Monday, June 18, 2018

A Few Notes From Fathers Day Weekend

At the end of my blog last Thursday I mentioned that I had plans to visit a track that I had not been to for fourteen years on Sunday night. That, along with a Facebook message to the Mason City Motor Speedway asking what time hot laps would get underway soon prompted a text message from Todd Staley asking if I was coming to the Ironman Series event at the track and if so he was going to put me to work for the evening. Let's just say that track announcer Lon Oelke had "an assignment" to take care of so it would be my job to attempt to fill in for one of the most entertaining announcers that you will find anywhere.

I enjoyed working my way through the pit area to familiarize myself with the seventy-three cars in four divisions and it was good to see several people who were regular competitors on the old NKF Tour that I had not seen face to face now for some seventeen years. It was hot, but with a steady breeze blowing from the south it was actually a comfortable evening and the racing was clicking off in fine fashion. A check of the radar as the show was starting showed one cell that was quickly moving from southwest to northeast, but I figured that it would miss us to the east and all would be fine.

As the heat races ended the sun was still shining brightly to the west, however the storm clouds had now gathered behind the grandstand to the south and the Hobby Stock feature came to the track with no time wasted. Dustin Gulbrandson emerged from an early battle with Chance Hollatz to take the lead and he would then pull away to capture the twelve-lap race in non-stop fashion and as the winner pulled to the infield for tech the raindrops started to fall.

It was an unusual scene as the sun was still shining brightly beyond turns three and four, but the rain picked up in intensity and soon it was obvious that there would be no chance to continue racing on this night as a huge rainbow developed to the east of the track. And just like that my night of announcing at Mason City for the first time since 2001 ended as I informed those that were still huddled under the grandstand that tonight's show was complete and that double features for the Tuners, Stock Cars and B-Mods would be held on Sunday July 15th.

The USRA Ironman Series for the Out-Pace B-Modifieds and the Holley Stock Cars presented by Medieval Chassis will continue this Tuesday and Wednesday night with the Boone River Bayou Dirt Track Championships at the Hamilton County Speedway in Webster City. There will be full shows both nights for the B-Mods, Stock Cars and Hobby Stocks with some big money on the line while the four cylinder Tuner division will race on Tuesday night only. Hopefully Mother Nature will cooperate as this event was rained out last summer and then was "wintered out" last October. Will the third try be the charm?

This past weekend was HOT and that combined with the fact that we have seen car counts drop off in June annually over the past several years resulted in some downright scary numbers at some tracks. Before anybody goes into panic mode though let's remember that the yearly trend has been to see car counts come back up once we get into mid-July and August and hopefully that will continue in 2018. Otherwise we could sadly see a few more tracks fall by the wayside.

It was great to see Brett Moffitt win the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at the Iowa Speedway Saturday night. The Grimes, Iowa, native was the 2007 All Iowa Points champion in the Limited Modified division when he was just fifteen and he later went on to earn the NASCAR Sprint Cup Rookie-of-the-Year honors in 2015 before losing his ride to Chris Buescher. This was his second victory in the Trucks this season.

A couple of observations after watching the UMP Summer Nationals highlights on Dirt On Dirt. First of all it was fantastic to see the crowd that packed the Sycamore Speedway on Friday night. From both the video and some pictures taken from the infield it looked like a standing room only affair, something that we hope more tracks will experience once again soon. There were however a couple of questionable calls, or rule interpretations made over the weekend. The first came on Friday when Brian Shirley got completely sideways in turn three while running third forcing Frank Heckenast Jr. to spin to avoid. The caution waved, but since Shirley did not completely stop he was given his spot back for the restart while Heckenast was sent to the rear.

Then on Sunday night in Plymouth, Indiana, Timothy Culp was leading the feature mid-race when he just missed the cushion in turn three and pitched the car completely sideways to keep from smacking the wall. Two drivers passed him as he coasted down the track before you could see the engine re-fire and the caution waved however Culp was put right back out front for the restart. Now given that the highlight video is edited I don't know if an explanation was given for this call, but my guess was that it was considered "an inadvertent yellow" since Culp never completely stopped and that is why no driver was penalized for causing the caution. If so then I suggest that UMP adopt the same rule that is now in place at Knoxville where if a driver spins and the caution waves, but the spinning driver is able to keep moving, that driver is then placed in the position that he or she would have then been running in had the caution not been displayed. So in this case Culp would have restarted the race in third.

