National Notebook 2003-05-14

ASCS National Notebook (Volume I, No. V) TULSA, Okla. (May 13, 2003) - The overused phrase "When you're hot, you're hot", most familiarly belted out in an old county jig by Jerry Reed, couldn't be more appropriately used than when talking about...

ASCS National Notebook (Volume I, No. V)

TULSA, Okla. (May 13, 2003) - The overused phrase "When you're hot, you're hot", most familiarly belted out in an old county jig by Jerry Reed, couldn't be more appropriately used than when talking about the currently red-hot Travis Rilat.

It makes no difference to Rilat. Run 'em with the wings on a fast three-eighths mile, or let's make a topless run on a tight quarter-mile oval. To liven things up, put one of the top cars in the country in front of the Texas City, TX, native one night, then start him towards the back of the pack the next night, Rilat's still gonna find his way to the front. Yep, ol' Jerry Reed must have had streaks like this in mind when he crooned the words "When you're hot, you're hot."

Entering this past weekend with two triumphs in the last three O'Reilly American Sprint Car Series National Tour events presented by Love's Travel Stops & Country Stores and United Trailers, Rilat extended his win skein to four out of five.

Rilat kicked off the weekend by winning Friday night's O'Reilly ASCS National go at Oklahoma City's State Fair Speedway in wire-to-wire fashion, then backed it up Saturday night by charging from 13th to win the ASCS Sooner Region non-winged event less than 100 miles up the road at Creek County Speedway in Sapulpa, OK.

With a strong field of 39 cars on hand on what would later develop into a dangerously stormy night in Oklahoma City, Rilat chased the fleet Shane Stewart most of the way in his heat race on a fast track that wasn't conducive to much passing early in the night. Opportunity presented itself in the final corner though, when Stewart hesitated for the briefest of moments behind a lapped car. Rilat ducked to the low side and nipped Stewart at the line by inches to claim the heat race win.

Under the passing points system, those scant few inches proved huge in the ultimate outcome, as Rilat earned the pole position for the 25-lap main event rather than the third row inside position he would have had if he'd run second, while Stewart surrendered what would have been the pole position for a fourth row outside starting slot.

Rilat then had to contend with the younger of the Stewart brothers throughout the main event, as Darren Stewart pressed Rilat for the lead. Darren made a late run for the victory, nearly pulling alongside Rilat on the final round, but Rilat held on for the victory in the Snyder-powered Haulmark Trailers/Archer Motorsports/F&J Construction Eagle.

Rilat was then among the 28 hearty souls who shed their wings on Saturday night for the first wingless event in ASCS history. Rilat's evening got off to an inauspicious start when several cars bunched up in the opening corner on the first round of the third heat race, with Rilat's car spinning to a halt. On a dry track, Rilat battled back to third in the heat behind Brian Harvill and three-time ASCS kingpin Tim Crawley, earning the 13th starting slot for the 25-lap main event.

Since throttling the nation's best wingless shoes in last year's Non-Wing Ultimate Challenge in Oskaloosa, IA, worth a cool thirty-grand, Rilat's name immediately jumps to the top of the list when talk of a wingless run surfaces. Skeptics aside, Rilat put on a show that few in the packed house at Creek County Speedway will soon forget.

Track work by Emmett and Steve Hahn following the heat races resulted in a spectacular racing surface for the main event, with cars dicing for position throughout. While Zach Chappell paced the early laps, then Danny Jennings, Rilat was methodically picking his way through traffic, very much in the same fashion as his much-discussed triumph at Osky.

Rilat had worked his way into the top five by the time the caution flew after 15 rounds, then somehow emerged with the lead on the completion of the 19th round from a three-car wingless scrum for the point that also involved Jennings and Crawley. Crawley chased Rilat over the final rounds, but was unable to put a damper on Rilat's perfect weekend.

Despite Rilat's recent heroics, the O'Reilly ASCS National Tour points race couldn't be tighter, as Rilat holds only a two point lead over Darren Stewart. Stewart's run of strong finishes aboard the Ostrich Racing Engines/Sparks Construction machine borders on the unreal for the 19 year-old Bixby, OK, hotshoe. Tantalizingly close to victory lane, Stewart's scorecard boasts three runner-up showings, a pair of third place finishes and seventh-place run through the series' first six events. Stewart and team opted to skip Saturday night's Regional wingless event in favor of running closer to Sparks' home, with Stewart topping the five-car field in Tunica, MS.

Sitting third in points, 2001 ASCS National champion Zach Chappell was forced to use a provisional starting position for Friday night's main event at Oklahoma City after missing the transfer position by one spot in the first B Feature. Chappell responded by charging from 21st to claim 11th. As eager as anyone to shed the wings, Chappell looked strong early on at Creek County, pacing the early rounds before brushing the backstretch wall. Chappell ultimately slid back to ninth at the finish.

Joining Chappell among Friday's provisional starters was Flower Mound, TX, rookie contender Matt Clevenger, who battled fuel pump problems all Friday night, exiting the main event early. After struggling with similar problems early Saturday, Clevenger and crew got things ironed out and the youngster charged from 18th to twelfth in his first wingless outing.

