Thursday, August 30, 2012

Season Championship Night In Oskaloosa

Wednesday nights are convenient for me to go racing so for the eleventh time in 2012 I made the trip up to the Southern Iowa Speedway in Oskaloosa last night for the final Wednesday night of racing for the season. It was Season Championship night on the big half-mile oval and there were two points titles still up for grabs on a warm and sunny evening, plus the Mod Lites were to make their first ever appearance at the track. The car count was a bit light in a couple of divisions, but a solid crowd was on hand for one last mid-week Osky racing fix before we head into the “specials” season.

The Sport Mods were up first with Jesse Sobbing holding a ten-point advantage over Curtis VanDerWal coming into the evening and with one-point increments per position and thirteen cars starting the main event, Sobbing would just have to stay out of trouble to win the title. And that he did as the driver who has now won more than fifty feature races over the past two years in this division did not make the charge that we are used to seeing from him. Instead it was VanDerWal who was on the move as he worked his way up to second mid-race and then gradually picked away at young Brayton Carter’s lead until he caught him with three laps remaining. VanDerWal pulled even with Carter in turn four, and the youngster fought off that challenge, but on the following lap VanDerWal again pulled even and Carter drifted a bit giving up the lead as the white flag waved. There was no way to catch the new leader in that final lap as VanDerWal posted the win at his hometown speedway ahead of another Oskaloosa resident Brayton Carter. Sobbing would finish in the third spot ahead of Carter VanDenBerg and Eric Flander while Tony Johnson saw his chances at a fourth-place finish go away when his right rear tire blew with two laps to go.

The division’s sponsors once again dominated the Sport Compact main event, but it was a new face in victory lane as John Whalen chased down Bill Whalen Jr. to make a late pass for the win. Track champion Merv Chandler took over second late while Whalen Jr. finished third. Anthony Cassat, Cory Howk and Kimberly Abbott completed the field.

The field of eight IMCA Modifieds shrunk to six following hot laps when both Jason Riegel and Jeff Waterman suffered motor issues and problems on the initial start of the 12-lap feature eliminated track champion Cayden Carter. Young Dakota Hayden has been fast here all year, but has blown up motors or cracked the guardrail leaving him with results that did not reflect his speed. On this night though the kid from Wilton, Iowa, held it all together and ran away from everybody in both the heat race and the feature to get his first win ever here at Oskaloosa in dominating fashion. Brandon Banks was a distant second followed by Jacob Murray, Andrew Schroeder and Mark Widmar.

Fifteen Mod Lites put on some decent racing with Josh May and Mike Morrill racing wheel-to-wheel for the lead midway through their main event. May would prevail with Morrill not far behind at the checkers. Andy Hennigar, Randy Bryant and Dusty Masolini completed the top five.

When you think of Osky, you think of the Stock Car division and it was seventeen strong here tonight with Nathan Wood needing to make up seven points on Matt Greiner if he wanted to take the season title. Todd Phillips would set the pace at the drop of the green before a caution on lap four bunched the field up once again. On the restart the second and third place cars of Kyle Harwood and Todd Reitzler would get hooked together in turn two and as they struggled to get away from each other the field scattered and Phillips pulled away as the race stayed green. Wood would jump the cushion and slap the guardrail in turn one mid-race putting him near the tail of the field, but another caution with five laps remaining put him back into contention. On this restart Damon Murty would stay right with Phillips and with two laps to go Murty put the slider on Phillips in turn two to take the lead and the eventual victory. Phillips would hold on for the runner-up money with Corey Stout finishing in third. Wood made a late charge to finish fourth ahead of Reitzler, but with his sixth-place finish the track title would go to Matt Greiner.

The Hobby Stocks would close out the evening with track champion Shannon Anderson needing a win tonight to stay in the hunt for the IMCA National Points title. Anderson was on the move early working his way forward from a fourth row start, but he spun in turn one on the fourth lap. Justin Hook had been the early leader, but on the restart it was Mike Hughes who took over the top spot on lap six in a thrilling three-wide fashion with Hook and Dustin Griffiths. Griffiths would stay glued to the back bumper of the new leader applying the pressure in the corners and with just two laps remaining Hughes bobbled just a bit in turn four. Griffiths was ready to pounce and he took the lead only to have Hughes fight back making one last run in the final set of turns, but Dustin was able to hold him off for the victory. Hook followed Hughes in for third, Bobby Greene finished fourth and Kevin Fee was fifth.

Just before the final feature it was announced that promoter Mike VanGenderen would return in 2013 for another season of IMCA sanctioned racing in Oskaloosa and as the crowd cheered it was nice to see the smile on Mike’s face as he prepared to work the raceceiver from the stands. Mike has some interesting plans for the annual Fall Challenge here on October 5th and 6th. I don’t think that I will be able to make it due to family commitments, but hopefully you can come and see what is in store for the race fans here in Osky during that annual event!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Tuesday's Mid-Flight Notebook

A few thoughts from thirty thousand feet between Phoenix and St. Louis…..

Our thoughts and prayers are with those that were injured during the Missouri State Fair race on Sunday night in Sedalia in two separate incidents. First, 15-year-old driver Jordan Creason suffered serious injuries when his sprint car veered to the right, hit the guardrail and rolled. One report stated that the force of the impact moved the engine back significantly in the car. Creason was airlifted to an area hospital with head and neck injuries and hopefully he will achieve a full recovery. Within a half hour of that accident, the helicopter was needed again when a Street Stock type race car veered to the left on the front straightaway, jumped the inside guardrail and went through a chain link fence striking five people who were watching the races from the infield. Two were treated and released, two others suffered moderate injuries and one 57-year-old gentleman was seriously injured and was airlifted from the facility. The car was part of the “Battle of the Badges” promotional event where old police cars were made into race cars for the night and were driven by area police officers. Following these two tragic incidents, the remainder of the night was cancelled and refunds will be made to those that request them.

I went to this event last year and I would have likely been there again on Sunday night had I not been on my travel adventure. The Fair race always draws a large field of cars in three premier classes and a huge crowd packs the big amphitheater grandstand. It sounds like this year was even bigger than last as 49 Modifieds, 36 ASCS Warrior Region Sprint Cars and 25 MLRA Late Models were on hand in front of a near capacity crowd. Given the events of Sunday though, this annual event may not happen in 2013 and frankly it shouldn’t until improvements are made to the racing portion of the facility. Barry Johnson and I were in Sedalia a year or two ago for the season opener as they attempted to bring weekly racing back to Sedalia and during the feature Al Purkey had something break on his Late Model causing it to veer left off the front stretch just beyond the judges stand. His car jumped the hub rail as well and had it not hit a big light pole it too would have careened into the infield pit area where spectators and crews would have suddenly been at great risk. When I was at the fair race last August that was the first thing that I noticed as I climbed the steps of the grandstand, that the inside guardrail was still too low given the current configuration of the racing surface. There is no doubt now that this will change before the event returns to the 2013 State Fair schedule. I hope.

It seems like a lot of people have the opinion that weekly racing is dying out in our area, but is it really? Where I live in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, within a 90-mile drive I can go to a weekly race four nights a week. On a Friday night I have five tracks to choose from, and on Saturday I can pick from four. That means that eleven different race tracks are battling for the dollars that I budget for attending races each week. On the road trip that I just took to help Morgan move to California we were checking our Speedway Directory to see what tracks would have been on our route and it confirmed what I have known all along. We are spoiled here in Iowa and the areas near our borders. Many fans in states not that far away have to drive 90-miles or more just to get to the track that is closest to them and it is likely that they have only one race night to choose from, usually Saturday. Yes, we have some weekly shows that are struggling and a few that have been doing so for a couple of years now, somehow though we manage to maintain just about the same total of number of tracks in operation each year. Will that change in 2013? That remains to be seen, but until I am down to five or fewer choices each week I refuse to accept the premise that our sport is dying and instead I believe that it is need of some modification, perhaps involving some attrition, if it is to once again thrive. However, those tracks that have appeared to "struggle" the past couple years must not be doing as bad as some think as I know from direct experience that you don't keep running someplace if it is costing you money every week. Oh yes, and I can guarantee you that nobody who spends their Sunday nights in Vinton is going to tell you that weekly racing is dying!

