Irwindale, CA, Nov. 27 - Michael Lewis, a 24-year old from Noblesville, IN, backed up his 2003 USAC Western States Sprint Car Series championship on Thanksgiving evening with a thrilling 40-lap feature victory in the expanding all paved track ...
Irwindale, CA, Nov. 27 - Michael Lewis, a 24-year old from Noblesville, IN, backed up his 2003 USAC Western States Sprint Car Series championship on Thanksgiving evening with a thrilling 40-lap feature victory in the expanding all paved track series. Almost 5,000 spectators and a live national television audience witnessed his daring passing attempts at the end of the race on the Irwindale Speedway banked half-mile.
Lewis, the second fastest qualifier and fifth starter, drove a new Western Speed Racing/Team ASE Eagle chassis with Wesmar power. He earned $2,500 from the $16,305 purse. The winner, who has tested NASCAR stock car waters with Richard Childress Racing, used the sprint car feature to prep for the 100-lap Midget race that followed.
Aaron Pierce, from Muncie, IN, started fourth in his Sam Pierce Chevrolet Beast/Chevy and sprinted into the lead during the initial lap over pole starter Bobby East and Jason Leffler, in another Western Speed Eagle/Wesmar. Lewis took second position on the sixth lap and closed steadily on leader Pierce, who was making only his second start at Irwindale.
Illinois driver A. J. Fike came from 13th starting spot to pass high-running Lewis on lap 21 on the inside in turn four. Lewis recaptured second with an inside dive in turn three on the 27th lap. Fike went even lower in the fourth corner to retake second on lap 30. Lewis used an outside pass in turn four to drop Fike to third as leader Pierce opened a ten-yard advantage. With four laps remaining Lewis trailed by five yards, but he cut Pierce's lead in half on lap 38. USAC scored Lewis as the lap 39 leader by inches, but Pierce retook the point entering the first turn on the final lap. Lewis made an inside dive at the third turn and he held a slim advantage to the waiting checkered flag. Lewis' official winning margin was 0.149 seconds. Pierce earned $1,500.
Yellow flags interrupted the 26-minute race twice. On lap 17 a spin by 17-year old Michael Trimble, the fourth fastest qualifier in a 39-car field, caused a caution. Brad Bumgarner ground to a halt against the fourth turn wall on lap 20 as his RF wheel rolled to the third mile first turn wall. He was uninjured.
Fike, 22, held on for third place, worth $1,200, in his RFMS Racing Beast/Foxco. He was 0.905 seconds behind the winner. Tom Hessert, a 17-year old from Cherry Hill, N.J, came from seventh starting to claim fourth place, 1.963 seconds back, in his Eagle/Stanton Mopar. Leffler was fifth. Rounding out the top ten were Dave Steele, from eighth grid position in the third Western Speed Eagle, Jeff Gardner, from 23rd in his Beast/Chevy, Rick Hendrix, from 15th in his Beast/Shaver, fastest qualifier Tyler Walker, the World of Outlaws sprint car/NASCAR Craftsman Truck racer, from sixth in a Beast with Ed Pink power, and Utah driver Jimmy Waters, from 17th, in his Beast.
Twenty-six of the 29 starters finished and 23 drivers were on the lead lap after two and three wide battles for position throughout the race. Brian McClish used a provisional start and raced from 29th to 16th. East, the Tucson, AZ feature winner five days earlier, dropped out on lap 20 with a "tight car". Chris Schmelzle, from Canada, brought out a yellow flag on lap 29 with a blown engine.
The 20 fastest qualifiers in the 39-car field locked into the feature. A 12-lap qualifying race before TV coverage began, went to second-starter Chad Nichols, who led all the way and edged Bud Kaeding by 0.165 seconds. Walker, the 34th driver to qualify in late afternoon time trials, set quick time of 16.727 in the Zarounian Motorsports Beast. He edged Lewis, the 17th driver to qualify, and his lap of 16.748. The one lap track record of 16.378 set by Lewis on October 4, 2003 remains the track standard. Josh Wise threw a rod in Wednesday practice and again in Thursday practice and was the only driver who did not post a qualification lap.
Following the race winner Lewis said, "After the last caution (lap 29) I passed him (Pierce) and he re-passed me. This track is an awesome place. You can race the top or bottom. I ran the top all race and passed him low (for the victory)." Disappointed Pierce told listeners, "We banged wheels at the end. He (Lewis) runs here all year and this was my second time here." Pierce raced Mike Blake's No. 81 sprinter in the 2002 Turkey Night sprint car event.
Lewis won his first USAC W/S Sprint Car Series crown by 180 points over Tony Hunt. The W/S circuit visited nine different tracks in six western states from April to November. W/S Series winners were Lewis (six), Hunt (two), and one each by 2002 NASCAR Winston Cup champion Tony Stewart (at Madera), Shauna Hogg, Tracy Hines, Rick Hendrix, Jim Waters, Jimmy Wysong and Bobby East.