By Bruce C. Walls - Special to Motorsport.com
TUNICA, MS - Out of a record 758 racers from 20 states who entered the 11th Annual National Indoor Dirt Championships Brian Smith and Chuck Clark emerged as double feature winners at the Paul Battle, Jr. Arena & Exposition Center in Tunica, MS during the annual Thanksgiving weekend thriller November 23-24. For the past 10-years JAM Promotions have held this prestigious karting event at the Memphis, TN Thunderdome, but as the event grew a new and larger site was needed and found. Featured at the new facility were indoor pits with electric and running water to wash karts and showers for competitors.
Inside the spacious main building Swinton Criter, of Blountville, TN created a wide 1/5-mile banked dirt oval that started out fast and got faster with every lap that was raced on it. Seating around the arena designed for 3,000 spectators was almost filled to capacity and a variety of venders offered their wares near the front entrance and most sold out of all they had especially event tee shirts.
This year a $25,000 plus purse, trophies, contingencies and fast qualifier awards were awarded to pole winners and podium finishers.
Smith, of Evansville, IN, was the first double winner. The Smith Brothers Racing Engines powered Phantom Nemesis kart pilot swept the Phantom Racing Chassis Stock Medium and nexAir of Memphis Stock Heavy features starting with Friday's Medium where just making the main was a feat itself. Ninety-four competitors attempted to make it through three rounds of qualifying for 18-feature positions. First round qualifying established the first six positions, second round qualifying filled seventh through 12th and the third session completed the field.
An 11.124-seconds lap put Chad Waller on Stock Medium's pole from where he led most of the race through a pair of caution restarts while Smith worked his way through the field to the front. As the final laps unfolded Smith took second and set his sites on Waller. Smith rocketed into the lead just after the field got the five to go signal and built a comfortable 2.237-seconds finish line advantage over Ronnie Binkley who drafted by Waller with him.
"I was getting tired, but the kart didn't quit," Smith admitted. "The kart just kept getting better and better and didn't quit."
Rounding out the top five behind Binkley were Brian Samples, Joseph Henderson and Ty Jones.
Out of 72 entrees in Saturday's Stock Heavy Chris Smiltnieks scored the pole with an 11.010-seconds lap while Smith found himself starting fourth. Smitnieks led the field around the first two times and from there it was Smith's race with Jones hounding him from second. The two front-runners battled it out down to .807 seconds at the finish with Smith scoring his second win of the event.
"We tried something we've never tried before and had that sucker nailed," Smith said after his second win. " We have a lot of knowledge on indoor setups and we share a lot of information which is how we can come here and win two. I want to thank Burris Racing, Phantom Racing Chassis, SBR and SMC for all of their support."
Mike Dickerson, Smiltnieks and Samples completed the top five.
Clark took a pair of 2-cycle championship trophies and winnings back home to Brazil, IN. That Friday Clark, who pilots a Comet Racing Engines powered Comet Challenger kart, turned in a perfect performance in Agri Industrial Supply Yamaha Heavy. He earned the pole with a blistering 10.837 seconds lap and led the feature flag-to-flag finishing just .203 seconds ahead of a hard charging Chris Birky.
"The kart ran pretty good, we missed on the tire call, but the motor ran real good," said the Brazil Door Company/CMS Bodyworks backed winner. "I just drove a smooth line and didn't crack," he added.
Filling third through fifth were Kevin Weldon, Ricky Logan and Jeremy Kester.
Birky bagged Sunday's NAPA Auto Parts Unlimited 2-Cycle's pole with a 10.639 seconds trip and Clark started behind him in third with a 10.773 seconds lap. Clark quickly moved his Comet kart to the front of the pack and finished with a very comfortable 4.640 seconds advantage over Logan.
"It was tough, the karts ahead of me were very fast and I was just glad to make it through them and win another one," Clark described. "It takes a lot of hard work to come here and win two features and a little luck."
