Notebook 2008-04-17

ASCS Notebook... TULSA, Okla. (April 17, 2008) -- Hail, tornadoes and floods are standard Spring fare in Oklahoma. As long as they subside in time for weekend racing activities, which was the case last week for ...

ASCS Notebook...

TULSA, Okla. (April 17, 2008) -- Hail, tornadoes and floods are standard Spring fare in Oklahoma. As long as they subside in time for weekend racing activities, which was the case last week for the American Sprint Car Series Sooner Region, all is well.

Snow is a different matter, which forced the postponement of the ASCS Midwest vs. Northern Plains opener in Nebraska, sending at least a couple of teams south in search of unfrozen tundra.

Aside from the hazard of too many UV rays, there were no such meteorological worries for the ASCS Rebel Region in Florida. Hurricane season is still several months off.

The O'Reilly American Sprint Cars on Tour National contenders have been proving their mettle, sweeping the past two weekend's of Regional action in Texas and Oklahoma. Jason Johnson and Travis Rilat topped Gulf South and Sooner features on April 5, while Nick Smith and Gary Taylor mastered the Sooner Region this past weekend.

Kenny Adams may have been the odds-on favorite in Florida, but the younger set had their say over the weekend with his stepson Bryn Gohn best on the Ocala road course and Danny Martin, Jr., waiting for the last lap to take East Bay honors.

Meanwhile, Charles Davis, Jr., became the third different winner in four events for the Discount Tire Co. ASCS Canyon Region at Manzanita on April 5, holding off Jeremy Sherman for the win. Last year, there was just one winner through the first four events, as Sherman went for the early TKO.

Simple location often dictates rugged fields for the American Bank of Oklahoma ASCS Sooner Region, as National Tour regulars frequently drop in on idle weekends, either in search of extra laps or extra dollars.

Travis Rilat and Garry Lee Maier, a pair of past ASCS National champs, have both taken in the past two weekends of Sooner competition along with Brodix Rookie of the Year contenders Eric Baldaccini and Kathryne Minter. Another champ (Zach Chappell) and another rookie candidate (Gary Taylor) were added for Oklahoma City and Lawton festivities, while Nick Smith joined in at Oklahoma City.

The Gulf South Region, on the other hand, is tormented primarily by Jason Johnson. And after Channin Tankersley climbed a lapper's right rear and flipped on April 5 at 105 Speedway in Cleveland, "The Ragin' Cajun" took command and held off Ray Allen Kulhanek the rest of the way on three tires and seven cylinders. Not even a flattened left front or ailing engine could prevent Johnson from posting his fifth win in eleven overall ASCS starts this year. Johnson originally had the following Sooner weekend at Oklahoma City and Lawton on his calendar, but the sick engine in Marvin Pearson's No. 11 changed those plans.

If not for Johnson, who has won three of four Gulf South features, parity would be prevalent thus far. Assuming runners-up would win in Johnson's absence, Houston Raceway Park winner Jack Dover would be joined in the win column by Greg Rilat (Golden Triangle runner-up), Sam Hafertepe, Jr. (Champion Park runner-up) and Ray Allen Kulhanek (105 Speedway runner-up).

The Gulf South will be free of Jason Johnson this Saturday, as Johnson continues National pursuit at Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, MO. The Gulf South forces take on the Coastal Region at Fast Trax Speedway in Chatham, LA. Defending ASCS Coastal Region champion Michael Dupuy, the 2002 ASCS National Tour runner-up, registered during the past week so it's likely that he's ready to kick off his 2008 season.

With a third place finish at 105 Speedway, 2006 Gulf South champion Gary Watson ranks as the top championship contender, just four points ahead of Chris Sweeney and ten points ahead of Greg Rilat, who made his 95th career ASCS Gulf South feature start at 105 Speedway.

Ray Allen Kulhanek and Brandon Berryman both bounced back from blown engines at Champion Park on March 29 to post top five runs at 105 Speedway with Kulhanek in second and Berryman fifth.

Rookie shoe Travis Elliott backed up his third-place Champion Park run with a fourth-place showing at 105. Travis' brother, Bean Elliott, is expected to make his Sprint Car debut in the near future.

At the same time, about 250 miles to the north, the American Bank of Oklahoma ASCS Sooner Region was lifting the curtains on the 2008 season at Cowtown Speedway in Kennedale, TX, after the scheduled opener the night before at Waco's Heart O' Texas Speedway was rained out for the second year in a row.

The tone for the evening was set when Garry Lee Maier tumbled down the frontstretch before the night's initial green flag was fully unfurled. Maier returned for "B" Main action, only to have brake problems that sent sparks flying and forced the 1992 National champion to miss the feature cut for the first time in 23 career ASCS Sooner Region starts.

