After much anticipation, a week delayed by rain, and of course….controversy, week one at the “Madhouse” is in the books. While it was tame compared to most nights at the Stadium, there are always storylines heading into the next race. It’s Bowman Gray, there is no other way it could be.
The night started out with the 40 lap Sportsman (Limited Late Model) feature. This race turned out to be one of the biggest surprises of the night, not because of who won or what happened, but because who was there……or who was not there. After a rise in car count over the past few years, a scant 15 cars showed up for one of the biggest races of the year. At any other track that would be sufficient, but not at the Stadium where each year cars are sent home for the season opener.
The season opening night is always tame to say, cars are brand new, teams are new, people have worked all winter and the “want” to take care of equipment is at a premium. And that was very evident in this race as it went clean and green for 40 laps with Zack Ore picking up the win. Ore destroyed the field on the way to his second career win at Bowman Gray leaving the powerhouses of Stoltz, Branch, Clifton and Adams in his dust. Hard work in the offseason and the help of crew chief Dylan Ward, son of Late Model veteran and current modified driver dean Ward had the #55 on rails for all 40 laps. Other than a pass for second with John Holleman IV getting around Michael Adams, there was not much to talk about. That will change in the coming weeks and hopefully the counts will rise as this division has become the most talked about at the Stadium in recent years.
Like the Daytona 500, the mighty Modifieds ran their crown jewel race to start the season as well with the Hayes Jewelers 200 following the Sportsman event. Jason Myers would lead the field to the green as the rest of the field would give chase in the strategy event. 200 laps usually wears on the tires but in recent years the tires do not fall off as in years past, the strategy is still there, but being up front as quickly as possible is a premium for the end run.
Tim Brown, driving a brand new LRF chassis, was one everyone was watching. Both the Myers brothers, Jason and Burt also have brand new LFR chassis but decided to stick with the ole’ faithfuls for the 200 lap affair. Brown would hang tough until electrical problems and getting hung on the outside on a restart made his race ultimately hard rallying from ninth to finish fourth. Former UARA STARS champion, Goodys Dash series and Whelen Mod Tour winner Brandon Ward showed some great power staying in the top three all night to finish in the same spot, third. Burt Myers would top brother Jason after numerous exciting restarts to claim his second consecutive Hayes Jewelers 200 victory in the end. But there were other things going on.
While the leaders were doing their thing up front, Austin Pack was working wonders coming from the back. Driving an Evans chassis nearly older than he is, the third generation driver came from 21st starting spot all the way to fifth before getting spun late in the race. With the suspension bent and the tow out almost two inches he still managed a respectable ninth place finish at the checkered. Not bad to be running against teams with giant crews and the latest and greatest technology. Pack vows to win a race before the season is over.
Of course a mod race has to have a little controversy. Jr. Miller has a brand new car and was looking good running in the top seven for most of the first half of the race. After contact from a car behind and taking a detour through the grass, Miller would come right out in front of the leader……his number one nemesis Burt Myers. The crowd would come to their feet lap after lap as the leaders filed in single file behind Miller. Finally, feeling pressure from brother Jason, Burt had to take the outside to try and get by the all-time wins leader. Everyone was expecting carnage, as they have had some of the nastiest racing episodes in the history of racing anywhere in the past. But, (and I may be in the minority) we were pleasantly surprised to see the two drivers duke it out wheel to wheel for several laps before Myers made the tough pass on the outside. They did bump and grind a bit, some fans said he did him dirty, but knowing the history here and way it “could” of worked out, it was great racing by two guys that hate each other……..not wrecking, just racing. That’s the way it should be.
In the two Stadium Stock races, Daniel Yates would dominate as Brandon Brendle gave chase in a relatively clean race. Race two would have a little more action as Tyler Burke would lead with heavy pressure from Shane Southard in the early going. Mini-Stock king, AJ Sanders would be the one to watch as he carved his way through the field to catch the leaders in the early laps only to have Burke get turned around and Southard in the grass, with AJ coming out the other side with the lead. Sanders would go on the win the event starting his season off in grand fashion looking to defend his 2014 NASCAR division IV National Championship.
Behind Sanders and second place finisher was Mr. Consistency in the little car that could, Chris Allison in his “Pintang”. With the classic Pinto body from mini-stocks of yesteryear, hand painted stencil numbers and his dad as his only crew member, Allison could be the sleeper for the championship this season. It wouldn’t really be a sleeper though at this point seeing that Allison led the points for a good chunk of the early season last year.
Finishing off the night were the Street Stocks. And this one had a lot of things going on. Taylor Robbins would take the early lead from Kevin Gilbert only to have both cars make contact a few laps later putting them both in the back. KJ Stimpson would start to run away with the race and looked like a sure fire bet to win, only thing with that was the #20 of Derrick Rice was walking him down, slowly but surely. Taking the white flag Rice was five car lengths back, but entering turn three he was three cars back, still a ways to go but at Bowman Gray, that’s striking distance. Slowed by the car of Robbins on the tail of the lead lap, Stimpson had to slow more than normal entering the final turns, this allowed Rice to dive deep and make contact, spinning Stimpson. Rice would go on to win as Stimpson would be scored 16th, after only being 500ft from victory. Did it matter that Derek Stoltz was spotting for Rice on the radio? One can only wonder…
Behind the winner it looked like a father/son day at school. Jacob Creed finishing second with his father David coming home third, and Brian Wall with a half destroyed car in fourth and his father Willie in sixth after coming deep in the field. Breaking up the party in fifth was Aaron Hylton driving a flawless race from the 18th spot, and his car hardly had a scratch on it. Something 85% field could not say on Saturday.
This week the feature event is the Kevin Powell Motorsports 100 for the Modifieds, twin 20’s for the Sportsman, 20 laps for the Street Stocks and twin 15’s for the Stadium Stocks. Look for a little more bumping and rubbing each week until about week four, by then we will have rivalries in every division and so many storylines you won;t be able to keep up.