Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Wednesday Notebook: March 14, 2018

In my race report from Beatrice last Saturday I mentioned how much the weather forecast had changed from Thursday until race day. In that case it was for the better as while the temperatures stayed about the same, the chance of rain was eliminated from the forecast. This week however I think that I just witnessed one of the most dramatic changes in a weather forecast ever as in a manner of a few hours the outlook for this coming Friday in Memphis, Missouri, went from being sunny and warm with a high of 62, to cloudy, windy and rainy with a high of 41. And that is only three days out folks!

With the change, the Scotland County Speedway has canceled their races for the weekend, but they will be back to try it again with another special event that was already on the schedule for March 30th and 31st. That now means that I will be watching March Madness on Friday night before enjoying some family time on Saturday as I was only planning to spend night number one in northeast Missouri anyway. Others though, including our own Ed Reichert, will be making their way down to the Humboldt Speedway in southeast Kansas where they will host their second big event of the season already with the King of America Modified special. There are other events in the region as well that for now are going to take on Mother Nature and hope to come out ahead so if you don't just want to settle for basketball, hit the road!

That is what several Iowa Modified drivers did last weekend as the Southern Oklahoma Speedway in Ardmore hosted a two-day special for IMCA sanctioned cars. In Friday's action Mike VanGenderen finished ninth , Denny Pittman was twelfth while Randy Havlik and Nick Roberts were 18th and 19th. On Saturday night Roberts was the runner-up to winner Jeff Taylor, VanGenderen repeated his ninth place run and Havlik finished 13th. Russ Dickerson and Tony Hofbauer also made the long pull south.

It was sad to hear that the Chateau Raceway in Lansing, Minnesota, will not open this year and is up for sale. I first learned of this from a post on Facebook by Todd Narveson who has announced there and at several other tracks in the region. Todd was basically saying farewell for now and asking that fans be mindful of their social media use should someone new come along and try to open it once again. A couple of well meaning people made comments stating what needs to be done to make the track successful and for whatever reason it just irritated me a bit. The two comments that did essentially said that whoever opens it needs to go out and get corporate sponsorship to make the place successful. Really? Have we come to the point where we believe that this will be a "new" idea for someone who makes the investment in a race track? For that moment I guess that I put myself in the place of a promoter and just wondered how I would feel about anybody implying that I was not bright enough to realize that I needed to go out and try to get corporate sponsorship to make my track successful. Especially after I had tried and tried to bring in such sponsorship only to come up a bit short of what I would have wanted. Perhaps because that prospective sponsor chose not to be involved due to things that he had "heard" about the place on.......well you know?

As I typed out my own comment I realized that something that I had always dreamt of doing, owning my own race track, was no longer a dream of mine. I couldn't take the constant drumbeat from people who had no real stake in my operation telling me what I should, or shouldn't do in  order to make it better. Perhaps that's why the alter ego Myron Pembleton appeared a few weeks ago. I am sick of the stupidity that I see from some on Facebook when it comes to racing.

Myron had some nice feedback from several people that I respect very much in the sport, so I got a little cocky with him making some flippant comments myself referencing WWMPS....that would be What Would Myron Pembleton Say.....and I did it one too many times on Sunday. Somehow I became the person who did not want kids to become involved in racing, proof of how off the tracks a Facebook/Racing conversation can quickly become, and let's just say that I learned my lesson. By the way I have written some of my thoughts on how we handle kids at the races now compared to the past in earlier editions of the Back Stretch so if you want to go hunting, be my guest, they are not popular opinions with some.

In summary I take great pride in being a cheerleader for the sport here, something that certain others have even criticized me for in the past. I will do my best to continue to do that once I get out of this funk, a state of mind that I must still be in because I really wasn't that disappointed when I found out today that I would be watching basketball instead on Friday night.

Hope to see you at the Lee County Speedway in Donnellson on Friday March 23rd!

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Grabouski, Thornton and Appel Headline Final Night of Spring Nationals

Saturday was night two of the 25th Annual IMCA Spring Nationals at the Beatrice Speedway and 238 cars in five divisions made their way to the southeast corner of Nebraska on a day that turned out to be a bit warmer than originally expected and at the end of the night it was a hometown favorite standing in victory lane.

