Friday, September 23, 2016

Hanford By A Nose; Hughes Doubles Up at Eldon

It has been a few years since the Modified division has been on the schedule at the Eldon Raceway, but with the support of several area sponsors the class was added to Friday night's card and they definitely stole the show with a photo finish at the checkers.

With a car count bolstered by the morning cancellation at Webster City and the mid-afternoon postponement at West Liberty, eighteen drivers signed in and it was one of those drivers that had originally planned to race elsewhere this night, Bruce Hanford who started from the pole position in the 16-lap main event. The veteran driver out of Davenport would grab the early lead with pressure from Colt Mather before the only caution of the race waved when Brandon Banks slowed around the high side on lap five.

Nick Roberts had started the race in tenth and on the restart he drove around Mather and third-running Kyle Brown like they were standing still to take second and by lap seven the young Des Moines area driver was making a run at the leader. As Hanford rode the cushion, Roberts worked the low line around the "Super Half-Mile" and while Roberts would be in the lead in the middle of the turns, the momentum off the top side would vault Hanford back to the front down the straightaways.

The two contenders would race the next five laps in this fashion until Roberts pulled ahead by a car-length to officially lead the race on lap thirteen. Hanford was not about to give in though and when he found just a little more bite on the cushion Bruce was able to regain the lead on the following lap as the green flag waved indicating two to go. Roberts now moved up to the leader's favored line and tracked him to the white flag before again diving low in turn one. They would race off of turn two side-by-side before Hanford again eased ahead down the back stretch, but he now had a big decision to make as the leaders were closing fast on Terry Doud who was running up on the cushion entering turn three.

Hanford hedged his bets by going to the middle while Roberts surprisingly first went to the top in turn three. Since he didn't see his challenger to his inside, Hanford then went back to the cushion in turn four while Roberts drove to the inside. As they raced wheel-to-wheel toward the checkers Hanford had no choice but to cut down the track to avoid running over Doud and the three cars crossed the finish line in tight formation. From my angle, which was about ten yards ahead of the finish line, it looked like Roberts might have won by inches, but the people who count, and the people who are looking directly across the stripe had Hanford by a nose in a finish that I am told was confirmed by a photographer who was shooting the finish.

As one of my four NKF Modified Tour champions, and one of my favorite people in racing, I was thrilled for Bruce and his wife Carol as they celebrated in victory lane and I was very impressed with Nick Roberts who was the first to greet the winner with a hand shake followed by a big hug. As I talked with Bruce at least three people stopped by and told him that it was the best race that they have seen in years.

An early race contender, Colt Mather took home the third spot followed up by Kyle Brown in fourth and another impressive run for young Dugan Thye in fifth. Brown dodged a penalty earlier in the night when officials did not see his slidejob that had gone wrong stuffing North Dakota driver Justin Medler into the turn four wall on the final lap of the heat race.

Turn two was definitely calamity corner during the first lap in three of the other four feature races.

Stock Cars were first up on the night and an opening lap skirmish triggered by a spinning John Hemsted gathered up five cars and set the tone for a 16-lap race that took nearly thirty minutes to complete. Mike Hughes led the entire distance from his pole position start and survived four restarts to take a convincing win. The battle for second was definitely entertaining with drivers going three-wide late in the race before Donovan Nunnikhoven went for a spin out of that pack and collected Travis Bunnell. In the end it was Greg Gill who was the runner-up with Dan Gordon, who himself had spun earlier in the race but avoided penalty when the other car stopped as he scrambled through the infield finished in third, Tyler Picket made the tow down from Boxholm to take fourth while Brad Egbert was fifth.

Front row starters Casey Lancaster and Andrew Burk made contact on the opening lap of the 15-lap Sport Mod feature turning Lancaster sideways and when Brandon Dale tried to scoot under him, contact with Dale's right rear straightened out Lancaster, but turned Dale hard right in turn two where Burk then t-boned him. Once that was cleaned up Carter VanDenBerg now found himself on the front row and he would lead the opening lap before Curtis Van Der Wal blew by on lap two. It was all over but the shouting from there as Van Der Wal drove out to a big lead and cruised the rest of the way to the checkers. VanDenBerg would hold onto second racing through heavy traffic in the closing laps as this division went 23 cars strong tonight. Colton Livezy finished third, Jason McDaniel was fourth and Brayton Carter filled out the top five. Erik Laudenschlager, the 2016 Track Champion at the Nodak Speedway in Minot, North Dakota, finished in the seventh spot.

