Sprint Bandits I-30 weekend roundup

TULSA, Okla. (May 17, 2004) - Hooks, TX, veteran hotshoe Gary Wright found the cure for the disastrous opening weekend of O'Reilly Sprint Bandits action he endured at Devil's Bowl Speedway on March 19-20. That cure was Little Rock's I-30 ...

TULSA, Okla. (May 17, 2004) - Hooks, TX, veteran hotshoe Gary Wright found the cure for the disastrous opening weekend of O'Reilly Sprint Bandits action he endured at Devil's Bowl Speedway on March 19-20.

That cure was Little Rock's I-30 Speedway.

After suffering DNF's in both nights of the O'Reilly Sprint Bandits opening weekend of action at Devil's Bowl Speedway, Wright found himself mired at 22nd in Sprint Bandits points entering this past weekend's action at I-30 Speedway. The always action-filled I-30 Speedway quarter-mile oval has been nothing short of kind to the Texas ace in years past though, with Wright notching three Short Track Nationals victories, including a 2003 victory STN triumph worth $21,000.

After Friday night's card was cancelled by heavy rains over the previous days, Wright quickly established himself as a top contender by advancing from third to score a convincing win in Saturday night's opening heat race.

The top point earner following heat race action, Wright then turned in perhaps the most spectacular move of the night that ultimately didn't count. Starting tenth in the first qualifying race, Wright carved through the field in dramatic fashion, advancing all the way to third in less than a lap only to have the start negated when Jason Martin spun in turn three.

Unable to repeat the spectacular move, Wright worked his way up to third in more methodical fashion by the time the checkered flag flew on the qualifying race. Despite first and third place finishes and passing nine cars in heat and qualifying action, Wright still wasn't the star performer in the prelims.

That honor would go to Bixby, OK, shoe Shane Stewart. After winning the second heat race from the front row outside, Stewart gridded the evening's fourth qualifying race from the tenth position. Stewart would then put the Ol' Glory Energy Drink pit crew to work when he tagged Tony Bruce, Jr.'s disabled machine exiting turn two on the opening round and flipped several times.

A week after a wild flip in the non-wing challenge vs. USAC, in which lensman Tim Aylwin watched more than $2,000 in camera equipment hurled through the Memphis air into a state of destruction, Stewart's crew, led by Rob Hart, once again saved the day.

Similar to the prior weekend's feat, in which Stewart returned to set fifth-quick time and ultimately a third-place feature finish, Hart and company swapped wings, radius rods, etc., in time for Stewart to rejoin the qualifying race. Stewart made the effort worthwhile, charging from the tail to take the lead for good in less than five laps.

Stewart's twin triumphs in heat and qualifying race action aboard the Wesmar-powered Maxim, along with ten positions gained, netted him the pole position for the evening's 40-lap main event, with Wright alongside.

While Stewart got the jump at the drop of the green, Wright patiently stalked his prey over the first half of the race. Wright moved up to challenge at the midway point, and the pair had the large crowd on its feet as they battled side-by-side, swapping the point for several rounds before Wright put the Salina-powered Southwest Express/Richwood Construction/The Shop Maxim in front for good.

When Stewart spun on a lap 27 restart, the race for Saturday night's win was all but over, barring a rare mistake by Wright in lapped traffic. Wright made no mistakes of course, and collected $4,000 along with a provisional starting berth in this October's 17th Annual Short Track Nationals, also jumping twelve spots to tenth in current O'Reilly Sprint Bandits points.

After his spin, Stewart tagged the tail of the field and charged back up to fifth by the time the checkered flag flew. Stewart's long night of work was rewarded with the series early-season point lead.

Stewart and crew weren't the only ones to find themselves scrambling to stay in action atop a fast I-30 Speedway Saturday night.

Talala, OK, shoe Zach Chappell, who was nipped by Stewart at the line for second in the March 20 Devil's Bowl main, struggled to fourth and sixth place finishes in heat and qualifying action, then advanced to the main event with a second place finish in the second "B" Main.

Chappell's night nearly came to an end just seven rounds into the feature, when he tagged an out-of-shape Steven Tiner in turn two and tumbled directly in front of the leaders. Quick repairs by the Champco Concrete Construction team got the young shoe back into action, and Chappell responded by salvaging a tenth-place finish after originally starting 20th. Chappell escaped the evening with a second-place ranking in O'Reilly Sprint Bandits points, just ten markers off Stewart's pace.

