Monday, April 25, 2011

Lasoski scores inaugural MOWA win between raindrops at 34 Raceway

Chances are, if you were a race fan in the Midwest this past weekend, your racing options were limited. And, while the crew at 34 Raceway was doing everything in its power to prove the old addage, "The show must go on" to be true, it may have been likely that a number of people stayed home anyway, not wanting to chance the elements

Despite a handful of rain delays, the hard work the track crew did in preparing the surface paid off as those in attendance witnessed, well, one hell of a show.

On the card for the night's action was the inaugural event for the Midwest Open Wheel Association (MOWA). While the event was already expecting a strong car count, when the World of Outlaws Sprint show rained out in Oklahoma, those braving the weather to head to 34 Raceway got a little more bang for their buck as WoO regulars Danny Lasoski, Craig Dollansky and Kerry Madsen made the trek north to compete at 34, bringing the 410 Sprint count to 39 for the night.

The fast dash was eliminated from the proceedings due to the numerous delays and possibility of more showers throughout the evening, so the top qualifiers redrew following the heats for their A-main starting positions. Drawing the No. 2 pill was Lasoski, who quickly moved into the lead at the drop of the green.

Dollansky and Madsen, who were also among those in the redraw, stayed close to Lasoski as the leaders entered lapped traffic just the fourth time around the lightning-fast 3/8-mile oval. A couple of laps later, as the leaders made their way down the front straightaway, Dollansky and Madsen made contact as they were battling for position, leaving Dollansky with a broken front end and Madsen making contact with the wall. Caught up in the fracas was Billy Standridge, who made contact with Dollansky's ride as it limped down the front stretch. The red flag stopped action when Standridge's ride got upside down as a result of the contact.

Madsen was able to continue when racing resumed as he returned to pursue Lasoski. Madsen made his bid for the lead on lap 11, but was sidelined one lap later with a flat right rear, presumably from contact with the wall. The second and final caution flag waved due to the lap 12 incident, leaving Lasoski out front with Joey Moughan, Jerrod Hull and Brandon Wimmer fourth. Running fifth at the time was B-Main qualifier and local driver Kaley Gharst, who worked into fifth after starting the event 18th.

On the restart, Lasoski again wasted little time distancing himself from the field, encountering backmarkers once more just a handful of laps later. By the time Lasoski encountered the lapped cars, Gharst made his way past Wimmer and closed in on Hull for third. He cleared Hull two laps later, then methodically ran down Moughan as he split through traffic, making his bid for second with only five laps remaining in the 30-lapper.

Gharst reeled in the pace-setter and mounted a challenge for the lead as the white flag waved. As he worked to pull even with Lasoski, Gharst pushed in turn two allowing Lasoski to drive away to the $2,500 payday. Gharst thrilled the crowd with his second place run ahead of Moughan, Wimmer and Hull.

The IMCA Late Model points season also opened over the weekend as 26 cars signed in to compete on Saturday in that division. For those who are fans of ESPN's SportsCenter, you're probably familiar with their top 10 plays of the day. While ESPN highlights the best moments of the day, it also provides its top 10 worst moments of the week - the "Not Top 10" - in the sports world. The folks from Bristol should have been on-hand for the 25-lap Late Model feature to get some material for that list...

At the start of the 25-lapper, outside front row starter Keith Pratt assumed command, but was heavily pressured by pole-sitter Matt Bailey and Rob Toland. From a third row start, Toland worked his way into the top three after two laps, then made his way around the high side of Bailey for second just two laps later.

Dropping back to the low side of Pratt, who was running the high groove, Toland powered beneath the race leader to take over the top spot on the eighth circuit. From there, it appeared Toland was going to school the field as he quickly pulled away from the pack.

As Toland built his lead to nearly a straightaway margin, Tom Darbyshire made his way past both Bailey and Pratt on the 11th lap, then worked on running down the leader. His efforts were assisted when Toland encountered lapped traffic a short time later. As Darbyshire closed in on Toland's rear bumper, the leader came upon another lapped car as they entered turn one. With Toland a groove off the bottom as he worked the backmarker, Darbyshire took advantage and slid his #42 to the inside, only to see Toland turn left and into his passenger side as the leaders worked through the first set of turns.

Darbyshire held the point as the leaders exited turn two, however Toland made his bid for a "Not Top 10" highlight as the pair motored down the back stretch. The two leaders remained glued together, seemingly literally, as Toland worked the back end of Darbyshire's ride, briefly forcing the new leader to wag the tail of his machine as he entered turn three. In the process, Toland's #39 spun out on the low side of the back stretch to bring out the caution flag.

With Toland in the pits and Darbyshire on the point, the race returned to green as Darbyshire led the remainder of the event to score the opening night win. Dennis Woodworth ran second ahead of Tom Goble, Jason Frankel and Jason Perry.

It was also the first points night of the season for the IMCA Stock Car division and Jeff Mueller took the win for what I believe was his second straight opening night victory at the speedway. Running second, Mueller worked the low side of John Oliver Jr. following a lap five caution to drive to the lead and eventual victory in the 20-lapper. Oliver ran second ahead of Corey Strothman, Matt Greiner and Derek St. Clair in the 24-car field.

