Krob leads Hawaii sweep while USAC falters

In a shocking turn of events halfway through the 40-lap Saturday feature concluding the second annual USAC Hawaiian Sprint Car Classic, the three leading mainland drivers took each other out with a single bad move. Local favorite Dennis Krob, who...

In a shocking turn of events halfway through the 40-lap Saturday feature concluding the second annual USAC Hawaiian Sprint Car Classic, the three leading mainland drivers took each other out with a single bad move. Local favorite Dennis Krob, who actually sat out most of Friday due to mechanical woes, took advantage of the chaos with an unexpected win, with fellow Hawaii Motor Speedway veterans filling out the podium.

"It was just a matter of time," said the air conditioning repairman turned weekend warrior of the dramatic accident which completely changed the complexion of the race. "They were dicing back and forth and bumped each other a couple of times. I saw them bump again and backed off. They took each other out and I went high around the outside. The next thing I knew, the red light came on, and I looked up and the guy in front of me had a flat tire. All I had to do was hold on, concentrate, stick it to the bottom, ease on the throttle and get off the corner."

The key moment of the evening came on a lap 22 restart, with John Carney, Jr. maintaining the comfortable lead he assumed on lap four. Behind him, 2003 USAC Southwest Sprint Car titlist Rick Ziehl held second with Friday night feature winner Charles Davis, Jr. in third. Davis dove low beneath Ziehl heading into turn one, and the pair touched wheels. As Davis' #94 shot over Ziehl's #20z and actually richocheted off Carney's #X in front, one car beached itself atop the inside dirt berm while three others piled into Ziehl.

At first it appeared Carney had dodged a bullet, but the subsequent red flag soon revealed a flat left rear tire. All three USAC leaders pitted for hasty repairs and tagged from the rear for the restart, but Carney stopped soon thereafter with a deflating right rear. Ziehl, fast qualifier for the evening, could not manage one of his patented charges through the field, while Davis, who earlier added the trophy dash and semi victories to his win column, eventually clawed up to fourth. Ahead of him, Rodney Capello held off Ikaika O'Brien in a photo finish for second.

"I thought I had Ziehl there covered," an apologetic Davis summarizes. "I don't know what exactly happened. Neither one of us hit the brakes, and that was it. That was too bad about the X car - I just kept bouncing, couldn't stop and bounced into him, and I feel bad for him. Ziehl and I were racing for a spot, but he was just an innocent bystander."

Not surprisingly, Carney was less than thrilled about losing a likely win. "The two cars behind me overshot the corner and ran into the side of my car. Charles started to talk to me, but I pretty much tried to avoid him. I'm pretty mad about it - it's best not to say anything if you don't have anything nice to say."

"There were some guys with not enough patience out there," Ziehl adds. "In a 40-lap race there's a lot of time to get the job done; if you settle down everyone's there at the end. We lost the right rear tire, and with so many cars still out there on a one groove track - its hard to pass here because the track's so narrow, and we didn't have a bleeder on that tire anyway so it was gaining air pressure."

The feature began impressively enough for the Minks Motorsports duo of Carney and Friday feature runner-up Don Grable, starting from the front row. Grable led the opening three laps until the first yellow flew, whereupon he found himself in trouble in turn four. "I guess I just had some kind of brain fade or mental error, got on the inside of the track, went over the curb there, got sucked in and spun out leading the race." He subsequently looped it again several laps later at the opposite end of the quarter mile track, then eventually stopped with a cut right front.

After flipping his car during his Friday heat, Carney looked set for a solid Saturday turnaround while team owner Casey Minks wheeled and dealed in the garage to take home as little hardware as possible. "We have a lot of pressure on us to really try and not wreck, because the Hawaiian guys want to buy all our cars and parts. It's really hard to focus on not wrecking, and then I ended up doing so.

"I'm better just going out there and running the race like I'm supposed to. I'd also like to gain more non-wing experience so I'd have a better feel for the car. It took me a while to adjust, learning how to set it up, but towards the end of the weekend we had a great car capable of winning."

The local crowd must have noticed that as well, as Minks sold off both cars an hour later.

Carney's outside pole starting spot came as the result of USAC's Mike Martin forfeiting that spot at the last minute. When engine problems sidelined his own car, he hopped into that of veteran NFL running back turned novice sprint car driver Ben Apuna, the only driver not transferring into the feature. Starting shotgun instead, Martin blew up after only two circuits. "I think we hurt the motor last night but couldn't figure out what it was. A valve let loose in the heat race; it wasn't worth running in the feature. I dropped into Ben's car and tried to make some adjustments, but I think I hurt that too - it's not been a good night at all!"

With only three of the seven USAC starters still running at the finish, Krob went unchallenged for the remaining 18 laps and scored the biggest win of his career. For a while, it appeared his second Classic appearance would emulate his first, where he also blew a motor early on Friday, then sat out Saturday to wrench for a friend. "We lost an engine Friday night in hot laps, went home, changed motors and almost made it back for the main event, but I couldn't get it fired. It just didn't want to run until the race already started. I think God was telling me, wait for tomorrow.

"I ran this motor for the last race of the season, and I'd put a brand new motor in for this weekend because it was a little better, supposedly. This one has about ten races on it."

Inaugural Classic winner Dean Freitas, following an uncharacteristically lackluster Friday, scored a DNF in the Saturday feature but at least managed a heat victory for his troubles. Additional heat wins by Shawn Ternora and Jimmy Pontin (the surprise leader of half the Friday feature) set the stage for the massive Hawaiian payoff later in the evening. Pontin made good on his promise not to lose again due to the loose ignition wire which detonated his Cinderella story Friday, rounding out the final top five.

The eighth USAC driver in Hawaii, making a welcome return to the garage Saturday but not in uniform, was a battered and bruised Leighton Crouch. After a horrific tumble during the Friday semi which launched his ride over the first turn wall, he felt rather well given that his car's frame actually cracked in eight different places. "I'm a little sore and have some bruises on my back. They also diagnosed me with a concussion. I really wanted to drive tonight and had a couple of offers, but for my safety I felt I should just hold out."

Had Crouch not flown into the catch fence and instead continued bouncing down the track, he might not be around to enjoy the remainder of his Hawaiian vacation. "I think we had something for these guys this weekend; this car's been a rocket for us all year long. When we took the green, the 4 car (of Adam Ah Sing) just had nowhere to go, I got pinched, and that's really all I remember until I landed."

That said, his large family entourage can now fortunately proceed with the rest of their holiday plans. "Racing didn't quite turned out like we wanted, but we are still on vacation and will be here through Wednesday; there's still a lot to see and a lot to do."

"This is a huge deal - a lot bigger that I ever thought it was," Davis adds about his first visit to Hawaii, despite his up-and-down on-track performances. "Everyone's nice and it reminds me of being back on the tour; everyone's just as friendly as can be. The fans just live for this back home, and that's the way it is here."

The weekend concludes with a luau and awards ceremony Sunday night, where Krob will receive his $2000 first place check. "I gotta pay my tire bill," he laughs.

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About this article
Series USAC
Drivers Leighton Crouch , Rick Ziehl , Jimmy Pontin , Rodney Capello , Dean Freitas , Don Grable