Story and photo from Lonnie Wheatley,
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (November 7, 2009) – Tony Bruce, Jr., of Liberal, KS, overcame all variety of odds to pocket the hefty $15,000 winner’s share in Saturday night’s 22nd Annual O’Reilly Short Track Nationals presented by Hoosier Tires 40-lap championship finale atop I-30 Speedway’s high-banked, ¼-mile clay oval.
Bruce survived some unpredictable opening laps that had the capacity crowd abuzz, took command on the fifth round and then worked traffic to perfection in the final stages to secure his first Lucas Oil Sprint Car Series presented by K&N Filters triumph of the season.
The driver of the Rider-powered No. 18 Maxim beat Wayne Johnson, Shane Stewart, Travis Rilat and a rallying Sammy Swindell to the stripe to become just the third repeat winner in the history of the prestigious event, joining the elite ranks of four-time STN winner Gary Wright and three-time STN champ Steve Kinser.
Bruce also became just the third back-to-back winner of the Short Track Nationals, a feat previously accomplished only by Kinser in the inaugural two editions two decades ago (1988 and 1989) and most recently by Wright in 2003 and 2004.
“I don’t think anybody picked us to win this thing, they all thought last year was a fluke,” an enthused Bruce commented in victory lane. “We showed ’em though, the No. 18 is for real.”
While the stellar 101-car field of entries from throughout the nation as well as Mexico would have seemingly been enough to deal with, the Bruce team faced another major obstacle after a hot-lapping incident set them into scramble mode.
“It tore out the entire rear end, driveline, you name it,” Bruce commented of the pre-race hot lap troubles. “My guys did a great job just getting everything back to together and the car was still great after that, I just had to drive the wheels off of it.”
Which is exactly what Bruce did after a fifth-place finish in the Odus Pack Building Materials Dash for Cash landed him inside the third row of the $78,950 feature event that included a minimum of $2,200 for each of the 22 starters.
Sammy Swindell earned the pole position for the main event by winning that Dash, with Oklahoma’s Danny Wood running second to earn the front row starting position. Along with those one-two Dash finishes came the opportunity to take the COMP Cams Gambler’s Challenge that would result in a starting position of fourth, sixth, eighth or tenth depending upon the card drawn, which would have upped the winner’s share to $20,000 upon acceptance.
Swindell wasted little time offering up a response of “No”, preferring to keep the pole starting position although he would soon be faced with an even bigger, unanticipated challenge. Given the same offer, Wood kidded, “Should I take the challenge or keep my job, I think I’ll keep my job,” in reference to Wayne Johnson’s acceptance of the Challenge last year and subsequent dismissal.
As the green flag flew on the feature field with Swindell and Wood leading the way, the veteran duo battled through the opening circuit with Wood edging into the lead upon the completion of the first round.
After a Tommy Worley, Jr., spin in turn four after two laps, Sammy Swindell battled into the top position on the third round before another caution flew when fourth-starter Tim Crawley biked it and bounced to a stop in turn four.
Among the pre-race favorites, Crawley was towed to the pit area with apparent race-ending front-end damage.
But, as the field paced under the caution laps, Swindell’s left rear tire began losing air pressure. And, when action resumed, Swindell struggled in turns one and two with Wood pouncing into the lead on the low side as Swindell wrestled his machine. The ensuing chaos sent 2006 event winner Jason Johnson tumbling off the turn two embankment as he tried to navigate around the jumbled cars of Swindell, Wayne Johnson and Tony Bruce, Jr.
While Swindell made a quick trip to the work area to reinflate the left rear tire and remove the faulty bleeder that could have cost him the $15,000 winner’s share before rejoining the fray, Crawley was able to rejoin the action as well.
Wood found himself out front again after all the early dramatics in front of 1997 STN king Wayne Johnson and Bruce. Wood wasn’t there for long though, as Bruce needed little more than a lap to charge by both Sooner State reps on the high side for the lead.
