Bobby East won last night's 63rd running of the Night Before the 500 National Championship Midget race. He qualified second fastest, won his heat, and led every lap of the 40 lap feature. It was a big win for East, whose father Bob had success...
Bobby East won last night's 63rd running of the Night Before the 500 National Championship Midget race. He qualified second fastest, won his heat, and led every lap of the 40 lap feature. It was a big win for East, whose father Bob had success in past years at this track.
"Knowing that it's my home track and I grew up here," East said, "the Night Before the 500 is one of the biggest races on the USAC schedule. Maybe this isn't a good thing, but I've put a lot of emphasis into winning this race in the past few years and I was finally able to get it done tonight.
"My guys are great. I want to thank them first off. They worked their butts off. This is my first midget win here at O'Reilly Raceway Park. We had a couple of Silver Crown wins and Sprint car wins, but this means a lot to me. I've been trying to win this Night Before the 500 race for a long time. I haven't quite been able to pull it off. One thing for these guys - this is their second victory here for the Night Before the 500, so I want to thank them a lot."
The race was slowed a number of times by cautions, including a couple of "doubles" where there was another spin on the restart.
"When you give someone that many restarts," East said, "it increases their odds and not mine. So I wasn't happy to see all those cautions at the end, but that's just one of the variables you have to deal with. The two back to back really isn't a good deal for the leader."
While this was a big night for East, the real star of the show was second place finisher Chase Scott. He qualified only 20th fastest and finished eighth in his heat, relegating him to one of the semi races. He won that, which earned him a 21st place start in the feature.
When the green flag fell, Scott immediately began working the low line and moving steadily up through the field, one position at a time. By mid-race he was seventh, and soon after he was in fourth.
During a yellow on Lap 37 track crews applied oil dry about three-quarters of the way around, in the low groove, which appeared to end Scott's run forward. Just after the final restart with five laps to go Cole Carter, who was in second place, experienced problems and faltered. That gave Scott the opening to pass both Carter and third place Tracy Hines, despite the slick low line.
Scott was almost as surprised as everyone else at his results. "I can't thank the guys enough - Chewy, Jeff West, everybody," he said. "You know, it was last minute. I don't know what to say. We just kept picking them off, picking them off. The car was pretty good. I don't know what happened when we got to second. I'm shocked."
Carter faded to 13th place, last car on the lead lap, while Hines held onto third place. Hines's victory hinged on a tire change his crew made during a yellow on Lap 29. That dropped him to the rear of the field at the time, but gave him the advantage of fresh rubber for the end.
"The guys in the Tony Stewart Racing Team - like 29 laps into it they're showing a tire," Hines said. "I'm like 'the car feels good - it's coming. Don't worry about it - I'm good.' And then I looked up and I was like 'well, we're about halfway...let's try it...why not.' We're in the points lead. We didn't really care either way so let's try it. And we put a tire on it. We didn't put a new one on. We put one we had heat raced. But it did make a huge difference. It got us through the pack there. I was fading a little there at the end, pretty loose. Guys were hard to pass - they were pretty hungry out there. They were giving me everything it could handle."
Fast qualifier Kody Swanson finished fourth. Bobby Santos III and Brady Bacon rounded out the top six.
Tracy Hines retains a narrow National Midget points lead with 387 over Bobby East's 384, with a modest margin over Kody Swanson's 368.
The next USAC Mopar National Midget race will be May 30th, at the Dodge County Fairgrounds, Beaver Dam, WI.