Instant Replay: 23nd Annual Belleville Midget Nationals - 2000 by Paul Haase BELLEVILLE, Kan. (Aug. 1, 2001) - As they had for 22 consecutive years prior, the greatest midget car drivers in the world converged on the Belleville High Banks in the...
Instant Replay: 23nd Annual Belleville Midget Nationals - 2000
by Paul Haase
BELLEVILLE, Kan. (Aug. 1, 2001) - As they had for 22 consecutive years prior, the greatest midget car drivers in the world converged on the Belleville High Banks in the new millennium for the 23rd Annual Belleville Midget Nationals at the legendary Belleville High Banks. Without question, the world's "cream of the crop" were once again in Belleville, Kan., during the first weekend in August 2000.
If Thursday's Midget Nationals preliminary races where the things to come, this year was going to be real interesting. With six races along with the time trials, seven names came out on top, no one won more than one race.
Midget Nationals veteran Dave Strickland, Jr. started the night out looking like the dry slick surface was his type taking fastest time in the Klatt machine. But come heat races and the top times trophy dash, a whole different thinking was going on.
In the first heat, A.J. Fike took the finish away from Strickland serving notice that Fike may be the one to watch. With Jay Drake, the second fastest in time trials, being in the second heat, all eyes now turned to him. Drake ended up third in that heat, making it even more interesting.
The third heat had past champion and third fastest Kevin Doty in it. Doty was edged out by Jerry Coons, Jr. to add to the wonder of who really was the one to watch for the feature race.
When the trophy dash got underway for the six fastest qualifiers, observers thought that the chips would fall and a clear favorite just might show themselves. Not so as it ended up. Doty took the trophy but still the verdict was out.
And to add more confusion to the pot, Ed Carpenter who only finished tenth fastest and last in his heat, seemed to find what it took and ran away with the semi main. What ever he found proved to be beneficial in the main as well.
When the green flag dropped for the championship qualifying main, Doty jumped out and looked as though the trophy dash was a prelude to the main. However, Jay Drake kept hounding him all the way and finally took the lead stop over on lap 23 of the 25 lap race and drove it on home to take the top spot.
Dave Darland, last year's winner took third after only placing fourth in his heat and having the seventh fastest time, just out of the trophy dash qualifying time. Carpenter, despite having to start near the back of the field, definitely found what he was looking for a charged to the fourth and final automatic championship qualifying position.
With the results not showing a clear favorite, and in fact showing some surprises, Thursday's preliminary showed observers why the Belleville Midget Nationals are such a prestigious race.
Car owner Steve Lewis brought back past champion Dave Darland and a new rookie that everyone is talking about this year, Kasey Kahne to this year's Nationals. Lewis is well known to bringing in top drivers including the likes of NASCAR stars such as Tony Stewart. And with his new rookie driver this year, his streak of winning drivers continued.
With the track holding the moisture and a humid night not allowing the track to dry out, Friday's track was tacky and fast. With the tackiness, cars that normally run on the top were getting better times on the bottom. It was fast enough come feature time that a new track record was set.
Kahne came into the Nationals for the first time saying that this was one race he had been looking forward to to prove his skills after racing winged sprint cars on the west coast mostly. Lewis and car builder Bob East however knew that had the driver they needed in Kahne to add to their winning stock.
Although Kahne was edged out in the qualifying time trials by Jerry Coons, Jr., he had little trouble winning his heat. But in the trophy dash, Kahne finished fourth to put himself on the outside second row for the feature start.
When the green flag was thrown by Indy 500 starter Brian Howard, Kahne jumped out around front row starters Bobby Boone and Ricky Shelton and never looked back leading from start to finish.
East told an interviewer about Kahne that "there's guys who have it and ones who don't. He's definitely got it". And in tonight's feature, he showed East was right in his assessment.
Along with Kahne, Boone, J.J. Yeley and Tracy Hines finished in the top four automatic spots for the championship race.
Friday's race also was the first race for Sarah McCune -- the only female driver in recent years at the Nationals. McCune stated Thursday that the track looked fun and fast and was looking forward to her first race here. Although not finishing in the top positions in her races, her appeal to race fans was obvious during and after the races.
Coming into the Nationals Championship, rookie sensation Kasey Kahne was on a winning streak for car owner Steve Lewis, winning the Friday night preliminary and the three races prior to coming to Belleville leading in the United States Auto Club National point standings.
Adding to Lewis's pack was last year's champion Dave Darland. And during the pole dash to seat the cars for the championship, it looked as though Darland might spoil the rookies title chances finishing ahead of Kahne. Tracy Hines was looking to spoil Lewis's chances all together by winning the pole dash for the pole position for the championship.
Adding to the possible Lewis spoil was Ed Carpenter, stepson of Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Tony George. Carpenter started out slow on Thursday but came on strong at the end going through the last chance semi to make it to the main and taking fourth to qualify for one of the top eight spots.
In the pole dash, things were mixed even more when three of the 8 qualifiers had engine troubles during the race. J. J. Yeley was unable to fix the problem and had to scratch from the championship. Jay Drake blew his engine but had a backup car that Jerry Coons Jr. was driving. Car owner Keith Kunz took Coons out of the car and gave it to Drake for the championship. With making a car change, Drake was placed to the back of the field just ahead of cars that made it by virtue of qualifiers that had to scratch.
Hines took the pole dash to get the pole position by setting a new 10 lap track record that he had set in 1997.
By the time the championship race got underway, the track was in near perfect condition without a racing groove being prominent anywhere on the track. Drivers would be able to race anywhere on the track they were fastest.
When the field of 24 cars came around and took the dual greens for the championship, Carpenter jumped out in front of the field followed closely by Kahne. Both drivers picked the high side of the track.
On lap 22, Kahne was finally able to get by Carpenter to take the lead going around slower traffic.
Meanwhile, Drake was picking cars off every lap from the back and moving up quickly. Moving up to challenge Tracy Hines for third until trouble caught him in the back stretch. Drake was coming out of turn 2 to pass Tracy Hines on the high side when Hines, unaware Drake was making a move, moved up and tapped Drake. Drake went up on the guard rail between turns 2 and 3, leaving the track and striking the back stretch lights on his way out.
Drake flipped about 50-60 yards outside of the track into some trees. Drake was unhurt and walked to the ambulance. After being taken back into the infield and checked, he was released to sit back and wonder just how far he would have moved up in his sensational run from the back.
After the accident, the restart on lap 28 still had 13 cars on the lead lap with five of being a lap down.
On the restart, Kahne held the position with Carpenter never able to get close enough for a bid at the championship flags. Hines was able to hold onto the third position followed by Steve Paden.
Last year's winner, Darland, was taken out of getting a repeat title by engine problems.
Kahne also went on to capture the USAC National Midget Car Series championship in 2000.
23rd Annual Belleville Midget Nationals - 2000 Top 5 finishers:
1. Kasey Kahne
2. Ed Carpenter
3. Tracy Hines
4. Steve Paden
5. A.J. Fike
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.