Handicapping the 16th Annual Short Track Nationals Field. LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (October 21, 2003) - With the 16th Annual Team Affiliated Short Track Nationals presented by Hoosier Tires about ready to go green for three nights of wild action at...
Handicapping the 16th Annual Short Track Nationals Field.
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (October 21, 2003) - With the 16th Annual Team Affiliated Short Track Nationals presented by Hoosier Tires about ready to go green for three nights of wild action at I-30 Speedway this Thursday through Saturday night, the time has come to take a closer look at the contenders for the $15,000-to-win prize, with $1,600 going to those earning starting berths in Saturday night's finale.
With nearly 80 drivers already entered from eleven states and Canada, with another couple of handfuls sure to trickle in, prognosticating whom the frontrunners may be is a perilous task. But, without further hesitation, let's dive right in.
Each of the following drivers surely enters this weekend's action confident they'll be the one to take the winner's share home. And for good reason. Each of these guys can easily win if it's their weekend and things go somewhere in the vicinity of right. In numerical order, the favorites would be:
#01 - Wayne Johnson (Mustang, OK). Let's see, only a ridiculous amount of cautions prevented Johnson from holding off Steve Kinser in Knoxville Nationals preliminary action. Johnson is one of five past winners entered in the event, having topped the STN in 1997. And he's teamed with car owner Donnie Cooper, who fielded last year's winning mount for Paul McMahan. Impossible to keep this combination off the list of favorites.
#4 - Tim Montgomery (Fredericktown, MO). Perhaps not as heralded as some of the other favorites, Montgomery seems to annually pile up double digits in the win column and win the track championship at St. Francois County Speedway. Montgomery has two top-five STN finishes, including a fourth in 2001, and has several impressive victories among his 13 wins this season, including an All-Star/NCRA victory on his home turf and a pair of wins against some tough competition at Memphis Motorsports Park, including the recent Memphis Nationals. Montgomery's a legitimate threat and looks to prove it this weekend.
#4m - Shane Stewart (Bixby, OK). Stewart has been "en fuego" since early August, winning four of five ASCS National events he's competed in since Knoxville until early engine problems slowed him briefly at last weekend's Devil's Bowl Winter Nationals. And he's run close to the front almost everywhere else that he's been. With Rob Hart spinning the wrenches, something resembling his September 6th I-30 Speedway domination in ASCS action isn't out of the question.
#9 - Gary Wright (Hooks, TX). Wright enters the STN with inarguably the strongest STN background, as he is the only driver to top the event twice since it became the 360-ci showcase in 1993. In nine STN starts since 1993, Wright has finished in the top five on six occasions, tops in the category, and posted nine top-ten finishes, also a category best. Throw in 20 wins this season, including a literal thrashing of the competition on June 21 in ASCS action at I-30, there's no way anyone could not consider Wright a strong favorite.
#29 - Travis Rilat (Forney, TX). The 2003 O'Reilly ASCS National Champion generally finds I-30 Speedway to his liking, with a runner-up finish in the 2001 STN as some strong evidence. While points racing likely limited Rilat's overall win total to eight, with no points to worry about this weekend, Rilat would like nothing more than to cap a career season with a STN title.
#77 - Tim Crawley (Mabelvale, AR). Residing all of about five miles from I-30 Speedway, nobody knows their way around the tight quarter-mile I-30 oval better than three-time ASCS champion Crawley. After beginning the season rideless, Crawley has put together a nice season aboard William Hope's machine, posting twelve feature triumphs, including seven at I-30 Speedway. Noted for an uncanny ability to carry lesser equipment to victory lane, Crawley has gradually upgraded his equipment over the course of the season and enters the STN in strong form with a mount capable of taking the big check.
Any one of these guys could be listed among the favorites, but we've got to draw the line somewhere. A minimal amount of luck could find any of the following in victory lane Saturday night. And with approximately 90 cars battling it out on a quarter-mile clay oval, a "little" luck never hurts.
11x - Garry Lee Maier (Cimarron, KS). While limited funds have resulted in a limited 2003 schedule, Maier has consistently run up front against similar competition in recent weeks. Maier has fared well in the past at the STN, with three top-fives, including a fifth place run last year. The original champion of the ASCS, Maier savors the thought of adding an STN title to his impressive resume.
