View from the Stands (9/11/2013)
by Eric Arnold, Knoxville Raceway Blogger & Twitter Commentator
The 360 class always displays some good racing. Clint Garner won the championship for the fifth consecutive year. His stats are impressive with 5 wins, 4 second place finishes, 12 top five’s, 13 top ten’s (out of 14 features), 2 heat wins, and 1 quick time. Most of the season Joe Beaver and Nate Van Haaften were there challenging but the breaks didn’t go their way to overcome one of the most successful 360 drivers in Knoxville Raceway history.
Feature winners in chronological order: Clint Garner, Tony Shilling, Brian Brown, Jon Agan, Joe Beaver, Garner, Garner, Nate Van Haaften, Dustin Selvage, Garner, Garner, Brown, Randy Martin, Agan. Note: the two nights Brownie won, Garner finished second in those two features.
Garner was the man all season. I have more about him as you read.
Tony Shilling won a feature in week two, missed the feature in week three, and then missed the next four weeks with engine woes. He found a ride in another car five more times throughout the season, but wasn’t eligible for end of the season awards.
Brian Brown was dominant on the three nights he raced with the 360 class. He won two features and was close to winning a third before mechanical problems sidelined him.
Jon Agan won two features, and five heats. He was either up front or something went wrong as he had three finishes of 20th or worse. Fourth consecutive season for Agan in the top five in points.
Joe Beaver won a feature and finished second in points, without a doubt the most improved driver this season.
Nate Van Haaften was running second in points until a crash on July 6 destroyed his car. His team was able to put another car together and they seemed to start getting it dialed in the last couple of weeks. He finishes third in points for the second year in a row, so over all a good season.
Dustin Selvage was able to grab a win one night.
Randy Martin made it to 10 of the 14 weekly shows and looked really good the last two weeks of the season with a win and a second place finish.
Jamie Ball had a good season with 11 top ten finishes.
Matt Moro was the 2008 track champion, was second to Garner a year ago, but regressed to 6th in points this year, and only 2 top five finishes. Things just didn’t go their way this year.
Russ Hall didn’t qualify well all year, but passed a lot of cars.
Clint Garner has been the dominant car in this class for five years now since he dropped down from the 410 ranks in the middle of 2008. Garner came to Knoxville originally racing in the 410 class in 2001 part time. In 2002 he raced in the 360 class full-time and finished second in points behind Brian Brown. In 2003 Garner raced full-time in the 410 class in the Gil Sonner 47 early in the season and moved to the Vermeer 55 to finish the year where he finished 17th in 410 points. From 2004-2008 Garner owned his own #40 in the 410 class where he won two features and finished third in points in 2006. He was a good up and coming talent. When the economy went south in 2008, Garner wasn’t able to field the more expensive 410 car on his own dime anymore, so in 2009 he partnered up with Boyd & Glenda Fluth and they moved to the more economical 360 class where they have dominated. They have improved steadily each championship season, winning 2 features in 2009 and 2 more in 2010, won 4 features in each of 2011 and 20012, and won a season best 5 features in 2013 for a total of 17 wins in 5 years. DOMINANT!
I know some people think I’m a Clint Garner hater, but that’s far from the truth. Yes the conspiracy theorists suspect he was laying down a bit in qualifying to take advantage of the 8 car invert in the features. It looks fishy if you have the fastest car in the feature week after week, and then qualify 6th and 7th consistently each week. The numbers don’t dispute those claims by some of the 360 competitors and race fans and I was just merely pointing that out. Do I suspect he was sandbagging? He could have been, but he didn’t need to, and it would be extremely hard to do with the way 360 qualifying works being combined with hot laps, the track is always different. Some nights it is an advantage to have the early draw in the order, and some nights it is better to be at the end of the draw. Some nights the track can be more difficult early when the track is still greasy, and some nights if you go out late the track has slowed down. To plan for the track conditions each week in 360 qualifying is nearly impossible no matter how good a driver or team is. But it’s an interesting debate that I fueled a bit. My hat is off to Garner and the Fluth 40 team for a great season.
