Thursday, May 26, 2011

Blackjack Dominates I-80

Rain had washed out my last five attempts at attending a race over the past twelve days so I had to make the trek to southeast Nebraska to finally see a show as the ASCS Midwest Region Sprint Cars headlined a Thursday night program at I-80 Speedway between Omaha and Lincoln. The fact that it was one year ago this night that Jesse Hockett lost his life while preparing his hauler for a trip to I-80 made this a sentimental night for drivers and fans as memories of "The Rocket" were shared prior to the start of the show.

Thirty-two winged sprints were on hand and after four heats and a B-Main it was Brian Brown and Danny Lasoski lined up on the front row for the twenty-five lap main event. During a pre-race interview Brown admitted that I-80 was probably his favorite track, even more so than Knoxville, and his history here would back that up as he has won several events on the 4/10th-mile oval. On the start Brown got the jump coming off turn four and ran for the cushion into turns one and two while Lasoski dove low trying to put the slider on his nephew in turn two. As Lasoski drifted up the track in turn two Brown was not intimidated and rocketed to the lead down the back stretch. With Brown and Lasoski pulling away, the racing in the middle of the field was intense as drivers mid-pack used every inch of the speedway swapping sliders each and every lap. Back up front Brown worked traffic like a master and maintained a comfortable advantage while Lee Grosz closed in on The Dude for second.

The only caution of the race flew on lap fifteen when Ryan Anderson did a 360 in turn four and by this time the track had taken rubber from top to bottom so everybody was now fast. On the restart Brown again pulled out to a big lead while it took two laps for Lasoski to dispose of the lapped car of Logan Forler. By the time that he did, Brown was gone and with no lapped traffic to deal with over the final laps there was no stopping "Blackjack" from taking the $2,000 victory. Lasoski held off Grosz to take runner-up money and Jack Dover was fourth meaning that the top four finished exactly where they started. Shane Stewart was the mover coming from the inside of row six to take fifth. For a race that saw no positions change up front, it was definitely entertaining to watch prior to the lap fifteen caution.

The NASCAR weekly Late Models were one of three "support" classes racing for track points this evening with cousins Courtney and Andrew Kosiski starting from the front row. Andrew grabbed the lead and soon had to deal with a challenge from third row starter Matt Buller. Buller used the inside line to ease past Kosiski on lap seven, but Andrew fought back and stayed virtually even with Buller over the next three laps. Midway through the 25-lapper Buller finally put some distance on Kosiski and closed it out for his first win of the season here. Kosiski ran a nice race to take second, Billy Leighton made a late charge using the high line to finish third after starting eleventh, Todd Hipnar came from row four to take fouth and Josh Krug took fifth after starting ninth.

The Pro Am feature was a treat to watch from the drop of the green as the leaders came out of turn four on the first lap in a five-wide formation. Nick Steier would lead that first lap by a nose and Brad Derry would then pick up the point on lap three. Shawn Buhlman worked the bottom groove to perfection to take the lead on lap seven just before the only caution of the eighteen-lap event flew when Tim Podraza spun in turn two. On the restart row six starter Scotty Hartman completed his run to the front on lap ten and he then pulled away over the final eight circuits for the victory.Rick Negrete came from the fifth row to finish second, Buhlman was third, Derry took fourth and Terry Cleveland completed the top five.

The B-Mods were the first feature of the night and they set a good tone for the evening with a tight battle to the checkers. Jeremy Longmire started from the pole and held the lead until lap ten of fifteen when Jim Hendricks Jr. drove by him on the inside. Just ahead though Larry Robinson Jr. had just come back on the track after changing a flat tire and he had not yet come up to speed. This slowed Hendricks enough to allow Longmire to regain the lead with four laps to go, but once Hendricks cleared the lapped traffic he came right back to take the lead and three laps later the win, his first ever at I-80. Longmire took second, Joe Feyen was third and Laini Schwartz took fourth. Current All Iowa Points leader Jesse Sobbing had moved from eleventh to fourth in eight laps before his engine went up in smoke.

This was my second visit to I-80, the first being about seven years ago, and I was again impressed with the racing action at this nice facility. Not only do they offer a solid Sunday night weekly show here, but the 2011 schedule is dotted with several special events including the "Alphabet Soup" Late Model show (MLRA, NCRA, CBC) coming up this Sunday night May 29th.