We enjoyed our visit to the Salina Speedway in Kansas last week and we were impressed with the facilities of the Dodge City Raceway Park. We would love to catch a show there sometime, but it is a looooong way from home!

If you ever get out to southern California and can find the time to go to a race, the Perris Auto Speedway is a “must see” venue.

The gentleman in the seat in front of me is reading the USA Today and a headline reads “Obama Spending Exceeds Fundraising”. Huh.....

Brandon Savage has taken on the promotional duties at the Lee County Speedway in Donnellson for the remainder of the season where their special events include the Steve Kirchner Memorial Modified Smackdown on Saturday September 15th and “Shiverfest” on October 13th. The Sprint Invaders Season Championship that was originally scheduled for Lee County on September 29th has been moved to 34 Raceway in Burlington. We’ll get that updated as soon as possible on the Specials Calendar at Positively Racing where you can go to put together your own end-of-season itinerary.

The Peterson Memorial is scheduled for Saturday September 8th at the Eldon Raceway.

We were fortunate enough to be able to attend all eight nights of racing at the Knoxville Raceway during the 360 Nationals and the annual Knoxville Nationals. It sounds funny to say it given that Shane Stewart won his third straight 360 crown and Donny Schatz took his sixth Nationals in the past seven years, but the increased parity of the near 100 car fields that each event draws makes the racing more intense, unpredictable and entertaining each year. The calendar is already circled for next August!

Season championships are on the docket for the next two weekends for most tracks before we head into the end-of-year Specials season. Here’s hoping for good racing weather in September and October that will allow all tracks to hit a home run with their special(s) and carry that momentum into the offseason. I am going to try to make as many as I can before the snow flies and I hope that you share that same goal. We’ll see you on the Back Stretch!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Kruseman Halts Spencer's Streak At Perris

It was a new track in a new state for me as Morgan and I rolled into the Perris Auto Speedway on the Southern California Fairgrounds Saturday night for the Amsoil USAC CRA Sprint Cars. This half-mile clay oval is a first class facility in beautiful setting and on this night the racing surface stayed racy all night even though a strong field of thirty-six non-wing sprint cars put it to the test on a hot and breezy evening.

Mike Spencer has won seven of the thirteen series events thus far in 2012 including five straight wins here at PAS and he started out the night by setting quick time and then winning his heat race. This would put him on the fourth row for the 30-lap main event and Spencer gradually started his move to the front at the drop of the green. Corey Kruseman would take off from the front row and open up big lead while the battle behind him kept us very entertained. David Cardey, Ryan Bernal, Ronnie Gardner and Spencer were swapping lines and tossing sliders at each other and after the mid-point of the event Brody Roa joined the battle after starting from deep in the pack.

Kruseman looked like he had this one in the bag, but with six laps remaining he entered turn one too high and caught the wall with his right rear. The veteran driver somehow made the save and continued on, but his lead was now just a few car lengths over Spencer with lap traffic just ahead. He may have caught a break though two laps later when Cody Williams spun in turn two pulling the first caution of the race. As the field readied for a restart, the red flag was displayed instead as Austin Williams hopped the cushion in turn two while goosing his car, caught the wall and turned upside down.With no traffic now in front of him Kruseman was smooth over the final four laps and was able to halt Mike Spencer's Perris win streak at five by picking up the $2,500 victory.

Bobby Michnowicz topped a nineteen-car field for the California Lightning Sprint victory and "Hubcap Mike" Collins won an entertaining Senior Sprint feature. The Lightning Sprints are the same as the winged Micro or Mini-Sprints that we have in the Midwest while the Senior sprints have drivers who must be over forty-five years of age and they run 360 c.i. steel block engines.

Morgan will be starting his two year graduate school program at Chapman University here in southern California on Monday and while I figured we wouldn't see him back in Iowa until Christmas, that was pretty much confirmed when track promoter Don Kazarian and event promoter J.C. Agajanian Jr. announced tonight that the Turkey Night Grand Prix for the USAC Midgets will be held here at Perris Auto Speedway on Thursday November 22nd. The event has been held on the asphalt at the Irwindale Speedway since 1999, but with that facility in bankruptcy the Agajanian's decided to return the event to dirt at Perris where Billy Boat won it back in 1996. It is a pretty good bet that Morgan will be celebrating his Thanksgiving night in style by watching the USAC Midgets here at Perris!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Swindell Scores At Salina

The car count may have been a bit on the light side, but the action was intense as the Lucas Oil ASCS National Tour slid into the Salina Speedway in central Kansas Thursday night and it was "The Bulldog" Kevin Swindell taking the win.

Nineteen cars lined up for the thirty-lap finale with J.D. Johnson and Seth Bergman sitting on the front row. On the first start both Dustin Morgan and Kevin Swindell spun in turn two, but Swindell was able to keep his car in motion and was not penalized for the restart as he again started in sixth. Bergman would race to the lead on the next start as series point leader Jason Johnson made a big move up from eighth to fourth on the opening lap.

The field settled into single file formation all running the cushion during the early stages of the event before the caution waved for a spin by Tony Bruce Jr. in turn two. On the restart Bergman led Don Droud Jr., Jason Johnson and Swindell into turn one and Kevin pulled off his second big move of the night as he kicked off the heavy cushion in turn one and then shot to the bottom coming out of turn two flying past Johnson and Droud down the back straightaway. It wasn't long before the leaders were back in traffic and the next ten laps were some of the best that we have seen all year with drivers using all lines around the 3/8-mile paper clip racing in and around lapped traffic. Johnson moved back into second and then he passed Bergman for the lead on lap twenty-one with Swindell right behind him.

When Johnson hesitated for a split second measuring up traffic entering turn one three laps later, Swindell dove low into turn one and then drifted up in front of "The Ragin' Cajun" to close the door in turn two to take the lead on lap twenty-four. With traffic still in play Johnson was ready to return the favor but the caution waved on the next lap as Jake Martens slowed on the back stretch with a flat right rear tire.

With an open track and just five laps to go Swindell looked to have this one in the bag, but the caution waved again following the white when J.D. Johnson drove off the back straightaway. With a green-white-checkered restart Jason Johnson could not get the run he needed to attempt a slider for the lead and Swindell pumped his fist in triumph as he closed out the $3,000 victory. Johnson would extend his point lead as the runner-up, Bergman would come home third, Don Droud Jr. finished fourth and Wayne Johnson slipped by Logan Forler on that final restart to take fifth after starting from the sixth row.

This was my first ever visit to the Salina Speedway and I was very impressed with the facility. Track prep was superb on this night and the local announcers were informative and entertaining during the support action from the Mod Lites and Mini-Stocks. IMCA Modifieds and Sport Mods headline the track's weekly Friday night program and it looks like they draw a pretty solid field.

Rolling in the moisture at the Salina Speedway

The ASCS National Tour continues a three night swing as they head south to the Creek County Speedway in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, just west of Tulsa on Friday night before heading to Lawton, Oklahoma on Saturday night. Swindell stated that he would be at Creek County on Friday night, but that he would have to skip Saturday "to go big car racing". He then said that he wished he didn't have to do that after tonight!

If you can't get to the track remember that you can always follow the ASCS National Tour action live on Racin' Boys Live.

My August of Sprint Cars will continue on Saturday night from another track that I have never seen before. Check back later here on the Back Stretch to see where that might be!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sixth Knoxville Nationals Title for Donny Schatz

Donny Schatz served notice on Friday night that he was the man to beat when he blew away the competition in the Speed Sport News World Challenge and he backed that up on Saturday night by laying claim to his sixth Knoxville Nationals championship. It was an impressive fifty laps for Schatz, but he definitely hadsome company at the end!

Starting fifth on the grid, Schatz moved to third at the drop of the green trailing Stevie Smith and Jonathan Allard. Smith was setting a torrid early pace and opened a sizable advantage as Schatz eased past Allard for second, and after that Smith's lead slowly wilted away. On lap fourteen Schatz would blow by Smith and then proceed to lead the field until the caution waved on lap twenty-six for the mid-race break where crews added fuel and made any other changes that they could complete within five minutes.

When the field went back to green Schatz quickly pulled away from both Craig Dollansky and Brian Brown and this one looked as though it was all but over, at least as far as who the winner would be. The racing back in the pack was entertaining though with drivers using the entire race track from bottom to top. The caution waved again on lap 34 when the Nationals Rookie-of-the-Year Kyle Larson had the left rear tire on his car let go and the field was brought back to Schatz with sixteen laps remaining.

