6th Annual Slocum 50

6th Annual Slocum 50
Saturday, April 19th at 34 Raceway

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Rogerson, Simpson, Hanford and Slaughter Fly Checkers at West Liberty

Burlington’s Matt Rogerson has been racing open-wheeled cars for twenty-seven years and is known as a short track wizard. If there is a bottom groove to be found on a 3/8th’s or quarter-mile oval Rogerson will be there and he has won his fair share of races over those years at tracks such as Jacksonville and his hometown facility 34 Raceway. On Saturday night though Rogerson accomplished something that he had never done before, he won on a half-mile track holding off Bobby Mincer to take the Ideal Ready Mix Sprint Invader victory at the West Liberty Raceway.

Three drivers came into Saturday’s show within fifteen points of each other as the Sprint Invader season hits the homestretch and those drivers, Ryan Jamison, Rogerson and Mincer started one-two-three on the grid for the twenty-lap main event. Jamison would jump out to the lead at the drop of the green only to have Rogerson drive past him on the third circuit. Mincer worked his way past Jamison for second mid-race and began to track down Rogerson as he encountered lapped traffic. Mincer showed the leader his nose with three laps to go but Rogerson shut the door and as Mincer continued to apply the pressure it appeared as though the top two slowed just a bit. Jamison and fourth-place running Joey Moughan were closing quickly as the white flag waved and Mincer took one last stab on the inside of Rogerson off turn two. Matt fought off the challenge one last time to take the win on a track that his brother Rusty, who handled the announcing duties for the Invaders tonight, stated that he usually dreads. Mincer, Jamison, Moughan and Donnie Steward completed the top five so there will not be much movement near the top of the Sprint Invader standings as they head to CJ Raceway this Saturday night.

The NASCAR Late Models had extra money on the line tonight and it looked like Jeremiah Hurst would have no trouble putting it in his bank account. Hurst started outside row one in the 35-lap finale and after running side-by-side with Andy Eckrich for the first tour around the oval he established himself as the leader and began to pull away from the pack. Even after a couple of early restarts Hurst appeared dominant, but after a caution on lap sixteen the story was different. This time Chad Simpson found the middle line in turns three and four to his liking and he drove past Hurst for the lead. From watching the first half of the race you would have thought that Hurst would come right back in turns one and two, but there was no catching Simpson as he was the new dominator over the second half of the race taking the $1,500 victory. Hurst was a distant second, Eckrich was third, Jason Utter took fourth and Denny Eckrich rounded out the top five.

It took four heats and two B-Mains to whittle the thirty-two car Modified field down to twenty-four for their twenty-lap feature that saw Adam Bell pace the first lap. Scott Dickey moved quickly from row three to take the point on lap two and it looked like he might be tough to catch over the next several laps. Cautions on lap six and lap seven bunched the field up once again and that was the break that both Ryan Dolan and Bruce Hanford needed as they were coming to the front after starting twelfth and fourteenth respectively. Dolan took the lead from Dickey on lap nine only to have Hanford drive past him on the next go around. Dolan tried to keep pace, but there would be no catching the track point leader tonight as Hanford drove away to the win while Dolan settled for runner-up laurels. Noah Coppes passed Dickey coming off of turn four to the checkers to take third while Mark Schulte completed the top five.

Autocrafters of Cedar Rapids was the night’s sponsor for the four cylinder "Farley Flyers" division and they brought a bunch of cars with them as the field swelled to twenty-three. The main event got off to a scary start as third row starter Chris Havel got turned sideways coming to the green on the front stretch sending everybody scrambling. Bill Whalen Jr. was the unfortunate one who tagged Havel and his night was over with a popped radiator. Another nasty accident happened on lap six when Dallas Chandler went head on into the turn four wall at high speed severely shortening up his racer. Chandler was shaken and was checked out by the ambulance crew, but thankfully was okay. When the race was green it was all Shaun Slaughter as he went flag-to-flag from the pole position to take the win. Brad Chandler chased Slaughter in for second with Nathan Chandler coming from the eighth row to finish third. Dan Berhite moved from twelfth to fourth at the finish while Jarod McMichael took fifth.

Liberty Notes……Along with the twenty-three Flyers and the thirty-two Modifieds there were twenty-two Late Models and fourteen Sprint Invaders in attendance……John Schulz drove Randy Plath’s #14P sprint car tonight while regular driver Kaley Gharst ran in the 410 division at Knoxville…...It looked like Bobby Mincer’s night had ended before it started when his motor puffed out a bunch of smoke during hot laps. While we did see hints of smoke off the left bank later in the evening, the motor was enough to have him challenging for the win…..Doug Haack’s yellow flag got a workout tonight as only three of the eighteen events (Sprint heat race number one, Late Model heat race number three and the Sprint Car main event) went without a caution. …..Dolan and Hanford got together during the third Modified heat with Hanford suffering a flat tire. He made it back out as the field restarted and got up to fifth forcing him to win a B-Main from the second row…..Matt Furman was back in action tonight driving a white #55N Late Model that we have previously seen Ed Nelson of Winterset in. Furman smacked the wall in turn one during his heat race reportedly when the steering wheel came off, but returned to start the feature……Denny Eckrich started near the back of his heat and surprisingly went nowhere landing him on the eighth row for the feature event. He consistently worked his way toward the front over the 35-lap distance to round out the top five…..The final checkered flag fell just past 11 p.m….This coming weekend will be the Season Championships at all three SPI tracks, Farley West Liberty and Dubuque. The Sprint Invaders will run a full program on the Friday night portion of the Yankee Dirt Classic in Farley on September 18th. The West Liberty Raceway will close out the 2009 season with the annual Liberty 100 on September 25th and 26th.

Friday, August 28, 2009

It Has Been Waaaaay Too Long......

It has been way too long since I have been to a race, especially when we are still in the month of August!!! Hopefully all of you reading this in eastern Iowa escaped damage from the heavy rains of this week. Those monsoons have wiped out tonight's (Friday) action at both Tipton and Donnellson, but it looks as though the shows will go on at all of the other Friday night tracks in the PositivelyRacing.com coverage area. I have another non-racing commitment for tonight otherwise I would have ventured up to Columbus Junction to catch the show being put on by first year promoters Don & Sharon Wood and Brian & Amanda Tipps at the CJ Speedway. The drivers better not be using the levee as a cushion coming out of turn two tonight! (Whoops! I just saw that at 5 p.m. they canceled at CJ as well. I thought it might be a little too muddy up there!)

There are some interesting choices out there for Saturday night. 34 Raceway in Burlington is having a Fan Appreciation Night with $5 admission, while West Liberty will pair up the Ideal Ready Mix Sprint Invaders with a $1,500-to-win Late Model show. Then you have all of the other great Saturday night shows throughout the region as we wind down the regular season. If my wife decides that she doesn't want to see Styx, then I'll finally return to a racetrack on Saturday night. If not, definitely on Sunday!

Last night my Netflix movie was Six Pack featuring Kenny Rogers as dirt track driver Brewster Baker. I told Christine that we were going to watch a Diane Lane movie and as soon as she saw ol' Brewster towing that #49 Late Model behind his camper she told me that she had other things to do and left! Imagine that....and I wasn't even a liar, Diane Lane plays the teenage girl in the "Six Pack" of orphans that end up serving as Brewster's pit crew as he gets a Grand National ride at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. Of course I saw the move back when it was released in 1982, but it was really fun to watch it again now just to see how much the sport has changed, both at the dirt track level as well as the big league's of NASCAR. The announced attendance at the Atlanta "Grand National" race was 56,000, the same number of people that recently attended the Nationwide race at Newton, and it showed the fans walking to the stands around the outside retaining wall in one of the turns and there was no catch fence! Anyway, if you want to have a little fun during the offseason and watch what really isn't that bad of a movie, put Six Pack on your Netflix queue.

Yikes, now I'm writing movie reviews! I really need to get back to the track, hope I see you there!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

All Iowa and All Missouri Points Update As We Head Into Season Championship Time

Believe it or not we are within a week or two of Season Championship events at most tracks to be followed by a full slate of Fall specials, so make sure that you get out to the track of your choice before the season slips away! There are several divisions where the All Iowa Points or All Missouri Points title is still up for grabs and remember that drivers in the top 100 in the standings heading into “Shiverfest” are eligible for bonus money on top of their feature winnings. The state point standings can be found on the “Points” page at www.PositivelyRacing.com.

The All Iowa Points Late Model chase has seen three different leaders over the past month and it looks like the race will come right down to the wire as the top five are within twenty-one points of each other headed into the busy “specials” season. Ray Guss Jr. is on top right now while Kevin Blum and Terry Neal are tied for second. Early pace setter Mark Burgtorf and Andy Eckrich remain within striking distance of the top.

