Balzano beats Johnson at West Virginia Motor Speedway 2001-05-11

Mineral Wells, W. Va.- The first race of the 2001 season at West Virginia Motor Speedway saw a 30-lap battle between Davey Johnson and Mike Balzano that was close right down to the checkered flag. After qualifying time-trials and three heat ...

Mineral Wells, W. Va.- The first race of the 2001 season at West Virginia Motor Speedway saw a 30-lap battle between Davey Johnson and Mike Balzano that was close right down to the checkered flag.

After qualifying time-trials and three heat races, Tim Hitt started the Late Model feature on the pole with Davey Johnson next to him. Starting on the second row were local favorites Mike Balzano and Steve Francis.

On the first lap of the race, Johnson shot ahead of the field and secured a comfortable lead. Hitt was in second, but Balzano passed him on lap two. Balzano led the charge as the field slowly closed the gap on Johnson.

When Brian Eaton spun in turn two on lap 9, the ensuing caution negated the lead that Johnson had built. Staying ahead of the field was not so easy on the restart, and Balzano and Hitt kept the pace with Johnson.

Johnson appeared to have the race wrapped up until he got caught behind a lapped car on lap 28. Balzano took the outside line around Johnson and the lapper through turns three and four, just in time to take the white flag.

By the time Balzano came through turn three one lap later, Johnson was challenging the lead that he had held for 28 laps. However, Balzano hung on to take the checkered flag in first place. He was followed by Johnson in second and Hitt in third. Rounding out the top five were Gary Stuhler in fourth and Rick Eckert in fifth.

With their top two finishes tonight, Balzano and Johnson are guaranteed top-ten starting positions in Saturday night's Mountain Dew Mama Classic Late Model feature.

Parkersburg, W. Va., resident Francis was running as high as fourth at one time, but suffered mechanical problems and slowed significantly, falling quickly out of the top ten. He finished in 17th.

The AMRA Modified "Road Warrior" Series had a 20-lap feature to cap off the evening. Pole-sitter Mike Smith built a huge lead early in the race. When the first and only caution flag came out on lap 16, Smith pitted with mechanical problems.

The lead went to Greg Schilling on the restart. He held on for two more laps for the win, followed closely by John Burdette and Mike Wilson.

Before the evening's racing began, Kent Cutright of Parkersburg led the invocation and Ashley Payton of Marietta, Oh., sang the National Anthem.

Gates open at 4:00 pm on Saturday and practice sessions begin at 6:00. The 75-lap Late Model feature will pay $15,000 to win. It will be followed by a Carolina Modifieds race. For event and ticket information, fans can call the speedway at 304-489-1889 or visit the speedway's website at www.wvmotorspeedway.com.

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About this article
Series Stock car
Drivers Rick Eckert , Steve Francis , Mike Smit