keystone was held.

Rounding out the top five were Sweigart and Jason Roush. Sweigart, the 2019 KRC winner in a race with one of the most exciting finishes of all time, tried desperately to make the high line work and even though his effort wasn’t entirely successful, he gave the fans a thrill. For Roush, a solid run all night resulted in his best PASS finish ever.

Young, who drew the pole, looked to be on the way to the biggest win of his career, which started later than for most racers and only after switching hobbies from rodeo. The two-time 2023 winner was nearly flawless on an open track and in traffic, which he had been navigating for more than a dozen laps when the tire misfortune hit.

Dodson had moved up from seventh starting and looked like he might have something to offer Young, but it turned out he could only offer “I know how you feel.”

The race ran 18 action-packed green-flag laps before the first caution. An early incident saw A.J. Barton smacking the fourth-turn wall, but the 2023 rookie of the year kept his mount under control, although he retired shortly afterward. At about midway, Kasey Weaver, another of last season’s rookies, nearly spun in four, but another strong recovery kept the race under green.

The caution finally flew on lap 19 when Landon slowed on the front stretch and stopped near turn one. It was after that restart that Dodson slipped past Irvine and set up what looked to be an exciting finish, only to have two flat tires interfere.

Saturday’s race actually was the 2023 edition, postponed by weather issues last October. The 2024 KRC will be run at Port Royal on June 29, seeking to avoid the weather programs the event has suffered recently.

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