Tuesday’s Top Ten – The Midget Stampede

The start of the feature at Cowtown Speedway. - TWC Photo

The start of the feature at Cowtown Speedway. - TWC Photo

From Lonnie Wheatley

TULSA, Okla. (March 20, 2012) – The Inaugural edition of the POWRi Midget Stampede at Cowtown Speedway in Kennedale, TX, brings the ol’ Tuesday Top Ten out of hibernation. For exactly how long is anyone’s guess.

With the Stampede and St. Patrick’s Day revelry in the books, ten items wrapping up the weekend’s events follow.

Dig in…

1. The Midget Stampede – Timing is everything. And the POWRi Midget debut in the Lone Star state couldn’t have been timed more perfectly, as 67 midgets stampeded the high-banked, ¼-mile Cowtown Speedway clay oval over the weekend. It’s a number that will unlikely be matched by any other outdoor Midget event on American soil this year, as not even the Belleville Midget Nationals or USAC’s Midget Week events approach such a lofty count.

Sixty-six drivers checked in for Friday night’s action, with 64 on hand Saturday night. Sixty-three took part in both nights, with Ryan Beechler, Justin Mallo and Doug McCune missing Saturday after taking in the opener as Oklahoma City’s Matt Johnson showed up for Saturday only.

With abundance in terms of quantity, there was plenty of quality as well with several drivers commenting that making a Stampede feature may be more difficult than making the feature cut on a Chili Bowl qualifying night.

While only four of last year’s top ten in POWRi points were on hand (Brad Kuhn, Austin Brown, Chett Gehrke and Andrew Felker) plus 11th-ranked Jake Blackhurst, the field was bolstered by several USAC teams getting tuned up for their season, a strong contingent from Oklahoma and Texas, ten or so RMMRA reps that came down from the mountains of Colorado and Wyoming and several other random teams from Nebraska, Illinois and Missouri.

2. In the Green – While the Midget Stampede carried POWRi sanction, it was a familiar USAC car with an ASCS driver at the wheel taking the win on Friday and then a familiar USAC face in victory lane on St. Patrick’s Saturday night.

Now considered one of those “wanged” racers, two-time non-wing Western World champ Brady Bacon showed he still has Midget skills by taking the $3,000 winner’s share in Friday’s 30-lap main event. Piloting the Wilke-PAK No. 11, Bacon came from seventh to win his heat after somehow dodging a turn-four melee that included Jerry Coons, Jr., Brandon Hahn and Johnny Murdock, thus earning the pole position for the feature.

After advancing from 14th to sixth in his first time aboard Joe Dooling’s No. 63 wrenched by Rusty Kunz on Friday night, Dave Darland rallied from ninth to second in his Saturday heat to earn the outside front row starting position in the main event.

Both drivers withstood challenges and battled issues that could have changed the outcome had the checkered flag flown later than 30 laps. Bacon fought a car that was getting tighter, while Darland’s problems were more serious as an ailing engine held together just long enough to hold on to the $5,000 victory.

3. The Challengers – While Bacon and Darland both technically wired their respective fields, it wasn’t without serious challenges along the way.

Tyler Courtney pressured Bacon for the point much of the way on Friday, pulling alongside a time or two and sliding past as well only to have the savvy 22-year-old Bacon cross back under to retain command. “Sunshine” tried one last slider in turns one and two on the white flag lap that nearly ended in the turn two wall, with the 2011 Chili Bowl Rookie of the Year slipping back to fourth as a result.

“He made a really bold move there, but we were able to get it back,” Bacon commented. After opening eyes on Friday, 17-year-old Courtney from Indianapolis held down a transfer from “B” Main action on Saturday until losing an engine that finished off his weekend.

After racing from 12th to third in the Friday feature, Keith Kunz Racing pilot Rico Abreu started Saturday’s feature from the pole position and chased Darland throughout. And, when Darland’s engine began to sour in the waning laps, Abreu was there to try to pounce. But, as it was, he overpounced.

