I?m feeling pretty ambitious today ? with school just starting back up an all ? so I?ve decided to bang out another entry. For the past couple of weeks, most racing stories have been focused on recapping both the most recent year and the past decade in racing. Before I go full steam ahead toward 2010, I figured I could do one last bit of personal reflections on the year 2009 in racing. Specifically, I?ll take a look at the races that I attended in person in 2009, and discuss the most memorable moments. If you?d like, post what races you saw last year, and perhaps what you?ll see this year.
2009 was a bit different for me in terms of racing attendance. I usually, at minimum, go to at least a half dozen races per year. However, a number of factors cause me to cut my racing intake to just four events. The biggest cause of this ?racing downturn? was Mother Nature, who decided to rain out several events that made their way on my planner. Most notably, I had a ticket to the Prelude to the Dream at Eldora Speedway, scheduled for the Wednesday before the actual Dream. We made it to Dayton before hearing the news that the race was postponed, scheduled for the Wednesday before the World 100. Unfortunately for me, there was no way I could make it then. Nevertheless, the quality of the races I did make it to made up for the quantity that slipped away.
The first race was the 12th Annual Indiana Icebreaker, an event sanctioned by the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series. The event, held at Brownstown Speedway in Indiana, was one of the first major late model races outside of Florida for 2009. As a result, the car count was quite impressive (65) as was the fan attendance (standing room only). At $30 a pop, for a ticket, I?m sure the track made a nice, tidy profit on the day. As one would except on a Southern Indiana night in March, the weather called for a bit more than a t-shirt and jeans. Aside from that, I thoroughly enjoyed myself (though no doubt the gratification factor was inflated by the ?first race of the year? factor).
The field for this race included many of the ?heavy hitters? in dirt late model racing, and it was then that I felt that the Lucas Oil Series was making a serious charge at becoming the premier series in the sport. Scott Bloomquist, who was running for a series title for the first time in several seasons, made the trip to Brownstown, as did guys like Earl Pearson Jr., Dale McDowell, Jimmy Owens, Billy Moyer, and others. It was Josh McGuire who out-qualified all of the aforementioned drivers to set quick time.
Once the heats, dashes, and qualifying races were completed, it was McDowell and Ray Cook who lead the field to the green flag. Pardon the hyperbole, but the racing from the drop of the green flag until the first caution on lap 23 was some of the best dirt late model action I?ve ever witnessed in person. The track was well-prepared, and allowed for great racing. Five drivers ? McDowell, Cook, Bloomquist, Pearson, and Owens ? all battled for the lead. All were pretty much just a few feet apart in side-by-side competition. Just when one driver appeared to finally have some breathing new, a new driver would bid for the lead.
The lap 23 yellow was the only caution in the 50 lap feature. Once the race restarted, the on-track action was a bit more subdued, but still intriguing as drivers tried to find the perfect line to ride. While there were excellent battles throughout the field, the race belonged to Earl Pearson Jr., who drove to his first victory of the season.
Highlights of the 2009 Indiana Icebreaker: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iv8YBLFSM7U
For race number two, I made the trip up I-65 to one of the most venerable tracks in America for the 2009 Kentuckiana Ford Dealers 200 ARCA Re/Max Series event. The race was held at Salem Speedway which, after numerous viewing of ?Thursday Night Thunder?, has been on my ?bucket list? of tracks at which to watch a race.
Before the race, several of the drivers were lined up along the pit wall signing autographs, and I walk down on to the track. The first thing I noticed was just how rough the surface of the track is. The many cracks and divots that are scattered along the track surface give Salem the appearance of a weathered, battered, and beaten track; a departure from the slick and seemingly flawless surfaces of the modern racetrack. The owners of Salem Speedway are planning a major renovation of the track which will, among other things, repave the half-mile?s surface. While I do think that a new pave job can enhance the quality of the racing, I nevertheless think that part of Salem?s character lies in its rough and tumble surface, which perfectly matches the on-track battles.
I strolled down the front stretch, only to be met by the diabolical corners, banked at 33 degrees. My mind instantly wondered back to the 1960s and 70s, were danger was lurking at all four corners. Safety-wise, the cars were primitive at best; all while carrying the same high speeds that accompany today?s racing. How more drivers were able to leave Salem in one piece is a mystery to me.
Thinking of the track?s historical value further heightened my anticipation for the day?s event, and the 200 lap feature couldn?t come soon enough. The front row consisted of Justin Lofton, who had also won the pole for the previous ARCA race at Daytona, and Craig Goess. Both men drove Eddie Sharp Toyotas, so I assumed that the race would come down to a battle of the Sharp cars.