As it turned out Billy Moyer completed the pass of Culp following the restart and went on to take the win with Culp hanging on to second. Free restarts on the opening lap and rules that take any and all judgment out of cautions doesn't make any sense for a high profile series like the Summer Nationals.

The weather will determine if and when I go racing during the week ahead and it may just shut me down until the following week when I have the final Wednesday night weekly show of the season at Osky targeted for the 27th followed by the Deery Brothers Summer series show at the Benton County Speedway in Vinton on Thursday the 28th. Get out and support the track of your choice!

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Evan Martin First Time Winner With The Sprint Invaders

Thanks to the support from several local sponsors the Sprint Invaders returned to the Scotland County Speedway in Memphis, Missouri, Friday night for the first time since 2006 and it was only fitting that a Missouri driver would race his way into victory lane. In a race where his father had some misfortune late, Evan Martin fought off a pair of drivers on the ensuing restart to add his name to the list of feature winners with the Sprint Invaders. Four other drivers raced their way into victory lane as well on a hot and sultry night in northeast Missouri.

The father and son duo of Randy and Evan Martin captured the two Sprint Car heat races and they along with the Dash winner Jon Agan had to be considered the favorites when the 25-lap main event pushed off. Evan would start from the pole position alongside Kyle Bellm who was the wheel man of the night for Scott Bonar's Midland Performance #50. The two would swap the lead on the opening lap with Martin officially scored the leader and he would build a nice advantage as the laps clicked off.

There was plenty of action behind him though as Agan raced his way up to third after starting fifth and current point leader Cody Wehrle was on the move as well looking to get around Randy Martin for fourth. Those two would swap a pair of close slidejobs, but on lap seventeen things got a little too close exiting turn two when Wehrle went up and over the right rear of Randy Martin's ride. Thankfully both cars stayed upright, but with the contact both were eliminated and the fans would now be treated to an eight lap sprint to the finish with three drivers contending for the win.

Bellm would slide up in front of Evan Martin in turn two only to have Martin duck back under him down the back stretch and Agan was right there looking for racing room. As Bellm and Agan battled for second, Martin put about ten car lengths on both of them and when Agan completed the pass for second with five to go he started to cut into that lead. The three-time and defending series champion was able to cut the margin in half as the white flag waved, but Martin was smooth to the checkers to take the win. Agan would settle for second ahead of Bellm and Brayden Gaylord nipped John Schulz by inches at the stripe for fourth.

Sixteen drivers signed in on the hot evening with a few having issues early in the night. Daniel Bergquist showed smoke in hot laps, missed his heat race and then only made a lap in the feature. Dave Keperling broke the front end of his car after making contact with Harold Pohren as the field prepared for their heat race. Then Pohren bent a valve in his 360 ending his night in a cloud of smoke. Finally, Jarrod Schneiderman slipped off the top side of turn three and went for a hard tumble in his heat race that he thankfully walked away from uninjured.

The Sprint Invaders now prepare for their county fair circuit starting at the Cedar County Fair in Tipton on Thursday July 12th, the Davis County Fair in Bloomfield on Thursday July 19th and the Dubuque County Fair in Dubuque on Tuesday July 24th.

A stout field of twenty-four Sport Mods gave the crowd an entertaining twenty-lap main event with Adam Birck pacing the field early. Austen Becerra would spin out of the fourth position on lap four sending him to the back and when Brandon Dale tried to squeeze under Daniel Fellows for third on lap seven he would spin as well. A third caution waved on lap nine when Austin Howes and Jeffrey DeLonjay tangled while racing for fifth exiting turn four.

With the stop and go first half of the race Brandon Lennox was making his way to the front after starting twelfth and on lap eleven he would drive around the outside of Birck in turn four to take the lead. At first it looked like Lennox would then pull away, but Birck fought back and was soon looking to take back what he had just lost. It was a classic battle of racing grooves between two talented drivers as Lennox worked the top side while Birck dug around the bottom and with a couple of lapped cars thrown in for good measure in the final laps this was a thriller with Lennox taking the win by just over a car length. Birck would come over to victory lane to congratulate the winner as he was a proud runner-up, Fellows was not far back in third, Charlie Weber finished fourth and Jim Gillenwater drove Fellows' backup car in for a fifth place finish.

