Wheeler Makes it Two-in-a-Row with O'Reilly/NCRA Modified Series Chad Wheeler won his second straight race in the O'Reilly/NCRA Modified Series, presented by Hoosier Racing Tires, with an improbable charge through the field Saturday night at...
Wheeler Makes it Two-in-a-Row with O'Reilly/NCRA Modified Series
Chad Wheeler won his second straight race in the O'Reilly/NCRA Modified Series, presented by Hoosier Racing Tires, with an improbable charge through the field Saturday night at 81 Speedway in Park City, Kan.
After taking the lead for good from two-time defending series champion Brian Franz midway through Friday's A feature at Tulsa Speedway, a fifth-place finish Saturday in his Cherokee Casino and Resort heat race put Wheeler in a deep hole early. He began his run from the pole of the C feature, as he led all 10 laps and transferred to the B. From an 11th-place starting spot in the B, Wheeler finished second and moved into the A feature, starting 16th but finishing in the top spot.
"After all the problems we had in the heat race, I'm just tickled to even make the A," said Wheeler, the 2001 NCRA rookie of the year. "We never quit; we're here until it's over."
While Wheeler was moving through Saturday's A feature field, there was a lot of racing going on in front of him.
Darrick Klima, from Belleville, Kan., started from the pole and stayed low for the lead at turn one with three local drivers right behind him. Conner Ward slid down from the outside of the first row into second; Randy Woodside, who won last year's season opener at 81 Speedway, moved into third from a sixth starting spot; and Greg Stephens remained fourth.
On the first lap, Ward and Stephens moved into first and second, pushing Klima to third. Woodside fell to fourth, with two-time defending series champion Brian Franz in fifth.
Klima moved around Stephens into second on the next lap and slipped down low to take the lead from Ward just past start/finish at the end of lap four. Klima, one of nine drivers running for the 2005 NCRA modified series rookie of the year, moved out to a comfortable lead by lap seven while the others battled for second.
But all was not well up for Darrick as the right front brake line broke on the second lap.
"I was still able to drive the car OK but it was loose with no front brakes," he said. "Having only rear brakes cause the rear end to want to slide up the track going through the turns."
With all of this going on up front, Wheeler was patiently slicing through the field, moving up from 16th to a distant sixth by lap eight. On the tenth lap, Wheeler roared by both Woodside and Stephens into fourth. Although Wheeler was still a long way from the front as Klima, Franz and Ward had checked out from the others, the battle was just beginning to heat up.
Franz was quickly closing on Klima for the lead which set the stage for several laps of side-by-side racing and swapping the point.
Coming off of turn four on lap 13, Franz slide low and crept in front of Klima, but Darrick nudged back in front at the start/finish. Next time around Klima stayed low to cut off the inside line from Franz which slowed up both drivers.
"Without front brakes and a loose car, I had to drive into the corners slower than usual in order to stay in front of Franz," Klima said.
This continued for several laps with Franz low and Klima high. Franz took the lead at the finish of lap 16 but relinquished it to Klima on lap 17. Battling each other up front slowed them down and helped the now third-place Wheeler move into contention.
After having watched Chad in the B, Franz knew he was running well and could be a factor in the A.
"When we saw Chad we knew we were in trouble because we knew where he was coming from (16th starting spot)," Franz said.
Wheeler took the brief lead coming off of turn four on lap 19 before Klima snuck back in front at start/finish, but the handwriting was on the wall.
Two laps later Wheeler went high and Franz low as they sandwiched Klima on the back straight. Chad moved in front for good while Brian settled into second.
"I was so worried about Franz low that Wheeler caught and passed us both on top," Klima said
The Muskogee, Okla., driver held on to the lead the final four laps but not without pressure from Franz. On the last lap the Newton, Kan., pilot looked on the low side coming off turn four but couldn't make a pass and finished second, with Klima third.
Ward was fourth, closely pursued by Stephens and Brian McGowen, who were both making their 19th consecutive NCRA modified series A feature start.
Rounding out the top10 were Woodside, Mike Jarvis, Brian Powers and Todd Myers.
"We had transmission problems and worked on it all day," Wheeler said. "I still can't believe we won tonight; it still hasn't set in yet."
Wheeler has not run a full NCRA season since 2001. As expected, the competition is tougher than it was four years ago.
"Every year you have to upgrade your program to stay competitive," he said. "You've got to keep looking at what you need to do to get better."
After failing to make the A feature in last year's season opener here at 81 Speedway, Franz was pleased with his second straight runner-up finish of this year in his 18th straight A feature race.
"Although we couldn't go forward very well, it was a good race," he said after having his three-race winning streak at 81 Speedway snapped. .
"It's always tough to beat Franz but it's especially tough to do it here, on his home track," Wheeler said of his second straight victory over Franz, who was second Friday at Tulsa.
Another rookie of the year candidate, Jason Friesen, won the D feature and transferred to the A but finished 23rd. Wheeler won the C feature and finished second to Alan Dix, last year's rookie of the year, in the B.
Winners of the Cherokee Casino and Resort heat races were Woodside, Franz, Klima, McGowen, Justin Moler and Ward.
Klima and Ward won the two dashes which put them on the front row of the A feature.
Wheeler plans on running the full 2005 season with the goal of winning the championship. With two wins in two races and a 40-point lead over Franz in the championship race, he's off to a great start.
