From Lonnie Wheatley
TULSA, Okla. (March 9, 2010) – There’s nothing like a weekend along the Gulf Coast to set the stage for a second consecutive edition of the American Sprint Car Series Tuesday’s Top Ten.
In its typically indefinable order, TTT follows…
1. Bermuda Triangle – Golden Triangle Raceway Park in Beaumont, TX, the site of last Friday night’s season opening event for the ASCS Gulf South Region, is familiar territory for the regular Gulf South forces. After all, the series stopped off in Beaumont seven times last year after four events in both 2007 and 2008.
On Friday night, however, it may as well have been the Bermuda Triangle as it tripped up the series top three contenders from 2009.
Defending champion Aaron Reutzel sailed out of the park in spectacular fashion on the second attempt to start the feature, 2009 runner-up Channin Tankersley missed the main altogether due to pesky mechanical woes that cut both heat and “B” Main runs short and third-ranked Tommy Bryant tumble in turn two as well four laps into the feature.
With both Reutzel and Tankersley eying the Lucas Oil National trail in 2010, Reutzel broke out a second car for Saturday night while fellow 19-year-old Tankersley replaced the light-weight plumbing that failed him twice with more substantial hardware.
Bryant, moving to the seat of Jerry Bell’s No. 85 for Gulf South and some wingless Sprint Bandits TNT action in 2010, escaped the weekend as best in class with a ranking of seventh in points, tops amongst the Gulf South regulars after overcoming early magneto issues to claim sixth at Battleground.
2. The Return – Aside from a couple of recent weekend practices, it had been nearly ten years since Sprint Cars had slung the clay at Battleground Speedway in Highlands, TX.
After some primarily single-file heats on a too-fast track that prompted Friday night victor Gary Wright to call it an early night rather than start 19th at best in the feature, the main event turned into a legitimate barnburner.
Jesse Hockett and Brian Brown threw repeated sliders at each other over the final ten rounds that could only help evoke mental images of this 2009 Missouri carnage involving the same duo frozen in time forever by lensman Mark Funderburk (http://www.ascsracing.com/gallery/hockettbrowncarnage09.jpg).
There were no errant sliders this time though, and after 19-year-old “Broken Arrow Bandit” Brady Bacon nearly slipped in and stole the win, Brian Brown added his first career Gulf South score to previous Midwest, Northern Plains and Sooner triumphs along with four National wins.
“It’s pretty crazy, we live so close together and we come 15 hours to race each other like this,” Brown surmised in victory lane.
3. Best in Class – The ASCS Gulf South point charts look a little out of whack right now with Missouri’s Jesse Hockett leading a host of Lucas Oil regulars and other invaders.
Pulling out the invaders, the current true top ten in ASCS Gulf South points looks something like this; 1. Tommy Bryant 220, 2. Brandon Berryman 216, 3. Wes Miller 215, 4. Aaron Reutzel 206, 5. Scottie McDonald 198, 6. Klint Angelette 195, 7. Travis Knighton 191, 8. (tie) Ray Allen Kulhanek and Jimmy Brooks 184, 10. Greg Rilat 173.
Berryman, a two-time series champ that suffered a woeful 2009, claims to have sent the monkey packing that haunted him last year. Wes Miller, a Travis Rilat crew member seven or eight years ago, has put together enough pieces to likely run the full Gulf South slate, particularly after getting off to a solid start. Reutzel is still somewhat riding the fence between National and Gulf South, with fortune at Devil’s Bowl and then Kilgore and I-30 likely a determining factor.
McDonald is back to his familiar No. 88 for a run at the Gulf South title, 16-year-old Angelette was fast in heat races both nights and Knighton junked a car on the opening lap of the Battleground feature after Angelette looped it.
Kulhanek tagged a valve in Beaumont heat race action before returning to finish seventh at Battleground, Jimmy Brooks broke out the second car after an opening lap feature flip at Beaumont and Greg Rilat made his 130th career ASCS Gulf South feature start at Battleground after missing the cut at Beaumont.
Other likely ASCS Gulf South regulars in action over both nights included Chris Sweeney (blown engine at Battleground), Brandon Corn (soon to be replaced by 15-year-old son Chevy Corn), Travis Elliott (collected in Battleground carnage with Angelette, McDonald and Knighton), Logan Bledsoe, James Cooper, Roger Oakes, Beau Smith and Bruce Griffith, Jr.
4. Keepin’ Busy – Eric Baldaccini has ranked atop the overall ASCS events competed-in category over each of the past two years, logging 50 nights of competition in 2009 after 47 events in 2008.
The 22-year-old from Keller, TX, made his 2010 debut over the weekend and following a Friday night in which the No. 4 was set up ideally for some track other than Golden Triangle, Baldaccini was in the mix much of the way at Battleground before finishing ninth.
Baldaccini, the 2008 Brodix Rookie of the Year, may very well be another full-time Lucas Oil Sprint Car title contender in 2010. “If we’re in the top ten in points after the first few races, we’ll definitely do it all,” Baldaccini explained. “If not, we may focus on the Lone Star Region; it just depends on a couple of sponsorships.”
