Sunday, May 8, 2011

It's Never Over Until It's Over

I'm pretty sure that the old line "it's never over until it's over" can be attributed to Yogi Berra and I am equally sure that it wasn't Yogi who got up from his seat two rows in front of me and started to walk out just past the midway point of the 410 Sprint Car feature Saturday night. When the caution waved for Danny Heskin, who had backed into the turn one guardrail with seven laps to go, the Yogilookalike (there's a new word for ya Webster's) turned around and headed back for his seat. After all, Danny's misfortune may just have been the break that his brother Davey needed, but more on that in a minute. A red flag a lap later kept him fidgeting in his seat for a few more moments and when the race-long leader again appeared unbeatable following the restart, he again got up and left. Oh Yogi, you should have stuck around, because this night would produce one of those finishes that Sprint car fans will still talk about years from now in one of those "remember that night when....." conversations. Yes, the annual visit to the Knoxville Raceway by the Bumper to Bumper IRA Sprints, along with a couple of other unexpected guests, definitely proved that it's never over until it's over!

For the second week in a row, and under completely different qualifying procedures, Robby Wolfgang and Danny Lasoski started from the front row for the 20-lap main event with Lasoski, just as he did a week ago, bolting to the lead at the drop of the green. It didn't take long for the all-time winningest driver at the famed oval to open up a straightaway lead so fans diverted their attention back a ways to watch the quick progress of Davey Heskin. After starting on the inside of row four Heskin was on the fly and quickly moved toward the front taking over second just before the mid-race mark. With Lasoski momentarily slowed by heavy traffic, Heskin took huge slices out of the distance between the top two, but after the leader cleared that traffic and left it for Heskin to deal with it looked like the race was over.

It was ironic that Davey's brother Danny produced the break he was looking for when the left rear tire went down on the rookie-of-the-year contender's #6 and he backed into the turn one guardrail with seven-laps remaining. On the restart Davey made a run at Lasoski down the backstretch only to have the door closed on him entering turn three. The slight loss of momentum allowed Dusty Zomer to pull even with Heskin off of turn four and the battle for second was now every bit as tight as the war going on for fourth between Don Droud Jr. and Terry McCarl. As the two veterans made contact going down the back stretch Droud got sideways and shot up the track right in front of a fast closing Donny Schatz. A surprise entrant for the evening, Schatz had flown in just before showtime after being rained out at Ohio's Eldora Speedway to drive the Office Depot sponsored #14 normally wheeled by his boss Tony Stewart. The car had been parked in Newton this week after Stewart raced it Tuesday night in Salina, Oklahoma, but now they will have to do quite a bit of work on it before Tony can run it again. In an effort to miss Droud, Schatz veered right and caught the outside fencing sending the 14 into a couple of cartwheels before Donny climbed out uninjured.

Following the break the green flag waved again now with six laps remaining and it seemed as though the veteran Lasoski knew exactly where the youngster would try to make his move. Heskin was still strong, but he just couldn't mount a run like he did just before the red and, again, it looked like this one was over and it would be career win number 95 at Knoxville for "the Dude from Dover". After taking the white flag Heskin tried one more big charge into turn one, but when he bobbled a bit that allowed Zomer to go roaring by into second and as Lasoski entered turns three and four for the final time you could definitely see the lead shrinking as Zomer charged down the back straightaway. Coming off of turn four Lasoski slowed suddenly as his drive train blew apart and Zomer flat footed it off of turn four trying to get to the line first. In the old days of visual scoring it would have been nearly impossible to make a call that everybody would have agreed with, especially with one car coasting across the stripe at a much slower speed than the other. But in this new age of transponder scoring virtually the entire crowd watch the finish in amazement and then turned their heads to the left to look at the scoreboard in turns three and four to see the #91 of Dusty Zomer now listed at the top. The interval was announced as one one-hundredth of a second. Ol' Yogi confused the hell out of me with "when you come to a fork in the road, take it" cause I could never figure out if he was being philosophical or just building up his silverware collection in an unusual manner. But when it comes to "it's never over until it's over", this thrilling finish at Knoxville is proof positive..

