Rockingham, NC ~ Rockingham Speedway has another great one to put up there with the rest, the “Polar Bear 150”. Frank Kimmel’s Street Stock series invaded the track this weekend for 150 grueling laps, and they were grueling at times, but the racing brought back memories of days gone past. 3-wide, 4-wide, and even 5-wide at times, the drivers in the cars from yesterday put on a show hard to believe, and when it was over Louisville Kentucky’s Chuck Barnes Sr. took the checkered flag on what else but a green-white-checkered finish. He was one of the faster cars all day, but he definitely earned it in the 4+ hour race.
The weekend started off the day before with a meet-and-greet so to say on New Years Eve in the garage area, and was followed by the first annual Matt Dilner/Mike Herman Jr. “Polar Bear Bash” in the infield. Acclaimed columnist Monte Dutton gave a musical performance, and sometime in the night a recreation of the Ricky Bobby “I’m on fire!” scene from Talladega Nights was recreated on the track. Wish I had not seen the pictures of that, but a great time was had by all that attended from what I saw, I’m still kicking myself for missing that party.
Race day was upon us and time trials went rather smoothly, scraping the traditional qualifying process, and having groups of cars go out together. Barnes Sr. took the pole position with a time of 29.003. J.D Frye, Brett Hudson, Todd Kempf and Jason Leatherwood would round out the top 5, with 62 cars taking time. Over 75 were at the track, but various mechanical problems took a few out in practice, it didn’t matter, 60 cars at Rockingham was going to be something to see.
One of the bigger accidents of the day came on lap 17, as Roscoe Thompson gets turned off of turn 2, and pushed all the way down the backstretch by the ole’ Chevelle of Tyler Speer. As the cars came to rest, many took evasive action getting collected also. 10 seconds after the accident started, the #6 of Frank Kapfhammer came in and pile drived the car of Thompson ending both drivers days. This was the beginning of a trend, as much carnage would follow, bringing many cautions and quite a few red flag periods.
Back up front, the leaders of Hudson and Barnes had everyone in check. Behind them some cars that looked like cars from the past were comfortably in the top 5. The 317 of J.D. Frye, from the Jr. Motorsports stables, was sporting a paint scheme made famous by the great dirt track legend, Heyward Plyler, who recently passed away. another “blast from the past was the #71 driven by Bobby East, who took to the track in the famous “K&K Insurance” Plymouth a replica of the one that Bobby Issac used to wheel with the Petty’s Pearson’s and Allison’s of the 1970’s. Those cars weren’t just pretty, they were fast, with Frye starting and staying in the top 5, and East starting 12th and quickly making his way up to 3rd in the first 35 laps. After a restart nearing halfway, Frye was able to go by Barnes for 2nd, as East lost the handle and fell out of the top 5.
Halfway (lap75) 1.Hudson 2.Frye 3.Barnes Sr. 4.Jimmy Elledge 5.Todd Kepmf
Restarting the second half, it was the Barnes/Hudson show once more. these two were the class of the field all day and raced each other extremely hard. Lap after lap, side by side or nose to tail, it was hard to pick a winner from those two. Meanwhile, destruction was happening behind them as cars would find out out quick the wall comes up off turn 2, cars went into turn 1 with 3 in one spot, and it was proven that a car will barrel-roll off turn 4. These cars are big “tanks” if you will, they are all metal and even though some of the crashes were spectacular, all walked away unscathed.
It was getting down to the wire, Barnes was leading but it looked as if Hudson was saving a bit to make a run at the end. A final red-flag came out, and as the cars sat on the backstretch, we could all see a problem brewing in front of us. Hudson’s car was leaking sitting on the track. Water. A lot of it. As the field goes back to green, we all wondered if he had enough the make it to the end, he only needed 13 more laps. He got 3. Ten to go and the #00 of Hudson goes up in a puff of smoke. Ellidge and Frye were fast also, but they had just got wrecked a few laps prior when Ellidge got into the back of the #17 on a restart tearing up both cars tremendously.
We get another caution just as Barnes had gotten a comfortable lead, setting up a green-white-checkered. Now in second was the Camaro of Clint Watkins, could he do something with Barnes? We’ll never know as Watkins spun his tires on the restart, stacking up the field behind him, and allowing Barnes to drive off into the sunset. The stack-up was exciting, as cars went in all directions, and Anthony White goes from 5th to come home second. A fitting way to end the day, wide-open, fly by the seat of you pants, old-school racing.
It was a great day, and a great day of racing. I’d like to thank Mike Herman Jr and Matt Dilner for their hospitality, and the great spot on top of the hauler in turn 3, best seat in the house. All the new friends I made, the stories (and lies) we told make race day complete. And as always, thanks to Andy Hillenburg and Charles Hudson, for once again showing the professionalism, and at the same time the “down home” feel you only get at a local track. But most of all, thanks to the drivers and teams, for putting on one of the wildest shows I’ve ever seen. It was some of the best and craziest racing many have ever witnessed, and that’s right up my alley