After a Ricky Logan spin in turn four with five rounds in the record books, Bruce and Wood battled for the point over the next several laps as eighth-starter Shane Stewart soon battled into third only to lose several positions when he did a quick 360-degree spin in turn two after trying to squeeze underneath Wood.
Another four laps later, the red lights flickered when Paul McMahan launched off of turn two in wild fashion after contact with Jonathan Allard. McMahan endo’d over the retaining fence off the backstretch and landed against the nose of Wayne Johnson’s tow rig, walking away uninjured.
The frenzied opening 15 circuits were followed by 25 non-stop green flag laps. Bruce held off Wood on the lap 16 restart, with Wayne Johnson, ninth-starter Travis Rilat and a resurgent Stewart moving past Wood by the 20th round as Swindell sliced through the field, even bouncing off brother Jeff at one point along the way in turn two.
Into traffic by the 22nd circuit, Bruce was flawless over the final rounds, never allowing Johnson the opportunity to close the narrow gap and mount a serious challenge.
Bruce took the checkered flag a half dozen car-lengths ahead of Johnson’s Fisher-powered Fattfro Motorsports No. 14aj Maxim mount, with current Lucas Oil Sprint Car points leader Stewart battling back into the show position aboard Paul Silva’s Wesmar-powered ProBilt Construction No. 57 A.R.T. in the final circuits.
Rilat crossed the stripe fourth in the Shark-powered F&J Construction No. 29 Triple-X, with Swindell rallying from the tail of the field to round out the top five in the Parker-powered Tom Rolfe Trucking No. 10.
Allard earned STN Rookie of the Year honors by racing from 13th to sixth in the Bobby Sparks No. 91 Eagle, with Wood slipping to seventh in the H&H Enterprises No. 94 over the final half of the race.
After losing an engine on his qualifying night, Jesse Hockett charged from 20th to eighth in the Tom Buch/VKCC Motorsports No. 13 JEI, with fellow Show-Me Stater Jerrod Hull in ninth. Making his first STN appearance since 1989, Indiana’s Danny Smith completed the top ten aboard one of two Doc Sloan entries.
Four drivers made their first career STN championship feature start including event rookies Allard and Donnie Ray Crawford (15th) along with Nebraska’s Jack Dover (16th) and Mexico’s Don Grable, whose number was drawn among the non-qualifiers for the 22nd starting position. Grable was credited with a 21st place finish after an early exit followed a lap three spin.
Marshall Skinner battled amongst the top five much of the way before clipping an infield tire in the closing laps and pulling to the infield.
After battling from deep in the field after heat race action to earn an eleventh place finish on his qualifying night, Derek Hagar was awarded the Shed Road Auto Parts Josh Howard Determination Award.
A 14th-place finisher in his first STN championship feature start since 1999, Ricky Logan’s number was drawn to receive a lightened Dart engine block from Wells Racing Engines, an award worth approximately $4,000.
After 17 top-ten finishes in 17 previous STN championship feature events, four-time event winner Gary Wright missed the cut for the main event. “The Texan” was the only driver ranked among the current top ten in Lucas Oil Sprint Car Series presented by K&N Filters points to not make it into Saturday night’s main event.
With the top three finishers from both the Thursday and Friday night preliminary feature events locked into Saturday night’s main event, 92 drivers returned to battle for the remaining positions through a series of ten heat races and eight qualifying races. Double passing points were added to preliminary night point totals with the top six in total points earning positions 7-12 in the main event (McMahan, Stewart, Rilat, Skinner, Crawford and D. Smith) and the balance lined up in eight Last Chance Qualifying Races with the winners advancing to the finale.
Lane Whittington, Gary Taylor, Kevin Ramey, Donovan Peterson, McMahan, Ray Allen Kulhanek, Matt Covington, Hagar, Stewart and Jeff Swindell won Saturday night’s heat races, with Claud Estes, Brandon Moseley, Mark Shirshekan and Kaley Gharst all getting upside down without injury.
Jeff Swindell, Tommy Worley, Jr., Allard, Hull, Logan, Hockett, Dover and A.G. Rains all won Qualifying Races to advance to the main event.
