Lucas Oil Sprint Cars in the Wild West!
TULSA, Okla. (February 24, 2011) -- Way back in the 1930's, drought and the ensuing "Dust Bowl" sent Okies westward to California in search of greener pastures and a brighter future.
Now, in 2011, it was snow and icy conditions that sent Okies along with Arkies, Kansans, Texans and more back to California, this time in pursuit of some palatable weather along with the initial pair of Lucas Oil ASCS presented by K&N Filters National events in the Golden State.
Teams and fans weren't disappointed, welcomed to California with ideal weather that spilled over to the following weekend in Tucson, albeit the wind whipped across the desert quite mightily on the final day of the Copper on Dirt.
From Tulare's high-banked, paperclip Thunderbowl to the get-your-spurs-on, cowboy-up Kings Speedway in Hanford and then on to the sweeping, multi-groove USA Raceway in Tucson that was conducive to white-knuckle, feature slide-jobbing action, the 2011 tone has been set. And, all indications are, the 2011 Lucas Oil Sprint Car on-track action will be off the charts.
A total of 56 different drivers took in at least one of the opening four nights of Lucas Oil Sprint Car action, with 16 taking in all four. Those competing in all four opening events included Brady Bacon, Seth Bergman, Tony Bruce, Jr., Zach Chappell, Tim Crawley, Logan Forler, Andy Forsberg,
ohnny Herrera, Mason Moore, Dustin Morgan, Aaron Reutzel, Trey Starks, Shane Stewart, Jeff Swindell, Gary Wright and Zach Zimmerly.
All but open-trailer proponent Forsberg, 14-year-old Starks (still busy with that pesky school stuff) and Zimmerly plan on full Lucas Oil Sprint Car campaigns in 2011, with Moore's Van Dyke No. 5h team on the fence as of Tucson. Also on hand for all four events was the JJR No. 41 that will have Jason Johnson back at the wheel beginning at Devil's Bowl after capping off the World Series SprintCar title for Aussie car owner Alan Haynes.
The inaugural pair of Lucas Oil ASCS National events in California, February 9 at Tulare's Thunderbowl Raceway and February 12 at Hanford's Kings Speedway, both attracted 32 entries, a healthier number than many locals expected for the kickoff of the California conversion from open heads to the Brodix ASCS cylinder head. The number climbed to 38 the following weekend when the Lucas Oil Sprint Cars headlined USA Raceway's Copper on Dirt for the first time on February 18-19.
Locals raved of Tim Kaeding's Thunderbowl exploits and he did nothing to disappoint, disposing of early pace setter Gary Wright en route to his second career ASCS National win. Kaeding explained of competing against the Lucas Oil ASCS forces that, "When we go to their territory, they beat up on us. When they come out here, we're gonna beat up on them," drawing a line in the sand for future rivalry.
Three nights later, 18-year-old Kyle Larson carried the JJR banner to victory lane atop a heavy Kings clay oval to give the Cali forces a 2-0 edge over the invading forces. Atop an all California podium that included Kaeding and 22nd starter Tommy Tarlton, Larson explained of the cowboy-up conditions, "This is my type of race track, I like it hooked up and rough."
Tucson's USA Raceway awaited the following weekend and the sliders for the lead between Johnny Herrera and Shane Stewart with Jeff Swindell soon in the mix in the Friday prelim had VERSUS pit reporter Kenny Sargent grinning ear-to-ear as finger-wagging, challenges and promises of payback were offered up in post-race interviews.
Herrera prevailed over Swindell and Stewart in that wild Copper on Dirt prelim, but Stewart got the final laugh by reeling in Jack Dover in the final laps of Saturday's $6,000-to-win Copper finale. Dover had locked into the Saturday redraw by rallying from 18th to fourth in the Friday prelim as he took the seat of the JJR No. 41 for the weekend.
With JJ (Jason Johnson) of JJR finishing off Aussie duty during the first four events, the Lucas Oil Sprint Car points race is muddied more than ever with Shane Stewart atop the driver points in Paul Silva's Rockstar No. 57 with the JJR No. 41 seven markers ahead of Silva in owner points after weekends with Larson and Dover. For the first time in Lucas Oil Sprint Car history, the driver and owner titles could potentially be split among two teams.
With more past California laps than most of his Lucas Oil Sprint Car competitors, 2009 series champ Shane Stewart was about the only series contender to sniff any semblance of California success. And, he had to work for that by charging from 16th to third and then recovering from a heat race flip to rally from 23rd to fifth at Kings. The impact of using a provisional at Hanford is yet to be seen, but could come into play should another provisional be needed before the season's midway point, when another full-pointer is doled out to teams that have competed in 100% of events.
Tucson would seem a piece of cake after such elbows-up Cali labors, but harsh words from both Herrera and Swindell after the Friday prelim would indicate otherwise. But, with Stewart and Herrera side-by-side in row three of Saturday's feature right behind Swindell, cooler heads prevailed and Stewart drove to his first win of 2011 to escape the Wild West openers with a 27-point advantage over Herrera.
Johnny Herrera, a two-time Knoxville Raceway champion that has dominated selected ASCS Regional action throughout the Southwest in recent years, was the only one to match Stewart with four top-tens in the initial four events. A salvaged ninth at Tulare, after looping it without stopping exiting turn four, was his only finish outside the top five and the biggest part of the 27-point deficit.