Jeremy Mills is running away with his first All Iowa Points title in the Modifieds. Mills has nineteen feature wins so far and owns an 81-point advantage over Jay Noteboom. That is as high as Noteboom has been on the list in 2009 as he has shuffled Scott Hogan, Max Corporan and Adam Larson back to third, fourth and fifth respectively. Ryan Dolan, Troy Cordes, Bruce Hanford, Reese Coffee and Josh Foster round out the top ten.

In the Limited Modified division Kevin Sather has broken away from the pack in his quest for a second straight All Iowa Points title and now holds a thirty-one-point lead over Jesse Sobbing. Austin Kaplan, Scott Davis and Luke Wanninger rank third through fifth while Adam Ackerman, Brett Meyer, Matt Jones, Darrin Korthals and Jake Simpson complete the top ten list at this time.

Dustin Smith is poised to earn his second straight All Iowa Points Stock Car championship as he holds a 27-point bulge over Kevin Opheim. Mike Jergens has been the hottest Stock Car driver in the state lately and is now just two points out of second with Andrew Burk and Trent Murphy next in line. Greg Gill sits sixth, followed by southern Minnesota driver Jeffrey Larson, Abe Huls is eighth, Damon Murty ninth and there is a tie for tenth between Donavon Smith and Jeff Mueller.

Shannon Anderson is the first driver in any division to clear the 200-point hurdle this year on the strength of an amazing thirty-four feature wins so far. He holds a 79-point advantage in the All Iowa Hobby Stock standings over Chris Hovden with Devin Smith, Dustin Larson and Chad Gentz next in line. Sixth through tenth you’ll find Brandon Hare, Rusty Montagne, Nathan Wood, Derek St. Clair and John Cain.

Last year the All Iowa Points battle in the Four Cylinder division went right down to the final race and this year looks no different. Mankato, Minnesota, resident Nate Coopman is the new leader while Dubuque’s Jeremy Campbell is now in second. Long-time leader Gary Peiffer is still only eleven points from the top in third while Brad and Nathan Chandler round out the top five. Justin Wacha, Tim Doocy, Bill Whalen Jr. and Joe Bunkofske rank sixth through ninth while Jay DeVries and Zack Ankrum are tied for tenth at this time.
In the All Iowa Sprint Car divisions Terry McCarl has twice as many points as the two drivers, Johnny Herrera and Mark Dobmeier, who are tied for second in the 410’s. Mike Boston has opened a ten-point advantage over Jody Rosenboom and an eleven-point edge over Jack Dover in the 360’s, while in the 305’s Jayson Dittsworth is closing the gap on season-long leader Bobby Mincer. Dittsworth is now just ten points out of first while Ryan Voss ranks third.

The All Missouri Late Model Points will go right down to the wire as western Missouri driver Donnie Timmerman holds a three-point lead over St. Louis area driver Randy Korte. Defending champion Jack Simmons is in third and still has a shot to repeat.

It doesn’t get any closer than the race for the Limited Late Model division in the All Missouri Points as Darin Walker and Kyle Berry are deadlocked at the top of the list. Defending champion Billy James is just four points back in third while both Kevin Kaiser and Jeff Schlup remain close in fourth and fifth.

Defending All Missouri Points champion Tim Setzer has returned to the top of the Modified rankings with Curt Rackers giving chase just eight markers behind. Early season lead Shawn Walsh remains close in third, Vance Wilson is fourth while Danny Crane and Tony Patterson are tied for fifth. Jackie Dalton, Johnny Fennewald and Brian Bolin are next in line while Jason Russell and Jesse Stovall are tied for tenth.

Brad Smith looks like he will win the first-ever All Missouri Points Limited Modified title as he now has a thirty-point cushion over Fair Grove’s Mickey Burrell. J.C. Morton ranks third, Colt Cheevers is fourth and Blake David is fifth in the division that is being tabulated for the first time in 2009. Kyle Stolzer ranks sixth, Brian Ziegler seventh, Cody Graham is eight, Jeff Albright ninth and Billy Street is tenth at this point.

There are not too many Sprint Car dates remaining on the calendar in Missouri for 2009 so the All Missouri Points title will likely go to either Jesse Hockett, Randy Martin or Josh Fisher as they have just five points, or the equivalent of one feature win separating the three of them.

Both the All Iowa Points and the All Missouri Points can be found exclusively on the “Points” page at www.PositivelyRacing.com.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Rain Wins Saturday, Schatz Takes Sunday

Saturday night’s program at the Knoxville Nationals was frustrating. The weather forecast called for a slight chance for storms in the evening with an increasing chance after midnight, so from that standpoint it looked like we would get the show in. Looking at the radar at six o’clock told us otherwise.

Perhaps the most frustrating part of the evening was the fact that we had some of the most interesting potential storylines in the lineups from the C-Main all the way up to the A-Main as I can remember in some time. For example, Sammy Swindell looked fantastic racing his way to the front in Friday night’s A-Main and it was going to be fun to see if he could go from eleventh to first or second and transfer out of the C-Main. You had Jason Meyers starting 11th and Danny Lasoski 17th in the B-Main, so you knew that was going to be fun to watch, and not only did you have the A-Main with a bit of a mini-invert with Schatz starting sixth, but you also had “The King” slated to start from 20th. No doubt, it was going to be a fantastic night of racing!

The first shower came just prior to the opening ceremonies so the E-Main was a single-file affair on a one-lane track won by Bill Rose. We were five laps into the D-Main when Ricky Montgomery appeared to have something break as he made a hard right turn into the turn two wall. While the rescue crews worked on Montgomery, who reportedly suffered a fractured leg in the accident, the rains came once again causing a delay of about one hour. With seven laps remaining the D-Main cars were given some hot laps prior to going back to racing and I found it interesting to see that every one of them ran the same low line around the wet racetrack. I could see why the drivers running first, second and third would stay on that low line as they had transfer positions in their grasp. But why, if you are restarting fourth on back would you not go up and run this set of hot laps in the middle of the speedway to try to get the track wide enough for you to have a legitimate shot at passing someone? The result, the top three stayed where they restarted with Kaley Gharst, Toni Lutar and Josh Schneiderman advancing to the C.

The radar on my Blackberry showed that the next bigger storm was fast approaching and the lightning to the south and west confirmed that as the C-Main took to the speedway. With the narrow racetrack Swindell’s opportunity to make a run to the front was all but wiped out, but the veteran gave it his best shot as he moved up to seventh at the finish with Wayne Johnson and Billy Alley moving on to the B. As soon as the checkers waved on the C-Main we headed for the pass out gate as I was willing to risk missing out on watching the A-Main hot laps for the head start on getting out of the grandstands before this next storm hit. The rain started to fall just as we walked out the gate and by the time we made it five blocks to where we had parked we were completely drenched. Looking at the radar and seeing yet another round of showers about thirty minutes away it did not surprise me one bit when the announcement came that the rest of the show would be run on Sunday night. But with Morgan having to head back to school in Tulsa on Sunday, and with me basically worn out from twelve straight nights at the racetrack I decided that listening to Bill W give the call on Hosehead’s Radio was the best route for me rather than making the ninety-five mile journey back to Knoxville. I think that my wife Christine appreciated that decision as well.

I was glad to hear that the racing was good on Sunday night. Both Meyers and Lasoski made strong runs in the B to get themselves into the top four and transferred up to the A-Main. Steve Kinser made a big move early coming from 20th to ninth and apparently made one heck of a save just before a caution for another driver. Joey Saldana and Stevie Smith swapped the lead early before Saldana gained control and, just as I thought would happen, Donny Schatz was the fastest car at the end taking the lead from Saldana with five laps remaining then driving away for his fourth straight Nationals title. What can you say? Schatz is the man here right now much the same as Steve Kinser was back in the early 90’s and until somebody can knock him off he will be the guy that everybody loves to hate here in August.

Sounds to me like the much ballyhooed fuel stop was a non-issue as it came during a natural stoppage of the race anyway, so hopefully that subject will die off now on the message boards. Frankly I was shocked at some of the pure hate that is being shown by the AWP’s the past few weeks as several of them were basically saying that everybody should stay away from Knoxville because of this reason or that reason. I always wonder when I read this stuff whether or not that person has actually ever been to this event or not and if they really feel so strongly about what they are saying, why not sign their real name to it? At least then we could no longer call them an AWP or Anonymous Weasel Poster.

Do I like the concept of a “fuel stop”? Not really, but only if you have to throw a caution or a red just to have the stop, otherwise it is a non-issue as far as I’m concerned. I do like the concept of more laps, and frankly as a fan I don’t mind bunching the field up once again mid-race. Next year the A-Main will be fifty laps and the Nationals will be paying out just over one million dollars to the competitors. As long as they don’t get too radical, I think they can do what they want when they are paying out that kind of cash!

The one thing that I do believe though is this, having “live” television coverage of the Nationals is not helping ticket sales for the event. Back when the only option was to buy an infield pass on Saturday because every seat in both sets of grandstands were full, then live television made sense. Now….not so much. In my opinion the action, the speed and the atmosphere of any dirt track racing event does not come through when televised and it is through no fault of the fine people who are putting together the telecast. It just doesn’t translate well!