5. The Dork Rides Again – Not my words, but rather the phrase emblazoned upon the leading edge of Ray Allen Kulhanek’s top wing (http://www.ascsracing.com/gallery/rakbg030610.jpg). Kulhanek has rejoined forces with car owner David Miller, taking the wheel of the No. 21T for the first time since the 2004 season. Kulhanek began his Sprint Car career in the No. 21T in 2003 before finishing fourth in ASCS Gulf South points for Miller in 2004.
As car owner, Miller has ranked seventh in 2005 with Kent Lewis, Jr., and then fourth (2008) and third (2009) the past two seasons with Tommy Bryant.
The 2005 ASCS Gulf South champion, Kulhanek ranks fifth in career ASCS Gulf South feature wins with nine triumphs, trailing only Jason Johnson (22), Kevin Ramey (15), Gary Wright (14) and Travis Rilat (12).
6. Spring Training II – Much like East Bay the previous weekend, this past weekend’s ASCS Gulf South openers provided a paid test ‘n tune session for some prospective Lucas Oil Sprint Car Series presented by K&N Filters title contenders.
Jesse Hockett, Tony Bruce, Jr., Travis Rilat, Gary Wright and Michael Dupuy each took in both East Bay and Gulf South weekends along with Wayne Johnson and Ocean Springs, MS, shoe Michael Miller, who missed Battleground after engine woes at Beaumont.
While Hockett has finished among the top-five in four of five main events, including three runner-ups, Rilat and Bruce, Jr., have yet to finish outside the top ten in five feature events.
Wright parlayed Friday’s pole starting position at Golden Triangle into a $3,000 payday before making an early exit on Saturday. Dupuy, a former National points runner-up, has experimented with a new homemade chassis that, “Seems to work pretty well, we’ve just had a lot of little problems so far.”
Also dropping in on the Gulf South festivities were Oklahoma shoes Brady Bacon and Dustin Morgan, Missouri’s Brian Brown, Arkansas native Ricky Logan, and North Texas reps Eric Baldaccini, Michael Lang and John Ricketts.
Bacon survived Beaumont madness with wrinkled top and nose wings (http://www.ascsracing.com/gallery/baconwinggtrp030510.jpg) despite never turning over and then took the show position at Battleground, Morgan salvaged 11th at Beaumont before making an early Battleground feature exit and Logan was much racier than most of 2009.
7. Last Minute – After taking in the ASCS Rebel opener at East Bay the previous weekend, Jesse Hockett had planned on an off weekend. But, “The Rocket” is not known to stick around his Warsaw, MO, home for too long, especially if there’s any kind of race within a day or two’s drive, which covers most of the continental United States.
So, newlywed Hockett and crew loaded up the No. 75 at the last minute to take on a pair tracks for the first time.
A ninth to fourth run at a muddy Golden Triangle Raceway Park led the way to Battleground, where a broken push rod in hot laps forced the crew to swap out Don Ott powerplants before heat race action.
Mission accomplished and Hockett led a majority of the feature laps before Brian Brown stole the $3,000 winner’s share in the final rounds, forcing Hockett to settle for runner-up honors for the third time in five starts.
“If I’d stayed on the bottom like I should have then he wouldn’t have got around me, it was my fault,” a disappointed Hockett explained.
8. Dropping In – While Charles Davis, Jr., will have his hands full with the usual ASCS Canyon Region suspects such as R.J. Johnson, Stevie Sussex, Ronnie Clark, Andrew Reinbold and Mike Martin among others when the 2010 season fires off Saturday night at Tucson’s USA Raceway, there will be another familiar face among the mix.
Dave Darland is expected to drop in on the Canyon Region contingent, mixing things up in the BRAT Racing No. 8 that was recently piloted in somewhat spectacular USA fashion by reigning ASCS Southwest champ Rick Ziehl.
9. New Scorecard Please – A new season always brings about new combinations. But, particularly confusing is to see a No. 41 entry with Johnson at the wheel, and it’s not Jason.
This weekend, it was Wayne Johnson, who picked up weekend work aboard a former Jason Johnson car now owned by Louisiana’s Joe Zierolf.
Fresh off a $14,500 Ronald Laney Memorial win at East Bay, mechanical issues plagued Johnson and the No. c41 at Beaumont and then after leading the early rounds at Battleground, a severed power steering line brought an early end to the night after Wolfie worked his typical magic by pulling the number one pill in the redraw. End result was a pair of 18th place finishes.
As for the other No. 41, Jason Johnson was hard at work back in Greenville, TX, putting the pieces together for a Lucas Oil Sprint Car title assault out of the Jason Johnson Racing shop.
10. Expanding Families – With veteran crew chief Rob Hart spinning the wrenches on the F&J Construction No. 29, Travis Rilat and wife Marianne had their newborn daughter on hand for the weekend’s action. Born between the Tulsa Shootout and Chili Bowl in January, it was already her second weekend of racing after taking in the East Bay opener.
The weekend also marked Gary Wright’s first official ASCS feature win as a Grandfather after daughter Lauren and son-in-law Nick Smith welcomed twin girls in January. Look for Nick back in some racing action as well soon.
This weekend’s ASCS Canyon opener at USA Raceway leads into next weekend’s Lucas Oil Sprint Car season opener at Devil’s Bowl and the ASCS Southwest opener at USA, while at least one Lucas Oil contender (Brady Bacon) shifts to the little cars for some Micro Sprint National action in Little Rock this weekend.
Until next time, find what you need in terms of ASCS info at www.ascsracing.com.