National Notebook 2003-04-29

ASCS National Notebook (Volume I, No. III) TULSA, Okla. (April 29, 2003) - Weekend number three for the O'Reilly American Sprint Car Series National Tour presented by Love's Travel Stops & Country Stores and United Trailers got off to a rainy ...

ASCS National Notebook (Volume I, No. III)

TULSA, Okla. (April 29, 2003) - Weekend number three for the O'Reilly American Sprint Car Series National Tour presented by Love's Travel Stops & Country Stores and United Trailers got off to a rainy start Friday night at Memphis Motorsports Park, with showers hitting the speedway less than two hours before start time.

The showers abated after about an hour, however, despite great efforts from the track crew, the racing surface was saturated beyond repair on this night and Mother Nature was declared for the winner for the second time in as many weeks.

While clouds hovered about the Memphis area throughout the day on Saturday, rain was nowhere to be found and all systems were go come Saturday night. A strong field of 37 cars greeted what became a packed house at MMP, and the side-by-side, wheel-to-wheel battle for the lead over the first half of the opening heat race between Terry Gray and Ricky Stenhouse proved to be a harbinger of the racing action to come, with each race featuring intense racing for position on a track surface that seemed to benefit from the previous evening's rain.

After 104 laps of Sprint Car racing excitement, including a handful of 10-lap heats, twin 12-lap B Features and the 30-lap finale, the final outcome was determined by the narrowest of margins, as newly relocated Forney, TX, resident Travis Rilat edged 2001 series champion Zach Chappell of Talala, OK, by little more than three inches at the finish line.

Rilat, in his third outing aboard the newly-formed Archer Motorsports/F&J Construction Snyder-powered Eagle, overtook early pace setter Paul Sides on the sixth round, then held off Gary Wright over the race's mid stages. Chappell battled past Wright on a lap fourteen restart, but Rilat was gradually slipping away from the duo until the front mounts on his nose wing gave away on the 20th round.

Chappell and Wright quickly moved in on the leader, with Chappell challenging for the point on the 24th round, then pulling alongside exiting turn two on the 27th circuit, only to have the "Texas Tornado" fend off his challenges. After navigating around Brian Bell's lapped machine as the white flag came out, Chappell charged hard on the high side in an effort to snare the win on the final lap, falling just inches short as the checkered flag flew. All the while, Wright shadowed the pair, seeking the opportunity to dash by the duo. The opportunity never presented itself, and Wright settled for third. Like Chappell, Wright has yet to finish outside the top five through the O'Reilly ASCS National Tour's first three events in 2003.

"I just waited too long to make my move," stated Chappell afterward. "I was being careful with lapped traffic and just waited too long. I made a run for it on the last lap, but just came up a little bit short."

Chappell was once again aboard the family-owned Champco Concrete Construction Carbone-powered Maxim. No definitive word on when, or if, the Penn Racing team will join the tour. Chappell has fared quite nicely though in early season action, holding an eight point lead over Wright and Darren Stewart, who are tied for second, with Rilat just two more points back in fourth.

After winning the opening heat race, four-time ASCS champion Terry Gray was looked upon by many as the betting favorite for the 30-lap main event. Gray started third, slipped back to fifth in the early going, then took over fourth by the midway point. While Gray was running well, he was unable to challenge the top three and settled for fourth.

Current MMP point leader Paul Sides started on the pole and paced the opening five rounds before ultimately settling for a solid fifth place finish. Sides had to fight for the fifth spot as well, as he and Marshall Skinner battled over the final rounds, with Sides edging Skinner at the line for the spot.

After earning Hard Charger honors in the first two events, Rilat was more than happy to trade those honors away for the victory. Stepping up for Hard Charger honors was Darren Stewart, who battled from 13th to claim seventh. Stewart's tough starting slot came as a result of his third place finish in a tough third heat race, in which he chased Rilat and Wright to the line.

Finishing fourth in the same heat and earning the 14th and final transfer position via passing points from the heat races was 2002 Brodix ASCS Rookie of the Year Cody Branchcomb. On the eve of his 17th birthday, Branchcomb began the festivities early, qualifying for his first main event at MMP, then racing to a tenth-place finish, his second straight top-ten in ASCS National Tour competition. Branchcomb had Bubba Hunt, brother of 1993 ASCS National champion John Hunt, helping out with the Wells-powered Eagle over the weekend.

