NASCAR drivers Kyle Busch, left, and Kasey Kahne talk before Wednesday night’s "Battle at the Grove" at Williams Grove Speedway in
NASCAR drivers Kyle Busch, left, and Kasey Kahne talk before Wednesday night's "Battle at the Grove" at Williams Grove Speedway in Mechanicsburg. The event benefiting the Kasey Kahne Foundation attracted a packed house to the speedway. (Bill Kalina Photo)
MECHANICSBURG -- Going to see Wednesday night's "Battle at the Grove" wasn't actually something that Chris Messinger planned to do.

Fortunately for Messinger, the fact that he didn't have a ticket to the event benefiting the Kasey Kahne Foundation at Williams Grove Speedway wasn't a problem. Despite a packed house for racing that featured NASCAR drivers Kahne and bad-boy Kyle Busch, Messinger was able to purchase a pit pass for the event a few hours before start time.

Messinger, a Kahne fan from Littlestown, has followed Kahne since he took over for Bill Elliott in 2004 but never came up to the dirt-track speedway the past two years when Kahne held his event in conjunction with Ollie's Bargain Outlet.

NASCAR driver Kaey Kahne changes a tire on his spring car before Wednesday night’s "Battle at the Grove" benefit for the Kasey Kahne
NASCAR driver Kaey Kahne changes a tire on his spring car before Wednesday night's "Battle at the Grove" benefit for the Kasey Kahne Foundation at Williams Grove Speedway. While the fans enjoyed the races, they also enjoyed remarkable access to Kahne and fellow NASCAR driver Kyle Busch. Fans flooded around both drivers' pit areas for pictures of the drivers and their cars. (Bill Kalina Photo)

"This was a last-minute thing to come up here," said Messinger, who took numerous pictures of Kahne in and around his car in the pit area. "Luckily, here at Williams Grove you can buy a pit pass so I just came up here tonight and got my tickets here."

It was Messinger's first time back at Williams Grove in about 20 years and it was quite an experience for him to see his favorite driver up close and personal.

"It was just awesome," he said. "To see what their routine is for getting ready for the race. It's nice to see them up close."

Kahne provided Messinger and his fans with quite a show early on. The native of Washington state won both his qualifying and dash heats handily. Kahne, however, got upstaged in the 30-lap 360 sprint-car feature event, which was won by Brian Montieth, who collected $3,000 for the victory.
Montieth started second and chased pole-sitter Kahne for the first eight laps before taking the lead. Montieth went on to score the win over Dave Ely, Fred Rahmer, Kahne, Aaron Ott, Etters' Pat Cannon, Chad Layton, Red Lion's Cody Darrah, Alan Krimes and Curt Michael.

While the fans enjoyed the races, they also enjoyed remarkable access to Kahne and Busch. Fans flooded around both drivers' pit areas for pictures of the drivers and their cars. Kahne's No. 91 Sage Budweiser sprint car was parked next to Busch's No. 51 Nos Energy Drink late-model car that is normally driven by Rick Eckert.

That was a big draw for friends Alex Brenner and Steven Kutcher, both of Lititz. The friends did exactly the same thing as Messinger -- they purchased their pit passes hours before the gates opened.

Brenner came to see Busch and his favorite driver didn't disappoint, even though this wasn't his first close encounter with Busch.

"I've been this close before," Brenner said. "I actually met him and I got his autograph about five years ago,"

Brenner was drawn to Busch because of his aggressive style, which has earned him his reputation as NASCAR's bad boy. Brenner, though, loves that Busch is ultra competitive and will do whatever it takes to win.

Busch did just that in his qualifying. Never having raced before at the Grove, nor in Eckert's late-model car, Busch grew upon his early lead and won the qualifying heat for the 25-lap feature.

The feature, though, wasn't as kind. Newberrytown's Jason Covert took the lead on the 14th lap after a stirring 12-lap battle with Busch, who had to settle for second, with Jim Yoder, Scott Haus and Jeff Rine in the top five. Rounding out the top 10 were Al Shawver Jr., Tyler Armstrong, Alan Sagi, Cory Houck and Waylon Wagner.

Busch showed a lot of class by congratulating Covert on a well-run race during the victory ceremony, in which Covert collected $1,500.

Kahne was just as gracious and thanked the fans, whose paid attendance benefited his foundation that helps under-privileged and chronically-ill children.

"I'm really thrilled and happy to see all the people out here tonight," Kahne said. "This was just awesome. It was a great show."

-- Reach Ryan Vander sloot at sports@yorkdis patch.com.