Once the green flag fell, my suspicions were initially accurate. After Goess led the very first lap, Lofton took the top sport one lap later, and began to put quite a bit if distance between himself and the rest of the field. For the much of the race, it looked as though Lofton would sail to an easy win. There were, however, several interesting developments throughout the field.
For example, Frank Kimmel was putting on a very good performance as he tried to work his way through the field. The crew had left some equipment in the car, and Kimmel was forced to come in the pits during the pace lap on order to remove said equipment. Kimmel had qualified 11th, but was relegated to work his way toward the front from the 29th spot. During the race, it was obvious that Kimmel had one of the fastest cars on the race track. Still, the pace that Lofton was setting during the first 50 laps meant that Kimmel was relegated to fighting for positions other than the lead. This would be his downfall, as he would be collected in a multi car accident in the middle of the race the essentially ended his chance of a top five.
Meanwhile, one driver was quietly setting quick times, and was slowly reeling in the leader. After starting fourth, Patrick Sheltra had hovered around that spot for much of the early going. I?m sure he didn?t mind ?quietly? riding around, as his last race was anything but quiet. After being t-boned in an accident at the Daytona race, Sheltra had spent the last two months trying to recuperate from injuries sustained in that wreck. For Sheltra, being able to step out of the car once the race was over would have been a small achievement.
Yet, Sheltra was on pace to do more than that. After changing tires on lap 67, Sheltra took the lead four laps later. He led for the next 33 laps before falling back to third, as Parker Kligerman took the top spot with fresher tires. By lap 150, everybody was on their final set of tires, and it was down to a battle between Lofton (who had retaken the lead once everyone had pitted on lap 111) and Sheltra. By this point, Lofton car simply lost its advantage, and Shetra was the class of the field. On lap 151, Sheltra overtook Lofton, and was able to speed away for his first career ARCA win. After what happened to him two months earlier, I was glad to have seen the ?Cinderella? story come true in person, and I very much enjoyed the excitement that comes with a race at Salem.
Race three didn?t come until August that being the Meijer Indy 300 IndyCar Series vent at Kentucky Speedway. My first IRL race was the 2008 edition of the race. While the seats were great, the weather was perfect, and the event was enjoyable, the race was a bit mediocre. Passing was very limited, and no one was really able to challenge Scott Dixon in that race. An Helio Castroneves fuel mileage gamble made for a good finish, yet the racing was a bit of a bore.
The 2009 race was shaping up to be a huge snoozer. Each oval race that year was characterized by single file racing and Penske/Ganassi domination. The drivers themselves even began to criticize the racing, and called for new aero rules to allow for the increase in competition. The IRL agreed, and new rules were set to begin at the Kentucky race. Nevertheless, I entered the race with a bit of trepidation. While I hoped for a great and exciting race, I still feared and somewhat expected another high speed parade.
While a Penske driver did walk away with the win, the race itself exceeded all expectations. I knew that we were in for a treat when I began to notice that Ed Carpenter, who seemingly was destined for perennial also-ran status, was climbing towards the front position by position. Not that he actually had a shot at winning the thing. I mean, the track had already seen one miracle upset, so it couldn?t possibly happen again.
Wait a minute, is he going for the lead? ED CARPENTER?S LEADING THE RACE! It was true. And the crowd loved it. I don?t know if they genuinely liked Ed, or if they were just glad to see a car other than the Big Two up front, but they loved it. And so did I. The only thing I?ll add is that the battle between Briscoe and Carpenter and the end of the race ranks right up there for the best racing moment I?ve ever seen in person. And this is coming from a guy who witnessed the Earnhardt/Labonte finish at Bristol in ?99. That?s how great this was.
Finish to the 2009 Meijer Indy 300: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iv8YBLFSM7U
If the Indy race had the most memorable finish, then this next race had one of the wildest moments. I attended another Lucas Oil Dirt Late Model race, this time at Portsmouth Raceway Park the day before Labor Day. While the race was alright, it will forever stick out due to one moment. This: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wHVPHVUI0CE
Now, I?ve seen all the Talladega crashes on TV, but it?s so much different seeing it in person. At a late model race. On a 3/8 mile track. Right in front of you. I was one of those moments where you could hear a pin drop, and we all waited to see if Jackie Boggs was okay. The crash knocked him out for a little bit, and obviously totaled the car. He suffered a couple of broken vertebrae, but apparently is doing better. I hope he has a speedy recovery.
Well, I?ve gone way too long, and I?m sure most of you have stopped reading long ago. I was pleased with the way 2009 turned out. I can only hope that 2010 provides more exciting moments. Thanks for reading.
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