Back on the road for the first time in several light years as well, Jeff Swindell got out of the openers third in points and expects to have the Roush/Yates Ford powerplants in place by the time the Devil's Bowl Spring Nationals in Mesquite, TX, rolls around on March 25-26.
Adjusting to the new GF1 chassis, Tim Crawley drove Mike Ward's Lucas Oil No. 88 to three consecutive seventh-place finishes after a 16th-place Tulare showing to rank fourth in early season points. "This is the first time in years that I've driven a standard-arm car, it's just going to take a few laps to get dialed in," Crawley explained.
With Petersen Motorsports' Superior Marine jumping on board, Washington's Seth Bergman rejoins the tour after a stellar 2010 campaign in the Northwest and posted a pair of top-tens to rank fifth. Bergman has already matched his top-ten output from a full season on the Lucas Oil Sprint Car trail in 2009.
Knocking the front end down while in position to possibly win the Copper on Dirt prelim, 2010 series runner-up Brady Bacon added a sixth-place Copper finale finish to a pair of Cali tenth-place runs to escaped the west with minimal points damage in sixth.
After a rough California start, 20-year-old Brodix Rookie of the Year contender Aaron Reutzel of Clute, TX, posted a career best Lucas Oil ASCS National finish of fifth in the Copper on Dirt prelim and then disposed of the likes of Swindell and Crawley over the final half of the Copper finale to earn his first podium finish. The 2009 ASCS Gulf South champ in just his third full season of Sprint Car racing action had every reason to be enthused, exclaiming that, "It feels like a win!"
Coming off his first winless ASCS National season since 1993 when he was still routinely throttling the olden-days NCRA ranks, National Sprint Car Hall of Fame-bound Gary Wright opened with a sixth-place run at Tulare and finished tenth in the Copper on Dirt finale with a pair of DNF's in between (left rear peeled off rim after biking it at Hanford and then a broken piston at the Copper prelim).
Using a provisional the first night out, Tony Bruce, Jr., was among the fastest on the track in the Copper prelim until shredding a right rear tire. A 13th-place finish in the Copper finale was the best outcome in the opening four events for the Liberal, KS, native recently relocated to the Tulsa area.
Fresh off National Rookie of the Years from the National Sprint Car Poll, Washington's Trey Starks slipped to a tie for tenth in points with Mason Moore only after being collected by a spinning Kyle McCutcheon and crashed while in a transfer position in the Copper finale "B" Main. Starks blistered the Tulare "B" Main field before racing from 17th to eighth in the main event and then was painfully close to a top-five finish before a late spin at Kings.
At the wheel of the Van Dyke No. 5h, Moore posted a career-best Lucas Oil ASCS National finish of eighth in the Copper prelim and would be higher in points if not hindered by torque ball issues at Tulare and engine woes in the Copper finale that resulted in DNF's.
After tough times in California, Zach Zimmerly affixed Brian Brown Racing No. 21 to his wing in Arizona (as Bud Kaeding did in California) and posted a pair of Copper top-tens to put Brian Brown, who never ventured west of his Missouri shop, top ten among owner points. As it turns out, the line between savvy and shady is indeed a fine one.
Seventeen-year-old Brodix Rookie of the Year contender Logan Forler of Eatonville, WA, shook off a pair of missed Cali cuts to post a career best Lucas Oil ASCS National finish of sixth in the Copper prelim before finishing off Arizona ninth in the finale.
Tulsa-area drivers Zach Chappell and Dustin Morgan both had a pair of weekends they'd just as soon forget.
After a broken engine in Tulare hot laps, a wild crash with Forler while in a Kings "B" Main transfer position and a broken front axle in the Copper on Dirt prelim, Chappell finally saw his first checkered flag aboard the Washburn No. 0 when he ran eighth in the Copper finale.
Hauler issues that left Morgan stranded in Albuquerque for a couple of days on the way west carried over to the detonation of two new powerplants in four races. A ninth-place Copper prelim run was the early highlight for the new-look No. 2 Morgan entry.
Morgan wasn't the only one with powerplant problems, as prospective ROY contender Justin Carver headed home after the Copper prelim after hurting his second engine in just three nights.
After struggling with mechanical gremlins in the Tulare opener, 2010 Placerville Speedway and Civil War Sprint Car champ Andy Forsberg of Auburn, CA, raced into redraws at Hanford and the Copper on Dirt prelim but only saw the checkered flag in a 17th-place Copper finale.
Over the course of the four opening nights of action, several drivers started first career Lucas Oil ASCS National features including Tommy Tarlton, Zach Zimmerly, Nicole Miller, Willie Croft and Craig Stidham at Tulare, Andy Forsberg and Cody Lamar at Hanford and then Lance Norick in the Copper on Dirt finale.
In addition to the Lucas Oil Sprint Car title contenders, other drivers making the cut for both California features along with winners Tim Kaeding and Kyle Larson included Tommy Tarlton, Tulare runner-up Roger Crockett, Bud Kaeding, Steven Tiner, Kyle Hirst, Craig Stidham, Andy Gregg and Willie Croft.
The Copper on Dirt also served as the opening pair of events for the ASCS Southwest Region, with 16-year-old Joshua Hodges of Tijeras, NM, faring the best with a pair of 14th-place finishes at USA Raceway to escape with a 12-point Southwest advantage over three-time series champ Rick Ziehl of Las Cruces.
In addition to Hodges and Ziehl, Regional contenders making both features at USA Raceway included El Paso's John Carney II and Washington's Josh DeWitt.