The Stock Cars had one third the cars as the Sport Mods, but their 15-lap feature was every bit as entertaining with three drivers holding the lead at one time or another. Derrick Agee would lead until lap six when current All Iowa Points leader John Oliver Jr. went by him. That switch would be short lived though as Agee fought back to lead lap seven only to see Abe Huls race past both of them digging around the bottom on lap eight. Once again both grooves were being tested by the contenders with Huls on the bottom and Oliver up top and it would be close all the way to the checkers as Huls would take the win over Oliver and Agee. Beau Taylor was fourth and Tom Bowling Jr. filled out the top five.

Josh Barnes gave up the lead to Brandon Housley on lap two of the Sport Compact feature only to fight back and regain the lead on lap five. Barnes would then keep Housley a couple of cars lengths back over the final five laps to notch the win. Housley's winning streak was snapped, but it did come by finishing second to the former Super Nationals champion. Barry Taft was third with Brandon Reu and Kimberly Abbott next in line. Two drivers made the pull from La Crosse, Wisconsin, but both of them Seth Scholl and Justin Anderson suffered flat tires during the feature event after Scholl won one of the two heat races.

Four of the five Hobby Stocks that signed in started the feature with Aaron Martin holding back a persistent challenge from Derek Kirkland to take the win. Rick VanDusseldorp was third and Catlin Auberlin was fourth.

The Scotland County Speedway returns to action on Friday July 13th for racing during the annual Scotland County Fair.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Drake and Harrison Open Up The 2018 Hell Tour With Wins

I have had a love, hate relationship with the UMP Summer Nationals over the past several years and that was reaffirmed Wednesday night as the 2018 edition of the "Hell Tour" kicked off at the Peoria Speedway. I love the concept, racing five or six nights a week for a full month traveling track to track around the Midwest featuring the UMP Late Models and UMP Modifieds. I hate the format, two laps of group qualifying in both divisions and then start the fast guys in front.

I have been going to the Peoria Speedway off and on for the past thirty plus years and I have seen some phenomenal racing there. It seems that it usually came when the track was prepared wet so that as the night went on a heavy cushion was steadily pushed up the track so that by feature time it would be right up against the wall. That way a driver could take the risk and still pound the cushion knowing that the slightest error could find their right rear hard into the wall, they could hug the bottom feathering the throttle to make the short way around work, or they could ride the middle letting the car drive through the corner before stomping the throttle once again at the precise moment to be fast on the exit of turns two and four. Heck, with the track this wide a random slide job was an option as well making for some very exciting racing. I love it when a short track is prepared like that. Apparently the drivers of today hate it when it is prepared like that because every Summer Nationals race that I have been to over the past decade was not even close to that.

When I arrived Wednesday night qualifying had been completed for the 32 Modifieds and they were just at the halfway mark of qualifying for the 38 Late Models. I loved the car counts, but hated what qualifying 70 race cars would do to the track. It was already hard slick, taking rubber and when one of the Late Models tried a different groove than everybody else there was no cushion to be found in turn one as a plume of dust rose up when the car went up high.

After qualifying and again before the features water was put down from top to bottom which not only kept the dust at a minimum (I loved that!), but it did produce a second line for a least a few laps before everybody settled into the same groove once again (hate).

Mike Harrison and Zeke McKenzie would bring the Modifieds to green for their 25-lap feature with Harrison driving to the front and opening up a sizable margin. Lapped traffic presented a challenge for the leader, but the multi-time UMP National Champion handled it fine and cruised to victory in the non-stop event. Tyler Nicely was able to get by McKenzie late in traffic to take second, Mike McKinney finished fourth and Mike Chasteen Jr. was fifth. Give credit to the Kentucky driver Nicely who started sixth and finished second.

The Late Models would run forty laps and this one was essentially decided on the first trip around the quarter-mile when outside front row starter Billy Drake drove away from pole-sitter Jason Feger. This one did have some cautions to deal with that kept Drake out of traffic for the entire race, but even if it had come down to that late in the event everybody was using the same line so you can bet the veteran would have had the patience to just ride it out. For some it might be considered an upset for Billy Drake to win the tour's opener, but he was dominant all night setting quick time in his group and the veteran just might have had more laps around this joint than anybody else in the field with the possible exception of Todd Bennett. I loved it that Billy Drake took the win!