The O'Reilly Sprint Bandits innovative format of heat races followed by a like number of qualifying races that are fully inverted based upon heat race passing points definitely did not disappoint, with fans enjoying plenty of action as 40 entries raced through 80 laps of four heat races and four qualifying races. Ten different states would be represented in the main event, including Oklahoma (7), Texas (3), Mississippi (3), Arkansas (3), Tennessee (2), Missouri (2), Kansas (1), New Mexico (1), Louisiana (1) and California (1).

In the combined eight heats and qualifiers, a total of 132 positions were gained. Stewart led the way, advancing ten positions, with Wright and Jerrod Hull each gaining nine spots. Sammy Swindell, Nick Smith and 16-year-old Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., each advanced eight positions in heats and qualifiers, with other top movers including Travis Rilat, Aaron Berryhill and Foster Landon, each of whom advanced seven positions.

While Wright enjoyed a reversal of fortunes from Devil's Bowl to I-30, the tables turned the other way for sprint car legend Sammy Swindell of Germantown, TN. Entering the weekend atop the series points after sweeping the Devil's Bowl double, Swindell struggled somewhat in his heat, only able to advance from seventh to fourth. Swindell found the right combination in his qualifier, finishing just shy of winner Jan Howard after starting seventh.

Swindell's efforts netted him the sixth starting slot aboard the Beaver Tool & Drill No. 12x in the main event. Swindell's feature would end after only half a lap, when he launched over Dale Howard's machine on the backstretch. Swindell was able to walk away from the hard crash relatively unscathed, although he fell to third in points.

Norman, Oklahoma's Danny Jennings battled throughout the 40-lap main to claim an eleventh-place finish after advancing from "B" Main competition. Chasing the inaugural Sprint Bandits championship, Jennings escaped the weekend ranked fourth in points in the Lucas Oil Products Eagle, just 26 markers out of the lead.

Jerrod Hull of Sikeston, MO, impressed in heat and qualifying race action, advancing from 10th to fifth in his heat, then racing from seventh to third in his qualifier. Hull would battle among the top ten throughout the 40-lap main before finishing eighth aboard the freetrailerads.com/D&T Carpet Store Maxim, good enough to move into fifth in the points chase.

Defending ASCS National champion Travis Rilat of Forney, TX, put a disappointing opener at Devil's Bowl behind him as well. After a third place finish in the evening's opening heat, Rilat raced from seventh to win the first qualifier, earning the third starting slot for the feature in the F&J Construction/Haulmark Trailers No. 29 Maxim.

Rilat stayed among the top four throughout, ultimately settling for the show position, just inches shy of a runner-up finish.

After announcing intentions to pursue the inaugural O'Reilly Sprint Bandits championship, Foster Landon of Collinsville, OK, turned in perhaps his most impressive 410-ci performance to date aboard the Carbone-powered Turnpike Van & Pickup Parts/The Nut House CMC-chassis on Saturday night. After a second place finish in his heat, Landon raced from ninth to third in his qualifier, earning the fifth starting slot for the feature. Landon battled among the top five most of the way before crossing the stripe sixth in the feature.

Broken Arrow's Aaron Berryhill, who finished second in the season opener at Devil's Bowl before exiting early the second night, battled among the top ten until the 36th lap, when he came to a halt in turn two with a flat left front tire after clipping an infield tire in turn four. Berryhill returned two rounds later to salvage a 13th place finish aboard Snyder-powered Fast Forward Motorsports/Americashadvance.com Eagle.

Fellow Broken Arrow, OK, native Nick Smith posted his first top ten Sprint Bandits finish by taking the checkered flag in ninth aboard the Don Ott-powered Smith Trucking/RPC Powder Coating Eagle after sixth-to-third and ninth-to-fourth runs in heat and qualifier action.

There was no shortage of Howard's on hand, as Byhalia, MS, brothers Jan, Dale and Josh all plugged in 410-ci powerplants, while cousin Ronny of Southaven, MS, had his 360 in action. Dale finished second in both his heat and his qualifier before exiting the main event early. Jan won his qualifier after struggling in his heat, then advanced from 12th to seventh in the main event. Josh was unable to start his "B" after mechanical gremlins popped up in his qualifying race, while Ronny joined his "B" main two laps off the pace after a front shock fell off on a pace lap.

Long-time Memphis-area car owner Shorty Chambliss fielded entries for youngsters Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., of Olive Branch, MS, and California native Steven Tiner. With the 410-ci engine in place, Stenhouse raced from sixth to second in impressive fashion in his heat, then gained four spots after starting tenth in his qualifier. Stenhouse held seventh in the main event until exiting after 26 rounds. Tiner would steer his 360 into the main event, only to make an early exit when a brake caliper came off his mount.

