3 points separate wingless title hopefuls

By Bob Burbach

Marysville-It’s tighter at the top in the MRP Wingless Sprint Car Series these days. Only 3 points separate current point leader Brett Youngman and a fast closing Jeremy Hawes. Billy Wallace will be back to stave off the challengers in the Performance Auto Supply Winged Sprint Car Series and Misty Castleberry will try to keep her winning ways on track in the MRP Mini Stock show. Tim Maclaughlin will lead the Pro 4 field and the Nor Cal Dwarf Cars will appear as well when Paul and Kathy Hawes present the 1st Merle Shepherd Memorial Race Saturday night at Marysville Raceway Park.

Shepherd will be selectively honored in pre race ceremonies. However, Shepherd’s memory has been a constant companion with all of us associated with the raceway this past year. His terrible accident of a year ago had everyone reviewing his or her loyalty to a sport that could exact such a high price. But it was Shepherd’s own charismatic will and to that memory that prompted his MRP family to petition promoters Paul and Kathy Hawes to keep things rolling at MRP. Overwhelming support from the racing community also flooded various related media and it was decided that the show would go on.

…And go on it will.

There is a gripping tale to be told in the MRP Wingless Sprint Car Series, a tale that would have captivated Shepherd’s interests. Jeremy Hawes has all but erased the gap between himself and point leader Brett Youngman. Going into Saturday’s event Youngman will try to pad his 3-point advantage and Hawes will try to make it evaporate. Youngman was on fire 2 weeks ago and posted a dramatic 2nd place finish in his best run of the campaign. The trouble is, Hawes won that night and Youngman actually lost ground in his championship quest.

Last week, Hawes finished 3rd after a monumental tussle between himself and last year’s champion Terry Schank. He also had to contend with a brilliant performance turned in by Billy Wallace. Wallace, who showed up with the family hot rod for last week’s MRP Wingless Sprint Car Series event may bring his wingless sprinter along with him Saturday night as well. Wallace came from 8th to win last week. Wallace is the current point leader in the Performance Auto Supply Winged Sprint Car Series. Wallace, as a matter of fact, is the only driver in MRP’s history to pull off victories in both winged and wingless sprint cars. Wallace is searching for his 1st title at MRP though he has won the Mel Hall Memorial Race at MRP in BOTH types of sprint car.

But, the real focus in the wingless portion of the Merle Shepherd Memorial will be on Hawes and Youngman. With 6 races remaining on the schedule there’s a lot of racing yet to do in the MRP Wingless Sprint Car Series. It will be a very interesting 6 weeks!

The Performance Auto Supply Winged Sprint Car Series will be back after a short hiatus and, as we alluded to, Billy Wallace is firmly in charge of the point standings at this point. Wallace has 32 markers in hand over 3-time champ Brent Dothage. But there are more than enough opportunities for Dothage to close the gap. The way the points are paid at MRP, it is essential to have up front feature event finishes to stay in the championship hunt. Missing 1 feature event can cause a 50-point shift in the standings. Unlike any other track, Marysville Raceway Park rewards winners and up front finishers in feature events rather than quick qualifiers and easy-transfer heat race performances. So, Dothage and even 3rd running Korey Lovell have ample opportunities to close the gap. With the MRP car counts in the class averaging 20+ for the season, this one isn’t over by a long shot.

The MRP Mini Stock saga has been one of change and surprise as Mark Hill and, lately, Howard Law have been rocking the Misty Castleberry boat and keeping things interesting. Make no mistake; Castleberry remains the one to beat in the series, absolutely. She has a vise-like grip on the standings and is likely to take a 3rd straight title. But formidable challenges to her supremacy in the class have come from Law and especially Hill.

Hill’s extraordinary ride to the front last time out is worth noting here. Last week, for some reason, Hill had a dismal heat race and was relegated to a 12th place start for the feature. Hill got to 2nd by the time the checkers flew with some pretty heads-up moves. It seemed that he simply ran out of time. By the time Hill showed the “Blonde Bombshell” a fender, she was ready for the challenge. It was great fun to watch these 2 seasoned veterans slugging it out. Hill’s competitive presence in the class has gotten everyone’s attention and the racing in the class is better for it.

The Pro 4 Sprinters are also on the program Saturday and Castleberry was 2nd in this class last time out. She’s won a feature in the class, but seems just a tick off of the times being turned by a couple of the other stars of the class. She’s been impressive though as she fights for every inch. Joel Giusti has been the star of the Pro 4 shows so far this year as he still seems to think he can become the champion in that 4 cylinder sprint car series. Perhaps he can add this championship to his 2 MRP Mini Stock titles. Giusti, another “double duty” racer, is also 3rd in the MRP Wingless Sprint Car Series.

The Nor Cal Dwarf Cars are also on the card for Saturday’s salute to Shepherd.

We’ll be doing it with the lights on Saturday night; the way this observer thinks Merle would have wanted it. Let’s turn some wheels in anger.

The pit gate opens at 3pm and the front gate opens at 5. 1st race will go off around 6:30 after hot laps.