If you had to name the hottest driver in IMCA Modified racing right now you would have to be challenged if you didn't go with Hunter Marriott and the Brookfield, Missouri, driver drew the outside front row starting spot for tonight's 30-lap main event. Pole-sitter Jeff James held his own on the opening lap until Marriott nosed ahead at the flagstand and once out front Marriott's advantage grew quickly. The racing was solid behind him though and when the caution waved for a lap ten spin by Ryan Jenkins, Marriott was brought back to the field for the restart. Jared Hoefelman hit the pause button again on lap eleven when he stopped with a flat tire and on the next restart Jordan Grabouski went to work on the leader.

Racing on his hometown track the former IMCA Modified National Champion went to the top shelf and this became a battle of the two grooves as Marriott picked his way around the bottom. As the crossed flags indicating the mid-race point were shown Grabouski nosed ahead to take the lead as Marriott picked up the pace to stay close. Lap by lap Grabouski's lead would grow ever so slightly and after clearing three lapped cars racing for position in the final laps the winner Grabouski had ten car lengths on the runner-up Marriott at the checkers. Cayden Carter was closing late in third after he started tenth with Jeremy Payne driving the Jet Racing house car in for fourth. Kelly Shryock drove from sixteenth up to fifth followed by Josh Vogt and Jeff James. Ricky Thornton Jr. came from row eleven to take eighth after winning on Friday night as Benjie LaCrosse and Eddie Belec completed the top ten.

While he had to fight from behind all night in the Modified, Thornton had a much better night in his Tanner Racing Stock Car. Jay Schmidt would pace the opening laps of the 20-lap feature race until Dan Nelson took over on lap three. As usual in this division the battle was intense as Damon Murty snared the lead just before the caution waved for an Eric Bartels spin on lap six. On the restart Ricky Thornton Jr. pounced on Murty to take the lead and he would pace the field until four laps remained when Zack Ankrum spun in turn four.

The racing was wild on the restart as five cars had a chance for the lead coming off turn two and as Thornton once again established himself as the leader the others raced four-wide off turn four for second. Friday's winner Kyle Vanover had lined up fifth for that restart and as the white flag waved he was now second, but he could not run down Thornton who with the Stock Car victory would become the first driver to ever win in two different divisions on the same Spring Nationals weekend. Vanover was impressive coming from fifteenth to second, Derek Green started tenth and finished third, Elijah Zevenbergen came from sixteenth to fourth while Murty completed the top five.

The IMCA Sport Mods were the first of the five features on the night with front row starters Lee Horky and Cody Thompson putting on quite a show swapping the lead back and forth through the first five laps before the red flag waved when Dave Kennedy rolled over in turn one after tangling with Dakota Sproul. On the restart the fourth place car of Rick Rohr spun as he entered turn one sending the field scrambling, but when Rohr was not one of the two cars that stopped on the track he was given his spot back for the next try at a green flag.

Thompson would be the leader once back to racing and on lap seven as Rohr, Jonathan Logue and Lance Borgman raced three-wide out of turn four contact between the three would send Rohr into the front stretch wall while Logue spun toward the inside wall. On this restart Josh Appel would drive past Thompson for the lead and after missing the show by one spot on Friday night it was obvious that the Mason City, Iowa, driver was on a mission driving away from the pack. A caution on lap twelve for North Dakota's Kyle Krogh and another on lap sixteen for Curtis Dreasher slowed the field, but Appel was untouchable as he closed out the final four laps for the win. Colby Langenberg made a late charge to finish second ahead of Jake McBirnie and Brayton Carter while Jarrad Hackler edged out Horky for fifth.

Local driver Jeff Watts would pace the Hobby Stock feature for the first nine laps before Kent Husted slowed in turn two. On the restart Taylor Huss went to work on the leader and with Watts guarding the bottom Huss had to get a little rough as he squeezed under Watts for the lead on lap twelve. There would be no catching Huss from there as after finishing second to Chanse Hollatz on Friday night the Beatrice Speedway regular from nearby Reynolds would cruise to the win. Minnesota visitor Austin Jahnz would finish second, Brady Bencken was third, Roy Armstrong took fourth and Jeff Ware rallied from fifteenth to fifth.

