Sunday, September 27, 2015

Another Nailbiter at Knoxville

Saturday morning I headed for the Knoxville,Iowa Raceway for night number three of the Lucas Oil Late Model Nationals. In the 12 years of this Crown Jewel event, I have yet to make all three nights, but have missed the 100 lap finale only m the year it was pushed to Sunday by wet conditions. And I can an honestly say I can remember only one time that the race was something close to " ho-hum." Well, the 2015 version certainly did not disappoint, either! Total car count was down a bit this year, with 63 super late models checking in on Thursday, and 55 surviving until Saturday, still more than enough for a show well worth the money, especially considering the quality of competition. Things got off to a rousing start, as Jason Rauen exploded an engine as the B-main cars hot lapped. Jasons' # 98 spewed a cloud of smoke that fortunately blew towards the unoccupied north grandstands, a plume so big you could hardly see for several seconds. Rolling to the front straightaway, fire erupted underneath the car, and there were a few tense moments until the Farley, Iowa driver climbed for his disabled machine.
 With two scheduled B-main cars not on hand, the front row C-main cars were promoted to the " B", leaving 13 drivers vying for what was advertised as four, but would now be six spots at the tail of the B- main. 15 laps around the half mile saw the now pole sitter, Iowan Chris Spieker cruise to a comfortable win in the non stop event. Another home state veteran, Dave Eckrich ran second , Wisaconsin driver Mitch McGrath was third ahead of Denny Eckrich. A former winner of one of the best 100 lappers yet, Illinois' Brian Shirley, and RC Whitwell, from Arizona, also transfered to the B.
 Backing up a bit, for those who are not familiar with the qualifying procedure for this event, full programs are run on Thursday and Friday night, with a great emphasis placed on time trials. Points are awarded for time trials, heat, and feature finishes, and a driver can run Thursday only, or both nights, with their best point total for one night used for Saturdays lineups.
 So the 20 lap 24 car B-main came next, with six spots up for grabs in the $40,000 to win finale. Wissota ace Ricky Weiss and Lucas Oil tour regular  Frank Heckenast Jr  sat on the front row. Weiss led lap one, and the caution waved on lap two, as Ricky Bell made contact with the fence in turn three, a spot that proved treacherous throughout the remainder of the program. Jason Feger powered into second on the Delaware restart, but Heckenast quickly regained the position. One lap later, the yellow came out for a slowing Jason Utter , and back to racing, things remained the same until a lap nine caution for Spencer Diercks. With the green waving, seventh starting Morgan Bagley jumped into contention in fourth. , but when Weiss  drifted high off turn two on the 13th circuit, Heckenast powered to the lead, taking Jimmy Mars  and Bagley along, with Weiss dropping to fifth. Ray Guss Jr. had made his way to the final transfer spot, but just as quickly began to fade. The yellow came out a final time with two to go for McGrath, and on the restart Mars took the lead taking Bagley with him as Iowa ace Ryan Gustin moved to sixth. However Gustin looked low under Weiss for fith, and Eddie Carrier Jr slipped past in turn two. Mars claimed the win to become the only driver to start all twelve National features. Bagley, Heckenast, Feger, Weiss, and Carrier also advanced. Carrier had been in line for one of the two provisional starting spots in the 32 car field, but with no Lucas Oil regulars now needing provisionals, they were awarded to the drivers with the highest point totals not qualifying for the feature. Both were homestaters, Diercks, and Joel Callahan.
 The 100 lap finale was the final event of the weekend, and as the large crowd settled in and driver introductions concluded, the green flag waved at about 9:00. There were 24 drivers already qualified when the night began, and Iowa standout Chad Simpson, the Fridaty night feature winner, and national star Jimmy Owens made up row one, with the two top rated drivers of 2015, Scott Bloomquist and Thursday winner Jonathon Davenport in row two. Simpson charged to the lead on the first trip around the big 1/2 mile, and Owens pulled even as lap two was scored. Simpson led the next two rounds as a Three way battled developed for second. On lap five, Davnport took the point and began to build a lead, with Don Oneal moving to second on lap seven, and Simpson faded to fifth. The first caution came on the twelfth lap for AJ Diemel, who retired to the pits. The restart saw Owens and Oneal in a duel for second, as Texan Chris Brown moved to fourth. Davenport was riding the high line, while Owens and Oneal worked the low groove. The leader hit slower traffic on lap 20, as Indianas' Kent Robinson began a charge towards the front using the leaders high line. Bloomquist had dropped back early, but moved to fourth on lap 26, and the yellow came out for a spinning Brown on lap 30. Owens cleared Oneal for second on the restart, and two circuits later Oneal blew a tire in turn one, scattering debris and bringing out the caution. Simpson gained some steam on the restart, reentering the top five, and at the lap 42 mark, Davenport agin found himself in lapped traffic. Owens took this opportunity to close the gap, and on lap 44, Davenports run ended as smoke poured for under the hood of the # 6 machine. Owens now had the top spot, followed by Bloomquist and seventh starting Jared Landers, and on the 48th trip around, fourth running Simpson jumped the cushion, with Shannon Babb getting around him. The caution waved at the halfway mark for Oneal. Back under green, Landers shot around Bloomquist for second, and row ten starter Josh Richards entered the top five. Simpson vaulted to third on lap 53, one lap later Richards climbed to fourth. Lap 56 saw Richards and Mason Ziegler get past Simpson, but the yellow came again on the 58th lap for a slowing Carrier Jr. Lap 60 saw Ziegler jump the cushion, but luck was on his side as the caution waved for Tim McCreadie. A battle for second developed on the restart, with Richards taking the spot on lap 65. Three laps later, Landers bobbled, and Ziegler took third. Owens caught lapped trafiic on lap 72, but two laps later, Bloomquist slowed, his night now over, and his chance of making up a lot of ground on Davenports series point lead out the window. Owens held the lead on the restart, but with 22 to go, Richards pulled a dandy slide job in turns three and four to grab his first lead of the night. Things stayed that way until lap 87, when Landers cleared Owens for second. He then began to run down Richards, who had opened a comfortable lead. On lap 91, Landers made his turn three move, taking his first lead of the night. Richards regrouped in the final laps, coming close with two to go, but Landers held him off for his first Nationals win. At the pay window, it was Richards in second, followed by Owens, Mike Marlar, Darell Lanigan, the Simpson brthers, Chad, and Chris, Brandon Sheppard, Heckenast Jr., and Steve Francis in tenth.
 By my count, 19 cars were still running at the conclusion of the 50 miles.
 Veteran Billy Moyer, who finished eleventh after fighting issues throughout the night, announced he will cut back his racing schedule to " part time" in 2016. Moyer, of course, is heavily involved in producing his brand of chassis for sale.
 An after running the last weekend in September for several years, 2016 will see the Nationals move to the third weekend in September, the 15-17. Of course the first thought of the local fans is that this is the weekend when Farley Speedway would normally hold the Yankee Dirt Track Classic, and would create a major conflict for a handful of drivers, but a large group of fans. We will see how this plays out moving forward.
 The MOWA sprint cars will headline racing tonight at Quincy Raceways, and we have our sights set on the $5,000 to win UMP late model special next Saturday at the Peoria Speedway. The season is winding down, enjoy some racing while you still can!

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