Doing double duty, the only race of the four that Mike Hughes did not draw the front row for tonight was the Hobby Stock feature where he started sixth and he narrowly avoided the turn two calamity when pole-sitter Christian Huffman slid sideways on the opening lap. Kelsie Spilman drilled Huffman ending the night for both drivers and on the restart the new pole-sitter Danny Thrasher grabbed the lead. P.J. Veenstra spun in two four as the opening lap was scored and on this restart Hughes cruised past Thrsaher for a lead that he would not relinquish scoring his second feature win of the night. Nick Ulin was the runner-up, Aaron Martin went third, Thrasher was fourth and Scott Shull filled out the top five.

The Sport Compacts had no trouble negotiating turn two on the opening lap of their 12-lap main event as third-starting Barry Taft raced to the lead. The event was slowed twice, first by debris on lap six and then on lap ten when Kyle Bond dumped Kirk Hopkins in, you guessed it, turn two and on both restarts Taft would drive away to eventually secure the win. Darin Smith and Trent Orwig chased him in for second and third, Brandon Housley came from the sixth row to place fourth while Chuck Fullenkamp completed the top five.

Eric Knapp, a new name to me at least, hot lapped a sharp looking "Lee County" Late Model car #57 tonight, but on his second time out the motor let go on him.

This was my third trip to Eldon this year and the hard working crew definitely made it a clean sweep in my eyes for 2016 with another very entertaining race program. Thanks to announcer Jeff Kropf for the Positively Racing mention, not only for myself, but also for Brian Neal who was also assisting in the tower tonight.

Hard to believe that on September 23rd I was sitting in the stands with shorts and a t-shirt on and something tells me that it will be the last time that I can pull that off in 2016, unless of course I am able to make it to West Liberty on Saturday for the second half of the twinbill for the Liberty 100. We'll have to see what my pretty lady has in mind......

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Tuesday Notebook: September 20, 2016

The last few days of summer and we have yet to have a dip in temperatures like we normally do this time of year. In fact, with highs in the 80's and even over 90 in my hometown yesterday, it is hard to believe that the 2016 racing season is winding down quickly now and it looks like the special events coming up this weekend will be run in summer like conditions.

The weather was absolutely perfect this past Saturday night as the Sprint Invaders closed out their season at 34 Raceway in Burlington and, after the 25-lap main event, there were two excited young drivers doing donuts on the front straightaway. Jarrod Schneiderman was strong all night and even though he had to fight a stuck throttle over the closing laps "Jed" was able to win his first career Sprint Invaders feature and close out a strong season as the runner-up in the series point standings.

The other celebrant was 19-year-old Chris Martin who had charged from sixth to second during the race and made one strong run at Schneiderman in the closing laps as he wrapped up the Sprint Invaders championship for 2016. Those two, along with the rest of the Invader regulars will celebrate a great season during the banquet on November 5th in Burlington.

Martin's run to the front was not without incident though as when he challenged Tyler Groenendyk for second on lap 18, Groenendyk was forced up and over the cushion making contact with the wall in turn four. Perhaps the fastest car on the track at the checkers was the winner's older brother as Josh Schneiderman had charged from twelfth to third and he was closing on Martin at the checkers. Needless to say it was a happy family in the Schneiderman pits afterward and father Bart was beaming with pride as we shared a conversation during the annual post-race potluck.

The great weather helped draw out a nice crowd for the track's season finale and there were more than twenty cars each in both the Mod Lites and the Four Cylinder divisions as well. The Mod Lites had a few more cautions than usual, and even a red flag causing their feature to run long as the first of four main events to be contested on the night. Mike Morrill seldom loses at 34 and when he drew the pole for the feature I thought this would be a race for second, but Delaware native Ty Short chased him down and passed Morrill for the lead mid-race. The variety of cautions kept it close and in the closing laps Morrill came back to take the lead, and the win from Short whose car seemed to go away from him.

Several of the top Four Cylinder drivers in the area were looking for the extra money that was up for grabs on this night and it was Brad Chandler who scored the win with some help from Bill Whalen Jr. When I asked him where his car was earlier in the night, Whalen told me that the engine and several of the parts on Chandler's car #3c were his and that he was just a pit man tonight. Track champion Ron Kibbe chased Chandler in for second.

Jeff Mallonee scored the win in the IMRA Midget main event, a race that Burlington's Dave "Beef" Anderson said would be the final one of his career and he took one last slow lap around his hometown track following the checkers before heading to the pits.

It was great way to close out the season at what is essentially my "home" track and promoters Jeff and Amy Laue have already released a schedule for 2017 that shows a 34 Raceway logo on every Saturday night from March 25th through October 7th, save for August 12th that will be an off night during the Knoxville Nationals. The details will be added later, but one event is set and that is the 9th Annual Slocum 50 that will be held on Saturday April 15th.