Feger was second, Brian Shirley was third, Billy Moyer Jr. was fourth and Michigan's Brandon Thirlby was fifth. Young Ruben Mireles debuted as the new announcer for this year's Summer Nationals and I had to appreciate his enthusiasm. After the first caution on lap three he excitedly pointed out that Brian Shirley had quickly moved to third (a check back to my notebook showed that he had started fourth) and following a mid-race caution he hyped the progress of Billy Moyer who was now running eighth and looking to continue his drive to the front. Mr. Smooth had started ninth.
Hey, that is more of an indictment of the race itself rather than the announcer from New Mexico who did a nice job of keeping the crowd informed and as he gets the proper pronunciation of names and hometowns that he had no way of already being familiar with he is going to be a good one.

So my love, hate relationship with the Summer Nationals continues and decisions will need to be made as I look at the schedule going forward and consider my options. I love that I have the opportunity to attend more knowing that there is always a chance for a good night of racing, and I would hate it if it ever went away!

I am looking forward to Friday night when the Sprint Invaders get the opportunity to race at the widest track in the Midwest, the Scotland County Speedway in Memphis, Missouri. I have a concert to go to on Saturday night, then on Sunday I am planning a road trip to a track that I have not been to in the past fourteen years. Where? Well you'll just have to come back to Back Stretch and find out!

Monday, June 11, 2018

Urbana Five Iowa Donor Network Night Full Of Action At The Benton County Speedway

One hundred thirty-three race cars in eight, yes count 'em eight classes were on hand Sunday to provide a full night of action as the Urbana Five were remembered and the gifts that they and their families gave through organ and tissue donation were celebrated through the Iowa Donor Network at the Benton County Speedway in Vinton.

The BCS Micro Mods would begin the parade of feature races with fifteen cars lined up for twelve laps. Mike Post would race to the early lead with Cole McNeal in hot pursuit until lap six when McNeal nosed ahead at the stripe. Just behind them Eric Knutsen smacked the wall near the flagstand and that would result in a red flag as Knutsen took a few moments to gather himself and then emerged from the car shaken, but under his own power. On the restart McNeal drove away and appeared to be headed to certain victory, but just before the white flag waved the battle for second between Post and Kaden Reynolds saw the two tangle in turn four to set up a green, white, checkered finale.

As the green waved Shawn Fisher timed it nicely and drove under McNeal to take the lead into turns one and two and down the backstretch. McNeal was determined though and he popped Fisher squarely on the back bumper entering turn three to open up a laner that McNeal then took on the bottom to regain the lead  before completing the final lap for the win. Fisher took second, Dallon Murty was third, Derek Knutsen fourth and Don Erger was fifth while behind them Kyle Rose was going for a tumble in turn four. In victory lane the young driver was roundly booed by the fans and then delivered a World Wresting Federation type interview to Mean Gene Okerlund, or in this case announcer Jeff Kropf, stating that the contact was not intentional and that they could tear down his car if they wanted to, everything is legal! It was a great way to start the night out in Vinton!

The twelve lap sport Compact feature was up next and it would come down to a battle between the top two drivers in the state right now. Ryan Havel would lead the opening lap only to have the defending All Iowa Points champion Barry Taft drive by on lap two. Taft was making his first ever appearance at Vinton after his regular Sunday track in Quincy took the week off and he took a quick liking to the black dirt quarter-mile two hours north of his hometown of Argyle. Jake Benischek had started seventh and by mid-race he was in second and the battle was soon on with Benischek looking for a line around the leader. After taking the waving green signifying two laps to go Benischek drove under Taft into turn one and there was contact between the two leaders in turn two.

Benischek took the lead going down the back stretch and it looked like the win would be his after taking the white flag. It was not to be though as his right front tire went down entering turn one, perhaps from the contact the lap before, and he drifted high allowing Taft to regain the lead and take the win. Jake was able to limp his car back to the checkers for second just ahead of his brother Luke Benischek, Bill Whalen Jr. was fourth and Ryan Havel, who later donated his winnings back to the Urbana Five Foundation, finished fifth.