I’ve heard others make the argument that we have to have it on live TV in order to expose the sport to the casual fan. Well, if that adrenaline rush from the extra sights, smells, and action cannot be transmitted through the television then perhaps the “casual fan” appreciates that they can watch the Nationals for FREE, but are in no way motivated to invest in the trip and the ticket required to see it in person. Seems to me that the crowd for this event grew year after year based upon good ol’ word of mouth advertising as race fans like myself would tell others “you have to go to the Knoxville Nationals sometime!” I think that it is time that we get back to that.

Despite the frustration caused by Mother Nature this week, I’ll be buying my four-night ticket package when the renewals come out in November. It’s the Knoxville Nationals, I wouldn’t want to miss it!

A big thanks to Allan Holland at www.hoseheads.com for linking the “Back Stretch” up this week!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Swindell and Jeffrey Take Feature Wins; Stevie Smith Earns Saturday Night's Pole Position at Knoxville

A slightly revised Friday night format worked well providing fans with another night of entertaining action at the 49th Annual Super Clean Knoxville National presented by Lucas Oil Products. The field is now set for Saturday’s finale with the E, D, C, B and A features.

In the past, the Friday night “non qualifiers” show would have five heat races started straight up by points, a B-Main and then a twenty-lap A-Main, but this year the format was changed. Tonight we ran three “Semi-Features”, each with around 15 cars, with six of the starters were inverted by points. The top eight finishers from each would advance to the Friday night A-Main while the rest would be done for the night and would be lined up for Saturday’s D or E features. Daryn Pittman ran away with the first semi-main while Tony Bruce Jr. benefited from Randy Hannagan puffing a powerplant on the final lap to win the second semi. The third semi would see Brad Sweet wheel the third Kasey Kahne Motorsports entry past Cody Darrah with three laps remaining to take the win.

The A-Main got off to a rough start when third row starter Erin Crocker spun up the track in turn one and collected both Travis Rilat and Austin McCarl. Rilat would get upside down and both he and Crocker were eliminated from the event. On the restart Pittman shot to the lead only to have the event slowed once again on lap two when Aussie Matthew Reed shelled a motor. Once back to green the remaining eighteen laps provided plenty of action as Sweet drove by Pittman in lapped traffic on lap twelve to take the lead. Behind him though the veteran Sammy Swindell was on the charge after starting on the inside of row five. When Sweet checked up in traffic with five laps to go that was all that Sammy needed as he drove the Rolfe Trucking #10 past Sweet and continued on to a popular victory. Sweet was impressive maintaining the second spot, Randy Hannagan slipped by Pittman on the final lap to take third and Don Droud Jr. filled out the top five list.

The Scrambles were up next and while they didn’t bring anybody to the edge of their seat, they weren’t snoozers either. Ryan Anderson fought off Gary Brazier to win the C Scramble and Skip Jackson took the B Scramble ahead of Chad Kemenah. Jac Haudenschild put on quite a show in that one coming from the rear to pass Dean Jacobs on the final circuit for third. Donny Schatz avoided disaster at the start of the A Scramble as pole-sitter Dusty Zomer drove up the track and made contact with Schatz sending Zomer into a spin. After the restart it didn’t take long for the three-time defending Nationals champion to dispatch Sam Hafertepe Jr. and drive away for the victory. Schatz will start sixth in Saturday’s A-Main while Stevie Smith and Joey Saldana will go from the front row.

The Data Delivery Network World Challenge rounded out the night with a field of twenty taking the green flag for twenty laps of action. The Australian’s dominated through most of the event with Lynton Jeffrey out front being chased by Skip Jackson, Gary Brazier and Kerry Madsen. Terry McCarl was on the move working his way to the front from his sixth row starting spot while not far behind him Shane Stewart was riding the rim to the front after starting eighteenth. It looked as though nobody was going to catch Jeffrey until, of all things, a section of a billboard high atop the turn one guardrail broke loose and fell to the track with just four laps remaining necessitating a caution. With Madsen, McCarl and Stewart now lined up right on his tail tank you know that it had to be going through Jeffrey’s mind that what might have been the biggest victory of his career may have just been ruined by a falling billboard!

Lynton put that thought aside and continued his stellar drive on the restart and he was helped by the fact that the three cars behind him were now waging a thrilling battle for the runner-up spot. On the final lap, with Jeffrey driving away for the victory, Madsen and McCarl raced wheel-to-wheel both looking for the bottom groove in turn three. Stewart headed to the cushion and drove past both of them off of turn four to take second while Madsen edged out McCarl for third and Gary Brazier came in for fifth. It was the end of a frustrating day for Madsen who broke a bone in his ankle during the charity softball game in the morning when he rolled it sliding into a base.

Looking through the lineups I can’t help but think that we are set for an exciting Saturday night of action at Knoxville. If you are in the area, set the DVR, the Tivo or the VHS to record it if you’d like and then come on out to the Knoxville Raceway to witness in person one of the greatest sporting events that you will find anywhere. Believe me, watching this show, or any other dirt track race on television just does not give you the adrenaline rush that you get at the track. Come and join us if you can!

News and Notes from Knoxville's Annual Press Luncheon

One of my favorite events year after year at the Knoxville Nationals is the Friday press luncheon, and not just because they feed us press moochers for free! You just never know what you are going to learn, or what questions may be asked and there are often other entities or organizations who use the event to introduce something new to the industry.

Coming in today we knew that the hot topic would be the anticipated “fuel stop” that will happen during Saturday night’s A-Main that has been extended this year to forty laps from the traditional thirty. Race Director Ralph Capitani addressed the issue immediately following his opening comments explaining that the decision had been made based upon a full year of checking fuel usage here at the Knoxville Raceway. He noted that this track is a half-mile around the inside and that trying to make comparisons to what has happened at other facilities does not make sense. “You can fit Eldora’s track completely inside our track, so you just can’t compare the two when it comes to fuel.” Cappy then introduced his technical director John McCoy who gave even more details about the fuel stop, as well as some other rule changes that are being considered for 2010 at Knoxville. When asked why a couple of the drivers at Thursday’s post-race press conference commented that they felt that they could run forty laps here without a fuel stop, Cappy noted that a lot of the drivers that would have been in this room would have no idea how much fuel they were using because they don’t work on their cars. While this made a few people bristle a bit in the room, in truth he is probably right. Basically you can look for the fuel stop to happen somewhere between laps fifteen and thirty. If there is a caution or a red flag for an on-track incident during that range, then that is when the crews will be allowed to add fuel, otherwise Cappy and McCoy already have in mind what lap they will throw a caution of their own to add fuel.

I got a kick out of the reaction of McCoy when Cappy started to make a point on the rules by saying “back in the 1960’s and 70’s when John used to race.” Of course McCoy was probably racing a tricycle or a big wheel in those decades before becoming one of those “grass roots” racers that Cappy loves in the 1980’s. At one point during the rules discussion it was noted by Cappy that he thought that there would be representatives from both the ASCS and the Outlaws in attendance, but apparently they had other places to be.

Capitani also did a nice job of explaining the decision on Wednesday night to switch from a full invert of ten cars in the heat races to an invert of eight noting a couple of incidents in the past couple of years where cars were torn up in opening lap incidents. With only fifty cars on hand for a qualifying night there were drivers who had qualified a second and a half slower that were starting on the pole of a heat. The wet track on Wednesday night did not give us a good read on the change, but I must admit that Thursday night’s racing action paired with the complete lack of incidents in the heats made the move to an invert of eight cars look pretty good. Look for it to stay going forward.

Marketing Director Brian Stickel gave us some details on what we can look for in 2010 when the Knoxville Raceway will reach a unique milestone with the running of the 50th Knoxville Nationals. The Saturday night A-Main will be 50-laps, obviously including a fuel stop, so no worry about this becoming an event where drivers will pace themselves to save fuel, and the total purse will surpass the one million dollar threshold at $1,000,255. Cappy explained that he tried to balance things out at an even million but just couldn’t make the numbers work out in a fair manner. The winner’s purse will remain the same, but the 24th-place finisher will earn a handsome $9,500. When asked if the race will remain at fifty-laps the year beyond, Capitani chuckled and said “if I’m still alive I want the next year to be 51-laps and so on each year after that.”

The luncheon concluded with a brief introduction of the International Motorsports Industry Show to be held in Indianapolis on December 2nd & 3rd by Chris Paulsen. You can check out more on this show by visiting www.imis-indy.com.

Once again Barry and I enjoyed sitting with track historian Bob Wilson and Flat Out magazine scribe Rob McCuen as we can always count on some great stories and lively conversation from these two. Following lunch we caught up with the always entertaining and informative Bill McCroskey who told us some great stories and shared his thoughts on the state of sprint car racing and life in general. I will definitely look forward to talking more with Bill again in the future.