No more racing for me this weekend, but I do hope that you are able to get out and take in the show at your favorite tracks. My next event will be on Wednesday June 1st when the Dart Corn Belt Clash Late Models converge on the Cedar County Raceway in Tipton. Hope to see you there!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Birkhofer Banks Ten Grand Close To Home

This was a show that you would have thought would never happen given the dire weather forecast and the colorful radar loop throughout the day. But somehow 34 Raceway near Burlington stayed dry enough for a return visit by the Lucas Oil Late Model Series Friday night and in the end it was a driver from nearby Muscatine, Brian Birkhofer standing in victory lane.

Thirty-seven Late Models filled the pits and it was Steve Francis in a brand new Mastersbilt who set quick time as the first car on the track for qualifying. As Francis was being interviewed on the front stretch a cold drizzle intensified and you could see the reflection of the track lights off his silver wheel covers on the now greasy surface. The precipitation was coming down thick enough that we started to head for the car to wait it out, but before we got out of the gate it subsided and a few moments later the two qualifying heats for the 305 Sprints came to the speedway.

The track was smooth and lightning fast for the Late Model heat races and, even though they were lined up straight-up by qualifying times, there was a bit of drama in three of the four as drivers needed to finish in the top four to get a quick ticket to the 50-lap finale. Scott James was the big mover in heat one coming from the third row to finish third while Billy Moyer needed a last lap pass of Chad Simpson to take fourth. Heat two saw Bub McCool fight off a door-banging challenge from Dale McDowell on the final lap to take the fourth and final transfer position. Heat three was relatively uneventful as Brad Neat won to claim an outside front row start for the feature and then you had heat race number four. Front row starters Brian Birkhofer and Jeep VanWormer ran the first two laps side-by-side with Birky down low and Jeep up top. On lap three both drivers stayed on the loud pedal a little longer than they should and, as Birkhofer gained the advantage, both drivers had to pitch their cars completely sideways to save them allowing Eric Wells to drive by VanWormer for second. As the laps wound down it was a treat to watch Jared Landers try everything that he could to get past Ray Cook, but the veteran was not rattled and Cook held Landers at bay for the final transfer to the A-Main.

The weather stayed dry as the Mod Lites clicked off three heat races in quick fashion and I was pleased to see the first of two Late Model B-Mains lined up in staging, ready to go immediately following the final Mod Lite heat. McDowell, Chad Simpson and Don O'Neal behind the wheel of the Moring Motorsports #1 tonight advanced out of that race while the final qualifying race of the night produced the closest finish of the evening. Landers would walk away with the win with Jason Feger chasing him in for second. Darren Miller was strong early racing his way past Steve Casebolt for the final transfer mid-race, but as the laps wound down Miller visibly slowed allowing both Casebolt and Chris Wall to have one last run at him. Coming out of turn four for the checkers Wall pulled even with Miller and the two crossed the line in a virtual dead heat, however a review of the transponders revealed that Miller had held on for third forcing Wall to use an "emergency provisional" to start in row thirteen for the fifty-lapper.

In what would turn out to be the best move of the night, officials took a short break at this point to allow the B-Main qualifiers to make adjustments as the rest of the feature qualifiers started to make their way to staging. Within ten minutes the feature field was on the track and ready to rumble for fifty-laps in quest of the $10,000 top prize. Brad Neat was credited with leading lap one before Steve Francis stormed back on the bottom to take the point on the second circuit. Birkhofer dispatched Neat quickly and went to work on Francis using the high groove taking the lead by a nose on lap six only to see Francis come back again the following lap. The first of two cautions would then wave following lap seven as Billy Moyer was the victim of a bunch up sending him for a spin in turn two.

On the restart Francis started to pull away a bit as Birkhofer tested out some different lines around the three-grooved speedplant. After being a half of a straightaway back Birkhofer then started to cut into that lead without the benefit of lapped traffic impeding the leader. As he did earlier in the race, Birkhofer attacked Francis from the outside and on lap 22 he stormed back into the lead, just a lap before the caution waved for Tyler Reddick who was now facing the wrong direction on the back stretch.