You can't say enough about the hard work the crew at 34 Raceway did to get this show in the books. I was at the track on Friday afternoon and was not expecting to be back there for races Saturday night. Persistent and, at times, heavy rains pelted the area throughout the week and into the late Friday hours. The track owners and their team didn't just spend late hours working on the track on Friday night to get it race-ready, but they were there throughout the early morning hours on Saturday. The full pit area and huge crowd in the grandstands were definitely treated to the fruits of their labor. Thank you to Amy, Jeff, Lorrie, Scott, Sue, Tom and all the rest for making Saturday night happen!

Up next for 34 Raceway is the first "regular" night of racing this season on Saturday, April 30, as IMCA Late Models, Modifieds and Stock Cars, along with 305 Sprints and Hobby Stocks will see action. As for me, weather permitting, I'll be behind the mic for the season opener at Independence Motor Speedway on Saturday. Mother Nature, you've had your fun, but the season is here, it's time to go racing!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Ryan earns first Deery Series win during Slocum 50 at 34 Raceway

"I wanted to win this race more than any race anywhere."

When Matt Ryan uttered those words, you just knew the right guy was standing in victory lane.

That was the scene at 34 Raceway on Saturday night after Ryan won the Slocum 50 at 34 Raceway, an event to honor the memory of his good friend and fellow racer Brent Slocum. The race, the third annual in Slocum's honor, was the second race in this year's Deery Brothers Summer Series for IMCA Late Models.

At the start of the 50-lap affair, pole-sitter Dennis Woodworth set the pace with Billy Tuckwell in pursuit. Rob Toland, who started inside of row three, worked the low side and into a challenge for the lead a handful of laps into the event. He pulled even with Woodworth on lap four, then inched ahead one lap later prior to the race's first caution on lap seven.

By the time Toland secured the top spot, Boone McLaughlin, who started outside of Toland, was making noise of his own as he ran the high groove into second just prior to the caution.

On the restart, Woodworth went to work on the low side, making his way past McLaughlin one lap later, then returned the favor on Toland before the next stoppage on lap 11. During that yellow period, Toland suffered a flat tire and was forced pitside. Terry Neal worked his way into the top 10 after a seventh row start before stopping in turns one and two to bring out the yellow.

When racing resumed, Brian Harris and Ray Guss Jr., who started in the sixth and seventh rows, respectively, worked through traffic and into the top four before contact between the two sent Harris to the back of the pack and Guss to the pits with mechanical problems.

Woodworth continued to show the way, however was unable to separate himself from the pack by the time the caution flag waved again on lap 18 when Keith Pratt's machine stopped on the high side of turns one and two. McLaughlin continued to hold the runner-up spot with Ryan pursuing on the restart.

When the green flag waved, Ryan went to work up top and sped past McLaughlin when Mark Burgtorf entered the mix. Burgtorf, who made the feature as a provisional by virtue of hard charger points, settled into the top five just 20 laps in after starting 22nd.

McLaughlin worked his way back around Ryan as he attempted to chase down the leading Woodworth. This left Ryan to do battle with Burgtorf for third as the 7B continued to move forward. By the time the lead pair entered lapped traffic on the 28th circuit, they distanced themselves from Ryan and Burgtorf. McLaughlin, however, pushed high in turn two, which allowed Ryan to move into second, a straightaway behind the leader, when the caution flag waved one final time on lap 31.

On the restart, Ryan worked the low side to make his way past Woodworth for the lead, then pulled away from the pack running the high groove as Woodworth exited to the pits. McLaughlin, meanwhile, mounted one last charge and reeled in Ryan as laps wound down. He pulled onto the rear bumper of Ryan's #07 the final time off turn four, but came up less than a car-length short at the line. Ryan took the win, his first series win in career history, ahead of McLaughlin and Burgtorf. Neal made an impressive run from the back to come home fourth. Tom Darbyshire and Matt Strassheim, who came from 21st and 23rd starting spots, completed the top six.

Justin Parrish took advantage of his pole position start to take the early lead in the 25-lap 305 Sprint feature. Parrish paced the field while Matt Krieger and Bobby Mincer tussled for the runner-up spot. Parrish, Krieger and Mincer were running in that order when the first yellow flag waved on lap 14.

Following rollovers on a pair of subsequent restarts that involved the machines of Krieger, Alan Ambers and Nick Guernsey, Parrish once again held the point while Jayson Dittsworth motored into second after an initial start from the fifth row. At first, Dittworth challenged high, then shot to the low side of Parrish in turn two to take the lead with only two laps remaining. Dittsworth pulled away to score the victory. Parrish, Mincer, Chad Huston and Justin Newberry rounded out the top five.