Now we’re set for a fun Friday night of action from Knoxville. Remember, if you can’t be here tonight you can catch the live internet broadcast by “Hot Rod” Pattison and Bill “W” Wright on Hoseheads Radio at http://www.hoseheadsradio.com

Kaeding Takes Thursday Win; Stevie Smith Top Points Man at Knoxville

The difference was like night and day, well actually night and early morning to be exact. Without the interference of Mother Nature we returned to the fantastic brand of racing that we expect Thursday night at the Knoxville Nationals, a night full of passing and action with only a couple of minor incidents. Yes, Wednesday night had plenty of interesting subplots, but tonight the story was the racing, just as it should be.

You knew that things would be back to normal when the track obviously slowed down as qualifying progressed. Dale Blaney was one of the first few cars out and his lap of 15.056 would be over half a second faster than anyone else hitting the track from mid-pack on could muster. The next proof of normality came with the drop of the green flag for the first heat race. Brian Brown went to the top and drove around the two front row starters to become the first heat race winner of the week to not start from the front row. Plus Blaney, starting eighth, was the first “fastest qualifier” in a heat race this week to make it into the top four and advance directly to the A-feature as he finished third.

The racing action warmed up nicely in heat race number two as Ricky Logan put a bold slider on Ricky Montgomery in turn four of the first lap to take the lead. Montgomery would experience the same type of move in the same location six laps later when Rager Phillips muscled him out of the fourth position. Back up front Terry McCarl was reeling in the leader Logan and pulled alongside of him coming to the checkers only to come up a half of a car length short at the line. The crowd was torn between what to watch though as at the same time Joey Saldana, the fastest qualifier in this heat race, was making the move to get around Phillips for the fourth and final transfer position.

Chad Meyer drove away to a convincing win in heat race number three while Tyler Walker advanced from eighth to third, and in the fourth heat race Stevie Smith wowed the crowd with a run from eighth to first for the checkers. Kraig Kinser then made it five-for-five tonight in regard to the fastest qualifiers advancing from the heats as he finished fourth in a race won by Lynton Jeffrey. Remember that the top qualifiers were zero for five just past midnight this morning in the opener. Obviously we were going to see a difference in how the points shook out in comparison between the two sets of qualifying.

Steve Kinser was one of the top timers who could not move forward in the heats as he started beside Josh Higday on the front row of the B-Main. Higday lead early before Kinser slipped by and “The King” had to hold off a late charge from Greg Hodnett to secure the win. Jac Haudenschild transferred from the third spot while Jesse Gianetto passed Wayne Johnson with two laps to go for the fourth and final ticket to the A-Main. Higday ran strong early in Marty Johnson’s #81 before fading and retiring to the pits, and Joey Moughan was challenging for a transfer spot when he slowed suddenly and stopped in turn four.

The feature field was set and the crowd had more life in it for two reasons, first we weren’t all half asleep as we were at 2:00 a.m. this morning and second we knew that we were going to see the type of action that the Knoxville Nationals promises each August. Dusty Zomer put the Gifford #17G out front from the pole position and looked like he might run away with this one early on. Tim Kaeding took chase and kept Zomer in his sights before the two started working lapped traffic on lap eight. Kaeding closed the gap quickly and on lap eleven, when Zomer went low into turn three to pass a lapped car and then drifted up to the cushion in turn four, Kaeding did just the opposite hooking the cushion in three and diving off the bottom of turn four to take the lead away from Zomer. With Kaeding now pulling away, Zomer continued to take on contenders with first Kraig Kinser getting by him for second and then Joey Saldana storming by him for third. Tyler Walker and Stevie Smith were next in line and they engaged in quite a battle for fourth themselves over the final laps. This race went twenty-five-laps straight with no cautions and Kinser was within striking distance of Kaeding as they headed down the backstretch for the final time, but there was no stopping the Californian from taking a win that he would celebrate with passion in victory lane. With the year that he has been having you’d have to think that Kinser was very pleased with his second place run while Joey Saldana was coming up fast at the end to finish in third. Smith finally edged past Walker late to take fourth, good enough to make him the high point man after two nights of qualifying, while Walker completed the top five.

After a disappointing qualifying effort (22nd), Terry McCarl charged from row six to finish in the sixth spot, Zomer faded to seventh at the checkers, Jason Solwold started next to Zomer on the front row and finished eighth, Dale Blaney was consistent in ninth and Brian Brown finished where he started in tenth.

Friday night’s Scrambles will shake things up a bit, but when you look at the points there are some interesting storylines to watch…..Six drivers (Smith, Saldana, Walker, Kraig Kinser, Blaney and Kaeding) tallied more points on Thursday than did Wednesday’s leader Donny Schatz. Terry McCarl came into the event red hot here at Knoxville and he will start Saturday’s A-Main from fifteenth. Don’t count him out……Steve Kinser will have his work cut out for him if he wants to claim his thirteenth Nationals title as he will start from the outside of row ten in Saturday’s finale…..Last year’s runner-up Jason Meyers will have to move from eleventh into the top four in Saturday’s B to even have a chance to win his first Nationals……Danny Lasoski will start 17th in the B and will be fun to watch in the Casey’s General Stores #6…….Jesse Hockett in 51st is the top man heading into tonight’s “Non-Qualifiers” action and he is joined by such notables as Erin Crocker (60th), Randy Hannagan (61st), Lance Dewease (62nd), Daryn Pittman (63rd), Sammy Swindell (71st), Jason Sides (82nd) and Wednesday’s fastest qualifier Cody Darrah (68th).

The forecast looks good for the remainder of the weekend so we hope to see you at Knoxville!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Shaffer An Early Morning Winner At Nationals Opener

One red dot was all it took to make a huge impact on the opening night of the 49th Annual Super Clean Knoxville Nationals. Checking the south central Iowa radar at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday night would have revealed just one small cell, no more than five miles wide, sliding slowly from northwest to southeast and, of course, headed right for the Knoxville Raceway. When it started to sprinkle at 7:10 it looked like the rain would be light and short-lived. Then it got a little darker and it started raining a little harder, then a cool wind started gusting and it rained even harder. Then the sun peeked out from the west edge of that stupid little red dot, but it continued to rain and rain hard for another ten minutes even with the sunlight shining down and finally, after about twenty-five minutes, the rain stopped but the damage was done.

As we huddled with the masses under the grandstand we noted the small river that had formed on the front concourse and how it was carrying empty beer cans toward the flagstand that, by this time of the night, should have been seeing Doug and Justin Clark drop the green on the first heat race of the night. It had rained a lot and it was going to take some time to get the track ready for the opening night of the four-day event, and both drivers and fans knew that the night’s results would be greatly affected by this “little red dot.”

I was pleasantly surprised that the delay was as short as it was with John VanDenBerg being the first car to make a qualifying run at 11:22 p.m. The track was moist, narrow and very fast with Erin Crocker putting up an early lap of 14.764 for the rest of the field to shoot at. For quite awhile it looked as though Crocker may become the first female to set “quick time” at the Nationals until the seventeen-year-old from West Virginia, Cale Conley, turned a 14.628. Recall that Conley set the new track record for the 360’s last week so it would be fitting that he would be the fastest tonight, but then another youngster Cody Darrah went out and blistered the half-mile with a lap of 14.547 leaving the kids one-two in the all-important qualifying session that pays out a maximum of 200 points.

Heat races would get under way shortly after midnight and misfortune would strike right away for Darrah as he hopped the wheel of Davey Heskin in turn two of the opening lap with both cars going for a roll. The resulting damage was too much to overcome for either driver to return for the C-Main later in the evening…..err, morning. Native Australians Gary Brazier and Skip Jackson would finish one-two in that first heat. The start of the second heat turned into a scramble when Ed Lynch tried to go three wide down the frontstretch and he ran out of room when Johnny Herrera came up the track a bit. The contact sheered off the left front wheel of Lynch and fortunately it stayed within the catch fences as it raced away by itself while Matthew Reed and Conley slid to a halt in turn one. Lynch’s crew scrambled to change a front axle during the courtesy laps from the pace car, but came up just short of being ready as the green flag waved once again. The damage on Conley’s car became apparent though as he spun off turn two on the restart and Lynch was now able to restart as the pace car made another round of courtesy laps while Conley’s crew tried to make repairs in time, but they too would come up short. The race stayed green on the third try and Calvin Landis walked away with the win over Brandon Wimmer. Shane Stewart was running a strong third until the final lap when he ran out of fuel and dropped to eighth at the finish, a victim of the two full rounds of courtesy laps at the start of the race.

It was obvious that the fast narrow race track was hard to pass on and that theory would now be put to the test in the third heat race as three-time defending Knoxville Nationals champion Donny Schatz would line up on the outside of the fourth row. Speaking of which, it shows how little I have been paying attention as I had no idea that we were only going to invert eight cars in the heats now rather than the full field of ten like we have in the past. But given the effects of that stupid little red dot, it’s a good thing that change was made or we would have ended up with a loaded C-Main instead of a loaded B-Main. Back to Schatz, as he tried to make a move using a higher line off turn two of the opening lap it looked as if he slapped the guardrail on the backstretch allowing Ty Bartz to drive by him. With front-row starters Daron Clayton and Austin McCarl driving away for a one-two finish, the crowd watched as Schatz tried to mount a challenge on Bartz for the sixth position. With no disrespect to the Wisconsin driver who gets faster each year that he returns to the Nationals, you have to think that “I outran Donny Schatz at Knoxville” will be a story that Ty Bartz will tell for years to come, and he can leave off the part about it being for the sixth position in a qualifying heat.

