Instant Replay: 11th Annual Belleville Midget Nationals - 1988 by Paul Haase BELLEVILLE, Kan. (July 20, 2001) - The Belleville High Banks were at their best when the 11th Annual Belleville Midget Nationals got underway. Ten drivers broke the ...
Instant Replay: 11th Annual Belleville Midget Nationals - 1988
by Paul Haase
BELLEVILLE, Kan. (July 20, 2001) - The Belleville High Banks were at their best when the 11th Annual Belleville Midget Nationals got underway. Ten drivers broke the one-lap track record Thursday night with Chuck Gurney of Livermore, Calif., besting the rest with a time of 18.862 seconds to shatter the old record of 19.42 set in 1980 by two-time champion Stan Fox.
With the near-top of the track measuring five-eighths of a mile, Gurney averaged 119.3 miles-per-hour around "The World's Fastest Half-Mile Dirt Track."
Jon Backlund of Blue Springs, Mo., broke the four-lap record of 1:20.49 set by Dave Strickland Jr. in 1980 with a blistering time of 1:07.83.
Dan Boorse's record 3:31.09 for 10 laps back in 1987 was bested by Steve Enlow of Tulsa, Okla., with a time of 3:16.55.
Finishing 23rd in the only other Belleville Midget Nationals main event he had ever been in (1987), Steve Knepper of Belleville, Ill., decided that he wanted to win the big one.
And that he did ... in style.
The main event was both exciting with good racing and tense with a bad accident happening on the 29th lap.
Knepper drew the pole position for the main event and when the green flag dropped, he shot out in front of trailing Randy Roberts by as many as five car-lengths by the 17th lap.
Roberts was closing in on Knepper when, on the 29th lap, past champion Mike Gregg had steering problems that sent him into the guardrail coming out of turn 1. Gregg flipped off the rail, coming to rest in the middle of the track where the racing groove was. Before officials could get the race stopped, three cars that were still racing came around turn 1 with 1986 champion Tommy White in the middle. The two outside cars where able to get on either side of Gregg, but, with nowhere to go, White T-boned Gregg.
A burst of flames shot out of Gregg's car from the spilled oil and fuel. Gregg quickly exited the car but collapsed on the track. Because of possible broken bones, White was carefully removed from his car. Both were admitted to the hospital for observation and remained overnight with several bumps and bruises. Gregg received 16 stitches in his leg.
As White hit Gregg, Roberts was going on the high side around Gregg when White apparently "popped" him and broke his axle. While the race was stopped for the accident, Roberts' crew was able to make repairs and he went on to finish second behind Knepper.
With the Pontiac motors showing signs of being the engine to beat last year, seven made the trip to the Belleville High Banks this year.
Did they have what it takes to hold together in the Nationals?
Fox showed the year before that the Pontiac engine had the power before breaking in the finals. Fox was again in a Pontiac and again broke, except this year on Friday night.
Out of the seven Pontiacs in attendance, four made the main event and all finished in the top-10, with Boorse finishing the highest in third.
Cosworth engines proved themselves again, as in the past, taking the rest of the top-10 finishes.
Trophy dashes were won by Backlund on Thursday and Bob Crisp on both Friday and Saturday. Thursday's top four finishers in the main event were Roberts, Palmer Crowell, Strickland Jr. and Gurney. Friday's main winners were Boorse, Knepper, Gregg and Robby Flock. Saturday's semi-main -- the last chance to make the main event -- was won by Buddy Nelson, followed by Lars Lein, Doug Nelson and Jeri Rice.
The preliminaries were hampered by a few minor accidents with the longest pause in racing caused by not an accident but a fire in Belleville. Just as the third heat was lining up on Thursday, an apartment fire called all the firemen and trucks from the track. Because there were no fire trucks at the race track, the races were stopped until trucks were able to return.
Thursday night saw Danny Frye and Kurt Osterbuhr get together with Osterbuhr rolling and Frye able to continue racing.
On Friday night, two Arizona men got together in an unusual incident after the main when Doug Nelson didn't see the checkered flag and ran into the back of Dave Burns in turn 2 after Burns had slowed to go into the pits. They both did a slow roll and ended up on their sides without a lot of damage to the cars. Both where able to run on Saturday.
11th Annual Belleville Midget Nationals - 1988
Top 5 finishers:
1. Steve Knepper
2. Randy Roberts
3. Dan Boorse
4. Chuck Gurney
5. Robby Flock
Reserved tickets for the 24th Annual Belleville Midget Nationals presented by WhoWon.com are available by calling (785) 527-5179, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, or by logging onto the Belleville High Banks Web site.