22 - Billy Alley (Lincoln, NE). After a 2002 rookie campaign that netted an Eagle (NE) Raceway championship and National 360 Sprint Car Rookie of the Year honors, Alley has proven to be the real deal in 2003. With the 2003 Knoxville Raceway 360 Sprint Car championship and a $10,000 payday in the recent ASCS Sedalia 360 Shootout to his credit, would it really be a surprise if the 19-year-old hotshoe pulls the familiar yellow machine into victory lane?
#29h - Pete Butler (Mabelvale, AR). Like Crawley, Butler has a hometrack advantage based simply on his familiarity with the characteristics of I-30's red clay oval. Butler rarely strayed from home this year, but did rack up seven wins en route to the I-30 Speedway championship. And he won this race in 1996. Don't count him out.
#39 - Kevin Ramey (Fort Worth, TX). Ramey can slug it out with the best of them on the quarter-mile oval. The ASCS Sooner Region champion has piled up 17 wins this season. Even if eleven came at Cowtown & KRP, Ramey still has plenty of quality wins. The recent (as in last week) departure from the Harvill Industries team leads to questions, but there's little, if any, drop off in the Tom Willis machine. Ramey should be a factor.
#50 - Jerrod Hull (Sikeston, MO). Hull brings an impressive win total of 14 for the year into the STN. Four of those came at tiny Jacksonville (IL) Speedway, so the ability to handle the quarter-mile shouldn't be a question. Plus, he topped a sturdy field on the Night Before the Tournament of Champions at Knoxville, indicating the level of competition shouldn't faze him.
#75 - Jesse Hockett (Warsaw, MO). Hockett also brings 14 wins to the STN. While many came against lesser talent-laden fields in weekly Missouri action, Hockett rocked the non-wing world by topping Lakeside's $10,000-to-win SCRA Non Wing World Championship event in August. Hockett also claimed a prelim victory in the Sedalia 360 Shootout, so he's definitely another 19-year-old gun to watch.
#83 - Josh Higday (Des Moines, IA). Higday can haul the mail with the best of them on the big tracks. If he and new car owner Brian Ridge make the trip south and Higday finds the quarter-mile to his liking, watch out.
#88 - Mike Ward (Memphis, TN). After running a limited schedule over the first half of the season, Ward has come on like gangbusters over the second half. Ward followed Shane Stewart to the line in ASCS action at I-30 on September 6, then topped the ASCS event at Memphis Motorsports Park the next Friday (just one of six wins over the last half of the season). Ward, who topped the STN in 2000, knows his way around I-30 quite well, posting five STN top-six finishes since 1995.
Don't Count 'Em Out:
Each of the following could foil the best-laid plans of the Favorites and Top Contenders if things work in their favor.
#1J - Lewis Jenkins, Jr. (Bryant, AR). With several I-30 Speedway titles and numerous feature wins, Jenkins hopes to shake off a sub par season with a strong STN.
#6c - Ryan Coniam (Burlington, ONT, Canada). The fifth-place finisher in All-Star points hasn't found victory lane this year. He's accustomed to tough competition though, so definitely bears watching.
#9m - Micah Schliemann (Hartford, SD). After qualifying for the STN last year in his first attempt, Schliemann closed out the year on the northern plains in strong fashion, posting six wins over the last half of the season.
#21c - Joey Montgomery (Fredericktown, MO). Joey isn't that far behind brother Tim, he'll be tough.
#46 - Jan Howard (Byhalia, MS). Howard finished fourth in NCRA 410 points and ran much of the season with the All Stars. Howard typically fares better in 360 competition and could make some noise.
#47 - Dale Howard (Byhalia, MS). The eldest of the Howard brothers, Dale generally sticks closer to home. Dale has fared the best of the Howard brothers in the STN, posting a runner-up finish in 1999.
#50z - Zach Chappell (Talala, OK). While his entry hasn't been received yet, the 2001 ASCS National champion will make his presence known and could surprise.
#55 - Clint Garner (Sioux Falls, SD). After a grinding crash in ASCS action at Tunica several weeks ago, Garner has been absent from action the past two weekends. If the team makes the trip, Garner can contend.