Dalton Steed flipped in the second heat and then T.J. Herrell stuffed the Ronnie Davis-owned No. 25 into the barriers off of turn one in the third heat. Steed was done for the night, while Davis proclaimed his season done. A week later, Davis already had another car in the works and will be back in action soon.

Starting front row outside of the second "B" Main, Andy Shouse successfully stacked up the outside row with a brake check at the start. Koby Barksdale got the worst of the melee, landing on his side in turn four with Charlie McDonald literally parked on top.

Shouse would later chop across Kathryne Minter's front end exiting turn two in the feature, sending Minter headlong into the guardrail at the turn three exit. Unconscious for a few moments, the 17-year-old Bedford, TX, honors student was none the worse for the wear and was back for Oklahoma City and Lawton.

Shouse fought his way up to third, only to put himself into the turn three fence with three laps to go. Shouse ran fifth the following Friday night at Oklahoma City before scratching from Lawton's "B" Main on Saturday night.

Two-time Sooner Region champion Kevin Ramey, who shared the title with Shouse in 2004, led the opening three laps at Cowtown before his engine let go. That particular powerplant had plenty of laps on it, as Ramey explained that it had been used in nearly every ASCS race that team had competed in over the past two years.

Travis Rilat was the benefactor of a calamitous Cowtown night. When pole pressure resulted in a Brian Parker spin, Rilat moved to the front row. And when Ramey was forced to step aside, it was Rilat's race to lose.

Brian McClelland tried to make things interesting. And he did at times, particularly with the aid of the race's final caution with three laps to go. Rilat fought him off and won his first ASCS feature since a Gulf South score at Houston Raceway Park last August.

While everything worked in Rilat's favor at Cowtown, that wasn't' so much the case a week later as the 2003 National champ wasn't thrilled with the redraw results at Oklahoma City and Lawton.

The top heat race passing points earner at Oklahoma City on Friday night, Rilat drew the eight pill, which put him fourth row outside in the feature. One night later at Lawton, Rilat was second in points at Lawton. And once again, he somehow managed to draw the eight pill.

While Rilat wasn't liking the redraw, the fans had to love the result. What could have both potentially turned into yawners with Rilat on the front row turned into good ones with Rilat four rows deep. And he played a role in both, closing in on Nick Smith in the final laps at Oklahoma City and then tagging the frontstretch wall and spinning while dicing for the lead with Gary Taylor in the closing stages at Lawton.

Nick Smith was on the money at Oklahoma City's State Fair Speedway. Pulling a page from his father-in-law's playbook, Smith took full advantage of drawing the number nine. From third to second in his heat behind fifth-starter Rilat, Smith ranked seventh in points after the heat races. Smith then drew the pole position for the feature with Brian McClelland alongside.

Having McClelland alongside, and in second on a lap seven restart, worked to Smith's advantage as the defending Sooner king's engine struggled on the starts. McClelland closed in a time or two after getting up to speed, but fell behind Rilat and then Maier in traffic over the final laps.

Rilat was on the charge, but a late caution also worked to Smith's advantage. With two lapped cars separating Smith from Rilat and only four laps to go, Smith cruised to his second Sooner win at State Fair Speedway. Concerned about a possible engine problem, Smith went up the Turner Turnpike back to his Broken Arrow, OK, home rather than down the H.E. Bailey to Lawton, where he won a Sooner feature in 2003.

Despite a rough start to the 2008 season, Gary Taylor was upbeat as he made his first visit to Lawton Speedway. "We've been fast, we just need to finish some races," Taylor commented.

After winning the ASCS Rocky Mountain Region title in 2005 and then a Midget crown for Colorado's Harry Conklin, the Washington-state native relocated to the Tulsa area at the dawn of the 2007 season to drive for Mike and Megan Eubanks' midget team.

The proliferation of Sprint Car race versus the limited number of Midget events in the surrounding area prompted the decision to switch emphasis to Sprint Cars over Midgets in 2008, with Taylor to take on the full O'Reilly ASCoT National series after the Florida opener.

The team opened the season wingless in Arizona at Manzanita's Copper on the Dirt, with Taylor tumbling in both the Sprint Car and Midget features. The next time out at the Devil's Bowl Spring Nationals prelim, Taylor flipped down the backstretch in a wild scramble with Kevin Ramey and was forced to miss the next night. Engine problems forced the team to scratch from the pole position in "B" Main action at State Fair Speedway's Spring Nationals opener.