"They know we're here now," he said.
The O'Reilly/NCRA Modified Series is idle until Memorial Day weekend with a two-night swing of southwest Kansas. They'll be at Dodge City Raceway Park in Dodge City, Kan., on May 28 and at the Fairgrounds Speedway in Liberal, Kan., on May 29.
Cherokee Casino Heat 1 (8 laps): 1. Randy Woodside, Wichita, Kan.; 2. Marc Hurd, Wichita, Kan.; 3. Greg Stephens, Wichita, Kan; 4. Shannon Gilchrist, Derby, Kansas; 5. Travis Govern, Wichita, Kan.; 6. Jason Roe, 7. Marc Robe, Wichita, Kan.; 8. Dena Wilson, Coweta, Okla.; 9. Dustin Briley, Goddard, Kan.
Cherokee Casino Heat 2 (8 laps): 1. Brian Franz, Newton, Kan.; 2. Greg Skaggs, Bixby, Okla; 3. Todd Myers, Newton, Kan.; 4. Mike Chapple, Wichita, Kan.; 6. Troy Johnson, Concordia, Kan.; 7. Shane Gerber; 8. Jason Schniepp, Wichita, Kan.; 9. Joe Cleveland, Bennington, Kan.
Cherokee Casino Heat 3 (8 laps): 1. Darrick Klima, Belleville, Kan.; 2. Clint Smith, Hutchinson, Kan.; 3. Jerry Schniepp, Wichita, Kan.; 4. Brian Powers, Wichita, Kan.; 5. Mark Zorn, Russell, Kan.; 6. Rodney Dodds, Haysville, Kan.; 7. Camron Winter, McPherson, Kan.; 8. Kevin Newell, Wichita, Kan.; 9. Johnny Whitmore, Wichita, Kan.
Cherokee Casino Heat 4 (8 laps): 1. Brian McGowen, Wichita, Kan.; 2. Jim Johnson, Derby, Kan.; 3. Alan Dix, Stockton, Kan.; 4. Loren Dauer, Lindsborg, Kan.; 5. Randy Wilson, Wichita, Kan.; 6. Rick Mueller, Wichita, Kan.; 7. Jim Berends, Hutchinson, Kan; 8. Greg Burt, Enid, Okla.
Cherokee Casino Heat 5 (8 laps): 1. Justin Moler, Wichita, Kan.; 2. Mike Jarvis, Wichita, Kan.; 3. Dave Hardesty, Minneapolis, Kan.; 4. Marty Clark, McPherson, Kan.; 5. Chad Wheeler, Muskogee, Okla.; 6. Scott Green, Derby, Kan; 7. Marlin Farr, Nickerson, Kan.; 8. David Brack, Great Bend, Kan.
Cherokee Casino Heat 6 (8 laps): 1. Conner Ward, Wichita, Kan.; 2. Richard Wilson, Wichita, Kan.; 3. Darren Moses, Valley Center, Kan.; 4. Gary Chambers, El Dorado, Kan.; 5. Ryan Whitworth, Humboldt, Kan.; 6. Jason Friesen, Sutton, Neb.; 7. Brent Burkhart, Hutchinson, Kan.; 8. Shawn Govern, Wichita, Kan.
Dash 1 (5 laps): 1. Klima; 2. McGowen; 3. Franz; 4. Hurd; 5. Randy Wilson; 6. Jarvis; 7. Smith.
Dash 2: (5 laps): 1. Ward; 2. Stephens; 3. Woodside; 4. Moler; 5. J. Johnson; 6. Skaggs; 7. Myers.
D feature (8 laps): 1. Friesen; 2. Burkhart; 3. Farr; 4. Mueller; 5. Cleveland; 6. Gerber; 7. D. Wilson; 8. Winter; 9. Brack; 10. Briley; 11. Jason Schniepp; 12. Newell; 13. Berends; 14. Whitmore.
C feature (10 laps): 1. Wheeler; 2. Clark; 3. Govern; 4. Roe; 5. Green; 6. Friesen; 7. Chapple; 8. Burkhart; 9. Gerber; 10. Farr; 11. Whitworth; 12. Dodds; 13. Cleveland; 14. Brack; 15. D. Wilson; 16. Briley; 17. T. Johnson; 18. Mueller; 19. Winter; 20. Govern.
B feature (15 laps): 1. Dix; 2. Wheeler; 3. Hardesty; 4. Powers; 5. Gilchrist; 6. Jerry Schniepp; 7. Casey; 8. Randy Wilson; 9. Chambers; 10. Friesen; 11. Dauer; 12. Zorn; 13. Burkhart; 14. Clark; 15. Roe; 16. Moses; 17. Gerber; 18. Farr; 19. Chapple; 20. Green.
A feature (25 laps): 1. Wheeler; 2. Franz; 3. Klima; 4. Ward; 5. Stephens; 6. McGowen; 7. Woodside; 8. Jarvis; 9. Powers; 10. Myers; 11. Hurd; 12. Skaggs; 13. Gilchrist; 14. Casey; 15. Randy Wilson; 16. Dix; 17. Hardesty; 18. Richard Wilson; 19. J. Johnson; 20. Moler; 21. Jerry Schniepp; 22. Smith; 23. Friesen; 24. Chambers.