On the restart Brown put the slider on Dollansky for second and the large crowd started to move to the edge of their seats as Brian was now able to at least keep pace with Schatz. The anticipation turned electric as Brown started to close the gap and with eight laps remaining he was within striking distance for the lead. But when the challenger hopped the cushion in turn two and fell back by over half a straightaway, you could hear the groan of the crowd over the roar of the motors. But wait! As Schatz went to put Cody Darrah a lap down he would get caught up behind the young driver from Pennsylvania and Brown, with new life, would close quickly. As the white flag waved, Brown was within six car lengths, but he lost some ground in turns one and two and it again looked like this one is all over. But as Schatz powered into turn three for one last time he had two cars using two different grooves in front of him and he drifted a bit in turn four alloweing Brian Brown to mount one last gasp effort. Everybody rose to their feet as Brown made his run and as the checkers waved he was up to the rear bumper of the leader only to come up one car-length short of his first Nationals win.

Take away that last turn and it was a pretty dominating performance for Schatz who collected his sixth Nationals title over the past seven years. An amazing stretch for the North Dakota native especially when you consider that he has finished either first or second in this event in eleven of the last thirteen years!

Brian Brown was elated with his second-place finish noting that catching Schatz is one thing, but then what to do with him after that is a whole other challenge! Craig Dollansky was a bit more subdued with his third-place finish, likely disappointed that he did not get out to an early lead after starting on the front row, but instead dropping back to fourth.

Kraig Kinser had a solid week and kept the family name in the limelight as he advanced from ninth to finish in the fourth spot while Jason Meyers made his brief return to the cockpit for the past two weeks memorable by winning Thursday's qualifier and then finishing fifth in the finale.

Shane Stewart had that come-from-the-back magic working early as he quickly raced his way from thirteenth to sixth, but after the break he could advance no further and early leader Stevie Smith would finish behind Stewart in seventh. Lance Dewease had a solid week that, outside of the Posse fans, may have went unnoticed as he came from the eighth row to finish eighth. Tim Kaeding may have been able to do better than ninth if not for a sour sounding motor during the second half of the race and local favorite Davey Heskin was the Hard Charger of the feature coming from 22nd to tenth.

Besides this being the sixth win for Schatz, the other big story from these Nationals will be the fact that the Championship A-Main did not include Steve Kinser, Sammy Swindell and Danny Lasoski.

Lasoski had given up the tenth starting position in the Saturday night B-Main for the opportunity to qualify directly to the A in Friday's new format. But that gamble backfired when he suffered a flat tire in Friday's main event landing him on the pole position for Saturday's C-Main. Jamie Veal would lead that race early before Lasoski and Jac Haudenschild moved past the Aussie and the two veterans thrilled the crowd with a back and forth battle for the lead. Haudenschild would prevail with Lasoski in second, but in the B-Main Jac would drop out while Danny could only advance up to 17th at the finish.

Swindell started sixth in the B-Main needing a top four finish to advance to the finale. Front row starters Mark Dobmeier and Davey Heskin ran off and hid as expected leaving Swindell to battle with Brian Paulus, Greg Hodnett and Jason Johnson for the final two golden tickets to the big dance. Swindell looked good as he passed Paulus for third mid-race, but Brian came right back to punt Swindell back to fourth and leaving him vulnerable to a late race charge from Jason Sides. Now keep in mind that when Lasoski decided to throw his hat back into the ring and run on Friday night, it was Sides who then moved up a spot and accepted that tenth starting position in the B-Main and "Double Down" made the most of the opportunity by passing Swindell and holding on for the final transfer position to the A.

Steve Kinser has been in the A-Main at the Knoxville Nationals every year since 1978, thirty-four straight years a record that will likely never be eclipsed, but that streak ended this week as "The King" could not overcome the first thing that happened to him as he signed in on Wednesday night. It was then that he drew out the final position in the qualifying order on a night that would see a three hour rain delay that would lead to a fast and narrow racing surface. Kinser still posted a respectable 15th fastest time in qualifying, but he failed to transfer out of both his heat race and a stacked B-Main. He was tenth quick on Friday night, but again came up one spot short of a transfer out his heat race. A thrilling three-wide pass for the lead and a win in his Friday B-Main provided some hope, but he was a non-factor in the Friday feature landing him in the eighth row for Saturday's B-Main. As the entertaining battle for the final transfer positions waged on, Kinser was able to move up to tenth at the finish, but his focus would now be on his son Kraig's efforts in the main event. And hopefully, with his fourth-place finish Kraig was able to wash away some of his father's disappointment and replace it with pride.

The 2012 Knoxville Nationals are in the books and I would have to rank these as somewhere in the top ten overall that I have been able to attend since 1976. The new format for Friday's program definitely made this a four night "event" and hopefully we continue to see the stands get closer and closer to being full once again as they were not so long ago. A big "Thank You" to Brian Stickel, Toby Kruse and the entire Knoxville Raceway staff not only for the hospitality that they show all of us here at Positively Racing, but also for putting on one of the best events in racing in a very professional manner!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Henderson and Schatz Go To Victory Lane In Fast and Furious New Friday Format

Whoever was the the architect of the new Friday format at the 52nd Annual Goodyear Knoxville National deserves a hand shake and a pat on the back as it is now every bit as suspenseful and intriguing as the two nights that precede it. Often called the best two nights of racing anywhere, the Wednesday and Thursday qualifying nights featuring inverted starts and a point system that makes each and every position of value always made Friday's "non-qualifier" show seem like something that fans just had to get through until Saturday. After all, the winner of Friday's feature would be "earning" the 11th starting spot in Saturday night's C-Main, but not anymore. Under the new format the top four in the Friday night feature would go directly to Saturday's championship A-Main to start 17th through 20th, plus to make it even more intriguing the fifth-place finisher would drop all the way back to the 11th starting spot in Saturday's B-Main. Can you imagine watching a feature race where the battle for fourth was even more important than the battle for the lead? That was exactly the scenario last evening that thoroughly entertained a large crowd and left them energized for more on Saturday.

There were story lines all over the place as the 24-car starting field assembled for the 25-lap main event with the two biggest involving veteran drivers who have enjoyed tremendous success at Knoxville over the years. Danny Lasoski had turned down the opportunity to start tenth in Saturday's B-Main for the chance to go directly to the A by finishing in the top four tonight and he would line up in the tenth position. And Steve Kinser, who has amazingly qualified for thirty-five straight A-Mains at the Knoxville Nationals, would start fifteenth after having to qualify out of one of tonight's three B-Mains.

Two of the sport's young and rising stars, David Gravel and Cody Darrah would start from the front row and they ran the entire first lap side-by-side with Darrah officially leading at the stripe. Danny Holtgraver and Dale Blaney settled into those valuable third and fourth spots as Gravel maintained the pressure on Darrah. The caution waved for a Joey Moughan spin on lap three and one lap after the restart Gravel would drive past Darrah for the lead. Lasoski was on the move and was looking to move into the fifth position on the ninth lap when he suddenly slowed, the victim of a flat right rear tire. The Zemco crew was able to make the tire change during the caution to send Lasoski back to action, but his chances of getting up to the top four were now all but gone.

On the restart Kinser made a big move and was up to sixth when the caution waved again on lap eleven for Jeff Swindell who had looped the #7K in turn three. Justin Henderson had replaced Holtgraver in the top four as the field was lined up once again and the crowd was ready for "The King" to make the move that would put him into the top four and continue the streak of consecutive A-Main starts. But when the green flag waved Kinser faded back to ninth and it was Kerry Madsen who was now on the charge. The final fourteen laps would produce some of the most intense racing of the week as Henderson moved up to challenge Gravel for the lead, Darrah and Blaney raced wheel-to-wheel for third and Madsen did everything he could to reel in that top four. Henderson took the lead from Gravel with three laps to go, but that may have gone unnoticed by most as Madsen was now within striking distance of Blaney and Darrah. Blaney found the bite on the bottom and eased into the third spot leaving Darrah as the ultimate "man on the bubble" with Madsen ready to pounce. As the white flag waved Madsen charged past Darrah out of turn four, but the youngster out of Pennsylvania was not to be denied as Darrah drove to the inside of Madsen in turn one and was able make it stick to regain the position. He then held off Madsen through three and four for perhaps the most coveted fourth-place finish in racing.

