The 2014 season got underway Saturday night at Independence Motor Speedway. One defending track champion started his title defense in victory lane, while the winningest driver in his division a year ago returned to the winner's circle. Three drivers earned their first career Independence victories.
Defending IMCA Hobby Stock track champion Benji Irvine started Saturday's 15-lapper in row three, but quickly found himself on the rear bumper of leader Marcus Wayne. Irvine chased Wayne until he made his bid for the lead on lap five. From that point, Irvine never looked back as he went on to score the win.
Irvine has now won six times in weekly racing history in the Hobby Stock division in Independence, placing him in a tie with Chris Schares, Steve Holthaus, Tim Bartholomew and Todd Temeyer for 15th on the all-time list.
Irvine's second career win during the month of April at the speedway, it was his second straight opening night win in Independence. Only the third driver in the division to win multiple season opening features, Irvine is the first in 18 years to win consecutive season openers in the Hobby Stocks. He has now won at least one feature in each of the last three seasons. (More opening night stats follow at the end of this entry.)
Ronn Lauritzen topped the IMCA Modified division with five feature wins in Independence a year ago. While his first win last season didn't come until late June, he got a much earlier start this year by taking home top honors Saturday night.
Lauritzen swept past fellow front row starter Vern Jackson at the drop of the green and pulled away from the pack until a late caution bunched the field. He held off pressure from Scott Hogan on the restart to secure the victory, his first-ever on opening night at the speedway.
In 32 years of Modified racing in Independence, Lauritzen became just the fifth to win the season opener after winning on season championship night the year before. Previous Modified drivers to do that include Steve Droste (1994-1995), Scott Hogan (2003-2004), Vern Jackson (2007-2008) and Darin Duffy (2012-2013).
Lauritzen’s win Saturday was the first of his career in the month of April in Independence. In fact, prior to the win, the earliest in a season he had ever won a feature in Independence was June 2 (in 2012).
His nine career Modified wins in weekly racing history in Independence tie Lauritzen for 11th on the all-time list with J.D. Auringer and Timm Jensen. He has now won at least one feature in each of the last four seasons.
Troy Hovey started on the pole of the IMCA Stock Car feature, then held off pressure from Blake Cole, Norman Chesmore and Jarod Weepie to earn his first win in Independence. He led the 18-lapper in its entirety to score the milestone win.
With his victory, Hovey became the 45th different Stock Car winner in weekly racing history at the speedway. He joined Lon Gadow, Dan Trimble, Larry Portis, Fabian Seitz and Brian Irvine as the only Stock Car drivers in track history to get their first Independence victories on opening night.
Shawn Ritter won the 15-lap IMCA Northern SportMod feature. From the pole, Ritter assumed command at the drop of the green and was never seriously challenged on the way to his first Independence victory.
Ritter became the 25th different SportMod winner in weekly racing history at the speedway and the third driver in division history to earn his first Independence victory on opening night. Josh Sherbon and Austin Lucas were the other two to accomplish that feat.
Joel Callahan dominated the 25-lap IMCA Late Model feature to earn his first career Independence victory. Despite seeing his straightaway lead disappear at the hands of a late caution, Callahan pulled away on a lap 21 restart to take the win.
Callahan became the 99th different Late Model winner in weekly racing at the track since the start of the 1967 season (a couple years after the track opened). He is just the ninth Late Model driver in that time frame to earn his first Independence victory on opening night, joining Glen Martin, Bill Barthelmes, Dave Trower, Tom Fitzpatrick, Gary Henderson, Curt Martin, Rob Toland and Travis Smock on that list.
While it may seem odd that first-time winners grace victory lane during a season opening program, it really isn’t all that uncommon. There has been at least one first time winner in 13 of the last 20 season opening programs in Independence – and that accounts only for the five divisions that compete today. The Late Models, Modifieds, Stock Cars, SportMods and Hobby Stocks have had a combined 88 features during season opening programs in the last 20 years and there were 21 first-time winners in those events.
While first-time winners are pretty common right out of the gate, having three of them on the same night is a bit of a rarity. In fact, this year and 2010 are the only seasons in the last 20 years to produce three first-time winners on opening night. Independence has never had four first-time winners during a season opening program.
Although it was great to get the weekly battles underway Saturday night, the conditions were less than ideal. To be honest, they were miserable. While the temperature hovered around the 50 degree mark, it was the strong winds out of the east that made it uncomfortable.