When the green flag reappeared Birkhofer was gone, opening up a full straightaway cushion within just a few laps. Scott Bloomquist then made his way past Francis for second and the chase was on as Scott tried to earn his fifth straight Lucas Oil Series feature win. His progress was slow and little though as Birkhofer worked traffic like a master and as the checkered flag waved Birkhofer still enjoyed a half of a straightaway advantage over the current point leader on the series. Bloomquist would have to accept runner-up money tonight, Francis was third while Jimmy Owens finished fourth. Fifth went to John Blankenship, Chris Simpson ran a solid race taking sixth, Shannon Babb was on the move late and ended up in seventh, Neat held on for eighth and Mike Marlar was ninth ahead of Scott James.

Lucas Notes......Dennis Erb Jr. and Tyler Reddick were the series provisionals while Chris Wall and rookie-of-the-year contender Frank Heckenast Jr. each used one of their two available "emergency provisionals". When a driver does this they are basically racing for points only to go along with their non-qualifiers check. Only if they advance to a position that pays better than the $700 start money do they get any additional cash, and then they get what that position pays less the seven hundred bucks......Non-series regulars that did not make the feature included Mark Burgtorf, Jay Johnson, Denny Woodworth, Jon Rogers, Jeremiah Hurst and Tyler Bruening......The Lucas Series moves to LaSalle Speedway while 34 Raceway will have IMCA Late Models as part of a card featuring $5 grandstand admission Saturday night. Weather permitting of course......The 305 Sprint feature followed the victory lane ceremonies and the rain started to fall on lap seven of the scheduled twenty-lapper. By lap eleven the track was too slick and the caution waved, followed soon by the checkers with Jayson Dittsworth credited with the victory. Ryan Jamison was second followed unofficially by Kevin Hetrick, Justin Parrish and Cori Timmerman......Kudos to the Laue family and the entire 34 Raceway crew for pushing this one through despite the fact that the threatening weather obviously kept the crowd count down a bit. The decision to go straight into the Late Model feature following that division's B-Mains was the move that allowed the fans to go home very satisfied with what they saw.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Jackson Opens 2011 Hawkeye Dirt Tour With A Win

The first mid-week special of the 2011 season played out in record warmth for the date as the JR Motorsports Hawkeye Dirt Tour for IMCA Modifieds kicked off at the Benton County Speedway in Vinton on Tuesday night. Temperatures in the low 90's and no threat of rain brought out a solid roster of forty-four drivers for the Tour opener although the crowd count was not as strong as the two weekly shows that I have already seen here this season. 

Five qualifying heats would transfer the top two from each to the thirty-lap main event and, with a sticky-fast racing surface at their disposal, to say that the driving style for most was "aggressive" would be an understatement. All five heats had at least one caution that was caused by somebody either running into, or being run into by someone else, and several crews were put to work trying to repair their equipment for another chance to transfer out of one of the three B-Mains later in the night.

Jason Snyder dominated the opening heat race that saw track regular Tony Olson power by Quad City area driver Todd Reed in turn one of the final lap to transfer in second. The winner of the second heat was decided on the final turn of the final lap as Wyatt Lantz drove under race-long leader Larry Herring coming off of turn four for the checkers. Then, as Lantz got off the throttle, white smoke billowed from his #22 as he headed for the infield tech inspection. Lantz would start the feature later, but would pull to the infield on the first lap requiring a tow back to the pits. Vern Jackson was in control of heat three while a thrilling battle developed for second between Jeff Streeter and Jeff Waterman. Streeter, who I believe is a native Iowan who now calls Madera California his home, had held the second spot for most of the race before Waterman edged past him in turn one of the final lap. Trying to fight back Streeter drove hard into turn three, but jumped the cushion and drove over the top of the track never making it to the checkers. The fourth heat saw Mitch Morris take the win with defending Hawkeye Tour champion Mike Jergens holding off 2010 All Iowa Points Modified champ Ryan Dolan for the second transfer position. The fifth and final heat also saw some last lap drama when Rich Smith slipped under the driver who won the inaugural HDT event about a year ago in Independence, Josh Foster exiting turn four for the transfer spot behind winner Mark Elliott. Yes, the five heats were a little on the rough side, but they definitely produced plenty of late race drama as well.