Cody Darrah - Photo by Barry Johnson

Justin Henderson would take the win ahead of Connecticut native David Gravel. Dale Blaney would nail down racing's ultimate mulligan as he went from having the week's lowest point total to a start in the Championship feature by finishing third while Darrah and Madsen completed the top five.

Dale Blaney - Photo by Barry Johnson

The night was not yet complete though as the traditional World Challenge event, now sponsored by Speed Sport News, would close out the evening with a twenty-four car field set to race for twenty laps. Sammy Swindell started on the pole and opened a big lead that was soon erased by a Kyle Larson spin in turn four. The winner of Wednesday main event Larson slid up the track and collected 360 Nationals champ Shane Stewart with damage eliminating both cars for the remainder of the event. Another caution on lap five for Jonathan Allard bunched the field with Donny Schatz now lined up behind Swindell for the restart. What happened next was perhaps a preview of Saturday's finale as Schatz blew past Swindell for the lead on lap seven and then drove away to victory in a dominating fashion. Swindell would finish a distant second and Jason Meyers continued to impress by coming from ninth to third. Craig Dollansky will start from the front row in the Championship and he tuned up for it by coming from twelfth to fourth while Tim Shaffer remains a threat after racing from thirteenth to fifth.

Friday Notebook......So just who came up with the new Friday format? I am guessing that new Knoxville GM Toby Kruse had something to do with it......Darrah's night may have been completely different if not for a spin by Critter Malone with two laps remaining in the second heat race. Josh Schneiderman had closed the door on Darrah's challenge and had the second and final transfer spot locked up before the caution for Malone that gave Darrah new life. On the restart Darrah sized up the Knoxville regular and then drove past him on the final lap for the right to start on the front row of the night's main event, rather than having to come back later in one of the three B-Mains......Weekly competitors Rager Phillips and Terry McCarl gave the crowd a show with a thrilling back and forth battle for the lead in the fifth heat with the veteran McCarl taking the win.....The seven heats had a four-car invert with the top two finishers advancing to the feature. Dusty Zomer would be the only driver to come from outside of the invert to crack the top two as he finished second to Jeff Swindell in the sixth heat.....Two cars would transfer out of each of the three B's and Steve Kinser lined up third in the first one. The red flag waved on the opening lap as Lee Sowell hooked the cushion and went for a wild ride while Austin Johnson and Mike Reinke also got upside down behind him. For Johnson it continued a week to forget as it was his third wing bender in the past seven days. Once back to racing Joey Moughan and Greg Wilson were able to hold back Kinser until mid-race when Kinser went to the middle and they ran three-wide for the lead in turn one. Kinser went from third to first with that pass and went on to take the win while Kevin Swindell made an exhilarating late charge to pass Wilson off of turn four at the checkers for the second transfer position......Brad Sweet was on the fly but could not chase down Chad Kemenah and Cap Henry in the second B, while Tony Bruce Jr. would come up just shy of transferring out of the third one finishing behind Bronson Maeschen and James McFadden.

The stage is set for what should be a fantastic finale with several "name" drivers still needing to advance to the main event and some of the favorites starting back a bit in the lineup. While I would love to see Sammy Swindell win his second Nationals title, it will be tough enough for him to just get out of the B-Main tonight even though he just needs to advance from sixth into the top four. With track regulars Davey Heskin and Mark Dobmeier on the front row I look for them to pull away and with Greg Hodnett and Jason Johnson also starting ahead of him it will be tough to move forward. Plus, if you throw away his qualifying laps, Tim Shaffer has been the most impressive "racer" of the week and he starts seventh. And I am just talking about the B-Main here. If Sammy transfers out of this one he still starts 21st or worst in the 50-lap finale.

After last night's performance, and given recent history, Donny Schatz has to be the odds-on favorite to win his sixth Knoxville Nationals, but I think that both Craig Dollansky and Brian Brown have a great opportunity to win their their first as they start second and fourth respectively. The weather is perfect, the field is set. There is no live television and listening to it on the internet or following on Twitter is nowhere near the same as being there. So, if you are in the area, make the trip, go to the ticket window and buy your seat for what could be one of the best Nationals ever!

Friday, August 10, 2012

No Rust Evident, Meyers Wins Night Two At Knoxville

Jason Meyers has not raced much in 2012, but the reigning World Of Outlaws champion showed no sign of rust Thursday night as he took the win on the second night of qualifying for the 52nd Annual Goodyear Knoxville Nationals.

Mark Dobmeier, who won the second night of qualifying at last year's Nationals, started from the pole position and looked like a good bet to repeat as he raced away to the early lead with Greg Hodnett trying to keep pace. After an exciting performance in his heat race (more on that later), Sammy Swindell was the man to watch but his effort came to an early end on lap five when the u-joint let go on his Big Game Tree Stands car #1 while racing in fourth and sending him to the pits. Jason Meyers had just passed Hodnett for second and on lap seven the caution waved as Hodnett coasted to a halt in turn four.

On the restart an incident coming out of turn two produced a red flag as Ian Madsen spun and collected Danny Lasoski who then went for a tumble in the Zemco #1Z. Once back to green Meyers was all over Dobmeier and after being turned back on his first challenge, Meyers completed the pass for the lead on lap nine. With the lead change our attention moved back a few positions where Tim Shaffer was mounting a charge after starting from the 15th position. The winner of the 50th Nationals in 2010, Shaffer was grinding away at the inside berm on both ends of the speedway and was steadily making his way toward the front of the field. The caution waved one last time on lap fifteen when the left rear tire exploded on Dusty Zomer's #91 going down the front stretch and he spun to a stop just before tagging the guardrail in turn one.

Jason Meyers - Photo by Barry Johnson

Meyers was solid as the leader but the final ten laps saw plenty of action just behind him featuring Stevie Smith, Shaffer, Kraig Kinser and Lance Dewease as they raced for position and once Shaffer made his way to second he started to close the gap on the leader. As the white flag waved Meyers was able to clear one more lapped car that ended up pinching off Shaffer exiting turn four ending any chance he had of making a last lap challenge. Meyers was exuberant to be back in victory lane at Knoxville and was quick to thank Tom Tarlton and the entire team for their efforts that got him there. Shaffer continued to build his already large Knoxville fan base with his charge to second, Kraig Kinser was steady all race in finishing third, Stevie Smith took fourth while Lance Dewease finished fifth.