In what may have been the most entertaining feature of the night, Nick Wilkerson made a late pass on Wayne Noble to take the victory in the 15-lap 4-Cylinder feature. Noble, who started on the pole, held the top spot throughout the event as Wilkerson moved through traffic from a fifth row start. Running the high side, Noble held off both Wilkerson and Darren Smith for much of the event as Wilkerson remained committed one groove lower.

Wilkerson proved to have the preferred line when he swept beneath Noble to take the lead on the final lap, en route to the win by just a couple of feet. Smith ran a close third ahead of Brad Chandler.

It was a great night to kick off  2011 in southeast Iowa. Many race fans throughout the region felt the same way as an estimated 3,100 filled the pit area and grandstands to open the season. My hat's off to Brad Stevens and the rest of the High 5 Racing Team for all the hard work they do every year to make the Slocum event a success. The countless hours they put in to obtain sponsors, get the word out and organize the event really paid off Saturday night.

I also have to give a shout out to Mitch Swinton of the Lil' Racer Car Club. An advocate for the youth movement in racing, you'd swear Mitch is everywhere in southeast Iowa. While he also has crews working at CJ Speedway, West Liberty Raceway, Cedar County Raceway and Hawkeye Downs Speedway, the Lil' Racer Car Club made its debut in Burlington on Saturday night. Although he was short-handed, Mitch was inundated with youngsters and signed up 93 kids for the club at 34 Raceway. It's vital in our sport to get youth involved to ensure that racing continues to be an option for family entertainment and Mitch goes above and beyond to make sure that happens. When you see Mitch at a track this summer, and you're bound to run into him somewhere along the way, please stop by to thank him and his crew for their hard work.

Be sure to visit the Positively Racing home page as a number of our bloggers were on-hand Saturday night. The Deery Series got its third event of the season in the books on Sunday with a visit to Quincy Raceway. Be sure to check out fellow blogger Jeff Broeg's recap on the Back Stretch.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Frostbuster weekend comes to a close during season opener at Benton County Speedway

My first racing venture of the season found me in Vinton at Benton County Speedway for the annual Frostbuster season opener. After stints at Marshalltown and Boone Speedways on Friday and Saturday, the Frostbuster weekend came to an end on the 1/4-mile in Vinton for the track's first event of 2011.

Unsure if my first race of the season was going to happen over the weekend, I wasn't entirely prepared for my trip to Vinton as I made the trek without my pen and notebook. The race recap I report here will be from memory. Yes, that's my disclaimer that, in so many words, means "don't expect much." For what will undoubtedly be a more accurate and detailed review of the night's events, be sure to check out Jeff Broeg's report on the Back Stretch at Positively Racing.

One-hundred four cars filled the pits in the five divisions, 36 of those signing in for competition in the IMCA Modified division. A nice field of Modifieds from all over Iowa, along with a handful of entries from Canada and Dan Ratajczak from Frog Station, Wisconsin, was on-hand to compete for the $1,000 winner's share.

Ratajczak proved to be the man to beat as he led the event for most of the 20 laps to take home the top prize. Ratajczak started outside of row two and quickly made his way into the lead. Running the low groove, Ratajczak held off challenges from Scott Hogan early, then Troy Cordes late to steal the win. Cordes was the lone front-runner who ventured to the high side of the speedway to mount a charge. After briefly taking the top spot in the waning laps, Ratajczak powered beneath him to take command one last time at the checkers.

In other action, Damon Murty took the lead early, then held off a hard-charging Jeff Mueller to score the win in the 15-lap IMCA Stock Car feature. Likewise, Brad Chandler held off Nathan Chandler late in the IMCA Sport Compact main event to post the win in that division. Danny Dvorak slipped beneath Austin Kaplan a few laps into the 15-lap IMCA SportMod feature to drive to victory. In the IMCA Hobby Stock division, defending track champion Scott Pippert powered past leader Brad Forbes midway through that event to drive to the win.

With the first green flag falling shortly after 4 p.m., it was great to see the program conclude at the 7 p.m. hour for a Sunday.

While the racing was great for the first night of the season in Vinton, I'm sure many of the conversations for the coming week will concern the track conditions. Although the track started off in pretty good shape, it got rough as the evening progressed. I heard Baja comments and other jokes as I walked through the pits afterwards. No, it wasn't the best of situations, but I'm certain the track conditions will improve as the season progresses. Mick Trier and his crew put 300-plus yards of new dirt on the track last fall and have been working diligently to get it race-ready.

I realize the rough track took its toll on a few machines tonight. While it wasn't desired, nor was it expected by anyone involved, it was the first night aside from practice that cars saw action on the track. Before the message board posters wring their hands deciding how to attack the track for the surface tonight, I hope everyone thinks twice before jumping the gun. Remember to be positive and support the sport. Throwing dirt online has only a negative impact on dirt track racing.

Next up for me is the annual Slocum 50 next Saturday, April 9, at 34 Raceway in Burlington, the second stop on this year's Deery Brothers Summer Series for IMCA Late Models. That will conclude a busy Saturday for me as the annual car show for Independence Motor Speedway is scheduled for the morning hours in downtown Independence prior to the test and tune session that afternoon at the speedway. See you there!