A field of forty-two Sport Compacts made their only appearance of the weekend and in the fifteen lap feature it was the battle of the Bohlmeyers early on. Zach Bohlmeyer would lead the first three laps with Drake Bohlmeyer in hot pursuit. Dustin Thompson was chasing them in third when contact from a hard charging Ramsey Meyer sent him for a spin causing a caution. On the restart Drake would take the point, but neither Bohlmeyer could fight off Meyer who would take the lead on lap seven and the drive away for the win. The Bohlmeyers would swap the runner up spot over the final laps with Drake prevailing to finish in second..

Spring Nationals Notes......This race night was proof that you should not make a decision based upon a 48-hour weather forecast as on Thursday the outlook included a 60% chance of rain here for Saturday. By Friday night the rain had essentially been removed from the forecast and with temperatures in the mid-50's it was very seasonal. A stiff wind put a chill through all those who weren't strategically sitting in front of the press box in the grandstand and when the checkers waved at 11:24 p.m. the temperature was at 42 degrees and there were sprinkles on my windshield as I drove out of the parking lot. Much better than the sub freezing temps that I sat through here last year!......Yes, it was a six hour show, but there is nothing that can be done about that when you have so many cars in the pits. The crew did a fantastic job of having the next race rolling to the track as the one before it pulled off and the intermission that was supposed to be ten minutes long was just that, ten minutes.......Three nasty accidents added to the length of the show, the first coming on the opening lap of the sixth Hobby Stock heat when Chris Bates missed the turn at the end of the straightaway and when his car jumped the universal barrier it completely destroyed the stop and go lights entering turn one. Amazingly though Bates never even stopped as he continued to drive down the road that leads to the outside pits where he went straight to his trailer......In the second Modified heat Justin Zeitner climbed the barriers at the end of the back stretch and when his car came to a stop the crowd could only see the back bumper of his Modified sitting atop the wall in turn three.......The worst crash of the night though came at the start of the first Sport Mod B-Main when Nate Whitehurst was turned into the front stretch wall and when he bounced off of it he clipped Cole Bents who then went into a series of four or five barrel rolls right in front of the grandstand. Thankfully Bents climbed out of his mangled car unhurt and I am assuming that it was his father who rushed onto the track to give him a big hug.......The announcers for the Pay-Per-View internet broadcast were also being piped over the P.A. system so that meant that whenever there was down time the ticket buying crowd was "treated" to numerous shout outs to those who were watching online. Two of those were actually residents of Beatrice who chose to save the $40 at the ticket gate and instead pay the lower cost of the viewing pass to watch it online. So the next time that somebody tries to tell me that only people who would not have come to the race anyway are the ones watching PPV I can confidently say "Bull____!"......Well actually I have always been confident when I say that, but now I have proof.......The Beatrice Spring Nationals has become a favorite event of mine that I will continue to make a point to attend. Other than the Super Nationals you will not find a field that is so diverse as there were drivers here tonight from Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Texas, Colorado, South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Florida, Alaska and Saskatchewan. Toby Kruse and his crew prepare a great racing surface and present an efficient show making for a great way to kick off your racing season......For more Positively Racing coverage of the Spring Nationals make sure to visit Ed Reichert's One Fan's Travels after the reigning Super Fan returns to his Wisconsin home.

Next up for me will be the Friday night opener of the Memphis Spring Nationals on one of the widest short tracks that you will find anywhere. Hope to see you there!

Monday, March 5, 2018

Monday Notebook: March 5, 2018

Racing season got underway with a couple of events in the southern portion of our region this past weekend and weather permitting there are some more scheduled for the coming weekend.

The Humboldt Speedway in southeast Kansas was blessed with some great weather for the first weekend in March and they were able to get in all three nights of their annual Battle of the Bullring B-Mod Nationals. There were 128 B-Mods on hand for Thursday's opener where two rounds of heat races were run where drivers accumulated points and then the same format was used on Friday night. In Saturday's finale it was Minnesota's Skeeter Estey going from the front row to collect the $8,500 top prize while Wisconsin's Michael Truscott had to come out of the B-Main and start 14th before finishing the feature race in second. Oklahoma's Kale Westover was third while Dustin Daniels was the best of the track's regulars in fourth after starting from the pole and North Dakota's Ryan Schroeder was fifth. Andrew Schroeder was the only Iowa driver to make the show and he finished 21st.