Lance Dewease - Photo by Barry Johnson

Kraig Kinser - Photo by Barry Johnson
Thursday Notebook.....Robert Bell is a fan favorite here for his perseverance and efforts on a shoestring budget, and frankly he runs pretty darn well with so little resources. Tonight he drew the first qualifying spot and after completing his first lap announcer Tony Bokhoven said emphatically "Quick Time!" and several fans in the stands (including me) pumped their fists, stood, cheered and high-fived their neighbors as if he had just out-qualified the fifty car field. Bell's time did hold up enough to place him in the invert as he started from the pole in heat race number four.....Ian Madsen would be the fastest qualifier tonight and a series of events helped him to qualify out of the first heat race. On the opening lap Jason Johnson and Cody Darrah tangled not once, but twice while going down the back stretch and the result saw Darrah upside down in turn three and Johnson with a flat left rear tire. This moved Madsen up a row for the restart and he settled into fourth, but he ended up in third when Mike Moore's motor let go with two laps remaining. If not for his spin in the feature, Madsen could have been on the pole for the Championship by finishing eighth or better, but he still has to be happy to be locked in and set to start in the sixth row.....Tony Bruce Jr. won that first heat nipping Josh Hodges at the stripe when Hodges' motor soured exiting turn four......The second heat had a dramatic ending to it just as Tyler Walker passed under the checkers for the win. Calfornia driver Geoff Ensign appeared to have the fourth and final transfer position in hand as he was well ahead of both Terry McCarl and Brian Brown. But as he raced down the back stretch Ensign's car suddenly erupted into a huge ball of flames sending him into a spin entering turn three. Both McCarl and Brown were closing fast and quickly reacted to miss Ensign with McCarl going high and Brown banking off the back stretch guardrail and going low. McCarl ran out of room driving up on the fence before his left front dug in causing him to roll over onto his top. Since Brown maintained his motion he was scored in the fourth position in the official finish while Ensign and McCarl were placed as the last two cars still running on that final lap in seventh and eighth. McCarl was able to make repairs and was later set to start near the front of the B-Main, but when his left front brake locked up he spun the car while lining up behind the pace car. Needing a second push start he was then sent to the rear and could only get up to 13th at the finish......Jack Dover and Bronson Maeschen both suffered mechanical issues in the third heat......Danny Lasoski and Nationals rookie Logan Schuchart swapped sliders in the fourth heat, but they were racing for sixth at the time and both would end up in the B-Main. Roger Crockett dropped out while running in third allowing Stevie Smith to take the fourth transfer spot. Smith would go on to run fourth in the feature and his point total of 479 will start him from the pole position in Saturday's finale. Craig Dollansky will start next to him on that front row......The fifth heat race will have fans buzzing for the rest of the weekend as Sammy Swindell charged quickly up from seventh to third. As he went to work on Wayne Johnson for second, Johnson made sure that Sammy would have to work for it and Swindell jumped the cushion in turn three. Somehow the veteran driver kept his car off the wall, then delivered two wheelstands before getting back up to speed in turn four now running fourth behind Greg Hodnett. Swindell soon drove past Hodnett once again for third and the crowd couldn't wait for him to reel in Johnson to see what would happen when they went at it again. With two laps to go Johnson stumbled a bit on the cushion in turn three and Swindell went low, then emphatically shut the door on Johnson exiting turn four to take the second position. The winner was Joey Moughan, but he will likely be the answer to a trivia question when this one is discussed in the future as in "hey, who won that heat race at the Nationals when Wayne Johnson and Sammy Swindell went at it for second?"......The top four were pretty solid throughout the B-Main with Tim Kaeding taking the win. Dusty Zomer raced from fourth to second on a late restart while Daryn Pittman and Lasoski were the final transfers.....In the post race press conference Meyers was asked if he had any rust to shake off given his light schedule this year. Meyers answered that it was more of a scenario where the team had to learn how to gel given so few races, but Kraig Kinser later confirmed that having run behind Meyers throught the 25-lap distance, there was no rust to shake off.

Sammy Swindell - Photo by Barry Johnson

The first sixteen positions in the Championship feature have been set as well as the first five rows for the B-Main on Saturday. Fans are really looking forward to the new Friday night format as more than sixty cars are expected to return tonight with the top four in the main event earning the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th starting positions for the Championship. That battle for fourth tonight should be intense as it will be the difference between being in the A and starting eleventh in the B-Main.

Stevie Smith - Photo by Barry Johnson

For more coverage of the Nationals be sure to check in with colleagues Eric Arnold and Morgan Broeg. It will be a fun Friday night at the Knoxville Raceway and we hope to see you there!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Kyle Larson Wins Knoxville Nationals Opener

Whenever Mother Nature intervenes in the Knoxville Nationals you can bet that it will shake things up and produce some interesting results. So it was no surprise that after a late afternoon downpour created a nearly three hour delay on Wednesday, most of the names that were making noise were ones that you likely did not expect to see running near the front. And, when the final checkered flag waved in the wee hours of Thursday morning it was the California phenom Kyle Larson taking the win on opening night of the 52nd Annual event sponsored by Goodyear.

Davey Heskin - Photo by Barry Johnson
It was amazing that the show even went on at all following the torrential downpour that reportedly dumped three quarters of an inch of rain on a track that had already been watered and prepped for action. For most tracks it would have been "see ya tomorrow", but at Knoxville with the Dunkin family and a strategically paved infield, it takes an all night rain to wash things out during the Nationals. The track was fast as the top seventeen qualifiers eclipsed the fifteen second mark, but it was also narrow as only five of those seventeen were able to advance into the top four in the heat races to transfer into the 25-lap main event.

A driver locked into a tight battle for the track's weekly 410 points championship, Davey Heskin landed on the front row alongside former World of Outlaws traveler Randy Hannagan with Heskin vaulting to the early lead. Hannagan gave chase in second despite showing a wisp of smoke off the right bank and when the caution waved for a slowing Mike Reinke in turn four at the mid-race point, Hannagan's car caught fire as he pulled into the pits a victim of a broken fitting. On the restart both Jason Sides and Kyle Larson were able to power past Heskin and Sides began to pull away from the field. But his luck soon took a turn for the worse as his left rear tire blew with just six laps remaining sending the #7S into a quick flip.

Jason Sides - Photo by Barry Johnson
With every point being so critical here Paul Sides and the crew did their best to send Jason back onto the track in time for the restart even with a damaged top wing as Larson now assumed the lead. Brian Paulus moved into the second spot before the caution waved two laps later as Sides came to a stop in turn four and the stage was now set for the final four lap sprint to the finish. Larson was the leader with Paulus and Heskin just behind with much of the resilient crowd expecting the fourth-running Donny Schatz to make a late move. As the green flag waved Larson put some distance on Paulus as Schatz drove by Heskin for third. Davey came right back though and returned the favor in the next set of turns. As Doug Clark displayed the white flag to Larson coming off of turn four the crowd groaned as Paulus suddenly slowed ending perhaps his best night at Knoxville ever.

A green-white-checkered restart was the last hurdle that Larson would have to clear to collect his first career win here at Knoxville and he did it with ease guiding the Abreu Vineyards #1K to the win. Heskin would hold off the five-time Nationals Champ Schatz to finish second. Craig Dollansky had to qualify out of the B-Main and then came from 22nd to fourth to post the highest point total for the night while Lucas Wolfe posted a fifth-place effort.

Craig Dollansky - Photo by Barry Johnson

Joey Saldana - Photo by Barry Johnson
Wednesday Notebook.....The track conditions were about as equal as we have seen here in regard to qualifying as Joey Saldana set the standard despite being the 28th car out on the track. Steve Kinser was the last of the 47 cars to time in and he was 15th fastest. The rest of the night would be one to forget for "The King" though as Kinser first came out for the wrong heat race (the fourth) before being sent back in. He then passed Kevin Swindell on the final lap to finish fifth, still one spot short of a transfer in the fifth heat before being a non-factor in a stout B-Main where he finished eighth. All this added up to a point total that ranked 26th after the first night, a position that would normally find him mired in the middle of the pack for Saturday's C-Main. However, with the new Friday night format, Kinser can come right back and put himself into the championship feature by finishing in the top four on Friday night.....As Saldana finished a distant sixth in the first heat race it became obvious that it was going to be difficult for the top qualifiers to get into the top four from an eight-car invert. Third quick qualifier Jonathan Allard was the most impressive running second in the third heat race and that was after he had to restart at the rear following a change of his nose wing. Allard had some damage in a scuffle on the start that saw Austin Johnson get upside down in just about the same place that he did on Saturday night..... NASCAR car star, and sprint car graduate, Jeff Gordon waved the flags for the third heat race.....Jac Haudenschild had a transfer to the A locked up before his driveline decided to abandon ship while he was running in third during the fourth heat. On the restart Brad Sweet and Lucas Wolfe waged a thrilling battle for the fourth position and after Sweet put the squeeze on Wolfe to thwart his challenge, Lucas came right back on the final lap and muscled his way underneath Sweet to edge him out at the line. It was perhaps the move of the night as otherwise Wolfe would have been starting eighth in that power-laden B-Main. Instead he starts seventh and finishes fifth in the feature placing him fifth in points so far and is a virtual lock for Saturday night's headliner.....How stacked was the B-Main? The top four were Saldana, Dollansky, Shane Stewart and Paul McMahan. Along with Dollansky's charge to fourth in the feature, Stewart is making it a habit coming from the back during the Nationals as he started 23rd and finished seventh.

Steve Kinser - Photo by Barry Johnson
The weather has cooled off and the chances of rain have diminished so it will be interesting to see if things get a little more predictable here as the second half of the field goes to qualify on Thursday night. The premier event in Sprint Car racing is right here in Knoxville, so if you are in the area we hope to see you sometime during the next three nights!