With all of the storylines in the first three heats the final two ran off without incident as Justin Henderson and Jack Dover picked up victories from their front row starting spots and the drowsy crowd took a break in preparation for the C, B and A features. We took that time to introduce our designated driver for the night, Morgan, to the wonders of a NOS Energy Drink as he was the only one of us that did not have to be at work later in the morning.

Only four of the nine scheduled starters came to the track for the C-Main as Erin Crocker ran off for the win and in the process became the first female to hold a track record at Knoxville setting a new six-lap standard of one minute and thirty seconds flat. The B-Main was loaded with top name drivers including five World of Outlaw regulars while in the twenty cars already qualified for the feature, there were only two Outlaw regulars. Schatz walked away with the win followed by Paul McMahan, Jonathan Allard and a fueled up Shane Stewart leaving the 2008 Nationals runner-up Jason Meyers one spot out of qualifying for the main in fifth and the all-time winningest driver at Knoxville, Danny Lasoski, a distant seventh. This left Meyers 16th and Lasoski 20th after the points were tallied up at the end of the night so they will definitely have their work cut out for them on Saturday night.

Jason Johnson shot to the lead from his pole-position start in the twenty-five lap A-Main with the rest of the field in hot pursuit on the still lightning quick surface. With lapped traffic playing a factor Tim Shaffer reeled in Johnson and drove past him to become the new leader with just six laps remaining. With Shaffer still working traffic, and Johnson, Craig Dollansky, Sam Hafertepe Jr. and Lucas Wolfe close behind we were setting up for an interesting finish until western Australian driver Greg Hall slid up the track and nailed the guardrail in turn four just ahead of the leaders. Dollansky had been one of the few to find the high line to be productive, but it bit him hard now as he was unable to avoid the stopped car of Hall and went for a tumble.

Dollansky’s crew, including car owner Kasey Kahne, worked frantically during the red flag period to make repairs knowing that every point counts and when Austin McCarl slowed on the restart it was the break that Dollansky needed as he was able to rejoin the field with five laps remaining. With an open track in front of him there was no stopping Shaffer as he picked up his second career feature win at Knoxville. Johnson held off a challenge from Hafertepe to finish second while Chad Kemenah passed Lucas Wolfe late to wind up fourth and Danny Smith fought off Schatz over the final laps to take sixth. Donny’s run from twenty-first to seventh was very impressive given the conditions and the three-time defending champ still emerged as the leading point man with 466 markers. It will be interesting to see how many Thursday night qualifiers will top that total as Morgan predicts that there will be at least four. Hafertepe sits second in points with Shaffer, McMahan and Allard next in line. Dollansky’s extra effort landed him in the eighth position of the first night points.

The final checkered flag waved just before 2:30 in the morning and our NOS-fueled driver had us back in Mt. Pleasant at 4:20 so I’m working on just a little over two hours sleep today. If you catch me dozing off in Section I tonight give me a nudge, and please, no more LITTLE RED DOTS!!!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Hockett Edges Darland In The "Ultimate" Thriller at Osky

“The One Night Stand for Fifteen Grand” came right down to the wire Tuesday night as Jesse Hockett edged out Dave Darland to win a thriller at the Southern Iowa Speedway in Oskaloosa. The Ultimate Challenge featuring the non-wing or “traditional” USAC sprint cars played out in front of a huge crowd that were sent back home, or to their motels, or to their campers buzzing about the action that they had just witnessed.

Hockett and Darland earned front row starting positions for the thirty-lap main event through a unique qualifying method where drivers accumulated points through two sets of heat races (more on that later). On the first attempt at a start, Darland got a bit of a jump and it was called back, while on the second attempt to take the green it was Hockett who got on the gas too early. Given one last chance to get it right, or else, the two brought the field off turn four in perfect fashion and twenty-four cars thundered into turn one. Darland headed down the backstretch as the leader with Hockett giving chase and as the battles for position heated up behind them, the two leaders left everybody else a straightaway behind.

Hockett was already cutting into Darland’s lead nearing the mid-race point and when “The People’s Champ” closed in on lapped traffic Hockett made his move to take the lead on lap sixteen. On the next lap the red flag flew as Travis Rilat jumped the cushion in turn one, tagged the guardrail and then went through a series of bone-jarring flips before finally coming to a halt. The fan sitting next to me said that he counted twelve times that Rilat’s car went over and it was good to see him crawl out of the mangled mess uninjured.

On the restart the scene up front looked similar to what we saw earlier, just with the roles reversed as Hockett pulled out to about a ten car-length advantage over Darland and, as those two set themselves apart from the rest, there was plenty of action to watch back in the pack. Before the red it looked like Brady Bacon was a car to watch as he had climbed from fifteenth to sixth, but he faded on the restart as Kevin Swindell and Josh Wise were now making runs to the front. With the laps winding down our attention was pulled back to the front of the pack as Darland was slowly making up ground on Hockett and with a lapped car or two just ahead it looked as though we just might have a thrilling finish on our hands and believe me, they did not disappoint.

Taking the white flag Darland dove to the inside of turn one, but could not make it stick as he slid up the track and even appeared to give up some ground on Hockett. Going into turn three the lapped car of Henry Clarke loomed ahead running the high groove so Hockett had to decide whether to stay up on the cushion, the favored line through three and four throughout the race, or go low and risk having Darland drive around him on the outside. Hockett stuck with the cushion and when Darland went to the bottom he somehow kept it there without drifting up the banking and the crowd came to their feet as the two exited the final turn side-by-side with Clarke thrown into the mix for extra excitement.

Clarke left just enough room for Hockett to squeeze his VKCC Motorsports #13 between the lapped car and the guardrail while Darland tried to find every bit of moisture that he could running the low line down the frontstretch and it was literally a drag race to the checkers. Only the people sitting even with the flagstand knew right away who won while the rest of us looked to the scoreboard to see whose transponder tripped the loop first and when the number at the top did not change we knew that Hockett had prevailed by a matter of inches. Chad Boat came across the line in the third spot, Levi Jones would finish fourth with Cole Whitt coming home fifth. Kevin Swindell started thirteenth and finished sixth, Jerry Coons Jr. started next to Swindell in row seven and finished seventh while Josh Wise overcame problems early in the night to race his way from twenty-second to eighth.

If you read my report on the 360 Nationals at Knoxville you’ll know that I mentioned that the only bright spot for Hockett last week was his Thursday night stint with Bill W. on Hoseheads Radio. Obviously the tide has turned now for the Warsaw, Missouri, driver and it will be interesting to see if he can carry this momentum over to the winged 410 Nationals at Knoxville beginning tonight (Wednesday).

USAC UC Notes…..First of all kudos to Terry McCarl and his entire crew for all of their efforts in presenting the two Challenge events at Oskaloosa. They were dealt an unexpected blow on Monday night with the rain that eventually caused a heavy one-grooved track at feature time, but they recovered very nicely. Add in the fact that he does all of this work while sweeping the 360 Nationals the week before and while prepping for the biggest event of the year for him as a racer and it is quite amazing. I’m sure that T-Mac will be the first to give credit to all of the great sponsors, track workers, family, friends and volunteers who help out with these shows, but it does take one dynamic personality to pull it all together and Terry McCarl is just that…..Rather than running time trials, the forty-two drivers drew for their starting spots in the first set of four heats. Then, using the passing points from that first set of heats, the top twenty-four were inverted (six per heat) for the second round of four heat races. The top twenty in points following both sets of heats were then lined straight up for the A-Main while the remainder of the field ran a B-Main with the top four finishers advancing to the feature. I must say that I loved this method of qualifying as it gave the fans more racing for their money and I feel that it helped make the track wide and racy with multiple grooves rather than the one-lane tracks that often develop after a full field uses the same line for two laps of time trials. I would love to see Knoxville try this qualifying method during a weekly show some Saturday night in 2010 to see how it would work with the winged cars……Five drivers, plus Travis Rilat, got upside down during the night and thankfully all of them escaped serious injury. Coleman Gulick exploded a right rear tire entering turn one during hot laps and flipped once after hitting the guardrail. Josh Wise had nowhere to go when a car spun in front of him in turn four during the fourth heat race and he went over a couple of times. Wise returned for the second round of heats and earned enough points to start mid-pack in the B-Main where he finished second to Matt Westphal. As noted above, Wise was then the hard charger advancing the most positions in the feature race. Aussie driver Dene McAllen took a spill in turn one of the fifth heat while the scariest looking skirmish of the night came at the start of the seventh heat. Brad Sweet tried to make it three-wide splitting the middle of Dave Darland and Brady Bacon heading into turn one and when he hopped the left front of Bacon his Kasey Kahne Motorsports car #9 went into a wild catapult that launched the fuel cell of his car at least fifty feet into the air. Sweet’s car along with the car of Sheldon Leesekamp actually came to a halt before the fuel cell finally landed with a thud ahead of them on the racetrack…..Terry Babb was leading the second heat when his motor let go mid-race…..The feature finish was thrilling, but believe it or not it actually ranked second on the night. Coming through turn four of the final lap of the eighth and final heat race of the night, the top four cars of Darren Hagen, Robert Ballou, Bryan Clausen, and Kevin Swindell were racing hard within about six car-lengths of each other, but when Ballou clipped the rear end of Hagen’s #12 and got him loose exiting turn four the scramble was on as the field sprinted to the stripe four-wide. Thank goodness for the transponders once again as I don’t know how a scorer would have been able to properly place all four drivers using the naked eye with Swindell taking the win ahead of Ballou, Hagen and Clausen. With the sponsor’s product award presentations to the heat race winners up next, Swindell pulled onto the frontstretch and celebrated as if he had just won a feature race including a bow to the crowd. And, when Ballou was asked about the finish, he told the crowd “We’re going to try to put on a show for you. Last night wasn’t very good, this is real racing” which of course drew a roar of approval……Damian Gardner was the winner on tonight’s drivers foot race.