The first Qualifying Race got off to a brutal start with at least two cars tumbling down the frontstretch in a melee that eliminated Anthony Nicholson, Garry Bell and Lewis Jenkins, Jr. Clipped in the right shoulder by part of another car, Jenkins had to be cut out of his car and transported to a local hospital where he underwent successful surgery for a damaged deltoid muscle.
With 18 states and Mexico represented among this year’s 101-car field, more than $107,000 in cash was paid out over the course of the 22nd Annual O’Reilly Short Track Nationals presented by Hoosier Tires.
22nd Annual O’Reilly Short Track Nationals presented by Hoosier Tires Championship Finale Results:
Locked in from Preliminary Features: 14aj-Wayne Johnson, 41-Jason Johnson, 10s-Sammy Swindell, 88T-Tim Crawley, 18-Tony Bruce, Jr., 94-Danny Wood.
Heat Races – Double Passing/Finishing Points (Top Six in Combined Points from Qualifying Night and Saturday Night Heat Race Transfer to Positions 7-12 of “A” Main; Balance Lined Straight Up According to Point Totals in 8 Last Chance Qualifying Races):
First Heat (10 Laps): 1. 9w-Lane Whittington, 2. 27-Andy Shouse, 3. 28-Jonathan Cornell, 4. 91a-Jonathan Allard, 5. 87a-Andrew Marshala, 6. 7s-Paul Sides, 7. 88b-Mike Boston, 8. 8m-Mike Wells, 9. 5k-Jerry Kamer, 10. 19-Jay Adams.
Second Heat (10 Laps): 1. 61a-Gary Taylor, 2. 32-Garry Bell, 3. 13-Jesse Hockett, 4. 1m-Sean McClelland, 5. 87r-Aaron Reutzel, 6. 7L-Darren Long, 7. 16p-Dewayne Prince, 8. w20-Greg Wilson, 9. 9x-Gary Wright, 10. 87x-Billy Melton.
Third Heat (10 Laps): 1. 7m-Kevin Ramey, 2. 1g-Cody Gardner, 3. 3a-A.G. Rains, 4. 10a-Ricky Logan, 5. 29r-Travis Rilat, 6. 5L-Eric Lutz, 7. 16n-Anthony Nicholson, 8. 4-Eric Baldaccini, 9. 1jm-Jim Moughan.
Fourth Heat (10 Laps): 1. 11xs-Donovan Peterson, 2. 03-Joe Wood, Jr., 3. 1xp-Chad Pitts, 4. 86-Josh Fisher, 5. 8xx-Don Grable, 6. 31-Brandon Berryman, 7. 91m-Marty Stanford, 8. 87b-Kent Buckley, 9. 74e-Claud Estes.
Fifth Heat (10 Laps): 1. 3d-Paul McMahan, 2. 40a-Ernie Ainsworth, 3. 14T-Tyler Brown, 4. 39-Brad Bowden, 5. 8s-Steve Short, 6. 71-Channin Tankersley, 7. 29h-Lyle Howey III, 8. 17g-Bruce Griffith, Jr., 9. 165-Haley Arnold.
Sixth Heat (10 Laps): 1. 17c-Ray Allen Kulhanek, 2. 75-Don Young, 3. 87m-Brian McClelland, 4. 55-Donnie Ray Crawford, 5. 74c-Brandon Corn, 6. 11c-Chad Corken, 7. 2a-Randy Hibbs, 8. 11m-Brandon Moseley. DNS: 77-Kyle Larson.
Seventh Heat (10 Laps): 1. 95-Matt Covington, 2. 99-Brady Bacon, 3. 26m-Marshall Skinner, 4. 12h-Jerrod Hull, 5. 93-Dustin Morgan, 6. 4x-Jan Howard, 7. 23-Seth Bergman, 8. 40r-Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., 9. 10h-Josh Higday.
