Handicapping the 17th Annual Short Track Nationals Field LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (October 28, 2004) - One hundred strong they will come from 22 different states and Australia to vie for the $15,000 prize that hangs in the balance in this weekend's...
Handicapping the 17th Annual Short Track Nationals Field
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (October 28, 2004) - One hundred strong they will come from 22 different states and Australia to vie for the $15,000 prize that hangs in the balance in this weekend's 17th Annual Team Affiliated Short Track Nationals presented by Hoosier Tires at Little Rock's I-30 Speedway.
And the one common question on the mind of each of the thousands of fans that flock through the I-30 Speedway gates will inevitably be, "Who's going to win?"
That unequalled aroma of burning methanol in the air will be strong over the next three nights, as the loaded field of entries battles heatedly through qualifying action on Thursday and Friday night then into Saturday night's STN finale.
One hundred or so hope to pull out of I-30 Speedway's parking lot on Saturday night weighted down with a cool $15K. By the time Saturday's B Mains are in the books, 20 will still have a shot at the victory loot. Shortly after, one driver will collect.
Who will it be?
As always, selecting the likely contenders in such a hotly contested event is perilous at best, but for those of us watching these modern day gladiators fight it out atop the Little Rock's always action-packed quarter-mile clay oval it can't help but be fun to watch. And these selections are made in fun as well. If they can help you make a few extra greenbacks in some "friendly" wagers with some unenlightened cohorts among the throng though, then so be it.
Three drivers appear to be odds-on favorites entering this year's edition of the Short Track Nationals.
#9 Gary Wright (Hooks, TX) - Funny how points racing can often result in a decrease in the win column. Wright openly admitted on at least a couple of occasions that he opted not to take a chance on a winning pass on a tough track with the ASCS championship on the line. No points here though and Wright loves the big season-ending bonus to make for a cushy off-season. And even with only 11 wins on the year, about half his average annual output, Wright seemingly still owns I-30 Speedway. The winner of last year's STN, Wright captured a Sprint Bandits win at I-30 in May and won two of three ASCS events in Little Rock. Not considering Wright among the absolute top contenders in this shootout would be reason enough to be fitted for a straitjacket.
#4m Shane Stewart (Bixby, OK) - Stewart enters this year's STN with perhaps the hottest hand of the 100 entries, coming off consecutive victories at Devil's Bowl Speedway in Sprint Bandits (10/16) and ASCS (10/23) action. The Sprint Bandits inaugural champion this year, Stewart paced the early stages of last year's STN before succumbing to Wright. The final outing for the fan-friendly No. 4m may just be enough added mental motivation to propel Stewart to victory lane in this one.
#1 Sammy Swindell (Germantown, TN) - Undeniably, one of the modern-day greats of Sprint Car racing, Swindell's 2004 efforts have been either feast or famine. Meaning the Slammin' one will likely either be in the mix for the win in the final rounds or he could miss the show altogether. Swindell still has what it takes to beat the best of the best when inspired though and could easily add another big win to his lengthy resume.
The next handful of hotshoes could easily score the big win, and probably wouldn't need just a whole lot of help from Lady Luck to make it happen. In numerical order:
#1n Eddie Gallagher (Memphis, TN) - While the cagey veteran typically sticks close to his Memphis home, he can still get his elbows up with the best of them and can be expected to do so with $15,000 on the line. Last year's memorable Saturday night heat race drive while engulfed in flames the final two laps to secure a feature starting position is enough to merit consideration. The ensuing fact that he raced from 12th to third in the feature is only more evidence.
#4a Kenny Adams (Malabar, FL) - Twenty-three wins on the season can't be dismissed, even though the vast majority came against lesser competition. If Adams finds I-30's tricky confines to his liking, he'll be a factor.
#23x Tim Montgomery (Fredericktown, MO) - Underrated on the national scope, Missouri folks can tell you about Montgomery. Top-five STN runs in 2000 and 2001 and an eighth place run last year are evidence the "Fredericktown Flash" can get around I-30. Teamed with 2002 winning car owner Donnie Cooper, Montgomery picked up his first two ASCS wins this season. If the track is slick in Saturday's big-money race, Montgomery will be charging toward the front.
#41 Jason Johnson (Eunice, LA) - Aboard what is reported to be a tricked-out Lanny Row ride, the "Racin' Cajun" is capable of striking for victory at anytime. Despite limited laps at I-30 in recent years, Johnson's experience around the country is enough to make him a top contender.
#87 Tim Crawley (Mabelvale, AR) - Home track advantage can't be underestimated for the shoe who lives a stone's throw or two from I-30 Speedway. While most of Crawley's 2004 labors have been against lesser competition, he proved he's still a legitimate threat by collecting the ASCS Speedweek crown by virtue of three feature wins on the week. If Crawley can harness the "intensity" that's hampered his recent STN efforts, a second Short Track Nationals win isn't out of the question.