Cautions are more expected in B-Mains, or "last chance" races as drivers know that they need to produce or put it on the trailer and so it was no surprise when all three B's had a caution or two. Dolan dominated the first one with local favorite Joe Docekal in second and Kurt Krauskopf, who had spun twice in his heat race earlier in the night, taking third. Jacob Waterman had the fourth and final transfer wrapped up until he got sideways in turn two on the final lap and could not recover sliding to the infield. Jason Seegmiller then held off defending track champion Scott Hogan over the final lap for the last transfer position although Hogan would then use the track's provisional to start the feature from 24th. Californian Kellen Chadwick is spending the summer racing a Rage chassis based out of West Union, Iowa, and he showed that he was a fast learner of tracks new to him by winning the second B-Main. Adam Bolin, Foster and Mike Burbridge would also move on. The final qualifying event of the night saw two of the pre-race favorites starting from the final row as both Richie Gustin and Ron Barker suffered damage from incidents in their respective heat races. A first lap brush up in turn two of this event saw both drivers trying to spin to avoid and once again they restarted from the rear. Gustin would be able to race his way up to third at the checkers behind Ronn Lauritzen and Mike VanGenderen, but after Barker spun while trying to use the high-side of the quarter-mile to advance, he drove his #37b to the pits and put it on the trailer. Shawn Ryan would punch the final ticket to the main event.

Richie Gustin (19G) and Ron Barker (37B) start from the back of the third B-Main - Photo by Scott Tjabring, Action Track Photography
By feature time the track had slicked off while remaining nice and smooth giving the drivers a choice of three distinct grooves and we were treated to a race for the lead that would use all three. Larry Herring and Mitch Morris would draw the front row with Herring setting the pace using the low line of the quarter. Two early cautions delayed the action, but the fun really picked up on lap three. Using the cushion Morris drove by Herring for the lead going down the back stretch while Vern Jackson found a bite on the very bottom and passed Herring as well for second. With his left front wheel jacked high up in the air, Jackson continued to milk every bit of traction there was on the bottom of turns three and four to drive by Morris and officially lead lap number four. Not to be outdone, the second-generation driver out of Eldridge, Iowa, hooked the cushion perfectly in one and two to fly past Jackson and takeover the lead on the fifth lap.

Morris continued to lead riding up high with Jackson digging around the bottom close behind in second and soon they were joined by Ryan Dolan who had moved forward from his row six starting spot. A caution for a spinning Tony Olson on lap 18 bunched the field up one last time and on the restart Jackson thought about testing another line until he saw the nose of Dolan's car underneath him. Vern closed that door and went right back to work on Morris taking the lead with nine laps remaining. A former track regular here, Jackson opened up a bit of an advantage only to see Morris close back in as the laps wound down, but the veteran driver out of Waterloo did not make any mistakes and held on for the victory. Morris, still a relative unknown in the IMCA ranks likely changed that a bit by finishing second, Dolan was solid in third, Kellen Chadwick moved from twelfth to fourth while Mark Elliott completed the top five. Richie Gustin made the most he could out of a tough night with a sixth-place finish just ahead of Rich Smith, and Scott Hogan came from last to finish eighth.

Vern Jackson (64) digs for traction around the low groove to get by leader Mitch Morris - Photo by Scott Tjabring, Action Track Photography
Two other notes of interest in regard to the starting field in the feature; Mike Jergens drove from staging right back to the pits and did not take the original green flag for the race. After Tony Olson spun in lap two on the first attempt at green, the field was reset for an original restart and Jergens pulled onto the track seemingly ready to race, but then after one slow lap he drove right back into the pit area ending his night. The Dirt Tour provisional for the feature was given to Mark Schulte who was a victim of a multi-car tangle in his heat race suffering enough damage that he did not start his B-Main. Schulte then scratched from the feature as well leaving one to wonder how this will be handled in regard to points and "provisionals used" as the Tour had a limit of two per driver in 2010. The next in line for the Tour provisional on this night would have been Greg Cox, but he also suffered considerable damage in his heat and did not start a B, while Dennis Betzer would have been next on the chart. (Note: Dirt Tour organizer Bucky Doren notified us later in the week that attempts were made to fill the provisional spot after Schulte scratched, but time ran out before the feature was set to take the track. Officially only 23 cars started the feature and were paid purse money and points. Schulte was not charged for a provisional)

The I-35 Speedway in Mason City is next up for the JR Motorsports Hawkeye Dirt Tour on Memorial Day Monday May, 30th. Check out the website and mark your calendar to make sure that you catch the shows near you!