This time Michael Langston, who produce the race's fastest lap time of 10.565 seconds, Weldon and Kent McGee took the remaining top five positions.
Weldon ruled All Parts Yamaha Lite's first round of qualifying turning a 10.641 seconds lap for the pole, but when the checkered flag waved it was for Foosland, IN based Birky, who recorded the race's fastest lap time of 10.428 seconds on lap 15. Weldon trailed Birky across the stripe by just .242 seconds.
"He (Weldon) was running good and I was all over him, but he had to make a mistake for me to get by him," said the winning Magnum kart pilot. "The kart ran good, better than in qualifying, the tires came in and my brother Kevin's motor was great as normal. I want to thank Birky Clutches and Birky Competition for their support."
Tim Schmits took third, Tayla Schoultz followed in fourth and P.J. Ruppright rounded out the top five.
Tyler Lee Gilmore earned the event's first feature win in perfect style. The Mesquite, TX based 10-year-old Dawson's Racing Engines powered Predator kart pilot earned SBR Racing Engines Junior-1 Lite's pole with an 11.872 seconds lap and led the field wire-to-wire. John Memmer turned the race's fastest lap at 11.374 seconds on lap 16, but was .894 seconds behind at the end.
"The kart was loose and the motor was fast," Gilmore said. "But being smart and driving smart is what won it."
Cole Harp, James Fowlkes and Glen Mayle completed the top five.
Gilmore also grabbed SBR Racing Engines Junior-1 Heavy's top starting spot that Saturday cranking out an 11.731 seconds lap, but an opening lap crash took him out of contention. That moved Memmer to the front on the restart and the Evansville, IN based SBR Racing Engines powered Phantom Nemesis kart pilot led the field through a trio of cautions before narrowly beating Cameron Stewart to the finish line by .835 seconds.
"The Nemesis kart ran great and the SBR power plant was great too," credited the 10-year-old winner.
Tyler Townsend took third, Scott McCarus followed in fourth and Ben Stumpf rounded out the top five.
Robinson Speed Shop powered Olimpic kart pilot Jamie Manley earned Memphis Karting Junior Champ's pole with a 12.0323 seconds trip. From there the Clarksville, IN based racer ruled the 14-racer field through three caution restarts before surrendering the lead to Frank Heckenast who charged into the lead just after the two laps to go signal was shown. Jake Tucker took second in the shuffle and finished just .408 seconds behind Heckenast.
"I just waited my time. The kart was tight, but very fast," said the winning 13-year-old Orland Park, IL based Ultramax Racing Chassis pilot. "I want to thank Jem Products for the motor it was awesome and pulled the whole night and Mike Spatola for a great setup.
Justin Stearns came in third, Manley slipped to fourth and Leah Monfires capped the top five.
Kevin Swindell and Blake Samples captured Tyler Racing Engines Junior-2 Lite and Enik Engines Junior-2 Heavy. Swindell, the 12-year-old son of legendary World of Outlaws racer Sammy Swindell, went wire-to-wire in Junior-2 Lite. The Channel Lock/WMS sponsored, Germantown, TN based Swindell produced an 11.309 seconds qualifying lap for the pole and fought off Robert Thompson for twenty laps trough a trio of caution restarts the final one with just three laps to go.
The green flag waved, 11 seconds later the white flag waved and in another 11 seconds and then the checkered flag flew for Swindell who was just .629 seconds ahead of Thompson.
"This is a great track, its fast. I was a little worried on the restart, but Shane James built me a great motor and the Rage kart handled perfect," credited the True Flow Carburetors/Burris Racing backed winner.
Blake Samples, Matthew Tague and Tyson Hall handled the remaining top five positions.