After pulling alongside exiting turn four on the 27th round, the 20-year-old from Rutherford, CA, did so again with the white flag in sight and pulled the slide job for life in one and two. Just as Courtney had done a night earlier, Abreu slid too wide in turn two, allowing Darland and third-runner Casey Shuman to race by underneath. Abreu tried to slide back around Shuman in turn four only to loop it and collect the Rattlesnake Bend racer as Darland took the checkered flag.

4. Not So Sloppy Seconds – It’s not too often any racecar driver is happy with a second-place finish, but that was the case on both nights of Midget Stampede action.

When Courtney slid wide on Friday night, Casey Shuman took quick advantage to take the runner-up finish. With a softening right-rear, Shuman would have been content with third. “The right rear was getting soft so I was kind of in defense mode, I was just trying to hold on to third.”

Battling amongst the top-five throughout on Saturday night, Collinsville, Oklahoma’s Tyler Thomas took quick advantage of the Abreu-Shuman tangle on the final circuit to claim runner-up honors in the Stampede finale. The 16-year-old was likely more excited than either night’s winners. And, for good reason. With the $3,000 runner-up finish bringing his weekend take to $3,300, Thomas fled the scene with more Martinez money than all except for Darland ($5,700) and Bacon ($3,500).

5. Hard Chargers – On a track ideally suited for Midgets, there was plenty of passing action throughout both Cowtown nights.

Piloting one of three Hampton entries along with Mike Goodman and Colton Brewer, California native Danny Stratton rallied from the 24th and final starting position on Friday to fifth, with Christopher Bell racing from 21st to tenth and Caleb Armstrong from 18th to eighth.

While three drivers gained ten or more positions on Friday night, four drivers advanced at least ten spots in Saturday’s caution-plagued main event with Andrew Felker leading the charge by driving from 20th to sixth. Jonathan Beason went 22nd to ninth, Jake Blackhurst climbed from 23rd to 11th and Levi Roberts went from 19th to eighth. With positions eight through 24 all paying the same $500, Beason, Blackhurst and Roberts would have made the same without passing a car but surely had more fun going forward even if it added nothing to the bottom line.

6. Alphabet Soup – While Stratton earned the honor of passing the most cars in a main event, give Norman, Oklahoma’s Christopher Bell the accolades for passing the most cars in one night.

After getting caught up in a turn one heat race incident and flipping on Friday night, teammate Billy Lawhead in the Mark Lowe owned No. 21 cars thrashed to get Bell back on track. The 17-year-old responded by racing from seventh to a convincing “C” Main win and then climbed from 17th to finish third in the “B” Main, earning a transfer to the feature event. Bell gained another 11 positions in the feature event to bring his night’s total to 31 positions gained.

Lawhead showed off some moves as well in the team car on Saturday, executing a last-corner slider to take the fourth and final transfer position in the second “B” Main away from Matt Sherrell. Coincidentally, Sherrell happens to date Lawhead’s sister Rachael, raising the question of who she might have been cheering for in that exchange.

7. Hot Foot – Part of the three-car Hard Eight Racing stable that also included Blake Hahn and Matt Ward, Jonathan Beason had a hot foot on Friday night. And not in a good way.

With fuel leaking in his heat race, the leak ignited as Beason pulled back into his pit area. With burns on his right foot, Beason persevered to transfer from a “B” Main and then climbed from 19th to 12th in the feature before spending quality time in a Fort Worth emergency room until 4:00 a.m. getting second-degree burns tended too. Those burns soon seemed like kid’s play compared to the motorcycle crash and stab-wound-to-the-head victims and other assorted types that roll in at such murky big-city hours.

With right foot wrapped, Beason’s Saturday drive was impressive as well with a run from 12th to third in “B” Main action and then 22nd to ninth in the Stampede finale.

8. Change Up – It’s the rare two-day show in any form of racing that not one single member of the first night’s top-five finishes among the top five on the second night. But, that’s what happened at the weekend’s Inaugural Midget Stampede.

Among Friday’s top five of Brady Bacon, Casey Shuman, Rico Abreu, Tyler Courtney and Danny Stratton, it was Abreu with the best finish on Saturday in 14th though he and Shuman could have had podium finishes both nights if not for the previously mentioned final corner mishap. Shuman was 15th on Saturday, Bacon 21st and Stratton the second to DNF in 24th with Courtney spectating after going up in B Main smoke.

