Instant Replay: 16th Annual Belleville Midget Nationals - 1993 by Paul Haase BELLEVILLE, Kan. (July 25, 2001) - The first preliminary night of the 1993 Belleville Midget Nationals saw a familiar sight: rain! As it turned out, the light shower...
Instant Replay: 16th Annual Belleville Midget Nationals - 1993
by Paul Haase
BELLEVILLE, Kan. (July 25, 2001) - The first preliminary night of the 1993 Belleville Midget Nationals saw a familiar sight: rain!
As it turned out, the light shower wasn't as much of a problem as the cool temperature. The cool humid air brought up the moisture in the track, making it slick and spongy. Too slick to make a sudden move around trouble.
Just ask last year's champion Lealand McSpadden.
McSpadden took a nasty-looking series of tumbles after tangling with Richard Griffin in the third heat. Griffin came into the middle of turn 2 and ran into the back of Denise Bennet, whose car's engine missed and suddenly slowed. Griffin tagged Bennet on the back push bumper and almost got sideways. Just as Griffin was collecting himself from the slide, McSpadden tried to duck under him but caught his front wheel. McSpadden came down almost sideways and dug into the soft track, sending him tumbling.
Although McSpadden's roll cage was not damaged, the softness of the track allowed the roll cage to dig down far enough in the dirt that his head struck the track. McSpadden exited the car on his own power. McSpadden received a hefty bruise from his helmet and was held overnight at the hospital for observation.
Griffin, of Silver City, N.M., was unaffected by the accident and went on to finish third in the heat.
Big names filled the card for the first night of qualifying. Five past champions drew Thursday night for qualifying, including McSpadden, Stan Fox, Jack Hewitt, Steve Knepper and Ron 'Sleepy' Tripp.
McSpadden, back in the Andy Bondio car, turned in the fastest time of the night at 19.479 seconds around "The World's Fastest Half-Mile Dirt Track." Qualifying times were not close to any record as the track conditions slowed drivers down.
The track conditions were just right for good racing. And the feature race couldn't have been better.
The Thursday feature race saw about as many lead changes as it did laps. Knepper, Fox and Tucson, Ariz.'s Jerry Coons Jr. traded positions back and forth. Knepper jumped out to the lead with Fox on his push bumper and stayed that way until they came upon lapped traffic. On some laps the lead would change in turn 1 and by turn 4 the lead would change back.
With the track being slick at the bottom and tacky at the top, slower cars that normally would run at the bottom came up on the track making it harder for the faster cars to get around them. The back-and-forth passing by the leaders came when one got right behind a slower car, sometimes even tagging them, with the other slipping high or low around the tangle.
Fox was able to finally take the lead for good with five laps to go. Knepper followed in the car owned by his father, with Coons taking the third spot and Griffin taking the fourth and final championship qualifying position. The top four cars from each night qualify for one of the top eight positions in the Saturday championship race.
What was probably the closest finish in the history of the Midget Nationals saw Page Jones and Robby Flock cross the finish line almost simultaneously in the Friday night preliminary.
In the final lap, Flock passed Jones coming into turn 4. Flock went up high while Jones ducked under Flock, coming out of the final turn with a virtual side-by-side drag race down the front stretch. Jones was declared the winner by about nine inches at the line. The flagman noted that Flock actually passed Jones just after going past the finish line.
At the start of Saturday's main event it looked as though California's Jimmy Sills was correct in qualifying his backup car after failing Thursday to take one of the top-4 championship qualifying spots. Sills started the race in front and led all the way until his engine expired on lap 12.
Colorado's Keith Rauch then took over the top spot until he also came down with the common High Banks problem. On lap 20 Rauch's car exploded into a ball of smoke coming into turn 3. That left Jones and Flock in a five-lap dash. But it didn't look good for Jones.
The officials stopped Jones on the front stretch to check a problem: Jones had a nerf bar falling off on the right rear of his car. The officials found that it would not fall completely off and he was able to get back in his front position. Officials noted that they stopped him to check to make sure it was not a safety hazard. Since it was not, he was allowed to go back to his original position.