Moving on to other things......Last Thursday I joined in on a very interesting, and civil conversation on Facebook where a driver that I respect very much had asked the question what makes a Fall Special "special"? I don't know if it was his intent or not, but the comments had now focused on entry fees, tow money and purses overall for such events and of course the common theme was "I hate Entry Fees". Well of course you do! That's like asking people if they like dentists, but if you want your teeth to be taken care of you have to go see one once in awhile. So I pointed out that without the Entry Fees the overall purse would not be as high and I asked whether the drivers would prefer to have less money on top of the purse so that they would not have to pay the entry fee and, given the theme of the conversation, I was not surprised that nearly all of them said yes. The true test of course would be to actually run one of the Fall specials in that manner and see if that holds true or not, but I don't think that we will see that any time soon.

The other question that I asked was "do drivers believe that a promoter should make a profit on running an event?" Again it came as no surprise that not one single person answered that direct question, but from comments that you will see day in and day out on social media and internet forums it sure seems like most feel that they shouldn't. That is until a track somewhere closes and then the attitudes change really fast.

My first recollection of special events with Entry Fees was back when Dale Danielski and Doug Scheckler formed the United States Modified Series (USMS) where a standard event paid $2,000-to-win and $200-to-start. Since Modified drivers at the time were used to racing for $300 or $400 to win at weekly shows those big numbers definitely caught their eyes and nobody seemed to mind that the cost of the Entry Fee and a Pit Pass well exceeded the $75 that would be paid out to the non-qualifiers. Would their shows have drawn the same interest if they would have dropped the Entry Fee and paid $1,000-to-win and $75-to-start? Probably not, so the true question now is would more drivers actually support a show that paid less to win if it would cost them less to get in? Have we truly gotten to a point where drivers have evolved to where they consider how they will come out financially just to start the feature rather than what it pays to run first, second or third?

If we have, then I want someone to hire me, at least as a consultant, to implement some ideas where it would cost both drivers and fans less to go to the races and put our sport back to the affordable alternative to all of those other entertainment options that are out there that are regularly cited as pulling people away from the sport.

I guess I will see if anybody actually reads the Back Stretch or not, because that was basically me saying that I am open for hire :)

I know one thing, I will NOT be tracking state points for ten different states again in 2017! It was fun for awhile, then became a chore through the heart of the season as I somehow kept up, and now as the season winds down I am still tempted to try it again next year, but I am going to convince myself to know better. It will be back down to the base two, Iowa and Missouri next year along with the National Dirt Late Model points as long as Dirt On Dirt continues to make it so easy. Once this season ends in each state that I did track this year, look for the full final rundown here for this one time and one time only!

It was nice to again see a not so familiar face, at least when it comes to Dirt Late Model crown jewel events, in victory lane at Knoxville Saturday night as Mike Marlar held off Scott Bloomquist to score the win. I believe that one of the announcers said on Thursday night after Marlar had set quick time that the reason that his car was an unfamiliar color of yellow and white was that it had actually been prepared for Frank Heckenast Jr. to drive, but that he decided to stick with one of his other cars instead. Marlar has been fast at Knoxville before so I was not surprised to see him score the $40,000 win. The win moves him up a few spots in the Back Stretch National Dirt Late Model standings this week as a third-place run by Bobby Pierce allows him to inch ever closer to this year's big three. The top 100 or so are listed below.

My wife asked me this morning what I was doing this weekend which means that she is exploring the social possibilities for us. Depending upon what she comes up with I might be at Eldon on Friday, West Liberty on Saturday or Quincy on Sunday. Come on sweetheart, at least one race this weekend!

Hope to see you on the Back Stretch!