Lucas Wolfe- Photo by Barry Johnson
And finally, in a flashy fashion during the annual Press Luncheon on Thursday, the World of Outlaws officially announced that STP will be the title sponsor for the World of Outlaws Sprint Cars in 2013. This is fantastic news for the Outlaws and for the Sprint Car fans that love them as there is no other corporate name that says "motorsports" better than STP.

Shane Stewart - Photo by Barry Johnson

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Pittman and Larson Score Challenge Checkers At Osky

Two drivers earned the right to consider the Front Row Challenge Monday night at the Southern Iowa Speedway in Oskaloosa and both turned it down. It played out to be the right choice as those two drivers, Daryn Pittman and Brian Brown, left the field in their wake to finish one-two in Terry McCarl’s annual pre-Nationals party where a race just might break out. The story of the night though had to be the performance of the young phenom out of California Kyle Larson.

The UNOH All Star Circuit of Champions winged sprint cars were the headliners for the night while the USAC non-wing cars also ran a full program as a preliminary event to Tuesday night’s “Ultimate Challenge” and Larson was the only driver to file an entry in both divisions. The 20-lap USAC feature would run first with Larson earning the pole position after a thrilling charge in the final two laps of his heat race where he went from fifth to second tallying the most passing points. His lead was immediate upon the drop of the green and he raced away from the field in the same manner after a pair of restarts. In the final segment Dave Darland was almost able to maintain Larson’s pace, but there was no catching the youngster as he cruised to the checkers that waved just in time for him though as something broke in the rear suspension as he crossed the finish line.

Darland would finish in the second spot, the always entertaining (both in and out of the car) Robert Ballou was third, Brady Bacon finished fourth and Levi Jones completed the top five. Jones had his hands full over the final few laps as “The Modern Day Cowboy” Daron Clayton was throwing everything he could at him for the position after racing his way up to sixth from seventeenth. During a pair of frontstretch interviews Ballou provided his thoughts on USAC and their qualifying procedures among other things and twice noted that the motor in his #81 was “old enough to vote”.

The 25-lap All Star finale was up next and earlier both Daryn Pittman and Brian seemed tempted, but could not be convinced to take the Front Row “Challenge” of starting at the rear to make it a $50,000-to-win event for that daring driver. Pittman won the race into turn one with Brown all over him before the caution waved on lap two when Brad Sweet and Jason Meyers tangled in turn two. On the ensuing restart Caleb Helms spun in turn one and on the next attempt to get the race back underway the third-running Mark Dobmeier smacked the guardrail in turn three.

Once back to green Pittman pulled away and not even lapped traffic could help Brown close the gap as Pittman cruised to the checkers. Brown would finish second while not far behind him at the finish would be Kyle Larson who raced his way to third after starting twelfth. The kid seems to be getting the hang of running with the wing around a big and fast half-mile just in time for Knoxville. Tim Kaeding had another solid performance coming from the fifth row to finish fourth while Ryan Bunton was consistent all night to finish fifth.

It was a tough night for the All Star series regulars as the top two in points, Tim Shaffer and Dale Blaney scratched due to mechanical issues prior to the main event. The large crowd was abuzz after the right front wheel came off of Jeff Swindell’s #7K car entering turn one during his heat race and the wheel launched at a high rate of speed over the high guardrail and sailed into a residential area across the street. No word on where it landed or what it may have hit, or even if it was ever found! I enjoyed the banter between announcers Tony Bokhoven and Justin Zoch as the two were reunited for the evening after having worked for several years together at the Knoxville Raceway.

The USAC Sprint Cars return to action tonight at Oskaloosa for The Ultimate Challenge and they will be joined by a full program for the 305 Winged Sprints.

I will take a night off in hope of thwarting this allergy/cold that I feel coming on before heading back up to Knoxville on Wednesday night for the opening of the 52nd Annual Goodyear Knoxville Nationals. Wednesday and Thursday’s qualifying nights have always been two of the best nights of racing that you will find anywhere with inverted starts and every single position important for those valuable points. And now, with the change of format for Friday, make it three intense nights of qualifying for the big show on Saturday. If you have never been there before, or if it has been awhile since your last trip to the Nationals, I encourage you to take in at least a night or two this week as it should be spectacular!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Local Driver Bronson Maeschen Scores First Capitani Classic Title

In victory lane Bronson Maeschen told the crowd that he couldn’t win when Cappy was around so it was really nice to be the winner of the inaugural Capitani Classic. The young driver from nearby Pleasantville, Iowa, has been a weekly competitor for several years at the Knoxville Raceway as it was under the leadership of legendary promoter Ralph Capitani, but it took until this season for him to garner his first career feature win here on July 14th. On Sunday night Maeschen made it win number two at Knoxville with this one coming over a stellar field of 67 cars and in front of the event’s namesake himself.

Maeschen and former Knoxville Nationals champion Tim Shaffer lined up on the front row for the 25-lap main event on a track that had just been re-worked on both the bottom and top grooves with Maeschen jetting out to a big early lead. An early caution for a Kyle Larson spin in turn four brought the field back to him, but when the green flag returned so did Maeschen’s big lead as he again left Shaffer and everybody else in his wake. Another caution, this one for a slowing Wayne Johnson, bunched the field and once again the leader pulled away on the restart.

Now Bronson Maeschen has had a reputation for being ultra fast when on his own as he has always qualified well, but his lack of victories in the past perhaps suggested that he had issues dealing with racing conditions. As Bronson approached slower traffic with the laps winding down in this one a couple of forays out of his preferred groove allowed Shaffer, Joey Saldana and Cody Darrah to quickly close the gap and with five laps remaining this one looked to get very interesting. Perhaps sensing that his lead was shrinking fast, Maeschen stayed with his bottom line and got past Josh Schneiderman while Shaffer had to pause a bit as he dealt with Schneiderman exiting turn four. The lead was back up to half a straightaway after that and as Maeschen approached the slower car of Rager Phillips with two laps remaining you could almost sense his level of confidence as he powered around Phillips without missing a beat. The white flag waved and the big crowd cheered as the local driver brought it home for his second career feature win here and the healthy $5,000 top prize.

Shaffer would finish as the runner-up ahead of Saldana and Darrah while Tim Kaeding came from row seven to finish fifth. Sixth went to the driver who had started next to Kaeding, Brad Sweet, Brian Brown ran seventh, Jason Johnson came from row twelve to finish eighth while Danny Lasoski and Shane Stewart rounded out the top ten.

Cappy Classic Notebook

Jason Johnson started as an alternate when Donny Schatz scratched for the event. “The Ragin’ Cajun” finished as the first non-qualifier in the first of three B-Mains and was apparently considered to be the first alternate over the other two third-place finishers Brian Paulus and Danny Holtgraver.

Schatz won the sixth heat race and then was “given” the twelfth and final starting spot in the Dash during a Revenge Draw process. He scratched from that event when it was reported that he had lost his brakes in the final lap of the heat race and then later scratched from the main event as well.

With the huge car count the format for the evening saw six heat races with the top four cars inverted by qualifying times. The top three finishers would advance to the A-Main and there would then be three B-Mains with the top two out of each. The three B-Mains was a departure from the normal “alphabet” feature method here.

This format really placed an emphasis on qualifying as only 24 of the 67 drivers would make the heat race inverts and each driver would only get one lap on the clock. The first car out for qualifying, Brooke Tatnell set quick time driving the car #98 normally wheeled by J.D. Johnson. Guy Forbrook is serving as the crew chief on this car as well as they make a run at this week’s Nationals.

The event was a track point race toward the 410 Lucas Oil Championship Series and while several of the track’s regulars did well to make the A-Main against the heavy outside competition, point leader Davey Heskin did not make the show. Those that did and their finishing position were Maeschen (1st), Terry McCarl (12th), Tasker Phillips (16th), Rager Phillips (18th) and Josh Schneiderman (19th). McCarl had to come from outside of the invert and pace James McFadden late to transfer out of the sixth heat race and his efforts for the night moved him ahead of Heskin by just eight points with only one night of point racing remaining.

Ralph Capitani gave the command “Push Trucks, push ‘em if ya got ‘em” to get the $1,000-to-win Dash started. Danny Lasoski had this one well in hand until the throttle linkage broke with just four laps remaining. Stevie Smith then held off a hard charging Dale Blaney to take the win although he ran the final few laps trailing some smoke. Smith then had to scratch from his B-Main due to engine problems.

