View from the Stands (6/25/2013)
by Eric Arnold, Knoxville Raceway Blogger & Twitter Commentator
This past Saturday night we finally had good weather and the sun was out all day long. The track was ready to go right at 6:45 and widened out quickly which made for slower time trial laps, but better heat racing. You can tell the Nationals are getting closer, as more drivers are coming to visit and get some laps around the big half-mile.
Danny Lasoski was in the Mark Burch 1m in the 410 class. Kaley Gharst made his first Knoxville appearance of the season in a 410. Wayne Johnson raced in both 360 and 410 classes. Jamie Veal was back from Australia in the 360 class. Troy Manteufel from Minnesota and Jeff Melti of Mason City also came to Knoxville for the first time this season in their 360 cars. Bill Boles of Harris, IA who usually races at Jackson, MN and Eddie Evans of Marysville, WA were visitors in the 305 class. It was also good to see Josh Higday back on the track for the first time this season. RJ Johnson filled in for an injured Brooke Tatnell in the 410 class. RJ did quite well qualifying fifth and finishing eighth in the feature.
Time Trials was completed with three car groups rather than one car at a time. Each car was given two laps instead of one. I’m all for saving time and I think this did, but I think this was more to please a few teams/drivers to get two laps instead of one. Groups of three was used at the Late Model Nationals last year and it worked well I thought. I say we keep using group qualifying as long as it’s safe and fair.
The track was dry and slow for qualifying. It was certainly an advantage to get an early draw number. Dusty Zomer timed twentieth after going out twenty-fourth in the order. Heskin timed fourteenth with a draw of twenty-two. But Ian Madsen drew twenty-first out of twenty-seven cars and still timed in fourth, so if you have the car you could still time well, and Ian has been the best qualifier this season with an average qualifying finish of 2.4 in weekly shows.
The wide track made for great heat races. Bronson Maeschen set quick time for the second week in a row and had no issues making passes to win his heat from the third row. Heskin won the second heat from the front row. Terry McCarl won the third heat from the third row with Lasoski chasing him at the end. I love watching the McCarl/Lasoski rivalry just as much today as I did back in the 80’s.
Davey Heskin won his third heat race of the season. Typically this is not a good stat to be the leader of as it translates into poor qualifying times, but Davey did win one heat race this season from the third row.
In the feature it looked like Lasoski would win easily, but he couldn’t get his car to handle in traffic and lost the lead late to feature winner Mark Dobmeier (and crew chief Guy Forbrook) in a close race at the end that turned out to be one of the best features of the season. McCarl was right with them at the end in third, Maeschen was fourth, Madsen fifth, Heskin sixth, and Zomer made his way to seventh with his poor starting spot in sixteenth. Lasoski started on the pole of the eight invert feature after he qualified ninth and was the benefactor of Austin McCarl who timed sixth, not transferring to the feature from his heat.
I have been impressed with Dobmeier the past month or so. He has a win, third, and sixth place feature finishes, but finished last at WoO show last week. If Dobmeier and Zomer can become better qualifiers (more consistent) they both could be challenging for the points lead.
Bronson Maeschen jumped from fourth to second in the points this week, but is 207 points behind point leader Ian Madsen. Madsen lost eight points to his lead this week. The point battle from second to sixth should be an interesting one as the season progresses.
Clint Garner won his third feature of the season and has a 110 point lead over Nate VanHaaften for the track championship. Looking at the numbers Garner is a perfect seven for seven for top five finishes. Garner is clearly the fastest car and the best driver in this class. He had quick time on three occasions in 2012, yet hasn’t timed better than fourth this year with an average of 6.4 in seven races. I’m starting to wonder if he has the feature invert of eight figured out and is forgoing the points in qualifying to start up front in the feature. Yeah… sandbagging is another term for that. Maybe I’m dead wrong and their engine isn’t as strong as last season, or everyone else has stepped up their engine program, but numbers don’t lie. I apologize to the #40 team if I’m wrong, but you can’t time sixth and seventh consistently and yet be the fastest car in the feature every week. Something doesn’t smell right about that. Maybe we can change up the invert, or have a re-draw for the 360 class feature to try to change this pattern I see, but Garner is clearly the big fish in a small pond, until the 360 Nationals where his career best finish is ninth. VanHaaften is timing well and racing well, lurking in second place. If he can get a little luck to come his way, he still has a shot at Garner I think.