The "Back Stretch"
Dirt Late Model Points
Pos. Driver Hometown Points
1 . Josh Richards Shinnston WV 233
2 . Scott Bloomquist Mooresburg TN 217
3 . Jonathan Davenport Blairsville GA 213
4 . Bobby Pierce Oakwood IL 173
5 . Shane Clanton Locust Grove GA 144
6 . Dennis Erb Jr. Carpentersville IL 120
7 . Brandon Sheppard New Berlin IL 111
8 . Billy Moyer Batesville AR 99
9 . Don O'Neal Martinsville IN 92
10 . Dale McDowell Chickamauga GA 91
11 . Tim McCreadie Watertown NY 82
12 . Jared Landers Batesville AR 77
13 . Brian Shirley Chatham IL 74
14 . Earl Pearson Jr. Jacksonville FL 70
15 . Chris Madden Gray Court SC 68
16 . Rick Eckert York PA 67
17 . Mike Marlar Winfield TN 66
18 . Devin Moran Dresden OH 59
19 . Jimmy Owens Newport TN 58
20 . Darrell Lanigan Union KY 54
21 . Billy Moyer Jr. Batesville AR 53
22 . Gregg Satterlee Rochester Mills PA 51
23 . Brandon Overton Appling GA 50
24 . Jackie Boggs Grayson KY 50
25 . Jason Feger Bloomington IL 49
26 . Casey Roberts Toccoa GA 48
27 . Ryan Unzicker El Paso IL 48
28 . Jimmy Mars Elk Mound WI 47
29 . Chris Simpson Marion IA 46
30 . Max Blair Centerville PA 46
31 . Donald McIntosh Dawsonville GA 45
32 . Jesse Stovall Galena MO 43
33 . Tyler Carpenter Parkersburg WV 41
34 . Jason Covert York Haven PA 40
35 . Willie Milliken Leland NC 40
36 . Chris Ferguson Mount Holly NC 36
37 . Terry Phillips Springfield MO 35
38 . Frank Heckenast Jr. Orland Park IL 33
39 . Steve Francis Ashland KY 33
40 . Johnny Pursley Clover SC 32
41 . Dale Hollidge Mechanicsville MD 31
42 . Rusty Schlenk Jackson MI 31
43 . Shannon Babb Mowequa IL 31
44 . Dona Marcoullier Houghton Lake MI 30
45 . Mark Whitener Middleburg FL 29
46 . Riley Hickman Ooletwah TN 29
47 . Tim Dohm Cross Lanes WV 29
48 . Devin Gilpin Columbus IN 28
49 . Doug Drown Wooster OH 28
50 . Kyle Bronson Brandon FL 28
51 . Don Shaw Ham Lake MN 27
52 . Eddie Carrier Jr. Salt Rock WV 27
53 . Kevin Weaver Gibson City IL 26
54 . Eric Wells Hazard KY 25
55 . Ross Bailes Clover SC 25
56 . Jason Hiett Lincoln AL 24
57 . Tony Jackson Jr. Lebanon MO 24
58 . Justin Kay Wheatland IA 23
59 . Russell Erwin Beaverdam VA 23
60 . Cory Hedgecock Louden TN 22
61 . Dave Hess Jr. Waterford PA 22
62 . Dennis Franklin Gaffney SC 22
63 . Greg Johnson Bedford IN 22
64 . Michael Lake Uniontown PA 22
65 . Steve Casebolt Richmond IN 22
66 . A.J. Diemel Navarino WI 21
67 . Dylan Yoder Selinsgrove PA 21
68 . Jake Redetzke Eau Claire WI 21
69 . Matt Cosner Ridgely WV 21
70 . Corey Conley Wellsburg WV 19
71 . Eric Spangler Lake City MI 19
72 . Jared Miley South Park PA 19
73 . Mason Zeigler Chalk Hill PA 19
74 . Ryan Gustin Marshalltown IA 19
75 . Scott Ward Watertown SD 19
76 . Darrell Nelson Hermanton MN 18
77 . Freddie Carpenter Parkersburg WV 18
78 . Tyler Crowder Tallahassee FL 18
79 . Dustin Strand Grand Forks ND 17
80 . Josh Putnam Killen AL 17
81 . Ricky Weiss Winnipeg MAN 17
82 . Tyler Erb Magnolia TX 17
83 . Caleb Ashby Cunningham TN 16
84 . Chad Simpson Marion IA 16
85 . Devin Dixon Apollo Beach FL 16
86 . Donald Bradsher Burlington NC 16
87 . Jason Krohn Slayton MN 16
88 . Kyle Beard Trumann AR 16
89 . Rhett Carter Blackshear GA 16
90 . Ryan VanderVeen Six Lakes MI 16
91 . Tim Manville Highland IL 16
92 . Zack Dohm Cross Lanes WV 16
93 . David Payne Murphy NC 15
94 . Michael Kloos Trenton IL 15
95 . Rich Bell Sheffield IL 15
96 . Rob Blair Titusville PA 15
97 . Tanner English Benton KY 15
98 . Tyler Bruening Decorah IA 15
99 . Chad Holladay Muscatine IA 14
100 . Cody Mahoney Madison IN 14
101 . Cory Dumpert Lincoln NE 14
102 . Joel Callahan Dubuque IA 14
103 . Jon Henry Ada OH 14
104 . Michael Chilton Salvisa KY 14
105 . Michael Page Douglasville GA 14
106 . Ricky Thornton Jr. Chandler AZ 14
107 . Tim Senic Elkins WV 14