The Ultimate Challenge will be a tough act to follow, but up next are my two favorite nights of racing, the qualifying nights for the Super Clean Knoxville Nationals. Five fully inverted ten-car heat races each night with all of the top names in the sport in attendance. I sure do love living in Iowa!!!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Short Night (For Us At Least) at Osky

It is 11:15 on Monday night and Morgan and I have just made the 75-mile trip back from the Southern Iowa Speedway in Oskaloosa where an unforecasted rain shower dumped a good amount of rain during the intermission of tonight's Front Row Challenge. With a full day of work ahead and with this being the first of six straight nights of action we decided to head for home rather than to wait out what we estimated would be at least a two hour rain delay of tonight's racing program. As I write this they are still working the track in Osky.

A solid field of forty-five Sprint Cars were on hand for this All Star Circuit of Champions sanctioned event. Lance Dewease set quick time on the evening while Erin Crocker, driving a sprint car for only the third time in the past four years, put up the second quickest time of the night. The fact that Crocker's run in the #59 came about midway through the qualifying order made it even more impressive.

Williston, North Dakota, driver Justin Berg blew a left rear tire going into turn one on his qualifying lap and smacked the guardrail, likely ending his night. Brad Sweet drove a third Kasey Kahne car tonight (Joey Saldana and Craig Dollansky), but when he suffered front wing damage early in the first heat Dale Blaney blew by him for the fifth and final transfer position. The fourth fastest qualifier of the night, Shane Stewart did not come to the track for his heat race. More bad luck for Stewart whose night ended in the wall at Knoxville on Saturday. That fourth heat saw Ryan Bunton and Brandon Wimmer collide in turn one on the first lap. Both cars stayed upright, but were heavily damaged. With Stewart, Bunton and Wimmer all out ouf the lineup, ninth starting Tyler Walker was able to race past Fred Rahmer for the fifth transfer position.

Bronson Maeschen edged out tall, long-legged and young Jack Dover in the drivers foot race featuring the top two finishers from each heat race. Wayne Johnson took a tumble right at the start, while Johnny Herrera went for a roll after Doug Clark's checkers. Johnson told on-track announcer Scottie Cook before the foot race that the only chance he had of winning would be if a sherrif's deputy was chasing him.

As the drivers returned to the pits to get ready for more racing the skies cut loose and it rained pretty hard for about ten minutes. With a packed down racetrack now holding standing water, we chose the option of a full night's sleep in preparation for Tuesday night's Ultimate Challenge featuring the USAC non-wing sprinters. Hope to see you on a bright sunny Tuesday evening in Oskaloosa!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Third 360 Nationals Title For McCarl; Takes 410 Win As Well at Knoxville

This weekend belonged to Terry McCarl as the Altoona, Iowa, driver captured three wins in two nights following his Saturday night sweep at the Knoxville Raceway. The final checkered flag was McCarl’s third Knoxville 360 Sprint Car Nationals title.

McCarl started out the night with a victory in the weekly 410 show as for the second night in a row he passed Brian Brown to pick up the win. Last night it was on the final corner of the final lap, while tonight McCarl made his move on Brown following a restart on lap nine of the twenty-lap main event. Brown did not go down easily as he actually regained the lead from McCarl for half a lap before Terry established himself up front once again and drove away for the convincing win. Brown ran a comfortable second while point leader Johnny Herrera came from row four to finish third. Skip Jackson took home fourth-place money while Billy Alley came from sixteenth to pass Davey Heskin off turn four of the final lap to finish fifth.

After taking care of the victory lane celebration for his win in the 410’s, McCarl climbed aboard his Big Game Tree Stands #24 with the 360 cubic inch engine under the hood and started next to Alley on the front row for the 25-lap main event that would determine the 2009 360 Nationals Champion. McCarl opened up a big lead early only to have Alley start to reel him in while working traffic with less than ten laps remaining. With five laps to go the red flag appeared when the fifth place car of Shane Stewart tagged the turn three guardrail and got upside down.

On the restart McCarl pulled away as the battle for second heated up with Alley and Wayne Johnson swapping slide jobs back and forth over the next three laps. As McCarl cruised to the checkers Johnson held off Alley for the runner-up honors with Jason Johnson taking fourth and Brian Brown fifth. Travis Rilat was sixth, Jack Dover came from eighteenth to finish seventh, Gregg Bakker was eighth, Kaley Gharst started twenty-third and finished ninth while Tony Bruce Jr. rounded out the top ten.

It was a perfect weekend for McCarl who now puts on his promoter hat for the Monday and Tuesday events at the Southern Iowa Speedway in Oskaloosa. Then, beginning Wednesday, we’ll see if he can become the first Iowan ever to win the Knoxville Nationals.

Saturday Notes……Pennsylvania youngster Cody Darrah set quick time for the forty-two 410’s entered tonight. He would later finish tenth in the main event…..Jesse Hockett rolled his 410 entry after contact with Pete Crall in the first heat race and he then later dropped out of the 360 D-Main. Hockett’s only highlight of the week came on Thursday night when he worked alongside Bill Wright on the Hosehead’s Radio internet broadcast…..Ben Gregg jumped the start from the pole position of the third 410 heat race and was immediately sent to the rear of the field…..In that third heat Johnny Herrera trailed quite a veil of smoke throughout the eight laps, but still finished in third…..Congratulations to our friend Alan Zoutte who held off former All Iowa Points champion Jody Rosenboom to win the 360 Nationals E-Main. We spend a lot of time with Alan’s family during Nationals week and they are some of the nicest people that you will ever meet…..Paul McMahan won the 360 D-Main, then started seventeenth and advanced to fifth in the twelve lap C-Main race. Unfortunately only the top two would advance…..The 360 B-Main went fifteen-laps without a caution as Matt Covington picked up the win. Justin Henderson was on the move after starting twenty-second and would have loved to see a caution as he finished eighth. Only the top four transferred with Johnny Herrera taking that last ticket to the A in his own #45x……During the red flag for Stewart’s flip in the feature race both Davey Heskin and Cale Conley were sent to the pits for the rest of the night “for rolling through the red”. Heskin was obviously upset with the call and searched out an official for further explanation……Sam Hafertepe Jr. was running fourth with two laps to go when his left rear tire blew apart. The young Texan pulled off the track without pulling a caution…..The USAC non-wing sprints take to the Knoxville Raceway on Sunday night with the 305 c.i. sprints joining the show in support.

Friday, August 7, 2009

McCarl Edges Out Brown in Friday Night Thriller at Knoxville

Night number two of the Arnold Motor Supply Knoxville 360 Nationals started out with a new track record for the division and ended with a pass for the lead coming off turn four for the checkers.

With Brian Brown starting from the pole position in the twenty-lap main event you knew that he would be the man to beat and he lived up to that promise early by opening up a solid lead over Travis Rilat. A lap four caution involving Ben Gregg and Don Young slowed the pace and on the restart it was “The Gasman” Jack Dover on the move as he drove past Gregg Bakker to take second. Dover appeared to be reeling in Brown when on lap nine a puff of smoke ended his night as he coasted to a halt in turn four.

Both Terry McCarl and Sam Hafertepe Jr. made strong moves on this restart with McCarl picking off the second spot from Rilat while Hafertepe drove past Bakker for fourth. With open track in front of him Brown continued to set a blistering pace while McCarl stayed just within striking distance. With the laps winding down McCarl searched out a different groove and he found what he wanted as he closed to within four car lengths with two laps to go. With just one lapped car between him and the checkers Brown disposed of Kenneth Walker coming to the white flag and he maintained his four car length advantage over McCarl headed down the backstretch.

