From Bob Burbach
Marysville, CA — It was a night that the hardy fans at MRP will not soon forget. There was some outrageously great auto racing presented once again at Paul and Kathy Hawes’ Marysville Raceway Park. Mix in some adrenaline rushed controversy, some spectacular individual performances, a bent wing and a first time winner in the MRP Winged Sprint Car division and you have a night to remember. The track was hooked up and smokin’ all night.
After a nearly trouble free series of heat races (one exception: rookie Dave Silvera rode out a tough series of flips in his winged car heat), The first of four features rolled out. The Mighty MRP Mini Stocks did not fail to please! Track champion Misty Castleberry of Brownsville jumped into an early lead followed by Alan Furuta, Jason Clayton and Jimmy Ford. Then at lap 2, on the backstretch, the first “Big One” of the year materialized taking 7 cars for a wild ride. Kyle Cheney and Mike Merritt got the worst of it as Merritt’s black 77 speared Cheney’s 13 in the passenger side door with terrific force. The impact was so devastating that the nose of Merritt’s car was leaning up against the Petty bar near Cheney’s driver’s side seat. Both Merritt and Cheney walked away from the frightening crash. Also involved were Will Robertson, Bill Anderson, Tyler Peterson, Robert Mull and Keith Sawyer.
During the yellow flag for this crash Castleberry stopped on the backstretch. Radio traffic reported that she stopped next to a fire marshal who flagged her down. At the other end of the track, championship contender Joel Giusti stopped in turn 1 and could not get his car restarted. Castleberry was restarted in the lead, Giusti had to start in the rear.
The restart saw Castleberry pretty much control the race while Giusti was on the cushion driving like a man possessed. Giusti’s drive to the front was clearly among his most impressive performances ever. Giusti carved his way back to 2nd and camped on Castleberry’s rear bumper with 4 laps to go. Everyone was on their feet in the stands. Giusti pulled along side on the front chute with 2 to go. At starter Robin Davies white flag Castleberry got through some lapped traffic a bit better than Giusti and pulled to a single car length victory at the checkers. Furuta, Robert Luster and Ford rounded out the top 5.
Giusti pulled to a stop on the front chute and was animated as he left the cockpit apparently insisting that he should be considered the winner. Castleberry insisted in her post race interview that she stopped at the insistence of a safety official. The race’s dramatic atmosphere should make next week’s Mini Stock racing program a “Must See” event. Jimmy Ford, Alan Furuta and Johnna Henson won the heat races. It was Henson’s 1st victory ever and Furuta’s 2nd consecutive heat race win in as many tries.
The next two feature events went caution free as first Jeff Olschowka, then Jeremy Hawes dominated their respective classes. Olschowka grabbed the lead on lap 2 from early race leader Corey Hall and set sail for a 6 minute cruise on the S.S. MRP. Olschowka won by a half lap over arch rival Ray Trimble who battled with Hall early on. Hall faded to 5th in the final tally when his quick 56 came to a stop on the infield in turn 2 on the last lap. He got it going but Dudley Burrows and Raul Casteneda slipped by in the process. Olschowka also won the heat race
Speaking of 6 minute cruises on the S.S. MRP, the next main event provided another stage for a dominating performance. “Wingless Warrior” Jeremy Hawes slipped into his ketchup and mustard #01 Pro 4 Sprint Car and nearly lapped the field in an amazing wire to wire run in this non-stop event. This one actually got exciting near the end as it became apparent to the crowd that Hawes had a shot at lapping the field. He didn’t quite make it as series champion Tim Maclaughlin held him off at the end. Hawes also won the heat race.
The MRP Winged Sprint Car finale simply took your breath away. This race was a hard fought struggle from start to finish. Oregon invader Vern “Nitro” Wheeler (the nickname was given to him by fellow Oregon visiter Dave Hibbert earlier in the pits) slugged his way to the front in an astonishing ride. His Douglas Promotions and TBJ Promotions #21 was quick out of the box. In his first ever race at MRP, Wheeler took to the track like an (Oregon) duck takes to water. Wheeler actually entered a race here 4 years ago but had motor problems and did not compete in that feature.
Wheeler started 5th flanked by 4-time champ Korey Lovell. Ahead of him were 3-time champ Colby Wiesz and former MRP champ Jeremy Burt. The front row consisted of rocket fast Jeremy Phillips and hard charging Gary Paulson. Wiesz, Phillips and Burt had snared heat race victories and Phillips who had out gained everyone in heat race points started on the pole.
The opening rounds of this 20-lap slugfest were mind-boggling. At the flag, like spinning soap-on-a-rope Phillips flew on the cushion with Burt sticking to his tail like glue from 4th. Wiesz found 3rd place on lap 2. The trio started to storm away from the field. On lap 4 Phillips mysteriously dove for the bottom in 3 and Burt saw his chance. Burt cooked it into 3 high and tried to diamond off of 4 in front of Phillips, but he lost it. Phillips squeaked by but Wiesz slammed into Burt bringing both cars to a halt. They both restarted at the rear.
The new green waved and at the same instant, Phillips reassumed the lead, this time with Paulson and Wheeler in pursuit. In the back Wiesz was like a hot knife through butter…just a master at working traffic. The yellow reappeared with 9 to go and Wiesz was already in 6th. Burt had less success getting through the field.
Wheeler had been getting quicker with every lap and at the new green he slipped by Paulson and took aim at Phillips. Wiesz picked up another spots in that new green lap…he was 5th. With 8 to go Wheeler had an excellent turns 1 and 2 and got under Phillips as the pair headed on to the back stretch. Phillips never lifts…neither did Wheeler. The cars collided off of 2 and Phillips wrestled for control as his black 28p tried to slam into the wall. Wheeler drove on with the lead as Phillips saved his racer with sparks flying through the night air. Phillips slid to 6th at the same instant Wiesz went from 5th to 3rd taking advantage of everybody lifting. Wiesz stayed in the gas, got 3rd and in the next set of turns got 2nd past Paulson. Wiesz had 5 laps to get Wheeler. But, Wheeler was nearly as fast. Wiesz ran out of time and the long tow team from Oregon took home the victory.
The last lap had it’s share of thrills though as Burt tried to pick up one more spot before receiving the checkers. Burt and Dave Silvera got together in turn 1 and Burt’s car popped into the air. The move cost Burt a spot as he fought for control.
At the checkers it was Wheeler, Wiesz and a tenacious Korey Lovell getting win, place and how finishes respectively. Paulson was 4th in his best ride followed by Matt Barber and Phillips.
After the checkers flew it appeared that Burt bumped Silvera causing the latter to wiggle a bit in turn 3. When Burt came by on the inside he and Silvera collided sending Burt over the front end of Silvera and bouncing in the air. Silvera exited his wounded racer and ran at full tilt boogie up the front stretch to the pits. He disappeared over the banking to the cheers of the crowd. It was an eye-opening end to a spectacular racing event.
Wheeler was an excited, but humble winner and thanked everyone associated with his effort.
The BCRA Midgets will return to MRP next Saturday and headline the open wheel portion of the show next week. BCRA will bring a number of stars who have competed in such national midget classics as the Chili Bowl, the Turkey Night Grand Prix and the Belleville Nationals. 3-time national USAC Champion and National Sprint Car Hall of fame inductee Jimmy Sills will strap into a midget for the first time at MRP in a decade against a stellar cast of traveling professional open wheel stars. BCRA champions Nick Foster and Matt Streeter will be in the house. Expected entries include a plethora of past champions and race winners including Scott Nail, the BCRA season opening race winner Scott Pierovich, Rick Haugh and Bill Lindsey.