The Southern Iowa Sprint Speedweek action now moves to the Southern Iowa Speedway in Oskaloosa for the Front Row Challenge on Monday night and the Ultimate Challenge on Tuesday night before returning to Knoxville for the 52nd Annual Goodyear Knoxville Nationals Wednesday through Saturday. I hope that you will check into the Back Stretch throughout the week for news and notes from these events and I also encourage you to visit Open Wheel News and Notes as well as Hawkeye Ovals for additional coverage.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Stewart In Command Once Again at 360 Nationals

The green flag waved and Shane Stewart was gone. Literally. The Bixby, Oklahoma, driver completely dominated the 25-lap finale for his third straight and fourth overall title in the Arnold Motor Supply 360 Nationals at the Knoxville Raceway.

Roger Crockett brought the field to the green flag with Stewart to his outside and by the time they hit the back stretch Shane was already halfway down it before the rest of the pack exited turn two. The battle for second was a good one though as Crockett, Brady Bacon and Kevin Swindell went at it with Swindell securing the spot following a good slider on Bacon in turn two. From there it was a chase through traffic with Swindell actually cutting into the lead mid-race even though he was still a full straightaway back. Stewart was flawless though and that was all the closer that Swindell would get as the race went non-stop. Swindell would have to settle for second with Bacon not too far behind him in third, Jack Dover was fourth and Crockett held on the complete the top five. Dusty Zomer finished sixth, opening night winner Danny Lasoski was seventh, Brian Brown was the hard charger in eighth, Wayne Johnson was ninth and Tim Kaeding finished tenth.

After the race Stewart displayed the calm confidence of a driver who had just collected his third straight win in such a dominating fashion and he made it clear that when he drives Paul Silva's #57, he has no idea what is done to the car before he climbs aboard. Stewart has put together an interesting schedule in 2012 driving winged sprint cars for several different owners and when he is not in the #57 he takes on a much more significant role in the setup of his ride. When he noted that it is tough to drive six different cars, Kevin Swindell chimed in "at least they are the same type of cars" as he has driven midgets, 360's, 410's, ARCA Stock Cars and just about anything else when given the opportunity.

Saturday Notebook

E-Main....Young Trey Starks ran in the top five early when he made his Knoxville Raceway debut with the World of Outlaws here in May and he had to be disappointed to find himself in the E-Main for the 360 Nationals. Starks made the most of it though as he went flag-to-flag to win the 8-lap opener for the night. Current ASCS Warrior Region point leader Kyle Bellm finished second. Gary Wright made one slow lap and then pulled in to put the wrap on his efforts here at Knoxville in this his final season of competition.

D-Main.....Matt Covington won the 360 season opener here a couple of years ago and tonight he pulled away from the field to win the D ahead of J.D. Johnson and Jonathan Allard. Danny Smith was in a qualifying spot, but slowed coming to the checkers and dropped to 13th.

C-Main.....Daryn Pittman, A.J. Johnson and Ryan Roberts got upside down on the front stretch as the green flag waved with all three drivers climbing from their battered cars under their own power. Sam Hafertepe Jr. was looking to be the third driver to win from the pole tonight and appeared to have things well in hand as the field behind him raced for the five transfer spots into the B-Main. R.J. Johnson slowed on lap four while running second and Matt Juhl had his power plant go up in flames as he was racing in fourth with just two laps remaining. On the restart Jason Meyers was able to drive past Glenn Styres for second and he then powered past Hafertepe on the final lap for the win. Behind that the race for the fifth and final transfer saw Covington and Jeff Swindell swap sliders for two laps with the veteran Swindell prevailing.

B-Main......Gary Taylor turned over eight times down the back straightaway on the opening lap and as the wrecker towed away his mangled race car both Dennis Moore Jr. and Swindell fixed damaged front wings in the work area. Moore had started eighth and would now have to go to the rear moving the outside row behind him, including Brian Brown, up a spot. Front row starters Justin Henderson and Seth Brahmer drove away from the field with Tim Shaffer chasing in third. Tony Bruce Jr. settled into the fourth and final transfer and was looking good to make the show until the final lap when Brown, who had restarted tenth, made the pass in turn one. This would put Brown in the 24th and final starting position for the main event and while Stewart's dominating performance would be the story, Brown's run up to eighth in the flag-to-flag finale would be the show.

Twenty-six 305 c.i. Sprint provided support tonight with much of the purse money being taken back to the tiny northern Iowa town of Arthur. Casy Friedrichsen put the slider on Bart Friedrichsen for the lead on lap five and then picked his way through traffic for the win. Bart was second, Alan Ambers finished third, pole-starter Matt Stephenson took fourth and Mitchell Alexander filled out the top five.

The 22nd Annual Arnold Motor Supply 360 Nationals is in the books and the 410's take center stage tonight at Knoxville Raceway for the inaugural running of the Capitani Classic honoring longtime track promoter Ralph Capitani who retired at the end of last season. The weather is perfect today here in Iowa and the racing should be fantastic. What better way to spend a Sunday night in August?

Hope to see you there!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Tatnell Tops Podium On Night Number Two

Brooke Tatnell passed Rager Phillips on lap eleven and then went on to post the victory on night number two of the 22nd Annual Arnold Motor Supply Knoxville 360 Nationals.

Tony Bruce Jr. jumped out to the early lead from the pole position and opened up a nice advantage over second-running Rager Phillips. But Phillips, putting the knowledge of his home track into play soon started to reel in the leader and on lap eight he powered by Bruce for the lead. A caution for Matt Juhl who had tagged the guardrail in turn one on lap nine bunched the field up once again and Tatnell then went to work on the restart.

The veteran Austrailian driver made the pass on Phillips and then eased ahead as Rager soon found himself under fire from other challengers. Tim Kaeding was working the low line of the speedway and moved into the second spot late, but he was not able to cut into Tatnell's advantage enough to mount a challenge.

Tatnell would take the victory with Kaeding in second, Dusty Zomer settled into the third spot while Roger Crockett slipped past Phillips late for fourth. Tim Shaffer came from the seventh row to finish in the sixth spot, two-time defedning event champion Shane Stewart was seventh, Wayne Johnson finished eighth, Jason Meyers came from from the tenth row to finish ninth and Jason Johnson filled out the top ten.

Friday Notebook

Qualifying.....The seventh car out to time, Shane Stewart posted the quick time for the night at 16.809 more than half a second slower than Thursday nights fastest lap. Roger Crockett was second quick just one one-hundredth of a second slower at 16.810.

Heats.....After going out late and posting a disappointing 21st fastest time, Jason Johnson picked up some points by winning heat race number one......Jordan Boston ran off with the second heat with Dusty Zomer putting a mean slider on Jamie Veal early to grab the fourth and final transfer position.....Brad Loyet won the third heat race and Sam Hafertepe Jr. took heat race number four. In that fourth heat Jeff Swindell became the first driver to start from outside of the invert to transfer as he finished fourth.....Johnny Herrera won the fifth heat with Jason Meyers passing Sheldon Haudenschild on the final lap to be the second driver outside of the invert to transfer.

C-Main.....Jonathan Allard cruised to an easy win ahead of Kevin Ramey, Kody Barksdale and Jeff Ensign. Geoff Dodge was challenging Ensign for the final transfer before blowing a right rear late.

B-Main.....This one got off to rough start with three drivers getting upside down in turn two on the opening lap. Josh Riggins, Josh Hodges and Carson McCarl all climbed out of the damaged rides uninjured. Leader Kaley Gharst was coming out of turn four for the checkers as Dyland Peterson spun in turn four causing a caution and a green-white-checker restart. Dennis Moore Jr. took advantage of this going from fifth to third at the finish behind Gharst and Seth Brahmer while Dustin Daggett went to the middle groove to pass Glenn Styres out of turn four for the final transfer. Styres and Jamie Veal were the big losers on that restart as both would have transferred to the A if not for the late caution.

Full results from Friday and the lineups for Saturday's feature races can be found here and with such a deep field just about any of the twenty-four starters will be capable of taking the win. Starting on the front row though, Shane Stewart would have to be considered the pre-race favorite to post his third straight 360 Nationals title. A full program for the 305 Sprints will be on the card as well and perhaps we'll see you there on the Back Stretch.