The Stock Cars were up next with a rough beginning to their twenty-lap main event. Jerry Schipper was looking good in his 2018 debut running in the top four until he smacked the wall exiting turn four on the second lap to bring out the caution. On the restart the second place car of Dustin Vis got turned around in turn one and the scramble was on as the field stacked up. Several cars suffered damage and a few were eliminated before leader John Oliver Jr. brought the field back to green. The leader was being stalked by Damon Murty before the caution waved again for an incident involving Shane Ebaugh and Dan Trimble on lap six and following the restart Murty drove under Oliver to take the lead.

It was all over but the shouting from there as Murty pulled away to capture his career best ninety-second win at Vinton. Oliver was a distant second, Vis battled his way back up to third, Norman Chesmore was fourth and Trimble also came from the back to take fifth.

The Legend Cars were next and I must confess that I was not familiar with most of the fourteen car field. They put on a solid show for twenty laps though that featured a back and forth battle between Warren Ropp and Dave Everly with the 65-year-old Ropp eventually taking the win. He then donated his winner's check back to the Foundation during his victory lane interview with announcer Ryan Clark.

A full field of 25 Sport Mods were up next for twenty laps with Gage Neal leading the way early as the action was intense throughout the field. Tony Olson would take the lead from Neal on lap five and then ride out three restarts before securing the win. The battle behind him though was tight as they were three wide at the checkers for second with Joe Docekal taking the runner-up spot ahead of Kyle Olson who went from fifth to third on the final lap. Neal was close behind in fourth with Jacob Ellithorpe completing the top five.

It was also a 25 car field of IMCA Modifieds that would follow with Brennen Chipp racing to the early lead. Richie Gustin was on the fly and he would power past Chipp on lap five to take the point. A caution on lap eleven would close the field giving Troy Cordes a shot at the leader, but when his focus was taken by a challenge for second by Corey Dripps, Gustin pulled away to an impressive victory. Dripps would prevail in the battle for second with Cordes racing in for third, Joel Rust would move from his sixth row starting spot to fourth and Chipp fought off Tyler Madigan for fifth.

A twelve pack of Late Models were up next for twenty laps and with Ryan Dolan and Todd Cooney drawing the front row you knew that this one would have a fast pace. Dolan was hooked up on the bottom and Cooney chose the top and the chase was on with Dolan out front. Each time that it looked like Cooney might have a run on the leader, Dolan would grab a bite on the bottom and pull away again and with just one caution mid-race to slow the field it would be Dolan taking the win ahead of Cooney. Darren Ackerman challenged Cooney on that restart but settled for third, Terry Neal was fourth and I had Kelly Pestka edging out Luke Pestka at the stripe for fifth, but that is not official.

The Hobby Stocks would close out the evening in fine fashion with a last lap pass for the win. Kyle Parizek would lead the first three laps before Daniel Wauters spun in turn two to bring out the caution. On the restart Brett Vanous would pull even with Parizek exiting turn four, but perhaps a bit too even as the two cars got hooked together and before they could spin and cause a huge pileup the caution was called sending both drivers to the rear. Bradley Graham would inherit the lead on the restart and looked like he had this one well in hand, that is until Leah Wroten emerged into second.

Wroten had started ninth on the grid and once into second she was closing fast with the laps winding down. A bit of indecision in dealing with a lapped car left Graham open for a challenge on the final lap and Wroten pounced on the opportunity powering to the inside to take the lead and the win. Graham had to settle for second place pay tonight as Matt Brown and Justin Wacha were next in line, and Vanous battled back to fifth.

For most tracks eight classes of racing on a Sunday night would be like torture, but not at Vinton. Even with some time taken to smooth out a racing surface that had soaked up more than a couple of inches of rain during the previous twenty-four hours the final checkers waved right around ten o'clock still allowing this long distance traveler to be home and in bed before midnight. The announcers Kropf and Clark were entertaining as always and when Ryan is around you know that you are always going to get those amazing stats that the "Numbersman" continues to compile. Here's hoping that I can get back up to Vinton another time or two still in 2018!