A-Mods were also in action with a full program all three nights. Wichita's Tanner Mullens had the best weekend with a win, a runner-up finish and a third-place run. Minnesota driver Dan Ebert had a second and third place finish while Mitch Keeter (2nd and 5th), Zack Vanderbeek (two 4ths) and Terry Schultz (a win and a 5th) also cracked the top-five twice. Darron Fuqua was the other winner.

For a full story on each of the three nights make sure to check in with my Positively Racing colleague Ed Reichert and One Fan's Travels.

The Plumerville Speedway in Arkansas was able to get in the Saturday portion of their Winter Heat event before losing Sunday's finale to rain. A makeup date that will see the features for the Modifieds Factory Stocks and other divisions will be announced later today. A full program for the All Star Late Model Series was completed during Saturday's show with Memphis area driver Justin Glover taking the $2,000 victory over Cody Gentry and Josh Ray. There were fourteen Late Models signed in for the event.

Over in central Oklahoma the Red Dirt Speedway was forced to cancel the Red Dirt Revival special early due to heavy rains during the week, but the track in Meeker will come right back this weekend with a two-day Spring Nationals show on Saturday and Sunday.

In Late Model racing outside of the region there was a lot of follow the leader action going on as David Seibers went flag-to-flag to win Friday night at Clarksville and then Dennis Erb Jr. did the same there on Saturday night. Modified ace Cade Dillard won the series debut for the Louisiana Late Models at Chatham on Saturday night leading from green to checkers and Chris "Smokey" Madden captured the big money prize of the weekend winning $12,000 at the Cherokee Speedway in South Carolina on Sunday where he too went the distance out front. Michael Page seemed to be the only driver who had to pass someone to win this weekend although he did start from second in his Ultimate Southeast series win at the North Georgia Speedway.

Coming up this weekend in our region you have the Southern Outlaw Late Models and the All Star Modifieds at the Crawford County Speedway in northwest Arkansas. The Southern Oklahoma Speedway in Ardmore has two nights of IMCA racing on Friday and Saturday. The USAC National Midgets runs indoors at DuQuoin and the 42nd Annual Spring 50 is set for the Florece Speedway in Kentucky on Saturday.

I plan on catching the Iowa boys state basketball championship games on Friday night and then choosing between two racing events on Saturday. The IMCA Spring Nationals in Beatrice, Nebraska, has become a favorite of mine even after sitting out in 32 degree weather last year. As of now the forecast looks pretty good for southeast Nebraska for Thursday's practice along with full shows on Friday and Saturday. And if not, my backup plan is the Springfield Raceway in southwest Missouri where the Comp Cams Late Model Series will headline the March Madness event at Jerry Hoffman's quarter-mile oval.

There are also several car shows that are going on around the region this weekend so hopefully in one way or another you can whet your appetite with some early season racing activities! Thanks for checking out the Back Stretch.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Hedgecock and King Take Ironman Main Events at The Gap

Early morning rain yielded to sunny and warm conditions as racers and fans rolled in to the Volunteer Speedway in Bulls Gap on Saturday as the Schaefer Oil Ironman Series presented by Dirt On Dirt headlined the 3rd Annual Frostbuster at the high banked east Tennessee oval. With rain on the radar that morning and more approaching from the west the car counts in both the Super Late Models and Modifieds were light, but the local classes came through with solid counts to bring the total in the pits to nearly one hundred.

The Crate Late Model 25-lap feature would be the first of six on the afternoon with quick qualifier Anthony White starting from the pole. Despite three cautions along the way there would be nobody that could stay with the "Dirty White Boy" as White cruised to a flag-to-flag victory. Two-time UCRA champion Rusty Ballenger started seventh and finished second with Cory Hedgecock and Trevor Sise next in line. Josh Henry started last or 19th on the field after losing a wheel during qualifying and he raced his way up to fifth at the checkers.