In the midst of the O'Reilly ASCS National points chase prior to the weekend, Gary Wright's championship hopes took a hit hours before Friday's event when a truck mysteriously opted to pull through a flashing red light directly in front of Wright's oncoming rig while passing through DeKalb, TX, just a short jaunt from Wright's Hooks, TX, home. With no place to go, Wright's hauler t-boned the truck and came to rest on its side in a ditch. Wright's rig and trailer suffered extensive damage, with the Sprint Cars inside damaged as well.

Wright hopes to have a new hauler ready for this weekend's West Texas swing, pending the timely expedition of insurance paperwork this week. While one missed race over the course of an approximately 50-race season won't necessarily be impossible to overcome, missing two more events this coming weekend would make any championship run a Herculean task.

Defending ASCS Sooner Region champion Danny Jennings put his recent run of bad luck behind him. Jennings' title defense began with a broken rear end while leading the Sooner Region opener, then he flipped in each of the series' next two events. Jennings topped his Sooner Region rivals Friday night, finishing a strong third behind Rilat and D. Stewart. Jennings then led much of the way in Saturday's wingless show before settling for sixth at the line.

Marvin Lough of Ft. Worth, TX, should be among those clamoring for more wingless races, as last year's Devil's Bowl Speedway champion turned in his best performance of the year by finishing third in Saturday's wingless race. Lough was involved in one of the most entertaining battles on the track for much of the race, as he and Crawley swapped the runner-up position countless times before Crawley finally took the position. Lough was an early casualty in Oklahoma City Friday night, going pitside after a lap two spin in turn three.

Crawley convinced car owner William Hope to make the weekend trip to the Sooner State. Crawley had to advance to Friday's main event via the B Main, then charged from 17th to claim fifth. Crawley's runner-up finish at Creek County Speedway on Saturday night marked the fourth top-five run in as many ASCS outings for the Crawley/Hope teaming. Crawley will compete in Steve Peachey's midget over Memorial Day weekend in Nebraska, then hopes to take part in at least some of the upcoming ASCS Speedweek.

Passing the most cars over the course of the weekend, Kevin Ramey maintained his ASCS Sooner Region point lead by charging from 15th to sixth Friday night in Oklahoma City, then coming from 17th to seventh in his first non-wing run at Creek County Speedway on Saturday night.

Last year's 360 Sprint Car National Rookie of the Year Billy Alley made the trip from Lincoln, NE, Friday, finishing a solid seventh in the main event. In four career ASCS outings (including one Sooner Region event), Alley has yet to finish outside the top ten. Vying for Rookie of the Year honors at Knoxville Raceway, Alley and crew made the trek to Iowa on Saturday only to be greeted with rain.

Running a limited schedule this year, 1992 ASCS champion Garry Lee Maier made his second appearance of the year, finishing ninth at Oklahoma City.

After a tough night at Oklahoma City, Tulsa's Sean McClelland turned in a strong performance in Saturday's non-wing go, advancing through the field late to claim fourth after starting tenth. McClelland is holding down second in points on the ASCS Sooner Region trail in his first full year of ASCS competition.

Toby Brown and the ABF Truck Rebuilders team made the decision to compete in Saturday's non-wing show while en route to Oklahoma City Friday. After a 14th-place run at State Fair Speedway, Brown scampered back to his Carthage, MO, home, staying just ahead of the tornadoes that danced across Oklahoma Friday night. Brown thrashed to put together an old pavement car and got it ready in time for Creek County action. Not always his best track, Brown looked racy all night and earned a strong fifth place finish at the line.

After contact while battling for position with Larry Neighbors sent Nick Smith pitside Friday night, Smith raced to an eighth place finish in Saturday's wingless go.

Neighbors finished fourth in his first O'Reilly ASCS National Tour outing of the year Friday night.

J.D. Johnson of Goddard, KS, also making his first ASCS National appearance of the year, finished a solid tenth in Oklahoma City Friday night.

Texas driver Eric Payne made his first appearance in competition on Saturday night, taking the reins of the machine normally driven by Tina Creswell, who took part in Friday night's racing action. Payne, looking for a full-time ride, finished 15th in Saturday's main event.

Shane Stewart held fourth in Friday night's Oklahoma City run until a tangle with a lapped machine sent him spinning off the fourth turn embankment, where he watched the rest of the race.

Michael Dupuy, who finished second in last year's ASCS National points on the strength of six triumphs and ten runner-up finishes, is making a return to Sprint Car racing. Putting together his own Eagle chassis, Dupuy plans to compete in any events within five hours or so of his Amite, LA, home, with an extended trip to Knoxville's ASCS 360 Nationals a possibility. Dupuy will make his 2003 ASCS debut at the May 25 ASCS Gulf South event at Thunder Valley Speedway in Union Hill, LA. Dupuy hopes to return to full-time racing status in 2004.

Next Up: It's a West Texas swing for the O'Reilly American Sprint Car Series National Tour presented by Love's Travel Stops & Country Stores and United Trailers, with Lubbock's Tech Motor Speedway this Friday night, then Amarillo's Route 66 Motor Speedway on Saturday night. After first time visits to Missouri's Bolivar Speedway and Lebanon I-44 Speedway on May 23-24, it's time for the much-anticipated 11th Annual ASCS Speedweek, which features eight nights of racing over the span of nine days.

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Series Sprint
Drivers Darren Stewart , Larry Neighbors , Shane Stewart , Travis Rilat , Danny Jennings , Kevin Ramey , Tim Crawley , Sean McClelland