I know I mentioned it often at the track Saturday night, but we were very grateful to have such a fantastic turnout in both the grandstand and pit area for our opener. We have a terrific fan base at Independence Motor Speedway and its dedication was very evident tonight. On behalf of S&B Promotions, your commitment to area racing is greatly appreciated.
While the season opener is behind us, here’s one last look back at how this year’s opening night winners compare historically at the speedway. I mentioned all of the names below during the course of the program, but in case you missed any of them, here is a breakdown of past opening night winners. Years in pink text indicate the seasons that the opening night feature winner went on to win the track championship.
14 – Curt Martin (1984, 1985, 1986, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1994, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2006, 2007, 2012);
4 – Ed Sanger (1971, 1974, 1978, 1981);
3 – Glen Martin (1967, 1973, 1975); Bill Barthelmes (1969, 1970, 1976); Rick Wendling (1982, 1995, 1996);
2 – Gary Crawford (1987, 2003); Greg Hunter (1993, 1997); Greg Kastli (2001, 2005); Tyler Bruening (2011, 2013);
1 – Red Droste (1968); Chub Liebe (1972); Dave Trower (1977); Tom Fitzpatrick (1979); Doc Mayner (1980); Gary Henderson (1983); Jeff Aikey (1988); Red Dralle (1989); Dean Wagner (2004); Darren Ackerman (2008); Rob Toland (2009); Travis Smock (2010); Joel Callahan (2014).
There have been 29 different opening night Modified winners in 32 seasons. Unbelievable. To take it a step further, there have been 81 different Modified winners all-time in Independence. The 29 names below account for 292 wins out of 460 all-time Modified features in weekly racing history at the speedway.
3 – Vern Jackson (2001, 2003, 2008);
2 – Steve Droste (1995, 1996);
1 – Jack Mitchell (1983); Mike Krall (1984); Tom Fitzpatrick (1985); Greg Kastli (1986); Todd Jensen (1987); Craig Haupt (1988); Kevin Pittman (1989); John Irwin (1990); Larry Schmidt (1991); Deon Turner (1992); Tim Donlinger (1993); Duane Van Deest (1994); Travis Heyer (1997); Jerry Luloff (1998); Garry Stuber (1999); Troy Cordes (2000); Jerry King (2002); Scott Hogan (2004); Joey Schaefer (2005); Jason Snyder (2006); J.D. Auringer (2007); Max Corporon (2009); Richie Gustin (2010); Mike Burbridge (2011); Mark Schulte (2012); Darin Duffy (2013); Ronn Lauritzen (2014).
There have been seven straight different opening night winners in the Stock Car division.
5 – Dan Trimble (1994, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2006);
3 – Brian Irvine (2005, 2007, 2009);
2 – Larry Portis (1995, 1996); Tom Schmitt (2003, 2004);
1 – Lon Gadow (1993); Ken Irvine (1997); Jarod Weepie (2001); Fabian Seitz (2002); Norman Chesmore (2008); Justin Temeyer (2010); Sean Johnson (2011); Phil Holtz (2012); John Emerson (2013); Troy Hovey (2014).
There have been 23 different opening night Hobby Stock winners in 26 seasons. Every driver with multiple opening night wins earned their victories in back-to-back seasons.
2 – Lon Gadow (1990, 1991); Chris Wessner (1995, 1996); Benji Irvine (2013, 2014);
1 – Ken Irvine (1989); Forrest Frost (1992); Rick Johnson (1993); Kevin Hoehne (1994); Jason Rohde (1997); Danny Dvorak (1998); Doug Otto (1999); Jeff Roete (2000); Patrick Stansbery (2001); John Meyer (2002); J.R. Kahler (2003); Brian Irvine (2004); Josh Steere (2005); Rod Grother (2006); Micheal Smith (2007); Chris Luloff (2008); Josh Irvine (2009); August Bach (2010); Scott Pippert (2011); Nathan Ballard (2012).
Although this is only the seventh season for the SportMods in Independence, there have been six straight different opening night winners.
2 – Josh Sherbon (2008, 2009);
1 – Austin Lucas (2010); Tyler Droste (2011); Austin Kaplan (2012); Lucas Lundry (2013); Shawn Ritter (2014).
That will put a wrap on opening night for 2014. With any luck, the powers that be will be wrong about the wet forecast for the week ahead so we can put round two in the books next Saturday.
Before I go, I have to thank all of the readers of In Staging. When I logged on tonight to write this entry, the hit counter on my blog page read exactly 100,000. I am truly humbled by the following this page has established these last few years. Thank you for your continued support!