On Friday night, Taylor stopped seven laps into the feature with more minor, yet race-ending, problems. "At least we've been able to roll it into the trailer in one piece the last few times, that's an improvement over those first few times out," Taylor explained.

Taylor and the Tel-Star team's persistence was rewarded at Lawton Speedway on Saturday night, with Taylor drawing the sixth starting position for the feature after outdistancing Garry Lee Maier in the night's fourth heat race.

With eighth-starter Rilat on his rear bumper, Taylor was in the lead by the third lap as he steered clear of two red flags and three yellow flags in the opening six laps.

The final 19 laps ran off in much smoother fashion, with Rilat moving in on a couple of occasions to challenge. Taylor held off a pair of early rushes, but in the final handful of laps and with lapped traffic in play, all bets were off.

Rilat pulled even in turns one and two and the pair charged down the backstretch. Rilat appeared to edge into the lead through three and four, but his car finally broke traction as he exited the corner that had gone slick midway through the race as quickly as if a switch had been flipped.

Rilat tried desperately to save it, to keep it off the wall. He barely grazed it, just enough to turn the front back to the right. A harmless enough spin, the right rear was flattened and Rilat chose to stay pitside rather than return for the final three laps. After all, Rilat was here for the win, not for the points.

Taylor navigated the final three laps in flawless form to take the checkered flag in front of Maier, with Eric Baldaccini recording his best career ASCS Sooner Region finish by crossing the stripe third.

Taylor was greeted in victory lane by Chili Bowl announcer Randy Ward, who was slumming in his old hometown, away from the glitz and glamour associated with San Angelo sports anchors.

Through three nights of ASCS Sooner Region competition, 13 drivers took in all three events. And only two of those drivers made the cut for all three feature events; Rilat and fellow Texas racer Kolt Walker.

Bidding for the Sooner Region title, the 25-year-old hailing from Graham, TX, has established himself as the leading Sooner contender at this early juncture. Kolt bolted from 17th to fourth at Cowtown then posted finishes of 12th and ninth at Oklahoma City and Lawton, respectively. Walker led the opening two laps of the Lawton feature but was relegated to the tail when he spun in turn two at the same time that Justin Melton flipped in turn three.

After finishes of second and fourth at Cowtown and Oklahoma City, defending series champion Brian McClelland flipped on the opening lap of his Lawton heat race. Piecing things back together for the "B" Main, a broken frame proved to offer up evil handling characteristics that couldn't be overcome.

El Paso's Don Grable took in all three Sooner events aboard the Casey Minks entry, earning top ten finishes at Cowtown and Lawton despite an ailing engine. "Something's broken in the motor, hopefully we can at least limp into the feature," Minks commented prior to Lawton action.

Making the move from the Micro and Midget ranks, Matt Sherrell was aboard a second Down Under Motorsports entry as a teammate to Gavin Punch. After missing Friday's feature cut at State Fair Speedway, Sherrell raced his way into the Lawton main and snared a top-ten finish with Punch nipping him at the line for seventh.

When the weekend's ASCS Midwest vs. Northern Plains Region double at Nebraska Raceway Park's I-80 Speedway was cancelled due to forecasts of snow and freezing temperatures, 18-year-old Jack Dover and defending ASCS Midwest Region champion Natalie Sather hit the road for Oklahoma. And they managed to find each other on the track in Friday's feature, getting tangled up in turn four to create the feature's final caution. Sather was done while Dover salvaged a ninth-place finish.

A night later, Dover started the feature from the third row only to bicycle off the top of turns three and four. From the tail of the field, Dover surged forward to earn a fourth-place finish.

Johnny Miller had been missing-in-action since the season opening ASCS Gulf South event in Beaumont, TX, on February 29. "We tore up the exact same stuff we tore up at the Short Track Nationals to end last year, it takes a while for a little guy like me to make enough money to get things back together," car owner Jamie Downing explained.

Miller "baja'd" turns one and two at State Fair Speedway before exiting in the feature, then held down the final transfer in Saturday's "B" Main at Lawton only to exit with a popping engine as the white flag flew.

Alamogordo, New Mexico's Lorne Wofford took in the Oklahoma City-Lawton weekend, making his first Sooner feature start at State Fair Speedway.

Surprisingly, Friday night's seventh-place finish at State Fair Speedway was the first top-ten finish for Joe Wood, Jr., in Sooner Region action. Wood, who made the STN championship finale last year, has three career ASCS National Tour top-tens.

Koby Barksdale outslugged Brian McClelland for the lead on the opening lap of the second heat race at Oklahoma City and held on the rest of the way for the apparent win, only to be disqualified when he failed to report directly to the scales. Barksdale made it to the feature at Lawton.