Then it happened. As race fans at Knoxville have seen many times over the years, Terry McCarl has the unique ability to find that one burst of speed that he needs to make a big pass and tonight was no different as he stuck the Big Game Tree Stands #24 to the bottom of turn three to take the lead and the win away from Brown off the final turn of the race. Rilat would take home the third spot with Hafertepe fourth and Bakker in fifth. Bronson Maeschen started sixth and finished sixth, Garry Lee Maier was seventh, Tim Crawley worked his way forward from row seven to finish eighth, Lou Kennedy Jr. was ninth and Davey Heskin completed the top ten.

Brian Brown had a special paint scheme for his #21 at the 360 Nationals as he lines up next to Travis Rilat - Barry Johnson photo

Friday Notes…..Jack Dover was the first car out to time and established a new track record for the 360’s but his hold on that record was short-lived as 17-year-old Cale Conley from Vienna, West Virginia, took it even lower with a lap of 15.973…..Conley failed to transfer out of the first heat, won the B-Main from the pole and then finished 18th in the feature race…..Colorado driver Joe McCarthy timed in well, but he would then like to forget the rest of the night. McCarthy tangled with Butch Hanssen in the second heat sending him to the C-Main that he won convincingly. His night came to an abrupt halt in the B-Main when he slapped the turn one guardrail on lap two and rolled hard three times…..Garry Lee Maier edged out track regular Dennis Moore Jr. for the fourth and final transfer position in the fourth heat…..Arizona driver Ben Gregg looked good winning the fifth heat only to have his night end early in the lap four incident in the A-Main…..The start of the B-Main had its own drama as the pole-sitter Conley set a very slow pace coming to the line in turn four. The first start was called back by flagman Justin Clark and on the second try the fourth starting Kenny Jacobs hit the go button a bit early and climbed the left rear wheel of outside front row starter Kevin Ramey. Jacobs’ car got onto its side, but from a distance did not appear to be too damaged. The veteran driver however climbed out and walked away dejectedly apparently looking for someone to vent his frustration to…..Brad Sweet, driving one of Kasey Kahne’s sprinters, held off Brady Bacon for the fourth and final transfer out of the B……The track stayed heavy and somewhat narrow all night after steady rain fell for most of the morning……Saturday’s forecast calls for temperatures in the mid-90’s so it won’t only be the racing that is hot at Knoxville as a full program of 410’s will be run along with the finals of the 360 Nationals…..I’m looking at purchasing a horizontal directional drill from Vermeer to take care of some gophers in my backyard. See, event sponsorship really does work!

Johnson Sets Himself Up For a 360 Nationals Repeat By Taking Thursday Win at Knoxville

Night number one of the Arnold Motor Supply Knoxville 360 Sprint Car Nationals presented by Vermeer is in the books and it was a night of extremes for drivers that had to be considered pre-race favorites. The last two champions of the event, Wayne Johnson and Shane Stewart, finished one-two while a couple of other big names never even got out of the starting blocks Thursday night.

Dale Blaney had racked up the third highest point total through qualifying and the heat races and was slated to start sixth in the twenty lap main event. He pushed off with the rest of the twenty-four-car field and made a slow lap or two before stalling on the frontstretch. After two courtesy laps Blaney tried again to light the fire under his #6 with no luck and the race started without him. A first turn melee that saw Matt Covington go for a tumble brought out the red and it looked like Blaney might have been handed a gift as his crew now had time to change out the MSD box assuming that was the issue. When the field pushed off once again Blaney soon found that there was something else that was keeping his car from starting and his night was through.

The 2007 champion Shane Stewart started inside row two and outdragged pole-sitter Dustin Daggett from Michigan into run one for the lead at the drop of the green. Wayne Johnson, the defending 360 Nationals champion started right behind Stewart and he soon disposed of Daggett and picked up the chase for the lead. Johnson shadowed Stewart for the next several laps until the midway point when he drove under him in turn one to take the lead. Quick qualifier Billy Alley who started eighth was now third and had the top two in sight as the leaders began to work traffic, while Tony Bruce Jr. was doing his best to chase down Daggett for fourth.

The top five cars kind of settled in over the final five laps as even in traffic nobody was able to make a move and Johnson put himself in a good position to repeat his title by taking the win. Stewart was second, Alley will come out of night number one as the high point man finishing third while Bruce slipped by Daggett in the final laps to finish fourth. Kaley Gharst took the green in fourteenth and raced the Phillips Floors #7K up to sixth at the checkers while current ASCS National Series point leader Jason Johnson was the hard charger of the night coming from twenty-third to finish in seventh. Chuck Swenson faded from the front row to eighth, Ricky Logan was ninth and Johnny Anderson came from row eleven after winning the B-Main to take tenth in the feature. Wayne Johnson leads Shane Stewart off turn two and down the back straightaway - Barry Johnson photo

360 Nats Thursday Notes…… Dustin Selvage currently ranks fifth in the track’s weekly points and had to be looking forward to a big weekend at the 360 Nationals, but instead it will be a big disappointment as he could not get his car to fire all night long and never even took to the track……After timing in sixth quick Jason Johnson missed out qualifying for the feature in the first heat race by inches as Ryan Anderson held him off at the finish line. After changing motors Johnson didn’t show much in the B-Main starting third and finishing third, but he salvaged a pretty good point night with the big run to seventh in the feature. He will be fun to watch from deep in the pack on Saturday night……Another of the pre-race favorites coming into the week had his night, and perhaps his whole weekend go down the tube at the drop of the green in heat race number two. Clint Garner currently leads the 360 track points at Knoxville and has been dominating at times on Saturday nights this season. After setting the seventh quick time Garner and Tasker Phillips made contact once coming off four at the start and again going for the low groove into turn one sending Garner into a spin. Rod Richards found himself with nowhere to go as he drilled Garner head on and then went for a tumble. Both cars were finished for the night……Ohio driver Greg Wilson set the third fastest time in qualifying and then had his driveline go sour as he was trying to push off for the third heat race. Wilson did not return for the C-Main later in the evening……Kyle McCutcheon pulled his #5 car for twenty-four hours straight from Alamogordo, New Mexico, to Knoxville only to have his engine erupt in a ball of flames as he took the checkers in heat race number four……Phillips hooked the rear bumper of New Mexico’s Kyle Sager and the two went for a spin in turn one during the B-Main sending Ricky Montgomery hard into the wall and nearly upside down…….Matt Covington ran away with the 2009 season opener in the 360’s here at Knoxville and he qualified well here tonight with the fourth fastest time. After failing to advance from his heat race Covington ran second to Johnny Anderson in the B-Main before his first lap tumble in the feature……Sixty-one cars are on the list for the second night of qualifying on Friday and we were told that more than thirty drivers will be doing double duty on Saturday night when the 410’s run a full show alongside the finale for the 360 Nationals…..We’ll look for you in Knoxville!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Hejna Takes a Thriller At Osky

The United States Modified Touring Series (USMTS) rolled into the Southern Iowa Speedway in Oskaloosa Wednesday night and at the end of the night they sent a large crowd home buzzing about a tremendous thirty-lap feature race. Five different drivers held the lead at some point during the event and for a five-lap span late in the race there were four challengers within two car-lengths of each other racing for the lead. In the end it was Al Hejna who picked up his second straight series victory following up to his flag-to-flag win the night before in Cresco.

Sixteen-year-old Kansas driver Chase Junghans jumped from the pole and settled into the lead for the first three laps before a caution involving Michael Long and Steve Blattler in turn three. On the restart, series and track regular Zack VanderBeek used the bottom line to swipe the lead away from Junghans while many-time USMTS champion Kelly Shryock picked up the chase in second. Working a higher line around the sweeping half-mile oval Shryock was able to move past VanderBeek on lap six, but only by the slightest of margins as VanderBeek would pull alongside the leader regularly while continuing to work the low groove. The winner from Monday’s show in Fort Dodge, Ryan Gustin was closing quickly on the lead pair and with Gustin running the very top of the racetrack we now had a three-way battle for the lead. You could hear the large crowd cheering over the roar of the motors as Gustin pulled even with Shryock at the line on lap seventeen and when Al Hejna moved in to make it a four-car battle the atmosphere was electric.

Gustin finally cleared Shryock for the lead on lap nineteen and began to put some distance on the battle for second, that is until Hejna cleared that pack and picked up the chase. As the laps wound down it was clear that Hejna was closing in on Gustin and with just five laps remaining Hejna had closed to within a car-length of the youngster from Marshalltown. The two-car showdown was halted a lap later when the caution waved for Brad Pinkerton who had stopped in turn three, so now instead of just two cars squaring off for the win over the final four laps, we now had the entire field bunched back up for a restart. Hejna drove past Gustin in turn one to take the lead, but Ryan fought back in turn four and looked as though he might have a run on the new leader coming off turn two only to have the caution fly once again for Jake Neal.

