DU QUOIN, Ill. (Dec. 17, 2011)—The start of the indoor season of Midget racing couldn’t have had a more exciting finish as the 2nd annual Battle at the Center took place on Saturday night on the Mini Magic Mile. The POWRI Lucas Oil National Midget Series-sanctioned non-points event saw 51 cars unload for a stout purse and the action was intense for an excellent crowd at the Southern Illinois Center.
Bryan Clauson and Thomas Meseraull swapped the lead multiple times over the final 10 laps in a wheel-to-wheel battle to the checkered flag. Clauson was able to narrowly capture the victory in the 40-lap feature on the 1/5th-mile track with Meseraull finishing second. Chett Gehrke of Broken Arrow, Okla., was third, followed by defending champion Casey Shuman of Rattlesnake Bend, Ariz., and Brad Kuhn of Avon, Ind.
Clauson, of Noblesville, Ind., and 2011 National USAC Driver of the Year, was excited about the victory and the battle with Meseraull to the finish.
“We were able to race wheel-to-wheel without an incident and that was phenomenal. We fell back to third, but we were able to find a passing lane over there in (Turns) One and Two. . .I can’t say enough about these guys behind me,” Clauson said regarding his team members. “They (POWRi) did a phenomenal job with the track, I don’t think I’ve seen this place that racy in a long time.”
Meseraull, though disappointed in finishing one spot short of his goal, was equally excited about the battle for the top spot.
“Once it built a cushion, you can start hauling it up top. Me and Bryan slide jobbing like that, you’d have thought we were at Little Belleville (Ill., Belle-Clair Speedway) with some banging.. What a show. POWRi does a great job,” the San Jose, Calif., pilot remarked on the front stretch following the finish.
The outcome was in doubt until the final lap as Clauson led much of the early stages of the race as the track began to widen out for the competitors. Meseraull, running second ahead of Austin Brown, Gehrke, Cameron Hagen and Tony Roney, had slipped back a bit as the caution flew for Hagen, who had banged the wall in Turn Two.
A promising run for Hagen was derailed with a flat right rear tire caused by the contact.
On the restart, Meseraull made his bid for the lead in the A.J. Felker-owned machine. He threw a solid slider at Clauson in Turn One that nearly stuck and followed with several more over the next couple of laps looking to take over the point. Meseraull got the final slid job to stick as Clauson nearly spun off of turn one and dropped back to third briefly.
The NOS Energy Drink, Curb Records No. 39 wasn’t going to stay there for long as he ratcheted up the attack and slipped back past Brown and on Meseraull’s tail tank for second before Brad Loyet brought out a red flag when his Vacuworx Spike-Esslinger got on its side off Turn Four.
With 10 laps remaining, Clauson made his final push as he and Brown fought for second, wheel-to-wheel ahead of Gehrke as Shuman and Kuhn tried to make up ground.
The final few laps was another war as Meseraull and Clauson battled for the top spot before Clauson was able to make a pass stick and hold on for the final few laps to record the $5,000 payday.
“It feels really good to fall behind and then rally back,” Clauson said. “This place has kind of had my number. This is a place that I haven’t really run well at in the last few years. To come here and run as strong as we did is a really great boost heading into the indoor season with the Chili Bowl and I’m actually going to New Zealand, too. Kind of a great kickoff to the second part of my season. Those guys gave me a great NOS Energy Drink, Curb Records No. 39. It was just a matter of figuring it out. We kind of gave it away there earlier, we were fighting a little bit of a miss. We kind of cleared it up there towards the end of the race. I was able to figure out some things in Turns One and Two that I wanted to be able to make some passes.”
Meseraull praised the car delivered by owner Felker.
“We had a great car. (AJ) Felker builds great cars. This car right here is actually for the Chili Bowl. This car could win the Chili Bowl. We showed it tonight,” Meseraull said. “Felker builds some of the best race cars in the business and he is one of the best for obvious reasons. I’d like to think I put on a good show out there. I was running second and I didn’t have nothing, but I wanted to win so I started throwing sliders and putting on a show for you guys,” Meseraull said. “This place can be kind of boring, but that couldn’t have been boring!”
Meseraull started on the pole alongside Tyler Courtney followed by Olney, Ill. native Levi Jones and Clauson.
Clauson led early on in the main event before a pileup in Turn Three brought out a caution.
On a lap 14 restart, a pileup collected Jones, Courtney and Loyet along with Brett Anderson to shuffle the top-five.
When the feature went green again the duel between Clauson and T-Mez took shape for the remaining 20 laps of the 40-lap feature.
Ryan Blakeman produced one of the best efforts of the feature, making his way up from the 20th starting position to place 14th after he slipped back late. Shuman started ninth and crossed the line in fourth and Tim Siner came forward from a 19th starting spot to place 10th.
POWRi Lucas Oil National Midget Series
2nd Annual Battle at the Center at the Southern Illinois State Fairgrounds
1.Bryan Clauson, 2. Thomas Meseraull, 3. Chett Gehrke, 4. Casey Shuman, 5. Brad Kuhn, 6. Danny Stratton, 7. Brett Anderson, 8. Shane Cockrum, 9. Mike Goodman, 10. Tim Siner, 11. Tony Roney, 12. Austin Brown, 13. David Gough, 14. Ryan Blakeman, 15. Zach Daum, 16. Kyle Neal, 17. Donald McIntosh, 18. Brad Loyet, 19. Levi Jones, 20. Tyler Courtney, 21. Cameron Hagen
(Top-7 advance to feature)
1. Brad Loyet, 2. Tyler Courtney, 3. Brett Anderson, 4. Chett Gehrke, 5. Brad Kuhn, 6. Mike Goodman, 7. Tim Siner, 8. Tyler Thomas, 9. Taylor Ferns, 10. Colten Cottle, 11. Jody Rosenboom, 12. John Campbell, 13. Kara King, 14. Dave Camefield Jr., 15. Ryan Pace, 16. Andrew Felker, 17. Derreck King
1. Bryan Clauson, 2. Levi Jones, 3. Tony Roney, 4. Shane Cockrum, 5. Zach Daum, 6. Danny Stratton, 7. Ryan Blakeman, 8. Tyler Reddick, 9. Glen Styres, 10. Tyler Millwood, 11. Trevor Kobylarz, 12. Hunter Schurenberg, 13. Darren Kingston, 14. Jesse Sobbing, 15. Andee Beirle, 16. Steve Stroud, 17. Daniel Robinson
1. Thomas Meseraull, 2. David Gough, 3. Casey Shuman, 4. Austin Brown, 5. Kyle Neal, 6. Cameron Hagen, 7. Donald McIntosh, 8. Michael J. Koontz, 9. Isaac Chapple, 10. Andy Huston, 11. Tim Lynch, 12. Joey Moughan, 13. Rick King, 14. Chris Morgan, 15. Danny Frye, 16. Danny Smith, 17. Rich Camfield
For more information on POWRi Racing, go to www.POWRi.com.