The United States Modified Touring Series rolled into the Cedar County Raceway in Tipton for the first time Friday night and, even though it was the first full night of high school football, a large crowd of race fans filled the bleachers and grandstand to watch. And with a nice mix of travelers and locals the field of forty did not disappoint.
Five qualifying heats set the stage for the finale with the first three being won by drivers (Donovan Lodge, Richie Gustin & Dan Bohr) who neither follow the series regularly, or race at Tipton every Friday night. The Tour regulars dominated heat four with Zack VanderBeek, Johnny Scott and Jon Tesch going one-two-three and the fifth heat would set the crowd abuzz with a couple of incidents involving the USMTS Hunt point leader Ryan Gustin. "The Reaper" had started sixth, charged toward the front and was battling Jason Hughes for second with three laps remaining when Gustin spun in turn three to cause a caution. On the restart Gustin tried to get back to the front squeezing through a small opening and when that didn't work he tangled with local favorite Ryan Dolan with the two beating and banging with each other coming to the white flag. Gustin was able to separate himself and run the final lap while Dolan limped to the pits, but officials scored Dolan ahead of Gustin on the official finish. Dolan would later come back to transfer out of the second B-Main in fifth while Gustin rode around in the back knowing that he had a provisional start in his back pocket.
When the twenty-six car field thundered to the start of the forty-lap main event it was Ryan's older brother, Richie Gustin, who would lead them back to lap one before pole-starter Johnny Scott drove under him for the advantage on lap two. The driver from Las Cruces, New Mexico, Scott was coming off a win the night before in Winston, Missouri, and he looked strong here as well while drivers raced three and four wide behind him. Much of that action was in the back third of the field where drivers such as Ryan Dolan, Ryan Gustin and Noah Coppes were picking their way to the front after all starting 22nd or deeper.
The first caution waved on lap eleven as Dan Bohr and Kevin Pittman tangled in turn three and following the restart it was Jon Tesch who went to work on Scott. Using a little higher line than the pace-setter, Tesch was able to power by Scott for the lead on lap fourteen only to have the caution appear again two laps later as Brad Dierks slowed on the back stretch. On this restart Zack VanderBeek came to life and drove by Tesch to the lead before the caution waved again for Donovan Lodge on lap eighteen. VanderBeek maintained control following the restart while most watched to see if Ryan Gustin could continue his run to the front as he was now approaching the top five after starting 25th. The caution last waved on on lap twenty-seven when Minnesota teenage speedster Lucas Schott spun to a halt in turn one.
Once back to green VanderBeek continued to lead before Scott found his stride once again and drove around Zack for the lead with nine trips around the quick quarter mile remaining. Nobody but his own friends and family picked him to win tonight, but there was no keeping Johnny Scott from taking the big money for the second night in a row as he held off VanderBeek for the win. Jason Hughes was solid for third, Ryan Gustin's run to the front leveled out in fourth and Jon Tesch completed the top five. Kelly Shryock moved from row seven to sixth, Dereck Ramirez moved from the ninth row to seventh, Al Hejna came from an eighth row start to finish eighth, Rodney Sanders started next to Hejna and finished ninth while Dustin Boney completed the top ten. Noah Coppes made the most of his track provisional to come from 26th to 11th.
With the large crowd, the solid car count and the great racing I would say that it is a pretty good bet that The Hunt for the USMTS Championship will pass through Tipton once again in 2012.
In support class action Darrin Plett went from green to checkers to win the B-Mod main event. A weekly competitor in the track's A-Mod division, Plett made the changes necessary to be "B-Mod legal" tonight, drew the front row and then cruised to the non-stop fifteen-lap victory. Troy Hovey who was the last car to arrive at the track after making the pull down from Decorah, drove from the seventh row to pass Roy Pestka on the final lap to take second while Brian Wendel took fourth. The Legend cars had some good racing action and a couple of scary moments when cars were engulfed in flames, but fortunately both drivers escaped without serious injuries. Eric Barth would take the victory while Adam Bell recovered from an early mishap that almost put him a lap down to take second.
Bruce Yoerger and Ben Carpenter raced side-by-side early in the Hobby Stock feature with Yoerger prevailing for the win in a race that also went flag-to-flag with no cautions. Carpenter was the runner-up followed by Josh Neal, Gene Ehlers and Jamie Chappell. And in the Four Cylinders Jacob Ellithorpe and Mitch Bielenberg waged a good battle mid-race with Bielenberg taking over the point, then holding off a fast-closing Steve Miedke to take the win. Miedke took second after starting at the back, Ellithorpe picked up third followed by Bob Lake and Duayne Herb.
This made three trips to Tipton for me this year and on all three visits I have seen fantastic racing. Plus, I started off each night with a stop at Bart Montgomery's Happy Joe's location for a great pizza before the show. I will look forward to the release of the 2012 schedule for the Cedar County Raceway so that I can target my next visit to this fine facility.