#86 - Eric Schrock (Columbia, MO). Schrock showed flashes in last year's STN and picked up seven feature wins this season along with the Winged Outlaw Warriors title. He's stepping up in competition here but merits watching.
#91 - Darren Stewart (Bixby, OK). What started as a dream season with a half dozen feature victories and sitting atop ASCS National points for much of the season, degenerated into something more reminiscent of a nightmare over the past three months. The end results are still impressive though, with a fourth place finish in ASCS points, tops amongst ASCS Rookie contenders. Big things can be expected in the future for the younger of the Stewart siblings.
#91x - Don Droud, Jr. (Lincoln, NE). Car owner Bobby Sparks doubles his chances by teaming Droud with Darren Stewart. Droud is best known for his high-speed exploits on the bigger tracks, so how he will fare on the tight confines of I-30's oval remains to be seen. Droud comes off a strong third place run in the Devil's Bowl Winter Nationals, but aside from the fact that both tracks are unpaved ovals, there is little other resemblance between the Bowl and I-30.
A number of other drivers carry some credentials into the Short Track Nationals and could garner some attention.
A female ARCA driver that hasn't run a Sprint Car this year fits right into the Wildcard category. Christi Passmore has been known to turn some quick laps in a Sprint Car in the past and plans to this weekend. Jamie Passmore has been a top-runner in OCRS two-barrel sprint action and hopes to parlay it into injected success.
Several ASCS shoes look for big things, including Cody Branchcomb and Toby Brown, who finished fifth and sixth, respectively, on the rugged ASCS National Tour. Amarillo's Derek Drown scored his first career ASCS victory in Sooner Region competition and finished third in ASCS Sooner Region points. Nick Smith bounced back and forth between National and Sooner Region competition, scoring a Sooner Region win at Lawton in July.
Liberal, KS, shoe Jason Martin, who scored a Rocky Mountain Region victory and ranked among the top twenty in selected ASCS National action, looks to finish the season in strong fashion. Greg Rilat, who finished a close second in ASCS Gulf South Region points, will do more than just watch son Travis in STN competition.
Occasional ASCS competitor Claud Estes racked up two wins each at Cowtown Speedway and Heart 'O Texas Speedway.
A.G. Rains leads a contingent of tough Memphis-area drivers into Little Rock, not the least of which is Riverside (West Memphis, AR) Speedway track champion Marshall Skinner. Other top Memphis-area shoes include MMP points runner-up Paul Sides, D.J. Masner, Ernie Ainsworth and Raymond Stull (both of whom scored two Riverside wins this season), Garry Bell and son Brian, Henry Gustavus, Jr., Bryce Vowan, and Wade Oliver.
Several Northern drivers could play a role, including perennial Tulsa Shootout Quad star Gregg Bakker of Sioux Falls, SD, and Larry Ball, Jr., from Knoxville.
Teenager Justin Sturch of Benton, AR, finished second in I-30 Speedway points and posted several strong runs in ASCS National competition. A spot in Saturday night's feature starting grid isn't out of the question. Fellow Benton, AR, teen Zach Pringle is another that could have a future in Sprint Car racing.
On the topic of young drivers, Mississippi's Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., may be the nation's top "pure" rookie. Having just turned 16 earlier this month, Stenhouse has already posted his first 360-ci Sprint Car feature victory, claiming a checkered flag at the always-competitive Riverside Speedway along with several other top-fives in the rugged Memphis competition.
Dusty Zomer, an 18-year-old rookie from South Dakota, posted three wins up north this season. Zomer acquitted himself quite well this past weekend as he won a B Feature in Saturday night's Devil's Bowl Speedway Winter Nationals. If repairs to the powerplant can be made after scratching from the Winter Nationals main event, it will be interesting to see how Zomer fares.
>From El Paso, TX, John Carney II bears the torch for the El Paso/Las Cruces area. A big step up in competition though.
And Goddard, KS, shoe J.D. Johnson represents the NCRA 360 Sprints after finishing fourth in points.
And with all those names bandied about, it is inevitable that some others will step forward and grab some of the attention in this weekend's much-anticipated 16th Annual Short Track Nationals, where almost anything can happen and usually does.