Another veteran car owner, Bobby Sparks, would fare better. With young Darren Stewart at the helm, Stewart topped his heat then did enough in his qualifier to garner the 14th starting position in the main. Stewart piloted his 410-ci powered machine to an impressive fourth place finish at the line.

Four 360's qualified for Saturday's main event, with local shoe Tim Crawley leading the way by finishing second. Defending track champion Pete Butler made an impressive charge from 15th to fifth before bicycling in turn two on the 38th round and suffering a broken front end, ending the possibility of two 360-powered machines finishing in the top five on the tight quarter-mile.

Joining Crawley and Butler as 360-qualifiers in the feature were Tiner and Louisiana's Stephen Chevallier, who came from 12th to make a last lap pass of Tony Bruce, Jr., for fourth in the first "B" Main to start the feature. Chevallier would earn a 15th place finish against the high-powered 410-ci machines.

Albuquerque's James High made his Sprint Bandits debut at I-30 Speedway, advancing to the main event after a third place finish in the first "B" Main, then racing from 21st to claim twelfth in the feature.

Current American Bank of Oklahoma ASCS Sooner Region point leader Jason Martin of Liberal, KS, battled a tight machine all night, advancing to the main event after a second place finish in the first "B" Main. Martin would be credited with 17th in the main event after a late exit.

Regular ASCS National Tour contender Toby Brown of Carthage, MO, made his Sprint Bandits debut, solidifying his feature starting slot with a second place finish to Butler in the third qualifying race. Brown exited the main event after 31 rounds and was credited with an 18th place finish.

Defending Riverside Speedway champion Marshall Skinner plugged in a new 410-ci engine and advanced to the main event by beating Chappell to the line in the second "B" Main. Skinner's feature run ended late when he got together with Butler's disabled mount.

Young Sam Hafertepe, Jr., of Sunnyvale, TX, made the starting grid in his first Sprint Bandits outing but made an early exit.

Memphis veteran Mike Ward started 13th but was forced from action after just 12 rounds when he came to a halt against the concrete of I-30's frontstretch wall.

The evening got under way in exciting style, when Ernie Ainsworth flipped in turn three on the opening round of the first heat race. Ainsworth returned for qualifying race action and finished second after starting on the pole. Ainsworth would finish three spots shy of a transfer in the first "B" Main.

Bentonville, AR, driver Sean Walden missed the main event when he suffered a broken front end in second "B" Main.

Local shoe Mike Pack lost a battle with a turn two infield tire in the first "B" main, sending his front left front tire flying.

After starting both Devil's Bowl features, Liberal, KS, driver Tony Bruce, Jr., coming off a pair of top-five finishes in ASCS Sooner Region action, lost a transfer position to the main event on the final lap of the first "B" Feature.

Local youngster Justin Sturch missed the main event by one spot, finishing fifth in the second "B" Main.

Young Zach Pringle beat his father Rick to the line by one spot in the first "B" Main, still two positions short of a transfer position however.

Jerry Kamer suffered a broken rocker arm in his "B" Feature.

Several other local competitors, including Rob Jenkins, Richard Herring, Joe Young, William Hope and Mark Harrison, along with Memphis-area driver Scott Bolden, made unsuccessful bids for their first O'Reilly Sprint Bandits feature start.

In keeping with the series opener at Devil's Bowl Speedway, a variety of engine combinations was represented among the front runners Saturday night at I-30 Speedway. While Wright utilized the Brodix series head, Crawley used 360-ci power, with Rilat and Darren Stewart utilizing Dash-12 heads to score top-five finishes. Shane Stewart drove a sleeved-down open engine impressively all evening.

With another rousing night of racing action in the books, the O'Reilly Sprint Bandits now gear up for a full weekend of Memorial Day weekend racing action through Missouri, Iowa and Nebraska. The weekend kicks off on Friday night, May 28, at the lightning-fast US 36 Raceway in Cameron, MO, before moving on to the legendary Knoxville Raceway on Saturday night. The weekend wraps up at Butler County Speedway in Rising City, NE, on Sunday night, May 30.

Additional information regarding the O'Reilly Sprint Bandits is available at www.sprintbandits.com.

-lw-

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Series Sprint
Drivers Darren Stewart , Sammy Swindell , Aaron Berryhill , Shane Stewart , Travis Rilat , Nick Smith , Danny Jennings , Tim Crawley