Lasoski and Cornell Highlight 360 Nationals Opener

The 22nd Annual Arnold Motor Supply 360 Nationals opened up Thursday night with two west central Missouri based drivers waging a battle that kept the crowd on the edge of their seats throughout the 20-lap main event. In the end experience and perhaps a little luck landed Danny Lasoski in a place that nobody knows as well as he does, victory lane at the Knoxville Raceway.

The Thursday night entry list of 56 had been trimmed to 24 starters for the night’s main event with Jonathan Cornell and Ryan Anderson on the front row. Cornell, a former Rookie-of-the-Year here at Knoxville in the 360 class, has been sticking closer to his Sedalia, Missouri, home this year running weekly and winning often at Double X Speedway and currently ranking second behind Kyle Bellm in the ASCS Warrior Region point standings. Anderson, from the small western Iowa town of Deloit, has been a mainstay at the Knoxville Raceway for many years running in both the 410’s and 360’s perhaps and was recently featured in Flat Out magazine for his impressive accomplishments given his very tight racing budget. Cornell vaulted to the lead at the drop of the green and moved to the cushion on the big half-mile while third-starting Danny Lasoski did not take long to drive by Anderson for second. The winningest driver in the track’s storied history, Lasoski worked his familiar low line around the speedway and steadily reeled in Cornell easing past him for the lead on lap number five.

Driving a brand new car #1M put together by owner Mark Burch for the weekend, Lasoski pushed the lead to about ten car-lengths over the next couple of laps before Cornell started to fight back. At the mid-race mark Cornell had pulled back to within striking distance and he made a run on Lasoski for the lead. The veteran from Dover, Missouri, drove hard into turn three though and then slid up the track in four to block Cornell’s run, but it was on temporary as two laps later Cornell was able to kick off the cushion and drive past Lasoski for the lead. The two swapped safe sliders in a thrilling fashion over the next two set of turns and as they raced down the back stretch Cornell saw that Danny Jennings was just ahead and racing in his preferred high line. Cornell aimed his #28 for the bottom, but Lasoski was already there and the two nearly made contact as Lasoski regained the lead and Cornell had to regroup now nearly a half-straightaway back. His high line was still fast though and Cornell was making up ground when the caution waved on lap sixteen for Terry McCarl who had spun in turn four.

On the restart Lasoski worked a line where he would enter a set of turns low and then drift up on the exit in order to close off any high-line cushion runs from his challenger and it was working well as the white flag waved. Coming out of turn two on that final lap Cornell was rocket and appeared to have enough momentum to make one last run at the leader, but after setting the car on the cushion in three and then aiming for a lower line out of four Cornell’s bid for the win ended abruptly as his left rear tire disintegrated. Would he have been able to beat Lasoski to the line? I may be in the minority with this opinion, but I don’t think so as “The Dude” was flawless out of four in capturing yet another checkered flag at the track he calls “home”.

Brian Brown capped an amazing run by coming from 19th to second, more on “Blackjack” later, Kevin Swindell was solid in third, Jack Dover finished in the fourth spot while Cornell limped across the line in fifth. While watching that race for the lead I couldn’t help but to scan back a few times at that amazing race between Brown, Swindell and Dover for what we all thought would be for third until that final turn. Brad Sweet, Brady Bacon, Paul McMahan, Ryan Anderson and Kyle Larson completed the top ten.

Thursday Notes:

Qualifying…..There is no denying that drawing an early opportunity to qualify is important here whether it is the 360 or 410 Nationals. An early run can earn a driver points that he would otherwise never expect while a late qualifying opportunity can put you behind the eight-ball from the start, especially this week when only the top 30 qualifiers make the heat race inverts. Tonight’s top three qualifiers were among the first eleven to take to the track while Dustin Selvage was impressive establishing the fourth fastest lap as the 25th car out to take time. Conversely one of the pre-event favorites Brian Brown was the 50th driver to go out to qualify and he ended up 35th in the final rundown. One driver though who went out after Brown disproved the theory that a late qualifying effort will never produce good results as Kevin Swindell qualified sixth quick…..Jac Haudenschild in the Phillips Floors #7K had a busy qualifying session as his left rear tire blew in turn four as he was coming to the green for his first lap. After changing the tire I was surprised to see him come back out just a few cars later, in the middle of qualifying, to take two laps on the clock. As qualifying ended his fastest lap was announced as the tenth best in the rundown, but his car was then pushed back toward the front stretch as it was determined that Jac should have instead only been given one lap of qualifying at the end for missing his time slot. This lap landed him in the 20th position…..Current track point leader Clint Garner was fast time on the night as the 11th car out to qualify…….Irving, Texas, driver Shawn Peterson suffered front end damage when he slid into the end of the infield guardrail while exiting the track after his qualifying effort.

1st Heat…..Front row starters Kyle Larson and Logan Forler raced side-by-side for much of this eight-lapper with “Young Money” Larson prevailing. Forler, Kevin Swindell and Brad Sweet also transferred while fastest qualifier Clint Garner found himself on the pole for the B-Main after finishing fifth.

2nd Heat…..The southeast Iowa based Sprint Invaders organization had to be proud of this front row featuring two of their regulars in Tony Shilling and Bobby Mincer. Shilling dominated this one winning with ease ahead of Ryan Anderson, Brady Bacon and Mincer. Of note here was that Daryn Pittman who qualified miserably started tenth and could only climb to eight at the finish.

3rd Heat…..This one saw a pair of big passes out of turn two on the final lap. Danny Jennings slipped by Henry Van Dam to take the win while, even more importantly, Jack Dover blew by Randy Martin for the fourth and final transfer position. Jonathan Cornell finished third.

4th Heat…..Texan Larry Howery was scheduled to start fourth, but instead chose to tag the tail. Jesse Gianetto who recently replaced Tyler Groenendyk in the #10 car pulled away to victory with Paul McMahan finishing second. Defending NASCAR Nationwide champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. returned to his roots tonight and finished third while Tony Norem held off Davey Heskin by six one hundredths of a second to finish fourth. With the Nationwide series racing up the road at the Iowa Speedway in Newton Saturday night, only some weather-altered schedules would allow Stenhouse to compete in the finals of the 360 Nationals, so his efforts here tonight showed just how much he loves to get back behind the wheel of a winged sprint car.

5th Heat…..Talk about a stacked field, this one included former Outlaws Jac Haudenschild, Terry McCarl (driving the #94 car this weekend), Danny Lasoski, Randy Hannagan and Brian Brown. Hannagan would be the only driver to win a heat from the sixth starting spot tonight with Lasoski running second. R.J. Johnson did a nice job holding down the third spot while Brown joined Stenhouse as the only drivers to come from outside of the invert to transfer from a heat race. Haudenschild did not finish sending him to the C-Main.

C-Main…..Shawn Peterson’s tough night continued as he smacked the turn four guardrail on the opening lap knocking down his front end for the second time this evening…..Haudenschild appeared to have this one in the bag, but either he slowed some on the final lap or Ryan Roberts hit the turbo boosters as Roberts made up nearly a full straightaway to pass the veteran from Ohio for the win. Derek Hagar and Justin Carver also transferred.

B-Main…..My attention was on Terry McCarl in this one as he did not look good in his heat and starting fifth he needed to move to the top four to continue his evening. As pole-sitter Clint Garner stretched an early lead, McCarl struggled through the early laps before finding his rhythm. Arguably the best Iowa sprint car driver ever, McCarl showed why as he steadily picked his way toward the front and passed Garner for the win. The three-car battle for the final two transfer spots between Jon Agan, Jake Martens and Russ Hall went right down to the final turns as Agan and Martens ran side-by-side into turn three with Hall looking for racing room. When Agan slid sideways at the apex of the corner Hall had to back off to keep from hitting him as Martens took third and Agan recovered to finish fourth. Frustrated that he had been shut out of the main event, Hall pounded the back bumper of Agan a couple of times on the cool down lap.

As you can see there was plenty of action to keep a race fan very entertained and, with another roster stacked with interesting names, look for more of the same on Friday night as qualifying continues for the 22nd Annual Arnold Motor Supply Knoxville 360 Nationals. For more Positively Racing coverage of this event make sure that you also check in with Eric Arnold and Morgan Broeg.