With just three laps remaining the field thundered to the green once again and the big move was made by Tommy Myer going from fifth to second in turns one and two. As Hejna put some room between he and Myer, Gustin faded and fell out of the top five eventually finishing seventh. For Hejna it was his second win in as many nights while Myer would have to settle for second after starting fifteenth. Shryock would nail down the third spot with VanderBeek fourth and track regular Colt Mather completed an impressive drive in fifth.

Racing in the other three divisions set the stage nicely for the USMTS thriller. The B-Mods were up first with young Carter VanDenBerg pacing the field for the first six laps before Andrew Schroeder took over the point. Point leader Tyler Groendendyk then made it a three-wide race for the lead moving to the front on lap nine, but he slowed while heading down the back stretch two laps later bringing out the caution. For much of the race it looked like Bryon Weyer had the fastest car especially coming off the topside of four, but every time that it looked like he had a shot at leading something would happen to halt his run. On the lap eleven restart that “something” was VanDenBerg as he got the jump and moved up to Weyer’s line over the final four laps to finish second behind the winner Andrew Schroeder. Mike Shelton slipped by Weyer to finish in the third spot while Cayden Carter completed the top five.

Shane Weller started on the outside of row one and dominated the Stock Car main event going wire-to-wire for the victory. Brian Mitrisin was doing his best to hold off the challenges of Mike VanGenderen for second until his tire blew on lap twelve sending him pitside. Mike Greiner was able to slip past VenGenderen in the final three laps to take a distant second to Weller while Nathan Wood and Chase Mitrisin were fourth and fifth at the finish.

It was all Danny Thrasher in the Hobby Stock headliner as he took off from the pole and then kept Dustin Griffith at a consistent distance throughout the fifteen-lap run. In victory lane Thrasher credited one of his sponsors Scharky Frame for making some recent adjustments to his car and turning it into a rocket as he also won last Friday night in Bloomfield. Nathan Wood came from twelfth to finish third with Kris Walker fourth and Missouri driver Andrew Hustead in fifth.

Osky Notes…..It was NASCAR night at the speedway with Kenny Wallace competing with the Modifieds (he finished 16th) and Michael Waltrip on hand visiting with the fans. I got a kick out of watching Waltrip wave the green flag to start the Modified feature as his grin was ear-to-ear when he handed it back over to starter Ryne Staley…..Ryan Cook was back from his time in Iraq with the military and ran his #27R Stock Car…..Travelers in the support divisions included Kurt Krauskopf down from Decorah with his Stock Car and Austin Wolfgram from Webster City with the #24 Hobby Stock……While the first three heat race winners Gustin, Shryock and Mather, started from the front row, Brad Diercks showed that it could be done from the back as well coming from row four to win the fourth and final heat race in the Modifieds…..Adam Bell edged out series regular Grant Junghans by inches for the final transfer in the first Modified B-Main and that had to sting as Junghans missed out on a provisional as well. Corey Dripps, who lost a left rear wheel in his heat, and Derek Ramirez earned those USMTS provisional starts while track provisionals went to Brandon Banks and John Fellman…..I have to say “hi” and “thanks” to Michelle at the pit gate as she always greets me with a smile when I come to the Southern Iowa Speedway…..I think I heard Tony Paris mention that Todd Staley will promote a two-day show in Memphis MO on October 16th and 17th, so stay tuned for more details…..No weekly Wednesday night racing at Osky next week, but the place will be busy on Monday night with the Front Row Challenge featuring the All-Star Sprints and on Tuesday night with the non-winged USAC Sprints running The Ultimate Challenge. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Birkhofer Blows 'Em Away On "Tornado Tuesday" at West Liberty

Brian Birkhofer came within a straightaway of lapping the entire field as he blew away the competition on a “Tornado Tuesday” at the West Liberty Raceway. Only one of the best Late Model drivers ever, Billy Moyer, was able to remain on the lead lap as Birkhofer walked away with the $10,000 top prize after fifty laps of domination.

The feature event started on a sour note when Minnesota driver and row five starter Andrew McKay went into a spin in turn three on the opening lap sending the rest of the field scrambling for an opening. Five cars were involved in the mishap with three of them, Tommy Elston, Skip Frey and Kevin Kirkpatrick sustaining enough damage that they were through for the night. The mess took around fifteen minutes to clean up as the large crowd waited patiently for the restart with Birkhofer and Moyer on the front row.

Moyer still had his nose under Birky when the duo completed lap number one, but that would be as close as he would be for the rest of the non-stop fifty-lapper. By lap thirty Birkhofer had built up a half of a lap advantage over Moyer and had lapped all the way up to the fifth-place car of Chris Simpson. Birkhofer’s closest call of the night came with just four laps remaining when he was attempting to lap the third-running car of Chris Simpson. Brian had the nose of his #15B nearly to the drivers door of Simpson’s #25 as they entered turn one and Simpson slammed the door going straight to the bottom groove forcing Birky to back out of it in order to keep from hitting the inside berm. That didn’t slow him much though as he passed Simpson down the backstretch on the same lap and was tracking down Moyer before Doug Haack waved the double checkers on one of the most dominating performances I have ever witnessed. I think I even saw Birkhofer pass me when I was on my way home!

Moyer had nearly a half lap advantage over the third-place car of Chad Simpson at the finish while Matt Miller and Chris Simpson completed the top five. The track was wide and fast tonight, proven out by a new track record set by Moyer in qualifying, and the method of using heats and a fast dash to set the feature lineup definitely saw the cream rise to the top as the top five started first, second, fifth, third and fourth respectively.

A nice field of seventeen Stock Cars provided some great support action as the fifteen-lap main event saw two drivers swap the lead back and forth mid-race. David Brandies and Greg Gill earned front row starts by finishing one-two in the Dash and they pretty much ran the first eight laps of the feature event side-by-side. Brandies officially had the advantage on the scoresheet for the first five laps before Gill slipped by on lap six. Brandies fought back though regaining the lead on lap eight and he then opened up about a ten car-length advantage over the remaining distance to take the $500 win. The race actually ended under red flag conditions as Lavern Cole Jr. rolled his car in turn two just as the leader was exiting turn four for the final time. I must say that I like that the track rules here are to call the race complete in this circumstance with the finish scored from the white flag lap. I have been to other tracks where the rules would have necessitated a green-white-checkered restart that, in my opinion, is completely unfair to a leader, like Brandies, who is only a hundred yards from taking the win to make them restart and run TWO complete laps to keep their victory.

Gill finished in the runner-up spot with Matt Greiner taking third and Scotty Pratt fourth. Justin Temeyer was one of two drivers who normally run IMCA that pulled in for the night and he looked good taking fifth against the West Liberty regulars. Damon Murty was the other visitor and he was locked in a three-way battle for sixth when the red flag came out.

Tornado Tuesday Notes…..The twenty-eight car Late Model field was spiced up by three drivers from California who ran at Cedar Lake this past weekend and who are now headed for Florence, Kentucky. Mike Johnson made the show out of his heat race, pitted after the first lap scramble in the feature and restarted from the rear of the field. Zack Forster was running in a transfer spot in the second B-Main before dropping out with mechanical issues and Johnny Malcum failed to transfer out of the first B-Main…..Track point leader Andy Eckrich took exception to the first-lap move that his brother-in-law Chris Simpson made in their heat race and apparently made his feelings known in the pits afterwards. No official announcement was made on what exactly happened, but Eckrich did not run either of the B-Mains and was done for the night…..Nick Marolf was one of the drivers with no place to go on the first-lap incident although he was able to restart after making some repairs in the pits. Marolf has won a couple of times this season at West Liberty, but destroyed a car here a couple of weeks ago after a meeting with the turn three wall. I was told in the pits before the evening started that Marolf had purchased a car from Matt Furman and the fact that the deck was still painted blue, like Furman’s, to me confirms that info to be pretty good……We were given a preview of what was to come in the Late Model Dash as in just six laps Birkhofer and Moyer had left the other four cars in their wake, a full straightaway behind…..With just two classes on hand there were a few moments of down time here and there that were filled nicely by the announcing duo of Jerry Mackey and Mike Becker. At one point Mackey spoke to the crowd about the tough times that we are all going through and stated that the best way for racing to survive was for all of us to be positive about the sport. That’s why we’re here at PositivelyRacing.com Jerry!…..Weekly action continues on Saturday nights in August at the West Liberty Raceway and on Saturday night August 29th the Late Models will run for a possible $1,500-to-win, plus the Ideal Ready Mix Sprint Invaders will join the card for an attractive double-header.

We are proud to add Brian Neal’s Midwest Racing News blog to http://www.positivelyracing.com/ this week! If you are looking for the full scoop on what is going on at Donnellson, Burlington, Quincy and more, you will find it there. And, for news on tonight’s USMTS show at Osky as well as full coverage of the Southern Iowa Sprint Weeks at Knoxville and Oskaloosa you can look here on the Back Stretch as well as on Running The High Side with Barry Johnson. Hope to see you at the track!