Support class action produced two very entertaining features at Vinton Tuesday night. In the Sport Compacts Bill Whalen Jr. and Brad Chandler ran the middle portion of the race door-to-door for three laps before Chandler finally edged ahead and went on to victory behind the wheel of the #51 car normally driven by Bryce Bailey. Whalen stayed within striking distance to the checkers and finished second ahead of the winner's brother Nathan Chandler in a twelve-lap event that went non-stop. Steve Miedke started in the fifth row and slipped by Brett Vanous on the final corner to take fourth.

Brad Chandler (51) and Bill Whalen Jr. (00) do battle during the IMCA Sport Compact feature - Photo by Scott Tjabring, Action Track Photography
The IMCA Sport Mod headliner was a thriller with the lead changing twice in the final two laps. Visiting driver Carter VanDenBerg led lap one only to have a two-time winner already this season here, Danny Dvorak, drive by him on lap two. A couple of early cautions interrupted the action, but from there the race went green with Austin Kaplan finding the high groove to his liking. Kaplan had started ninth and was up to second late when Dvorak made the slightest of bobbles in turn two with a lap and a half remaining. Kaplan seized the opportunity and sprinted to the front down the backstretch taking the white flag as the new race leader. Dvorak was determined to erase his error though and stormed back on the bottom pulling even with Kaplan down the back stretch and then hitting his marks perfectly in three and four to take the win by a car-length. As the runner-up in a great race, Austin was one of the first to greet Danny in victory lane to congratulate him on the victory. VanDenBerg came home in the third spot, Joel Rust was fourth and fifth went to Jake Strayer.

Danny Dvorak (3R) slips by Carter VanDenBerg (7) for the early lead of the Sport Mod feature at Vinton - Photo by Scott Tjabring, Action Track Photography
A big thanks to promoter Mick Trier and track manager Dana Benning for their hospitality, and to HDT head man Bucky Doren for all of the work that he puts in to running to Tour. This was a very entertaining event that saw the final checkered flag wave just before ten o'clock allowing travelers like me to still be home and in bed before midnight on a Tuesday evening. Also thanks to announcer Ryan Clark for the Positively Racing mention. For more news and notes on this event check out In Staging and TapFan's Tours.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Late Models From Around The Country....

For those of you who just linked to this blog from Hoseheads you will want to drop down to the next entry for the story from Saturday's thriller at Knoxville.

With the big Lucas Oil Late Model Series doubleheader coming up this weekend at 34 Raceway and LaSalle I have been in a "Late Model mood", so while Sue should have the updated All Iowa Points posted soon at Positively Racing, let's take a look at the state standings for the division in other states through May 8th.

1 Dillon Crim Talladega 21
2 Anthony Burroughs Athens 16
3 Tim Busha Boaz 15
4 Stacy Holmes Munford 14
5 Terry Smith Anniston 14
6 Mark Mears Decatur 12
7 Jason Wilson Margaret 11
8 Ronnie Johnson Chattanooga TN 11
9 Josh Putnam Killen 10
10 Brandon King Decatur 8

1 Scott Bloomquist Mooresburg TN 31
2 Billy Moyer Batesville AR 23
3 Bryan Bernhardt Clearwater 22
4 Don O'Neal Martinsville IN 20
5 Jimmy Owens Newport TN 14
6 David Schmauss Tampa 13
7 Jimmy Mars Elk Mound WI 13
8 Travis Varnadore Dover 13
9 Brady Smith Solon Springs WI 11
10 Josh Richards Shinnston WV 11