After outdueling Henry Gustavus to win the fifth heat, Ripley, TN, shoe Jeff Buckner drove to a solid eighth place finish in the main event. He finished one spot ahead of Eddie Gallagher, who more often than not reigns supreme at MMP. Gallagher could only muster a ninth place showing on this night.

Dale Howard, who topped A.G. Rains and Gallagher to win the fourth heat, was the main event's first casualty when he got turned around in turn four on the opening lap, collecting Rains in the process. With front-end damage, Howard was forced pitside, while Rains battled from the tail to claim 12th.

Long-time Memphis hotshoe Mike Ward was the only other DNF in the main event, as he slid helplessly to the infield after seven rounds when contact with another car while racing down the frontstretch resulted in severe front-end damage. Ward seemed nonplused by the incident, chalking it up as "Just one of those racing deals, we'll be back."

Ward had qualified for the main event after overtaking young Texan Matt Clevenger for the lead in the first B Main. Clevenger, shooting for ASCS Newcomer of the Year honors, or possibly Rookie of the Year honors, had his mount working well for his first visit to MMP after solving fuel and magneto problems from the previous weekend at Devil's Bowl. Clevenger nipped Toby Brown for third at the line in the fifth heat, then led the opening four rounds of the first B Feature until Ward pulled alongside entering turn three. Clevenger drove it a bit too hard and spun exiting the fourth turn. Clevenger restarted at the tail of the field and regained several positions before running out of laps.

Toby Brown was the third and final transfer in an intense second B Feature, which featured the four cars of Brown, Mike Trent, Bryce Vowan and Ernie Ainsworth battling for the right to compete in the main event. While Trent came away with the victory over Vowan and Brown, Ainsworth was the odd man out when a slight bobble coming off turn four for the white flag proved too much too overcome on the final round.

Trent, from Columbia, MO, was a surprise guest. Trent has opted to venture away from home more this year in search of stiffer competition, with plans on running ASCS events when possible. Trent won the aforementioned B Main, then earned a 14th-place showing in the main event.

Stephen Chevallier of Downsville, LA, was on hand for the weekend as well. Competing for Rookie of the Year honors on the ASCS Gulf South Regional trail, Chevallier has been taking advantage of all opportunities to get additional track time. Chevallier just missed a transfer position in the second B Main, finishing right behind the battling lead quartet at the line.

Jody Roland of Olive Branch, MS, made an aggressive charge from the tail of the first B Main, battling into the third and final transfer position in the final laps. Roland then raced to a 13th-place finish in the main event.

Rick Behr was a shoe-in for the dreaded Hard Luck award for the weekend. After sitting through Friday night's rainout, Behr's machine blew a head gasket in hot laps, forcing the team to load up for the night and get an early start on the long tow back to Houston. Behr and crew hope to have things back in order for this coming weekend.

Wade Oliver was a close second in the Hard Luck category, as his powerplant expired seven laps into his heat race as he was dicing for position with Bryce Vowan. Oliver was a spectator the rest of the evening.

Despite the abundance of wheel-to-wheel racing over the course of the evening, Corey Herring was the only driver to get upside down. Herring flipped in turn one on the opening lap of the first B Feature. Ricky Stenhouse was collected in the incident as well, with both drivers done for the evening.

Next Up: All eyes will be on Gary Wright this Friday night as the O'Reilly ASCS National Tour presented by Love's Travel Stops & Country Stores and United Trailers invades 67 Texarkana (AR) Speedway. Shut out of victory lane through the first three events of the season, Wright will look favorably upon a return to the track near his Hooks, TX, home, as he has reached victory lane in each of the series' past three visits to 67 Speedway. From there, the series moves on to Champion Park Speedway in Haughton, LA. The National troops will be joined by the ASCS Gulf South Region forces for both events as well.

After this Saturday's outing at Lawton Speedway, the ASCS Sooner Region joins forces with the National tour on Friday, May 9, at Oklahoma City's State Fair Speedway. The ASCS then goes topless for the first time in its history the following night, Saturday, May 10, for a Sooner Region shootout at Sapulpa's Creek County Speedway.

More information regarding the American Sprint Car Series is available at www.ascsracing.com.

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About this article
Series Sprint
Drivers Darren Stewart , Cody Branchcomb , Travis Rilat