When the green finally dropped for the final five laps it was front-to-tail racing all the way by Jones and Flock. Jones kept the lead all five laps.
Neither knew who won until coming back around to stop for the trophy presentation. Flock said he found out by looking up at the score board when he stopped and Jones had to be told by a crew member when he was getting unbuckled from his seatbelts.
For the second night in a row, turn 2 got the best of one of the drivers. Cary Faas flipped nine times after getting tangled with another car in the middle of turn 2. Faas, still not fully recovered from a similar accident not too long ago, was not seriously injured. Faas complained about a loss of eye sight while at the track but after an overnight stay at the hospital was back at the track Saturday night.
A new track record was set in the 12-lap semi-main when John Cofer turned the banks in a time of 3:51.58. The old record was 3:56.60, held by Dean Erfurth since 1990.
The qualifying times were faster than the previous night's show with a total of 15 cars qualifying faster than the fastest time on Thursday. The track was in excellent condition and allowed racing anywhere from top to bottom.
Two-time Midget Nationals champion Stan Fox appeared well on his way to a third visit to the championship ring Saturday night, when a miscalculation on turn 2 opened the door for Jones' first Midget Nationals title.
Jones, the son of racing legend Parnelli Jones, took the checkered flag despite a methodical bid by Kevin Doty.
The win was well-earned by Jones who was eliminated from the 1992 Midget Nationals when his car wrecked during the Thursday night preliminaries after leading most of the race.
Fox had jumped out to a commanding lead almost immediately in the 1993 40-lap finale, dogged by Jones who was one-third of a lap behind.
Fox, known for his all-out, up-against-the-rail driving, didn't let off despite his wide lead.
Saturday, the racing groove where the track is packed down was low into turn 1. The top of the groove was about six feet away from the rail with a small hump on the top edge. The ideal way to come into it was with the right rear tire against the edge and slide around. Hit the edge too hard, and it snaps the front of the car around and sends the car towards the rail.
Fox, on several occasions, got too high and just brushed the rail, but got back under control ... until lap 16.
Fox came upon a pack of slower cars in turns 3-4, but by the time they got to turn 1 he was almost past them. Fox came into the turn too high, brushed up against the edge of the groove and the car made a sudden turn towards the rail. Fox was unable to save it, and he struck the rail with his right front. The right side of the car drove on top of the rail. When the car came back down the left front dug into the dirt and Fox's car flipped four times, landing on it's wheels in the middle of the track. Two cars narrowly missed striking Fox after his car continued to roll down the banking.
Fox's accident set up a duel between Jones and Richard Griffin, both running the Keith and Rusty Kunz-owned cars.
Then with seven laps to go Kevin Doty passed Griffin to take second place. Doty started out on the inside of the seventh row and drove like a man with only one mission: winning. Doty passed 10 cars on his way to the front and was catching the 11th car, which was Jones, when the checkered flag came out just a bit too early for him to get the job done.
16th Annual Belleville Midget Nationals - 1993 Top 5 finishers:
1. Page Jones
2. Kevin Doty
3. Richard Griffin
4. Robby Flock
5. Steve Knepper
The Belleville High Banks, located in Belleville, Kan., is managed by a volunteer racing committee that host 10-12 racing events annually. "The World's Fastest Half-Mile Dirt Track" allows drivers the rare opportunity to run "wide open" the entire track, and the sweeping oval is one of the most demanding test of endurance and skill for drivers. The track's mainstay is the annual Belleville Midget Nationals, held every year during the first weekend in August. As the nation's most prestigious midget car race of the year, the best equipment, owners and drivers flock to the small rural community of 3,500, which is transformed into a racing Mecca of more than 30,000 people each August.
For more information on the Belleville High Banks, write to: Belleville High Banks, P.O. Box 349, Belleville, KS 66935, or call (785) 527-6050. Sponsorship inquiries may call or fax (402) 761-3676 or via e-mail at email@example.com. Information is also available on the World Wide Web by logging on to http://www.highbanks.org or http://www.whowon.com.
Reserved tickets for the 24th Annual Belleville Midget Nationals presented by WhoWon.com are available by calling (785) 527-5179, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, or by logging onto the Belleville High Banks Web site.