Watch out for:
A dozen drivers that bring our list of top contenders to watch to a nice round number of 20, the same size as Saturday night's $15,000-to-win, $1,700-to-start STN feature field. In numerical order:
#7m Kevin Ramey (Fort Worth, TX) - Only family obligations keep this two-time ASCS Sooner Region champion from being a prominent fixture on the national radar. As adept as anyone on the quarter-mile bullrings, Ramey loves the intensity of the STN and could contend.
#10 Terry Gray (Bartlett, TN) - Cant' dismiss former STN winner Gray on I-30 Speedway's quarter-mile oval. The former four-time ASCS National champion knows his way around and will make his presence known.
#20 Chad Kemenah (Findlay, OH) - Kemenah made an early exit in his first STN start two years ago. Though not terribly familiar with I-30's quarter-mile oval, this year's Knoxville Nationals runner-up and All-Star champion can't be ignored.
#21b Brian Brown (Higginsville, MO) - Since being dismissed from a WoO ride of questionable quality, Brown has been tough aboard the Doogs No. 21 and can contend.
#29 Travis Rilat (Forney, TX) - If this race had been contested four months ago, Rilat would rank among the top three contenders. The 2003 ASCS champ's season declined in the final months however, with all 12 wins this season coming before mid-July. Rilat still managed runner-up points finishes on both the ASCS National trail and the Sprint Bandits series. A return to early-season form puts Rilat right up front.
#40r Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. (Olive Branch, MS) - While probably still a year or two away from an STN caliber win, this recently turned 17-year-old's pure raw talent makes him a threat anywhere he shows up. A top-ten finish is probably a safer bet, but one never knows with the young Mississippi phenom.
#44 Danny Wood (Norman, OK) - The veteran shoe has found the Harvill Industries No. 44 to his liking, making a habit of running among the top three in ASCS Sooner Region competition, collecting four wins along the way. While the past two weekends at Devil's Bowl Speedway haven't been kind, Wood can turn it around and contend.
#50 Jerrod Hull (Sikeston, MO) - Hull surprised many by racing from 15th to fourth in last year's STN finale. Back aboard the Rich DeReu owned entry, another strong outing should come as no surprise this time around.
#57 Roger Crockett (Eugene, OR) - Fourteen wins in Oregon and Northern California probably don't mean a whole lot to the denizens of Little Rock. But a runner-up finish in Knoxville's Brodix Tournament of Champions should serve as evidence that this young hotshoe is one to keep watch on.
#88 Mike Ward (Memphis, TN) - The Memphis veteran always fares well at I-30. His STN record reads impressively with a win in 2000 and four-top five finishes in 10 ten STN starts since 1993. Ward would like nothing better than to celebrate his 25th year of racing with a trip to STN victory lane.
#91 Darren Stewart (Bixby, OK) - One of the up-and-coming talents in the sport, the younger Stewart sibling has battled through a turbulent 2004 season. Stewart and former STN car-owner winner Bobby Sparks have made I-30 Speedway one of their stomping grounds from time to time and could contend despite destroying a car last weekend at Devil's Bowl.
#97 Kelly Kinser (Bloomington, IN) - The Kinser name alone carries some weight, but a third-place finish in the 1999 STN for the journeyman racer carries even more clout. The wiley veteran can be a player if track conditions play into his hands.
Another 80 or so racers will vie for STN bragging rights this weekend, and undoubtedly some will capture the attention of the crowd that will gather at I-30 Speedway. A win wouldn't be out of the question for some, but simply making the feature would be a victory for most. A look at some to keep an eye on:
Florida's Danny Martin, Jr., ranked second in USCS points and collected four feature wins. Big step up here though.
Trevor Lewis of Pennsylvania scored a pair of combined URC/ESS wins, including Black Rock Speedway's Bully Hill Nationals. Fellow northeastern rep Scott Pursell from New Jersey earned a top-ten ranking with the United Racing Club.
Lewis Jenkins, Jr., has collected a few I-30 Speedway track championships in the past and despite what could be called on "off-season" in 2004, could make some noise.
Kevin Swindell demands attention based upon lineage alone. An impressive eighth-place finish in last weekend's ASCS Devil's Bowl Winter Nationals against a stout field though merits that he deserve that attention.
Sean McClelland and Tony Bruce, Jr., tied for third in ASCS Sooner Region points. McClelland did so after some two-barrel titles, while Bruce's first full Sprint season also netted a twelfth place finish in ASCS National points and a thirteenth place ranking in Sprint Bandits points despite missing several events.
South Dakota's Dusty Zomer captured the Huset's Speedway championship and ranked sixth at Knoxville. Zomer's 2003 STN effort got off to a bad start when he was collected in Billy Alley's zany heat race antics. Fellow South Dakotans Clint Garner and Chuck Swenson are both capable of solid outings, though both are typically more comfortable on bigger tracks.