Eighth Heat (10 Laps): 1. 9jr-Derek Hagar, 2. d12-Danny Smith, 3. 8x-Chris Williams, 4. 21T-Tommy Bryant, 5. 58-Wade Oliver, 6. 97-Aaron Berryhill, 7. 12d-Dalton Davis, 8. 40j-Junior Jenkins, 9. 1r-Scott Reneau.
Ninth Heat (10 Laps): 1. 57-Shane Stewart, 2. 51s-Lee Sowell, 3. 88k-J. Kinder, 4. 16a-Koty Adams, 5. 2d-Dusty Ballenger, 6. 9s-Justin Sturch, 7. 8z-Zach Pringle, 8. 17b-Ryan Bickett, 9. 3x-Mark Shirshekan.
Tenth Heat (10 Laps): 1. 12s-Jeff Swindell, 2. 53-Jack Dover, 3. 7h-Lewis Jenkins, Jr., 4. 2w-Kenneth Walker, 5. a12-Tommy Worley, Jr., 6. 20-Kyle Sager, 7. 6s-Kaley Gharst, 8. 72-Sherman Davis, 9. 14k-Kyle Bellm.
Odus Pack Building Materials Dash for Cash – Finishing Order Determines Front Three Rows of “A” Feature:
Pack’s Dash for Cash (6 Laps – Starting position in parentheses): 1. 10s-Sammy Swindell (1) [$500], 2. 94-Danny Wood (2) [$250], 3. 14aj-Wayne Johnson (4) [$200], 4. 88T-Tim Crawley (3) [$150], 5. 18-Tony Bruce, Jr. (5) [$125], 6. 41-Jason Johnson (6) [$100].
Last Chance Qualifying Races – Winner from Each Last Chance Qualifier Advances to “A” Main, Lined Up by Total Points from Qualifying Night and Saturday Night Heat Race:
First Qualifier (10 Laps): 1. 12s-Jeff Swindell, 2. 61a-Gary Taylor, 3. 95-Matt Covington, 4. 39-Brad Bowden, 5. 31-Brandon Berryman, 6. 11m-Brandon Moseley, 7. 16n-Anthony Nicholson, 8. 32-Garry Bell, 9. 7h-Lewis Jenkins, Jr. DNS: 8m-Mike Wells, 2a-Randy Hibbs.
Second Qualifier (10 Laps): 1. a12-Tommy Worley, Jr., 2. 17c-Ray Allen Kulhanek, 3. 14T-Tyler Brown, 4. 4-Eric Baldaccini, 5. 9s-Justin Sturch, 6. 8z-Zach Pringle, 7. 5L-Eric Lutz, 8. 7L-Darren Long, 9. 1xp-Chad Pitts, 10. 165-Haley Arnold. DNS: 14k-Kyle Bellm.
Third Qualifier (10 Laps): 1. 91a-Jonathan Allard, 2. 86-Josh Fisher, 3. 40r-Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., 4. 93-Dustin Morgan, 5. 58-Wade Oliver, 6. 20-Kyle Sager, 7. 11c-Chad Corken, 8. 74c-Brandon Corn, 9. 91m-Marty Stanford, 10. 40j-Junior Jenkins, 11. 19-Jay Adams.
Fourth Qualifier (10 Laps): 1. 12h-Jerrod Hull, 2. 1g-Cody Gardner, 3. 7m-Kevin Ramey, 4. 2d-Dusty Ballenger, 5. 8s-Steve Short, 6. 97-Aaron Berryhill, 7. 51s-Lee Sowell, 8. 87a-Andrew Marshala, 9. 17g-Bruce Griffith, Jr., 10. 5k-Jerry Kamer. DNS: 88b-Mike Boston.
Fifth Qualifier (10 Laps): 1. 10a-Ricky Logan, 2. 9jr-Derek Hagar, 3. w20-Greg Wilson, 4. 71-Channin Tankersley, 5. 28-Jonahan Cornell, 6. 16p-Dewayne Prince, 7. 8x-Chris Williams, 8. 12d-Dalton Davis, 9. 1r-Scott Reneau, 10. 27-Andy Shouse. DNS: 87b-Kent Buckley.