Saturday Texas based Hall handled Enik Engines Junior-2 Heavy's qualifying with an 11.406 seconds lap. Tanner Bohlen took the outside front row starting positions and Samples started in third behind Hall. When the green flag waved Hall hustled into the initial lead with Bohlen hanging onto his tailpipe. Hall fought off Bohlen's challenges as they took their battle trough traffic. Hall took the mid race signal and started to break away from Bohlen's machine, but two laps later his lead was trimmed by the first of two cautions
Hall led the restart and with Bohlen still hounding him from behind. Then, like in Friday's contest, caution waved with three to go. Hall led the three lap shootout for one lap and then Samples and Tague shot by him for the lead in time for Samples to take the win just .153 seconds ahead of Tague.
"I want to thank Shane James for a the motor it was perfect. The kart had a little push, but thanks to Shane James' motor I had enough power to get by them at the end," credited the 12-year-old Easy Way Food Stores backed, Olive Branch, MS, based winner. "I also want to thank all of my grandmas and grandpas," he added.
Hall crossed third and was followed by Swindell and Andy Michael Hannon for the top five.
Ohio racer Greg McVay grabbed BAMA Racing Engines Limited Modified Lite's pole with a blistering 10.871 seconds trip. McVay took the early lead and led the 16-racer field through a trio of caution restarts, but in the final laps Clinton, IN racer Chevy Miller burst into the lead from the final restart with just three laps left and roared across the finish line with a slim .497 seconds edge over McVay.
"The Phantom Banshee kart worked great, but it was the SBR motor that made it," credited the 16-year-old ASI/Little John's Kart Shop/SBR backed winner. "This is my first win indoors and it fells great."
North Carolina competitor Scott Bell bagged third and was followed in the top five by Mississippi racers Toney Cox and Garrett Gray.
Florence, AL racer Joshua Putnam posted Sunday's nexAir of Memphis Limited Modified Heavy's win taking the final flag with a comfortable 3.291 seconds advantage over Kentucky competitor Rodney Foley.
"I just hung in there and let it come to me," said the 19-year-old Buller kart pilot. "I want to thank Lonnie Dawson for the motor and Water Steaks and New England Auto for sponsoring me."
Tennessee racers Brandon Poppenheimer and Robert Hammond handled third and fourth followed by Bell who completed the top five.
Mike Dickerson, of West Lafette, OH, dominated Friday's nexAir of Memphis Super Heavy feature wire-to-wire leading the 18-racer field through a lap 14 caution restart before finishing just .408 seconds ahead of Smith.
"The caution worried me," admitted the G-Man Kartworks/McCray Racing/Russ Isner/Custom Graphics backed winner. "But the Lepi Enterprises kart worked good and the SBR motor ran great."
Rounding out the top five were Rick Hearnsberger, Brandon Morris and Robert Hammond.
Jeff 'Birddog' Williams earned Ultramax Racing Chassis Junior-3 Lite's pole with an 11.043 seconds trip. From there the 13-year-old Halls, TN based racer ruled the 18-racer field flag-to-flag through a pair of caution restarts. Arkansan Tyler Stevens battled his way from sixth place start to just .083 seconds behind Williams at the stripe.
"The Phantom Nemesis kart handled good, but it was Shane James motor that did it they're the best out there," Williams credited. "I was a little worried on the cautions," added the McAror/Phantom sponsored winner who added thanks to his crew, especially Shane James.
Behind Stevens in the top five were Brett Hudson, Brad Bowden and Brad Hogue.
Heath Racing Engines powered Phantom Nemesis pilot Jessie Russell handled Saturday's Ultramax Racing Chassis Junior-3 Heavy feature. Russell rocketed away from the outside pole and led the 18-racer field unchallenged to the finish were he was .166 seconds ahead of pole winner Mark Thrasher.
"It was my dad's setup and consistent laps that kept me up there," the Stone River Car Care backed Russell said. "The Nemesis kart handled very well and the Heath Racing Engine ran very good."
Hudson handled third again and this time was followed by Jeff McWilliams and Bowden.
Ultramax Racing Chassis factory pilot Roger Padgett rallied from a fifth place start to rule nexAir of Memphis Star Champ's finish with a comfortable 3.491 seconds advantage over Tony Vancil. Phil Thompson, of Tennessee, turned an 11.416 seconds lap for the pole and led the 18-racer field through the race's only caution restart before surrendering the front to Padgett, of Waxhaw, SC.