Lasoski coasted around to the backstretch where he tumbled out of his car in obvious pain, but after limping it off for a couple of minutes he climbed back into his car and they pushed him to the scales where he officially claimed the runner-up finish. Heskin had to settle for third, while Droud prevailed over McCarl in the battle for fourth.

The main event for the 360's got off to a rough start when the fourth row tandem of Jon Agan and Jonathan Cornell made contact midway down the front stretch sending Agan for a tumble and putting Cornell crossways in front of the remaining twelve cars that started behind them. Fast qualifier Wayne Johnson and B-Main winner Jamie Ball also went for wing wasters in an incident that involved eight of the twenty starters. Fortunately all drivers walked away from their cars uninjured.

On the second try front row starters Larry Ball Jr. and Clint Garner raced the first lap wheel-to-wheel only to have Garner pull to the lead off turn four. With only thirteen cars left on the track there was very little lapped traffic for the defending champ to contend with and Garner cruised to victory in a seemingly comfortable fashion. Ball is returning to form quickly after sitting out for a couple of years and he was solid in second, second row starters Dave Hall and Nate VanHaaften finished third and fourth while B-Main winner Dennis Moore Jr. took fifth.

Knoxville Knotes.....While Schatz was definitely a product of the rainout at Eldora, it is likely that Jessica Zemken planned to be at Knoxville all along. The young lady from New York qualified third quick in the field of 43, looked solid in her heat race and then ran an impressive eighth in the feature after starting from row six.....Rager Phillips may have red-eye syndrome when he walks through his graduation ceremony at Iowa State University in Ames today as he took one of the wildest rides that I have ever seen for a winged sprint car. After contact with recent University of Northern Iowa grad Josh Schneiderman in turn one at the start of the first 410 heat race, Phillips turned sideways and the car went into a series of hard barrel rolls before switching some high-flying end-over-end cartwheels. What started at the entrance to turn one finally ended midway through turn two and, after some tense moments, everybody was thrilled to see the tough young man from Pleasantville climb out of the mangled mess and walk away under his own power......The IRA had a nice representation of fourteen drivers in attendance and defending champion Billy Balog ran second to Lasoski in the early laps of the feature event. The native of Alaska would fade to the 11th spot at the finish just ahead of Mike Reinke in 12th while Scott Neitzel also qualified for the main event by holding off Mark Dobmeier for the final transfer out of heat four. Neitzel would end up in 19th......Dustin Selvage stamped himself as the early favorite for the 410 Rookie-of-the-Year title at Knoxville as he finished sixth......Kevin Swindell was the fastest qualifier on the night, but when he hopped the cushion in turn three on the opening lap of the feature he was never a factor running 17th.....A rainout at Missouri's Lake Ozark Speedway added to the the car count in the 360's although Jonathan Cornell's night ended much differently than it did a week ago when he was standing in victory lane at the track near Eldon, Missouri. Kyle Bellm and Mike Trent were two more LOS visitors that put the field at 31 cars. Trent made the show and finished 11th while Bellm failed to transfer.

A big thanks to Marketing Director Brian Stickel and the entire staff at Knoxville for their hospitality and as always I enjoyed my visit with the Press Box crew of Bill Wright, Stacy Ervin, Dave Schrader, Tony Bokhoven and new USAC announcer Blake Anderson. I didn't get a chance to meet Dustin Gehrken though who was impressive in his first night of auditioning for the co-booth announcer role formerly held by Anderson.
Dusty Zomer - File photo by Barry Johnson (Find more of Barry's photos on the page on Facebook)
Clint Garner - File photo by Barry Johnson (Find more of Barry's photos on the page on Facebook)

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