Saturday winner Dave Darland missed Friday’s top-five by one position in sixth, with the rest of Saturday’s top five including Tyler Thomas (22nd on Friday), Brad Kuhn (14th on Friday), Darren Hagen (7th on Friday) and Zach Daum (20th on Friday). While he started fourth in Saturday’s finale, Kuhn rallied from the tail to earn the show position after an early tangle in turn two that also included Jerry Coons, Jr., and Friday winner Bacon. Bacon later retired with brake problems while Coons, Jr., bounced back for tenth.

While nobody finished among the top five on both nights, only three drivers posted top-ten finishes both nights including Darland, Hagen and Caleb Armstrong. With finishes of eighth and seventh, 19-year-old Armstrong from New Castle, IN, likely won’t be on Kevin Ramey’s Christmas card list if the tailtank-bashing love taps under caution in Saturday’s finale are any indication. Ramey’s mood improved soon after when daughter Mackenzie took the checkered flag in the Restricted “A” Class Micro Sprint feature event.

9. Composition – While the top five got a complete makeover from night one to night two, the “A” Feature starting fields were similar as 17 drivers earned starting berths for both 24-car main events.

Those racing into both main events included Dave Darland (6th, 1st), Darren Hagen (7th, 4th), Casey Shuman (2nd, 15th), Brady Bacon (1st, 21st), Rico Abreu (3rd, 14th), Brad Kuhn (14th, 3rd), Caleb Armstrong (8th, 7th), Tyler Thomas (22nd, 2nd), Jonathan Beason (12th, 8th), Jerry Coons, Jr. (11th, 10th), Zach Daum (20th, 5th), Danny Stratton (5th, 24th), Andrew Felker (23rd, 6th), Kevin Ramey (9th, 20th), Chett Gehrke (13th, 16th), Christopher Bell (10th, 22nd) and Don Droud, Jr. (18th, 17th).

Friday feature starters that missed Saturday’s cut included Tyler Courtney (4th), Mike Hess in a second Daum entry (15th), Andrew Deal (16th), Matt Sherrell (17th), Austin Brown (19th), Luke Icke (21st), and Colten Cottle (24th).

Making it into Saturday’s feature after missing out the first night were Friday flipper Levi Roberts (8th), Jake Blackhurst (11th), micro grad Garrett Aitken (12th), George White (13th), Billy Lawhead (19th), Daniel Robinson (23rd) and Cole Carter (25th).

Austin Brown, fourth in last year’s POWRi points, started Saturday’s feature by way of the ever popular provisional to bump the field to 25 starters. Blackhurst, eleventh in 2011 points and POWRi Rookie of the Year, missed Friday’s feature yet didn’t get a provisional.

10. Checkered Flags – With seven heat races, one “C” Main, two “B” Mains and then the “A” Main finale on both nights, virtually every race win over the course of the weekend was a hard fought one.

While Luke Icke picked off the first checkered flag of the 2012 Midget outdoor season by winning Friday night’s first heat race, Brady Bacon and Rico Abreu, who is quickly proving himself a legitimate racer rather than a novelty act, were the only two drivers to claim heat race wins on both nights. And both the Bacon and Abreu wins on Friday came in last lap fashion.

Other Friday heat winners included Icke, Andrew Felker, Casey Shuman, Zach Daum and Don Droud, Jr., with those triumphant in Saturday heat races including George White, Tyler Thomas, Daniel Robinson, Christopher Bell and Brad Kuhn.

Chett Gehrke and Caleb Armstrong won Friday “B” Mains, with Danny Stratton and Kevin Ramey topping Saturday “B” Mains. Christopher Bell won the Friday “C” Main, while Matt Ward topped the Saturday “C” Main.

Oh, and it was Brady Bacon and Dave Darland earning Midget Stampede bragging rights for 2012. But if you’ve read this far, you already knew that.

That puts the wraps on the initial installment of TTT/2K12. Release date for issue number two is yet to be determined, but it will most likely be on a random Tuesday at some point in the future.

Questions, comments, criticisms, heckles, etc., may be issued to lonniewheatley@gmail.com.