The 360 car count was nineteen this week, up a little from fourteen last week. Look for more 360 cars in the coming weeks leading up to the 360 Nationals.
Congrats to Larry Ball Jr. who is having a great season, three wins in five races is impressive. His experience is too much to overcome for most of the competition in this class. I see Ball pulling away to win the track championship from this point forward with J Kinder and Matthew Stelzer battling it out for second. Rookie Jake Strayer seemed to come out of nowhere this past week starting fourteenth and finishing fifth. Saw some great racing with Chris Walraven and Josh Higday in the feature this week. A little too close at the end, but Walraven cut off Higday going into turn one on the white flag lap, and Higday cut him off as they raced to the checkers and they unfortunately made contact which tore up Walraven’s car a bit. Higday is one of my favorite drivers to watch, and I’m glad he is back this season. He drives hard that’s for sure!
14 year old Kade Higday, the son of Josh (and Dawn) Higday, did his 305 rookie orientation laps this week, but Josh raced the 305. I think Kade did just fine in his rookie test, but the rule is you have to be 15 years old to race a 305, and I don’t see that changing. Kade turns 15 in September so I think he will have to wait until 2014 to race at Knoxville.
Be sure to follow Knoxville Raceway on Instagram. Now that Instagram has a video feature to use, I’ll be posting a few videos from time to time there from my seat in the stands, and the pit area. I think this is a pretty cool tool to use. If any of you use Vine, this feature basically copied that platform. I’m excited to use more of these during the Nationals.
Congratulations to all of the Knoxville Raceway Hall of Fame inductees this past week. I think next year it’s time I nominate a few people who deserve to get in. People like David Hill, Scott Whitworth, Virgil Brandt, Billy Dusenberry, Jordan Albaugh, Larry Pinegar II, and those are ones off the top of my head.
Last week Bob Wilson and I announced our book coming out, Knoxville Nationals: The First 50 Years. This has been quite the project for Bob, who has had a vision of creating this book for years. Bob invited me in January to write the stories for years 1986-2010 and I am so grateful. It’s been a lot of fun, but also lot of hard work and time put in. My appreciation for people like Dave Argabright, who write books frequently, has gone way up! But it will be rewarding to see it in book form soon. I think you fans will enjoy it. It’s the Knoxville Nationals encyclopdeia in a nut shell. You can get them in person the week of the Nationals, or you can pre-order the book by finding the book order form available on the track website in the “entry forms” section.
The entries for the 360 and 410 Nationals are rolling in daily it seems like. You can keep up with those on Twitter at the @knoxvillenats handle.
Attention writers and photographers, due date to submit your material for the Nationals programs is July 4. Need all the help we can get there.
It appears that Cody Darrah is out to prove me wrong, he won his first WoO feature of the season this past week. Can he win two?
Congrats to David Gravel and crew chief Tyler Swank (Newton resident) on their first WoO win on Saturday night!
Here is my first Knoxville Nationals (410) power rankings of the year.
1. Schatz, 2. Brown, 3. Stewart, 4. McMahan, 5. Dollanksy, 6. Kaeding, 7. Pittman, 8. Larson, 9. Shaffer, 10. K.Madsen, 11. Heskin, 12. Gravel, 13. I.Madsen, 14. Lasoski, 15. S.Smith, 16. Blaney, 17. Zomer, 18. Rahmer, 19. T.McCarl, 20. Maeschen, 21. Saldana, 22. Hodnett, 23.Kemenah, 24. Swindell.
360 Twin Features this week June 28 and 410 Twin Features are the following week on July 6. No one has swept 360 twin features since Billy Alley in 2003, we will see if anyone can do it this week! Others to accomplish the 360 twin sweep: Dean Chadd 1985, David Hesmer 1989, Dwight Snodgrass 1992.
If you know who the last driver was in the 410′s to sweep twin features and what year it was, post it in the comments section here. First correct answer wins a prize of some kind. I’ll come up with something for ya. (Bus House Gang members ineligible, sorry fellas.)
See you in the stands!
*Eric can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @_EricArnold.
*The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and not necessarily those of Knoxville Raceway.