West Memphis shoe A.G. Rains was the top Rookie contender on the ASCS National Tour, finishing sixth in points. Fellow rookie contender Sam Hafertepe, Jr., mixing in several ARCA stock car starts, finished tenth in points after winning his first career Sprint Car feature in ASCS Gulf South action in Louisiana to kick off the year in March.
I-30 Speedway track champion Rick Pringle leads the local contingent, with young Justin Sturch, William Hope and Mark Harrison also earning top-five point rankings in Little Rock. Little Rock native Ricky Logan, a ninth place STN finisher in 1997 and 1999, returns to familiar grounds after calling Knoxville home for several years.
Foster Landon finished sixth in Sprint Bandits points and tied for fifth on the ASCS Sooner Regional trail with Lubbock rookie pilot Preston Peebles II.
Illinois mainstay Robbie Standridge took the Jacksonville Speedway track championship. Other track champs not already mentioned include Devil's Bowl Speedway king Johnny "Baja" Miller, Cowtown ace Claud Estes (who raced to an impressive ninth place finish last year), Lake Ozark Speedway champ Eric Schrock (who has struggled in past I-30 attempts) and very capable St. Francois County Raceway champ Joey Montgomery, who could easily make Saturday night's feature.
If not for missing an early season event, Ray Allen Kulhanek could have possibly won the ASCS Gulf South championship. Instead, he finished fourth behind runner-up Chris Sweeney and third-place finisher Greg Rilat.
Knoxville 360 Nationals winner Billy Alley was a duck out of water in last year's STN. While this year's STN performance couldn't possibly be as dismal, Alley could struggle to shake the one-trick pony label he's earned with his fixation on the big half-mile.
Marshall Skinner turned in an impressive 2004 season, racking up several strong runs in ASCS National competition. A spot in Saturday's feature starting grid wouldn't be a shocker.
Nor would a feature start for former STN winner Pete Butler, who has somehow only managed one I-30 feature win this season.
Lasoski kin Jon Corbin ventures down from Missouri with a Winged Outlaws Warrior win, while young Sikeston, MO, shoe Hunter Schuerenberg bears watching as well, if for nothing else but future reference.
There will be no shortage of Howards at the STN, as brothers Jan, Dale and Josh join the fray along with cousin Ronny. Dale has fared the best of the clan, while Jan will take on the ASCS National trail in '05 as a teammate to '05 ASCS Rookie contender Lee Sowell, who finished sixth in Riverside Speedway points.
Missouri's Toby Brown earned a fourth-place ranking in ASCS National points, a career best after four finishes of fifth or sixth. Brown will try to improve on last year's strong 12th-place STN run.
All-Star shoes Greg Wilson and Phil Gressman join champ Kemenah among this year's STN field. Both have All-Star wins this year and could be a factor.
California-native Steven Tiner, now dwelling in Crawley's Mabelvale, AR, abode, earned a start in last year's STN finale aboard the Shorty Chambliss-owned mount now piloted by Chad Jones.
The Mustang Maverick, according to Knoxville Raceway mic-man Tony Bokhoven, Wayne Johnson, has his sights set on a tenth STN feature start as he takes over the reigns of the #94J Mississippi machine. Johnson won the STN in 1997 and finished sixth last year in Donnie Cooper's machine. The accomplished racer is always a threat.
With so many potential winners among this year's loaded 17th Annual Team Affiliated Short Track Nationals presented by Hoosier Tires field, making just one selection seems ludicrous. But since only one can take the $15,000 big check, a selection from this corner must be made.
The easy out would be to select one of the big three in this event: Gary Wright, Shane Stewart or Sammy Swindell. Always a fan of living dangerously, I prefer to venture out on a slightly less sturdy limb and doubting that any SI-type jinx applies, put my STN money on the "Fredericktown Flash", Tim Montgomery. Geared up in top-notch equipment with Donnie Cooper, who enjoyed STN victory honors with Paul McMahan in 2002, Montgomery has been strong in recent editions of the STN and is poised to capture the big win.
But I could easily be mistaken once again. Only three nights of guaranteed all-out, intense sprint car racing action atop I-30 Speedway's racy quarter-mile clay oval will tell the true tale. And the 2004 Short Track Nationals champion, whomever that may be, will most assuredly be deserving of the honors.
Thursday and Friday night tickets for the 17th Annual Short Track Nationals presented by Hoosier Tires are $12 per night, with Saturday night's finale just $25. Children will be admitted for only $2 for Thursday and Friday's qualifiers and just $4 on Saturday.
All three nights of racing action are slated to get underway at 7:00 p.m.
I-30 Speedway is located just southwest of Little Rock off I-30 Exit 126. Additional information is available at www.i-30speedway.com or by calling the track at 501-455-4567.