The Classic cars at "The Gap" are the old coupes that we see at home, but this is no exhibition racing as they go all out for the checkers. Lee Merritt would lead early before being passed by John Stevens and Merritt's day ended two laps later when his right rear tire went flat. Stevens would continue to lead with Michael Millsap chasing until Millsap popped a radiator hose with two laps remaining. On the green-white-checkered restart Tim Stevens tried to get a run off the top side looking to pass his nephew, but he came up a car length short as John Stevens took the win. Jesse Hickman finished third as only five of the eighteen starters made it to the finish.

Twelve Super Late Models would go for 35 laps with pole-sitter Ray Cook racing to the early lead. On lap seven though Cook would lose a drive shaft and coast to a stop on the back stretch to bring out the caution. Chicky Barton would assume the lead on the restart with Ryan King taking second from Casey Roberts and as Barton pulled away the race for second would entertain the large crowd. Roberts would take back the second spot on lap seventeen before the caution waved two laps later when Joey Standridge spun in turn one.

It would then take a couple of restarts to get back to racing as Billy Ogle Jr. spun in turn three on the first try and on the second attempt Chad Ogle tangled with King before sliding up the track and into the wall ending his race. On both double file restarts Cory Hedgecock had taken second from Roberts, but Casey would now catch a break as the next restart would be single file.

Once back to green King would take the Warrior house car to the infield due to the damage from his skirmish with Chad Ogle and on lap 22 Roberts would have something break on his car causing it to snap spin in turn two. This would now put Hedgecock into second for the restart and when Barton pushed up the track in turn two Cory would take the lead going down the back stretch. Now running second Barton's car started to show some smoke and three laps later the engine let go ending his afternoon and causing another caution.

Only four cars now remained on the track and all four would be able to navigate the final nine laps to the checkers as Cory Hedgecock captured the victory ahead of Jadon Frame, Billy Ogle Jr. and Craig Greer. Chicky Barton would collect fifth-place money at the pay window.

The Modified Street division would take to the track next with Wayne Rader setting the early pace. Rader's race would come to a premature ending though when his entire transmission came out from underneath the leader's car on lap seven. After a lengthy cleanup Michael Woods assumed the lead and he would survive five more restarts over the twenty-lap distance to take the win ahead of Gary Blanken and Kurt Owens.

Twenty-one Sportsman cars signed in with Zach Sise and Aaron Guinn qualifying for the front row. Guinn would take the lead off the top of turn two on the opening lap and while Sise would stay close throughout he could not complete a pass of the leader. Five cautions later it would be Guinn celebrating in victory lane as Sise finished second. Brad Seagle finished where he started in third while Jed Emert and Brandon Miller completed the top five.

Even the Ironman series official expressed his disappointment with the ten car turnout for the Modifieds, but the field was solid with defending champion Shon Flanery earning the pole position. Chase King would get the jump from the two hole though and he would cruise to a convincing flag-to-flag win with Flanery finishing a distant second. Ervin Vance would take the third spot, Wayne James nursed his smoking car in for fourth while Amos Bunch completed the top five.

Notes from The Gap......This was my second visit to Volunteer Speedway, but it has been more than twenty years since I was last here. An old pylon scoreboard sign from the Bristol Motor Speedway still marks the entrance to the speedway that sits just north of Interstate 81 and features a red clay surface with an amazing 31 degrees of banking.....You have to respect the Volunteer Speedway promoter as the weather forecast for Saturday was ominous for the three or four days leading up to the event and it would have been easy to pull the plug early just like they did down the road at the Duck River Speedway. On Thursday a concerned fan posted on Facebook "With an 80% - 90% chance of rain for Saturday when are you going to cancel and reschedule?" Now if Myron Pembleton would have been promoting he would have replied "If and when it rains too much during the races". Seriously though, what a stupid post that does absolutely nothing to help the event. Yes, it rained a bit as predicted during the early morning hours, but by noon it was bright, sunny and warm enough that I wished that I had packed some shorts. And then a couple of hours later a nice overcast settled in making for perfect day race conditions......The flyer for the event stated that the driver's meeting would take place at 12:30 with racing to follow. However, with all but the Classics qualifying the racing didn't start until 3:15 p.m., but the large crowd didn't seem to mind. And in true southern fashion there were no heat races and the features started "straight up" from the qualifying times.......The final checkers waved at 6:30 as I was able to get in my first race of the season during the month of February and I would highly recommend a trip to Bulls Gap if you like some high speed, high backed dirt track action!