1 Ronnie Johnson Chattanooga TN 21
2 Chip Brindle Chatsworth 13
3 Michael Page 12
4 Steve Shaver Vienna WV 10
5 Chub Frank Bear Lake PA 8
6 Clint Smith Senoia 8
7 David Payne Murphy NC 7
8 Luther Jenkins 7
9 Rick Eckert York PA 7
10 Jonathan Davenport Blairsville 6
11 Shane Clanton Locust Grove 6

1 Ryan Unzicker El Paso 28
2 Michael Kloos Trenton 24
3 Randy Korte Highland 17
4 Mike Spatola Manhattan 16
5 Brandon Sheppard New Berlin 14
6 Frankie Martin DuQuoin 14
7 Mike Hammerle St. Charles MO 11
8 Mike Schulte Summerfield 11
9 Ray Guss Jr. Milan 10
10 Rich Bell Sheffield 10
11 Steve Lance Jr. Cuba 10

1 Ray Moore Shreveport 18
2 Morgan Bagley Longview TX 13
3 Timothy Culp West Monroe 10
4 Kenny Merchant West Monroe 7
5 Allen Tippen Minden 6
6 Chris Wall Holden 5
7 Gary Christian Broken Bow OK 5
8 Bub McCool Vicksburg MS 4
9 Chris Holley Dayton TX 4
10 B.J. Robinson Blanchard 4
11 Kevin Sitton Baytown TX 4
12 Nicholas Brown 4

1 Klint Byars Carrollton 23
2 Jason Cliburn Star 16
3 Brooks Strength Byram 15
4 David Breazeale Four Corners 11
5 George Paul 9
6 Jimmy Cliburn Star 9
7 Rodney Wing Meridian 9
8 Steve Bryan Collinsville 9
9 Timothy Culp West Monroe LA 9
10 Ray Moore Shreveport LA 8

1 Brandon Imhoff Lake Ozark 15
2 Rylan Long Greenfield 15
3 Larry Jones Eldorado Springs 13
4 Brett Wood 10
5 Nick Lyons Centralia IL 10
6 Jason Bodenhammer Centerview 9
7 Justin Russell Henley 9
8 Jason McBride Carbondale IL 8
9 Dewayne Kiefer 7
10 Donnie Timmerman Eldorado Springs 7
11 Justin Wells Aurora 7

1 Todd Hipnar Omaha 11
2 Bill Leighton Jr. Omaha 10
3 Micah Brown Omaha 9
4 Travis Dickes Madison 9
5 Craig Preble Omaha 8
6 Leon Zeitner Omaha 8
7 Dave Cook 7
8 Jacob Brown Omaha 7
9 Josh Leonard 7
10 Andrew Kosiski Omaha 6
11 Les Seibert York 6

1 Jim Yoder Selinsgrove 17
2 Gregg Satterlee Rochester Mills 12
3 Jeff Rine Danville 10
4 Scott Bloomquist Mooresburg TN 10
5 John Flinner Zelienople 9
6 Tony Adams 9
7 Dave Hess Jr. Waterford 8
8 John Britsky Indiana 8
9 Mitch Hack 8
10 Clate Copeman Greensburg 7
11 Gary Beward 7
12 Jared Miley South Park 7

1 Terry English Benton KY 23
2 Jeff Walston Paducah KY 21
3 Jimmy Owens Newport 21
4 Lamar Scoggins Cleveland 20
5 Eric Hickerson Linden 18
6 Chuck Proctor Charlotte 16
7 Tanner English Benton KY 15
8 Tony Morris Murfreesboro 14
9 Caleb Ashby Cunningham 13
10 Carnell Parker III Clarksville 13
11 John Owenby 13
12 Ronnie Johnson Chattanooga 13

1 D.J. Myers Greencastle PA 18
2 Jason Covert South Haven PA 15
3 Jeremy Miller Gettysburg PA 11
4 J.T. Spence Winchester 10
5 Jamie Lathroum Mechanicsville MD 8
6 Roy Deese Jr. 8
7 Josh Richards Shinnston WV 5
8 Keith Jackson Odenton MD 5
9 Steve Shaver Vienna WV 5
10 Jonathan DeHaven 4
11 Kyle Hardy 4
12 Scott Bloomquist Mooresburg TN 4

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)

Monday, May 2, 2011

Pippert Remains Unbeaten At Vinton for 2011

You can start him in the tenth row of a fifteen-lap feature and there is still no stopping Scott Pippert in the Hobby Stock division at the Benton County Speedway in Vinton. After dropping out of his heat race with two laps remaining Sunday night the defending track champion found himself lined up on the inside of row ten for the main event with several capable drivers starting well ahead of him.

