The usual suspects were there, more on that later. Some might have wondered if some “travelers” would stop in but with two other sanctioned events to the south those cats had races closer to home and didn’t venture up to compete on the red clay. Nothing hurt though; in the house were fan-favorite names such as Stovall, Turner, Phillips, Looney, Jackson, Mooneyham, Essary x2, and Vaught. Oh, and by the way, modified stand out Mark “fluffy” Dotson in his late model debut. Although Fluffy’s night ended in not making the race he was able to regroup after a rough heat for a respectable run and valued track time in one of the two b-mains.
Hammer down, a bit rough, and drivers chomping at the bit to hit the track early in the season usually equals carnage! But this time, although there were a few incidents, most notably during the heats, it was a memorable night for the healthy sized crowd on hand.
Heat 1: Full throttle with Will the thrill Vaught on the pole and Leroy Johnson to the outside. At the start it seemed foretelling of how the night might turn out as Tony Jackson, Jr’s went airborne coming for the green but he was able to keep it righted and the race continued. Dotson spun on lap two as Jackson came to third by lap three and second on lap four. Dotson’s woes continued as he jumped the turn one berm and brought out a second caution after venturing off the track. Vaught ran away for a two-second advantage over Jackson in second and fifth-starting Shane Essary third.
Heat 2: With young stand-out Justin Asplin on the pole I thought this one was over from the start but man was I wrong, not only was I rusty out of the gate with guessing the winner but also with putting together this write-up which was turned in way late! Anyway, Asplin led the initial stages but UMP regular Dwayne Kiefer had other things in mind and made his way to the front. Gentlemen David Turner was strong in this one too and a player before race end. Young Kaleb Stolba had a hard hit with the turn four wall but walked away okay, car…not so much. On lap four, fifth-starting Kiefer shocked the crowd with a power move on the low side to take the helm and sailed on to a convincing win. The veteran Turner brought ‘er home in second, Asplin third.
Heat 3: Late Model hall-of-famer Ken Essary had pole and was a sure bet to take the win. Defending MLRA champ and former Springfield winner John Anderson started seventh in this one and all eyes were on him to come to the front; however, that scenario never transformed, in fact, Anderson looked off all night. Bryon Allison started sixth in this one and was the man on the move by lap three, which at the same time Anderson nearly spun himself out off of turn four, a rare sight. Brandon Morton and Essary had a classic battle for the lead but Allison had other things in mind and on the white-flag lap grabbed the lead with a daring high-side pass as the lead duo battled on the low side. Allison picked up big passing points with the win with Essary and Morton just behind at the line.
Heat 4: The trophy dash heat race, the one everyone was looking forward to, the race that just had to live up to everyone’s expectations, the race….okay, okay, I’ll shut up now. It actually was a bit of a letdown simply due to the “names” that took to the track, I’m talkin’ Stovall coming off a recent 10k to win victory, and defending MARS champ Looney, Chad Simpson, multiple series champion Terry Phillips, Bill Koons, and Show-Me series stand-out Justin Wells. Anyway, at the start, a four-car pile-up dashed the high expectations as Phillips was sideways with Koons and Wells taking on some damage in turn three while Stovall spun off in a separate incident at the other end of the track. Wells pulled off and was unable to continue. Looney grabbed the point on the restart and cruised to a victory but behind him it was anything but calm. Stovall had a flat and brought out a yellow on lap four but made it back out just after the restart and just in time to stay on the lead lap. Phillips made his way back toward the front from the tail by lap eight. A late caution for a rare single-car spin by Simpson gave Stovall another shot as he clung to the lead lap. At the end, Looney was the victor with Phillips second and Simpson recovering to third. By the way, after coming all the way back to the front, Stovall had another tire go down at the checkers and fell to fifth.
Heat 5: This heat race was the one that was a total guess for who would walk away with the win; after a tangle at the start of the race it was truly anyone’s guess who would win. Mike Collins and MLRA rookie contender Kevin Sather were up front by race end, even though Collins was involved in an early caution. Brandon McCormick looked strong early on but it was Sather who mastered the now smoothed out track. McCormick tried to real in Sather but couldn’t get the job done as the rookie took the win over McCormick and a hard-charging Collins in third.
B Main 1: Asplin and Simpson had the front row and with only two cars moving on to the main event, it was evident these two were well on their way and to no one’s surprise Simpson took the win with Asplin second. Dustin Mooneyham finished third but was awarded a MARS provisional feature starting spot with Bill Koons fourth, coming away with an MLRA provisional start for the main.
B Main 2: Brandon Morton had the point from the green with fifth-starting Jesse Stovall trying to track him down. The top four cars ran close throughout the caution-free event and by lap four Stovall made his way to third. Morton held on for the win with Stovall coming to second as those two gents moved on to the main event. Bill Leighton and Mike Collins were third and fourth. Collins earned a provisional and moved on to the main.