Friday, February 23, 2018

Myron Pembleton: Hard Nosed Promoter

Myron Pembleton has taken over as the promoter at several different tracks and he has a unique way of handling people on Facebook.

Pembleton recently worked out a deal with a race track that was on the verge of sitting idle in 2018 after it struggled last year seeing its car counts drop to below 50 in five divisions. When Myron announced that this track will actually be open in 2018 with an abbreviated season he also noted that there would only be four classes racing weekly this year. Almost immediately a "fan", not a driver posted a comment saying "What????? No A-Mods???"

Myron responded, "That is correct, there will be no A-Mods this year due to the fact that their car counts in 2017 did not justify the total purse that was paid out to the class each night. Perhaps you weren't in the stands that night when only four cars signed in? Or you have no concept of math. Thank you for your comment."

At the end of 2017 Pembleton had also purchased a race track that the previous promoter had said all season would be up for sale because he could not make any money at the facility and if no one purchased it the track would sit idle until someone did. Myron checked the books, reviewed the car counts from the past few years to identify trends, and released the 2018 schedule that would run Sunday nights weekly from mid-April through mid-September. One of the first comments on Facebook said "Only two specials? Guess I won't be coming there this year"

Myron responded, "I consider all race nights to be special, some turn out to be more so than others. If your business would like to put up some extra purse money on a given night we would welcome the sponsorship and will do everything that we can so that you get your money's worth out of it. If you do not find the efforts of our weekly drivers worthy of your attendance, that is your choice"

Pembleton was also aware of a track in Michigan that was going to close for 2018 after losing money nearly every race night last year, a track that on one night only had two Modifieds sign in. But, since he grew up in the area and went to the track as a child, Myron stepped in to keep the track open. After checking the race schedules for other tracks in the area Pembleton announced a five race schedule that would feature the Late Models, Street Stocks and Pure Stocks. Facebook comments were quick with one saying "If you don't race every Friday night, nobody will come" and "Thanks for dropping the Modifieds, I won't be there anymore!"

Pembleton replied, "Thank you for being two of the one hundred or so fans that were in the stands last year. We will miss you. For those of you who still want to see racing at XYZ Speedway please mark these five dates on your calendar."

Myron will be a busy man in 2018 and his final track that he is taking on has six divisions and has recently struggled to get the races over with before 11 p.m. When he announced the plans for 2018 that would still include all six classes the first comment to pop up on Facebook was "You need to be running the Mod Lites weekly"

Myron replied, "No thanks, only four Mod Lites showed up after last year's promoter was promised twelve or more for the end of year special and besides I already have two more classes than I need. So drivers, let that be a challenge to you and your class for 2018."

I love Myron, he is a good friend of mine and he shoots from the hip and doesn't worry about being politically correct when he responds to stupid single-minded comments on Facebook. Most promoters, especially new ones, fall into a trap where they actually try to reason with the idiots on social media, but they soon learn that this is a total waste of their time.

For Myron, and the other new promoters out there, I would recommend that they add the following disclaimer at the end of each one of their Facebook posts:

We use Facebook to let you know about what is going on at the track, not to have a conversation with you. After making this post the promoter will NOT check back to answer any questions in the comments and for those of you who are friends and supporters of XYZ Speedway we ask that you do not engage with anybody who is obviously attempting to spread rumors or negative information about the track. All questions or concerns may be expressed via phone or in a direct conversation at the track. Thank you!

And then stick to it.......

I have asked Myron if he might consider hosting the Open Trailer Nationals at one of his tracks and he replied, "Show me the money funny guy"

Hoping to dodge the rain and get my first show for 2018 in the books tomorrow. Thanks for visiting the Back Stretch and don't be an idiot on Facebook!