"I just took my time and had to be patient. The Ultramax kart was perfect and the Welsh Racing Engines motor was super quick and the Bully Clutch helped on the take off on the restart," said Padgett who added, "I want to first of all thank my wife Jennifer and everybody at Dill Fabrication especially Brad Sellers."
Thompson took third, John Caddell came in fourth and David Snow followed in fifth
Isola, MS based Phantom Nemesis pilot John Marshall battled his way from a fourth place start to the front of Comp Cams 4-Cycle Open's front. From there his Enik Racing Engines powered kart built a 1.829 seconds lead over Scott Bell at the stripe. A 10.875 seconds lap put Indiana racer Billy Smith, Jr. on the pole and he led the field through the race's only caution restart before mechanical trouble took him out of the contest.
"The Enik motor ran great, it was outstanding and the Phantom Nemesis kart ran great too," said the County Select sponsored winner who thanked his parents for their support.
Jeff Couch, David Cain and Shane Gibbons grabbed the remaining top five positions.
Chattanooga, TN racer Robert Hammond ruled Friday's final feature Buller Built Senior Stock with flag-to- flag perfection. His Bama Racing Engines powered Shadow kart captured the pole with an 11.385 seconds lap. From there he built a 4.517 seconds lead over Rusty Stagen at the finish line.
"It was a combination of a good motor and hitting on the right Firestone tires to win," said the Service Master sponsored winner who added thanks to his wife Julie.
Mike Fox finished third, but was light at the scales moving Randy Ramey into that position. Rounding out the remaining top five were Jeff Henderson and Phil Reed.
Andy Coln turned an 11.140 seconds lap to claim The Kart Shop of Little Rock, AR Stock Lite's pole. He hustled into the early lead and was opening up over Samples when the caution flag flew on lap four. Coln led the restart and then several laps later Bryan James got underneath him in turn one for the lead. Chad Walker drafted with James and got a piece of the lead including taking the white flag lap, but James recaptured it in time to beat Walker to the finish by .030 seconds.
"First of all I want to thank the Good Lord for a safe race. I gave it all I've got," said the TMB Controls sponsored winner. "The Phantom kart was perfect and the Heath Speed Shop motor was perfect too. I want to say a special thanks to Happy Davenport for all of his help and support."
Dickerson, Coln and Chevy Miller made up the rest of the top five.
Jeff Walston led Country Select Catfish Senior Champ's field wire-to-wire. The Leadbetter, KY competitor earned the pole with an 11.772 seconds lap and led the 16-racer field through a pair of caution restarts before beating Padgett to the stripe by .535 seconds.
"I just tried to hold off Roger (Padgett). The PRC kart was perfect and the SBR motor had horsepower out of this world," said Walston who repeated his performance of last year. "The tires and gear were also a big help and I'm happy we could come back and do it again."
Rounding out the remaining top five were Bell, John Caddell and Scotty Reed.
Shane James Racing Engines powered Brandt Barksdale, of Jonesboro, AR, showed 16-Builtwiser Junior Sportsman Champ drivers across that finish line with a .454 seconds edge over pole winner Cody Burks.
"The kart handled really good and Shane James' motor had a bunch of torque and was really fast, but it was mostly chassis that won this one," said the 9-year-old winner.
Behind Burks in the top five were a trio of Tennessee racers. Samantha Duncan, Lee Thompson and Zach Hutcherson took the remaining top five positions.
With the 2001 National Indoor Dirt Championships in the book JAM Promotions is already planning next year's event. Promoter Lanier James told racers at both drivers' meetings that Tunica County plans to expand the Battle Arena. According to James the County plans to build walls around the existing pit area and they are considering building a second arena where, James told drivers, "We would have a second track. Wouldn't that be something having two tracks running at the same time?" That drew a thunderous applause each time.