After some intermission hoops shooting to determine the pole-sitter among the top six in passing points and a 50-minute track manicure by Hoff, the line-up was set for the late model main event. Looney and Brandon McCormick must have hoops history in their high-school day as the two were nothing but net and the first to sink a basket to earn the front row. Good thing most of these guys are racers as there was more than a fair shake of “nothing but air” shots!
40-Lap Main Event: Hoops masters Looney and McCormick brought the field to green after a quick on-track introduction of the drivers; interestingly enough Terry Phillips received the most response from the crowd with a mix of boos and applause at his home-town track. Row two was Allison and Kiefer, row three Sather and Jackson with Vaught and Phillips in row four. With my score sheets and clip board ready to get busy (practicing scoring, got to make myself more marketable), flagmeister Ernie Leftwich let loose the green flag!
Looney set the pace with Kiefer second, Jackson third and McCormick slipping to fourth through the first caution at lap seven for Collins who went to the tail for the restart. By the end of the night, Collins did recover for a ninth-place finish advancing 13 spots from his start. Restarting on the high-side, Jackson advanced to second putting Kiefer back to third with Sather now fourth. Another caution on lap nine slowed the field when Essary stalled at the pit entrance. Green back out, Looney continued to pace Jackson, Kiefer and Vaught who was aggressively making his way to the front in Will the Thrill style. Eighteenth starting Stovall was in the top ten by lap ten as Phillips and Turner had a battle for fifth and sixth. Lap eleven saw a caution and then another attempted re-start as Simpson spun off not to return and Shane Essary and Koons having their own issue before green-flag racing resumed. No change in the top four through lap 13, the caution flew again as Shane Essary’s night ended with a second spin. This set off a fast and furious part of the race as the excellent conditions thanks to Hoff provided close and multi-lane racing throughout the field.
Jackson did all he could to keep Looney close throughout the stretch as Vaught advanced to third, Phillips to fourth and Allison to fifth, Sather sixth. No changes among the top four for a long stretch as the front runners ran close. Behind them, Kiefer slipped back as Stovall continued his impressive run with Collins and Anderson farther back. With my ink laid to paper due to the pace as fast as I could write, the furious race stayed green through lap 32 when Allison made hard contact with the ominous turn four wall to draw a caution. It was a hard hit and brought his night to an end after an impressive run inside the top five, thankfully he was okay, car looked damaged but he’ll come back for another.
Restart with 7 to go and Looney had his hands full as Jackson, who had closed to his bumper and Vaught were just behind. Vaught grabbed second from Jackson with a daring move and then set his sights on the leader. Jackson now had his hands full with Phillips and Stovall to secure a top five finish. With Vaught drawing ever closer to Looney for the win, Looney’s handle on the car seemed to be fading and as laps wound down to the white flag, Vaught was right there. Fans on their feet, eyes at the front, and drivers fighting for the win, the two made their way around one final time with Looney leading the way. Vaught was literally all up in Looney’s business as he pushed hard to go for the win but it was Looney who owned this night, denying Vaught a victory and turning his own season around in the process with the win. Looney’s last appearance at the Springfield track ended in a DNF, this night it ended in a $3,000 victory and a great start to points racing, which he commented on in a post-race interview that, “it would be fun to chase MLRA or MARS points.” We’ll see where that goes I suppose as the season unfolds. Jackson finished third, Phillips fourth and Stovall advanced 13 spots to bring it home fifth, stellar run!
And that in a nutshell, or as some know my writing style, in a novel, is my recap of what I have to admit is the best MLRA or MARS race I have ever seen, awesome race, great track, and nice surroundings, well worth the two-hour trip. Today, looking forward to heading to I-35 for the rescheduled USMTS race. Interestingly enough, Springfield’s own Jeremy Payne, now a modified hot shoe with USMTS plans, came in late to Springfield and scored a big win in a newly powered Roush-Yates GRT to pick up the win. A win even earned even after receiving a two-spot penalty late in the race for passing before the restart cone. RaceTrack Ronnie, competition director at Springfield, said that was a no-no but it didn’t hinder Payne who recorded the win. When asked in victory lane if he was heading to I-35 tonight, he said yes and that he looked forward to running for the regional USMTS title. My word of wisdom to fellow modified blokes competing with Payne, look out, he’s determined and going to be a major player as the USMTS season rolls along!
See you at the tracks, hopefully on the mic once in a while or in the scoring tower, or behind the computer keeping you all updated as I get to hang out with the RacinDirt dudes. Check them out at www.racindirt.com and stay updated on all of our great local racing coverage … we are so fortunate to have what we have right in our backyards. Speaking of yards, got to earn some points from the wife before Trenton gets here as we head to I-35 and do some spring cleanup!