Hoping to go racing three times this week highlighted by the return of the Sprint Invaders to the Scotland County Speedway in Memphis, Missouri, this coming Friday night. Work commitments and weather will determine my destinations for Wednesday and Sunday, but I do hope that you will keep an eye out for me here on the Back Stretch.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

A Sunshine of Redemption as USAC Visits Knoxville

After crashing hard during the feature event here last year Tyler Courtney appeared to be on a mission Saturday night as the Amsoil USAC National Sprint Car series returned to the Knoxville Raceway. And after setting quick time as the final car to the track in qualifying, then coming from sixth to win his heat race, the driver known as "Sunshine" completed the sweep in fine fashion by capturing the 30-lap main event.

Courtney's crash in 2017 came as he was challenging for the lead when he caught the cushion wrong in turn two and then flipped high into the air before landing in a hard fashion. There would be none of that this time around as he started the Clauson Marshall Newman Racing #7BC from the outside of row three and quickly moved to the third position behind Brady Bacon and C.J. Leary. The lead trio would run the high line around the big half mile with a bout four car lengths separating each until lapped traffic came into play on lap eighteen.

Bacon would come off the cushion first to maintain the lead as Courtney powered past Leary for second and on the following lap Sunshine would drive hard to the low side into turn one and slide up to shut the door on Bacon at the cushion to take the lead. Leary soon moved to second and kept up the chase, but there would be no catching Courtney on this night as he took the win and then made an extra lap perhaps to salute the brand new Bryan Clauson Suite Tower that now stands just beyond where Sunshine's night came to an end a year before.

Leary and Bacon would fill out the podium in second and third, Justin Grant finished a car length behind Bacon in fourth and Brody Roa was fifth in the non-stop thirty lap event. Chase Stockon was sixth, Robert Ballou seventh and Dave Darland recovered from a hard hit to the turn three guardrail in his heat race to finish eighth. Chris Windom and an unusually quite Kevin Thomas Jr. filled out the top ten.
Tyler Courtney powered past Brady Bacon to take the USAC National Sprint Car win at Knoxville - Barry Johnson photo

Starting from the pole position was a requirement if you wanted to win in the winged 360 and 305 division tonight as all four heat races and both features were won from the inside front row position.

Eric Bridger captured his fourth win of the season - Barry Johnson photo
In the 305 main event outside front row starter Devin Kline got the jump out of four and tried to close the door on Eric Bridger entering turn one, but Bridger did not flinch and stayed on the gas to claim his inside line that propelled him to the lead out of turn two. The chase was on from there and as the laps wound down lapped traffic allowed Kline to get close, but when Bridger put one last lapper between them as the white flag waved this one was over as Bridger captured his fourth win of the season here at Knoxville. Kline was second, former IMCA Modified driver Eric Glass was impressive edging out point leader Ryan Leavitt for third while Kelby Watt was fifth.

With the winged 410's having the night off A.J. Moeller dropped a 360 under the hood and as usual qualified well setting quick time and he would start the 18-lap feature to outside of Jon Agan in row one. Agan would take the lead at the drop of the green setting a quick pace until the caution waved on lap eleven when Mason Daniel and Joe Beaver made contact on the front stretch with eleven laps remaining.

Jon Agan had to use all of the race track on the final lap for the 360 win - Barry Johnson Photo
Ryan Giles had moved from fifth to second and was set to challenge for the lead as Agan brought the field back to green. Again Agan opened up a solid lead only to have Giles close the gap as the lap clicked away. As the white flag waved Giles was ready to pounce and with a couple of lapped cars taking up both lanes in front of him Agan could not be patient as they raced down the back stretch one last time. The leader drove to the bottom, make that the extreme bottom entering turn three as he drove up on the inside berm to squeeze under the lapped car of Brad Comegys and that would be the move that sealed the win as the hometown driver returned to victory lane at Knoxville for the first time in three years. Giles would come home second, Clint Garner was third, Matt Moro was fourth and Christian Bowman edged out a late charge from McKenna Haase for fifth.

It was a hot, sultry night with thunderheads safely off to the north and east as Knoxville again ran an efficient program that was scored complete at ten o'clock. On your next trip to the Sprint Car Capital of the World make sure to check out the special item of the night at the concession stand as this night's feature, the roast beef poutine was fantastic!