Sixth Qualifier (10 Laps): 1. 13-Jesse Hockett, 2. 4x-Jan Howard, 3. 23-Seth Bergman, 4. 17b-Ryan Bickett, 5. 8xx-Don Grable, 6. 16a-Koty Adams, 7. 29h-Lyle Howey Iii, 8. 87x-Billy Melton, 9. 8k-J. Kinder, 10. 75-Don Young, 11. 2w-Kenneth Walker.
Seventh Qualifier (10 Laps): 1. 53-Jack Dover, 2. 21T-Tommy Bryant, 3. 9x-Gary Wright, 4. 1jm-Jim Moughan, 5. 40a-Ernie Ainsworth, 6. 87r-Aaron Reutzel, 7. 11xs-Donovan Peterson, 8. 7s-Paul Sides. DNS: 74e-Claud Estes, 77-Kyle Larson.
Eighth Qualifier (10 Laps): 1. 3a-A.G. Rains, 2. 99-Brady Bacon, 3. 03-Joe Wood, Jr., 4. 87m-Brian McClelland, 5. 10h-Josh Higday, 6. 72-Sherman Davis, 7. 1m-Sean McClelland, 8. 9w-Lane Whittington. DNS: 6s-Kaley Gharst, 3x-Mark Shirshekan.
Twenty-first starting position awarded to I-30 Speedway track champion Justin Sturch (track champion provisional), 22nd position awarded to Don Grable via draw of drivers that competed in both preliminary and Saturday night competition.
22nd Annual O’Reilly Short Track Nationals presented by Hoosier Tires Championship “A” Feature:
A Feature (40 Laps – Starting position in parentheses): 1. 18-Tony Bruce, Jr. (5) [$15,000], 2. 14aj-Wayne Johnson (3) [$10,000], 3. 57-Shane Stewart (8) [$7,500], 4. 29r-Travis Rilat (9) [$5,000], 5. 10s-Sammy Swindell (1) [$2,600], 6. 91a-Jonathan Allard (13) [$2,500], 7. 94-Danny Wood (2) [$2,450], 8. 13-Jesse Hockett (20) [$2,400], 9. 12h-Jerrod Hull (14) [$2,375], 10. d12-Danny Smith (12) [$2,350], 11. 12s-Jeff Swindell (16) [$2,325], 12. 88T-Tim Crawley (4) [$2,300], 13. 9s-Justin Sturch (21) [$2,275], 14. 10a-Ricky Logan (19) [$2,250], 15. 55-Donnie Ray Crawford (11) [$2,225], 16. 53-Jack Dover (15) [$2,200], 17. 26m-Marshall Skinner (10) [$2,200], 18. 3a-A.G. Rains (18) [$2,200], 19. a12-Tommy Worley, Jr. (17) [$2,200], 20. 3d-Paul McMahan (7) [$2,200], 21. 8xx-Don Grable (22) [$2,200], 22. 41-Jason Johnson (6) [$2,200].
Lap Leaders: Danny Wood 1-2, Sammy Swindell 3, Wood 4, Tony Bruce, Jr. 5-40.
Lucas Oil Sprint Car Presented by K&N Filters Points (Top Twenty): 1. Shane Stewart 2,428, 2. Jason Johnson 2,404, 3. Gary Wright 2,378, 4. Travis Rilat 2,267, 5. Paul McMahan 2,216, 6. Tim Crawley 2,193, 7. Danny Wood 2,170, 8. Tony Bruce, Jr. 2,132, 9. Jack Dover 2,113, 10. Jesse Hockett 2,111, 11. Sean McClelland 1,834, 12. Kenneth Walker 1,768, 13. Darren Long 1,659, 14. Chad Corken 1,627, 15. Gary Taylor 1,611, 16. Seth Bergman 1,537, 17. Brady Bacon 1,355, 18. Gavin Punch 1,344, 19. Wayne Johnson 1,268, 20. Ricky Logan 1,124.