Koby was just one of three Barksdale's in action over the weekend, with uncle Rick and Rick's son Sheldon on hand as well.

In his first start aboard Terry Henry's No. 92 this year, Zach Chappell scratched from Friday night's heat race action when a stripped out brake line wasn't repaired in time. Chappell charged forward from tenth in his "B" Main and made a final-corner pass of Woodward-area racer Kris Miller for the third and final transfer. Chappell then carved up the feature field by racing from 20th to sixth.

Chappell ran fourth in the early stages of the Lawton main before ultimately slipping too high in turn four and spinning. Chappell called it a night. Chappell will be back in the No. 50z at Lucas Oil Speedway on Saturday night.

When Kevin Ramey started the Cowtown main event, it moved him into sole possession of the top spot in career Sooner Region feature starts with 79. Danny Jennings re-forged the tie with Saturday's start at Lawton, where he finished fifth, recovering from driveline issues in hot laps.

On Friday night, Jennings experienced brake problems in his heat race and then magneto woes in his "B" Main and missed the main event for just the second time in his 80th career ASCS Sooner Region start. The last time Jennings tried and missed a Sooner main event was a combined National/Sooner card at Oklahoma City on July 30, 2004.

While the Sooner Region was slinging Oklahoma's red clay about, the Rebel Region was kicking up the Florida sand.

On Friday night, the series took to Ocala Speedway, which is once again covered with dirt after operating as an asphalt oval for the past ten years.

Kenny Adams, entering the event atop the points after a February 9 win at Deep South Speedway in Loxley, AL, was slated for a front row start but sent to the tail when he spun before the field was assembled and needed a second push.

Adams' stepson, Bryn Gohn took advantage and led until Matt Tiffany took over. Tiffany had been on the move in the late stages of the Deep South opener, stating that, "We needed that race to be 35 or 40 laps," after climbing to third behind Adams and Terry Gray in the 25-lapper.

This time, Tiffany needed a few less laps instead, as his right rear tire popped just two laps short of the checkered flag.

Gohn and Danny Martin, Jr., traded the lead over the final two laps, with Gohn holding the advantage at the checkered flag

Prior to the feature, Gohn had explained to Larry Sams that, "This place has so many turns, it's kinda' like a road course."

So close to Ocala victory after Tiffany's departure, Danny Martin, Jr., made up for it by sweeping past Adams on the last lap to win at East Bay Raceway Park. After leading the opening 24 laps, Adams right rear simply had no life left in it.

Adams escaped the weekend with the Rebel Region points lead, although an intriguing points battle could soon develop with the 48-year-old Adams chased by the young trio of Martin (22), Tiffany (18) and Gohn (22).

Eighteen-year-old Samantha Taylor recorded her first career ASCS top-ten feature finish with a ninth-place run at Ocala and is currently ranked fifth in ASCS Rebel Region points.

After missing East Bay's "King of the 360's" Nationals and the Rebel vs. Coastal opener at Deep South Speedway due to back woes suffered in the shop, defending Rebel Region champ T.J. Winegardner was in action over the weekend and posted finishes of third and fourth.

Ocean Springs, MS, shoe Michael Miller shadowed Winegardner each night, following him across the stripe for finishes of fourth and fifth.

Charles Davis, Jr., earned his seventh career ASCS Canyon Region win and first of the year in the series' most recent event at Manzanita Speedway on April 5. Davis' third consecutive top-five finish moved him into a three-way tie for second in points with Nathan High and 19-year-old Jeremy Reagles.

Thomas Ogle broke his string of three consecutive tenth-place finishes by improving to ninth. Ogle and current series point leader Jeremy Sherman are the only drivers to finish among the top ten in all four features this season. Ogle posted no top-ten finishes in eleven ASCS Canyon Region starts last year.

The ASCS Canyon Region ventures outside of Manzanita for the first time in 2008 with Saturday night's card at Tucson's USA Race Park, where Jeremy Sherman went three-for-three last year.

The nation's most prominent Sprint Car sanctioning body with 14 different Regions throughout the United States in addition to the O'Reilly American Sprint Cars on Tour National series, the American Sprint Car Series' (ASCS) 17th year of activity will include approximately 250 nights of racing at more than 100 different race tracks throughout 28 different states and Canada.

-credit: www.ascsracing.com.

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Series Sprint
Drivers Johnny Miller , Travis Rilat , Don Grable , Kenny Adams , Bryn Gohn , Nick Smith , Justin Melton , Danny Jennings , Matt Sherrell , Kevin Ramey , Gary Taylor , Ray Allen Kulhanek , Jason Johnson , Kolt Walker , Koby Barksdale , Andy Shouse