The race got off to a rocky start with three cautions before the second lap could be scored and this was a big help to Pippert who already found himself in the fifth position as Rodney Grother took the lead on lap three. Pippert continued his march to the front and drove past Grother on lap eight to take the lead and then survived two more cautions to take his fourth win in four nights at the quarter-mile speedway. Vince Bucholz started eighth and finished in the second spot, Nathan Ballard came from ninth to third, Doug Laughridge took fourth and early leader Justin Stander finished fifth.
Scott Pippert (47) works under Nathan Ballard (29) enroute to his fourth straight win at Vinton - Scott Tjabring, Action Track Photography
Most of the cautions in the Hobby Stock main involved the big implement tire marking the infield at the apex of turns three and four. Both Russell Damme Jr. and Bill Bonnett found the front end of their cars perched atop the tire as they drove it out into turn four during the event and the tire was just punted out onto the track on a couple of other occasions. For my point of view on these track tires that still holds true after this night, start with paragraph seven in this Back Stretch archive.

The Sport Compact feature also had a hard time getting started with a couple of early cautions, but once things got sorted out the battle up front was a good one. Brad Chandler was leading the field with his father Merv Chandler moving in to challenge and the two ran side-by-side for three laps before Merv snared the lead with three laps remaining. The kid tried to fight back and poked a nose under Dad as the white flag waved, but Merv held his line and maintained the advantage to the checkers for the win. Brad was the runner-up with Brett Vanous edging out Bryce Bailey for the third spot and Adam Gates completed the top five.
Merv Chandler (2A) works under his son Brad (2nd) for the lead and eventual victory - Scott Tjabring, Action Track Photography
The thirty-two-car Sport Mod field was split into two A-Mains tonight and Corey Tharp established the pace early in the first fifteen lapper. Curt Hilmer picked up the point on the fourth circuit with Danny Dvorak following him into second and three laps later Dvorak used the inside line off of turn four to put Hilmer back to second. Hilmer did his best to keep up with the new leader, but there was no stopping Dvorak from picking up another victory at his hometown track. Hilmer was second, one of last week’s winners Kyle Olson finished third, Dave Schulze was fourth and the other winner from last week Dave McCalla was fifth.
Danny Dvorak works lapped traffic late in the first Sport Mod feature - Scott Tjabring, Action Track Photography
As Dvorak was being interviewed in victory lane the ambulance left the facility with its lights on and the siren blaring to answer a local call bringing a halt to the action. With it being 8:30 and with the temperature dropping quickly I decided to call it a night since there was no guessing how long this delay might last. A phone call with Ryan Clark as I neared Cedar Rapids confirmed that they were back to racing after a twenty-five minute delay and, while I regretted missing the remaining three features (the second Sport Mod A, the Stock Cars and the Modifieds), I was thrilled to be home just in time to watch President Obama deliver the groundbreaking news of the evening. It was interesting to listen to the radio media speculate on what the announcement would be before the AP and Fox News broke the story about forty-five minutes before the President’s official announcement.

I love going to Vinton as it could serve as a prototype on how to become “the place to be” on a weekly basis for a small community and its surrounding area. Do they pay a big purse? No. Do they get a good car count? Yes. Do they do a lot of extra stuff as a sideshow? No. They serve good food, cold beer and they put on good racing with a solid crowd fully involved cheering on their favorites, just what every track promoter would like to see at their own facility.

I enjoyed hanging out with scorer and long lost “brother” Kevin Kemp as he checked in the 103 cars and drivers and it was also nice to visit with track manager Dana Benning. Sounds like the three of us will have a high stakes golf game soon. A big thanks to announcer Bucky Doren for his mention of Positively Racing and don’t forget that Bucky’s Hawkeye Dirt Tour for IMCA Modifieds will kickoff its 2011 schedule at Vinton on Tuesday night May 10th. Hope to see you there!