By T.J. Buffenbarger
This is unofficially the 136th story to appear on TJ Slideways.com about Gas City I-69 Speedway that uses the phrase “Just when you think it can’t get any better, it somehow does”.
Friday night featured an awesome track conditions with a smooth and tacky surface, a great car count, the underlying race within a race for the 2002 track championship, and a great charge from 21st to the lead and back to third by Brandon Petty.
Simply stated Friday night’s feature at Gas City may have been the best feature we have seen in 2002.
From the start when Bart Grider jumped to the inside of the track to race to race Bill Rose and A.J. Anderson into the first corner, the race took on a feel that something interesting was going to happen. Grider, one of the most popular low buck racers at Gas City, held off some of the top non-wing racers in the entire State of Indiana for several laps. With Rose, Anderson, Elliott, Wolfe, and Burthay nipping at his heals, Grider held firm for the first portion of the feature.
By lap six though Wolfe was uncharacteristically using the bottom to real in the Grider. With one little slip in turn four by the Bartman Wolfe was gone. Look for Grider to win a feature at Gas City soon though. He’s an excellent qualifier and really deserves to have someone put his or her name on that car for more financial help in 2003.
Wolfe ran off into the lead, but was racing a different sort of race. Earlier in the night Wolfe had secured a transfer spot in the heat race driving his normal hammer down style where winning is the only option. Then coming to the checkered flag Wolfe bicycled and stalled the car, forcing him to the B-Main that would make for a good A-Main at any racetrack.
This time though Wolfe was out front in the feature, and he was running a very patent race on the bottom. Wolfe proclaimed that he was racing for the championship, and if the young Burthay were going to beat him it would have to be on the top of the racetrack.
Wolfe had typical two and three wide action for the second through fifth position. Everyone’s eyes there were glued to another kid from Alexandria, Indiana. Brandon Petty had brought his spurs to the racetrack tonight.
Petty was driving with reckless abandon around the top of the racetrack. Petty had missed the transfer through the B-Main after driving clear off the racetrack, but was added to the feature as a promoter’s option. With nothing to lose, Petty took the Kokomo Honda special up to the top shelf and found a groove that nobody else was touching. When the caution flag came out while working lap 10 Petty was running in the seventh position. The crowd was buzzing because there was a sense of what was to come during the restart.
Petty did not disappoint the expectations. While everyone else drove to the bottom of the track, Petty went right up to the top. The car would literally leap into the air in turn three as Brandon threw his car into the corner. Lap after lap Petty moved up to fifth, fourth, third, and then on lap 16 took the lead as the crowd went wild.
Most of the time one would figure that if someone came all the way from 21st to the lead that the race would be over. Wolfe and Elliott had other ideas.
Wolfe and Elliott hung with Petty. The track offered two and three wide racing for the lead right up to the finish. When the white flag flew nobody had a clue which young man would win. Throw in lapped traffic to the mix, which is a rarity in a Gas City feature, and this was going to be a finish for the ages.
Wolfe wanted to win the race, but on this night chose the championship. Wolfe followed the lapped car into the corner, Elliott went middle, Petty went WAY upstairs, and by the time they came off turn four Elliott had once again was sitting in victory lane.
Unlike most weeks though where only the winner sits in Gas City’s victory lane, a trio of drivers celebrated different things. Elliott had won another feature event, Wolfe stopped to celebrate his track championship, and Petty was brought over for a curtain call by the fans for his rousing performance.
After the feature Burthay came over to congratulate Wolfe. They hugged and shared the story about the race. 18-year-old Burthay is one of the up and coming stars in Indiana, and showed incredible maturity and sportsmanship. Sometimes a driver has to lose a championship before he wins one, and I believe Burthay is going to get his championship down the road.
The phrase “Just when you think it can’t get any better…” is not even muttered after feature events here now. It’s a mute point because we’re always proven wrong. The 2002 final points night at Gas City though will be hardly forgotten anytime soon.
Notes & Quotes
- Neal Cowan from Hoosier tire was on hand with some new right and left rear tires. Among the drivers using the new Hoosier was Wolfe, Elliott, Rose, and Kevin Thomas. The tires are supposed to not only help performance, but also help the dust problems that have been talked about at Gas City due to the hot tires.
“We are doing great with the World of Outlaws, but this (non-wing racing) is still very important to us” said Cowan. “Even though we are running well we are not letting up”.
- Michael Burthay opened main eyes during his rookie season and ditched the sophomore jinx by challenging for the track championship. Burthay is an 18-year-old college student at Vincennes University majoring in Tool and Dye. The strong season came down to the last night, and the setup came up short.
“We were just off tonight. I tired high, tried low, and just could not move up”, said Burthay. “I’ll be back next year”.
- Brandon Petty put on the same American Racer MC2 tire that he won the feature with the week before. Petty had hooked up with Lynn Reid earlier in the week, and Lynn could not even attend the race. Also missing was Ron Zeismer, who helps Petty on his own team, because of being away on business. The Reid/Petty team will race at Kokomo on Saturday and will take on the USAC 4-Crown Nationals.
- Former track champion Mike Mann was back in Kurt Hawkins’ #70 car. Mann is still looking for a ride for 2003. “Weekends for racing, I’m tired of playing golf” Mann exclaimed. “I still do not have a deal, but if you know anyone have them call me!”
- Shane Hollingsworth also has a deal lined up for a new car to do more sprint car racing in 2003. Hollingsworth is also searching for more sponsorship to run their pavement midget more often in 2003. Hollingsworth set quick time on Friday night in the team’s J&J chassis.
- Jon Stanbrough blew up the engine in the Paul Hazen machine in time trials and jumped into Mike Haggermier’s car for the feature as a promoter’s option.
- Tracy Hines will be driving Scott Orr’s second modified at the 4-Crown Nationals at Eldora next weekend. Orr is also taking his modified to the Springfield Mile on Sunday before continuing his dream of winning the modified race at the 4-Crown. Orr will also be driving his sprint car during the event.