From his first tentative shakedown laps Wednesday, both the local veterans and visiting USAC contingent whispered Charles Davis, Jr. would prove one to watch. The SCRA points runner-up made good on those predictions by dominating the second leg of the Hawaiian Sprint Car Classic Friday night feature, but that did not come easily for the first-time tourist to the 50th State.
"The top slicked off pretty early and started getting black early on," Davis said about finding the proper groove around the 1/4 mile paper clip. " I tried to run up there; you could carry a little bit of speed, but it didn't take a lot for someone on the bottom just to get ahead of you. The bottom was where it was at; you just had to wait for somebody to make a mistake and try to sneak up underneath him coming off the corner. Once I got by myself I got a pretty good rythym going, but with another car it was tough.
"Turning was a problem, just because of the slime down there on the bottom. Early on it was still a little slimy down low. You really had to watch to get the car turned. That's actually how I got run over there - I started to push up off the corner, and the guy was coming up on the outside and ran over the right front. So I've got to get this thing turned a little better."
The evening shaped up as a head-to-head battle between Buckeye, AZ's Davis and 2003 Southwest Sprint Car champion Rick Ziehl, who dominated the inaugural Classic but fell short of actual feature victories. Ziehl drew first blood by winning the 5-lap trophy dash but struggled in his heat and saw his feature charge blunted by a failed attempt at passing both Pontin and Davis on the front stretch. When Pontin moved up the track, the accordion effect sent Ziehl into a 180 into the outside wall.
Ziehl, who arrived in Hawaii Thursday and missed the Wednesday shakedown, stormed his way back to fifth on the final lap, behind Brandon Ternora (driving the same car he famously burned during last year's Friday main) and brother Shawn. "Looking at the racecar, we're lucky to actually finish, because it seems we left a lot of parts against the wall! We'll get a better look in the daylight and see how bent it is."
Then as the green flag fell for the 12-lap semi, local sprinter Adam Ah Sing fishtailed and overcorrected into USAC veteran Leighton Crouch, sending both cars somersaulting into turn one and launching Crouch over the outside wall in what Hawaii Motor Speedway owner and race promoter Jerry Apana described as the biggest wreck his track had ever seen. While both drivers walked to the ambulance, they would stay under observation overnight as a precautionary measure.
The resultant 45-minute red flag to repair catch fencing led to the semi being cancelled, with the remaining feature spots filled based on qualifying times. For Carney, this amounted to a missed opportunity. "The rear end and front end were both knocked loose; we hauled ass, got it back together and barely made it out in time for the semi. After (the red), they told me to get off the track because my fuel cell was leaking. We fixed it, but they called the race and there were only eight cars left, which should've put me back into the main, but somehow between the officials and whatever happened with my fuel leak, they thought I wasn't going to race in the main. They didn't even put me in the lineup. I was actually supposed to start from the pole, but they messed up and by the time we figured it out, it was too late. So the only thing they could do was let me run in the back, and then the car wasn't handling really well; I lost the power steering and that was it."
Among the local favorites, defending Classic winner Dean Freitas set fastest time with a 13.95 second lap but otherwise had an underwhelming, spin-filled evening. Jeff Villacorte, Shannon Souza and James Chinen upheld Hawaiian pride by convincingly winning their respective heats. But Pontin, a non-factor in the inaugural Classic, proved the surprise of the evening. Davis' one serious passing attempt in the feature did not stick, and Pontin looked good for a landmark victory until a restart just past the halfway point, when the car suddenly died exiting turn two. "It sucked really bad at the end! The car was really strong and I had a lot of power for these guys. I'm running carbureted gas, and we have one of the smallest motors out there. But an ignition wire came loose and killed the engine. If not, I don't think they would've gotten us tonight, but that's racing. We guarantee that wire won't come off again!"
Despite not having the cancelled semi to work through his problems, Davis quickly figured out "where there was a good entry, not to lose the front end through the center of the corner, and just to get the car working better. I changed the car all night long - shocks, wheel spacings, air pressure, everything. There are some more things we can pick up and make a little better, but I had to get loose enough to make the car turn and go from there. I don't want to show everything yet - it's not the big night!"
Davis and his longtime car owner Joe Morales will go for a clean sweep in Saturday night's 40-lap feature, and while Crouch's original 0c sprinter received damage beyond immediate repair, Apana has vowed to loan the Lubbock, TX veteran one of his own rides should Crouch be physically up to the task.