Garner is talented and I was sad that he wasn’t able to survive in the 410 class because he clearly has the talent to compete at that level. When an experienced 410 driver goes down to race a 360 or 305, their reflexes are better, and they clearly have an advantage when they sit in the seat of a slower car. Garner had that experience when he dropped to the 360 class and that has helped him be so dominant. But times have changed in today’s market, the cost of a decent 410 engine is less than a 360. So why keep racing a 360 when he can clearly compete at that level? Here is why. The 40 team won $12,200 in 14 weekly features this year. If a car finishes tenth each week in the 410 class you would win $10,000 throughout the season. To compare, the Sonner 47 team of Don Droud Jr. won $10,250 this season, and Maeschen won $20,200. So where is the incentive for a guy like Garner to move up? They can dominate the 360 class and almost be guaranteed to make money. It’s less risk, and pretty decent reward to stay in the 360 class, not to mention more fun to win.
The future of the 360 class doesn’t look good in my opinion. The average car count for weekly shows the past 5 seasons is: 36.7, 29.5, 29.4, 26.4, and 25.2. A couple of nights in June this season we only had 16 and 14 cars show up, which was alarming to everyone. Unless the ASCS cars are close and have a night off, or we get closer to the Nationals and teams start racing double duty, the cars counts were low. Engine builders, car owners, drivers, crew chiefs have all told me that the cost of a 360 is more than a 410 today. The cars themselves cost basically the same, but the expense of the engine and rebuilds has skyrocketed the past five years. Time will tell where the 360 class goes, but the trend is downward. Five years ago I never would have thought this would happen, but it will be interesting to see if car counts go north or south in 2014.
Driver of the Year: Clint Garner
Most Improved Driver: Joe Beaver, was fifth in points last year to second this year.
Goody’s Headache Powder Award: Tony Shilling, won the feature in week two, then missed several races with no engine and fell out of the points.
Rookie of the Year: Zach Blurton
Elbows Up Award: Russ Hall. -4.8 on my QF rating, which means he passed more cars than anyone.
Driver Most likely to improve in 2014: Jamie Ball.
Wild Card Award: Tom Lenz. The veteran makes it to the track every week, was twelfth in points last season and finished eighth this year.
Larry Ball Jr. dominated this class with 6 wins and 3 quick times. J Kinder was his closest competitor with 2 wins. Matt Stephenson gets most improved with +4 positions in the point standings. The interesting thing about this class is that only 3 cars competed in 75% of the races this season AND last season, which is Kinder, Stephenson, and Lee Patterson. All the other teams this year were either new teams, or drivers that didn’t compete in enough races last season to qualify for points. I’m glad we have the 305 class competing most nights. These guys seem to have the most fun of anyone racing when you see them in the pit area. A lot of smiles on that back pit row. It’s an entry level “hobby” class for those wanting to learn the ropes of a sprint car, or for the guy who wants to race on a lower budget. The costs are a concern in this class and I know John McCoy is trying to keep an eye on that. Car counts have not varied much looking back on the past five years ranging from 19 to 22 (19.8 this season) so I can’t say it’s a growing class, but it’s holding its own.
I attended the 34 Raceway in Burlington this past Saturday night for the MOWA 410’s and the local 305 cars. Danny Lasoski, Brian Brown, Jason Johnson, and Ian Madsen were the top four finishers both Friday and Saturday there. Burlington is a decent 3/8 mile and a nice facility. The racing wasn’t all that great on this night as Lasoski ran away from the field, Brown was second most of the race but had a challenge from Johnson in the closing laps. Ian Madsen drove his car hard on the cushion for fourth which was fun to watch. It’s amazing that only two hours away from Knoxville that I saw about a dozen 410 cars that I hadn’t seen race at Knoxville this year, but are regulars in the Illinois and Indiana area. Same with the 305 class there. There were 29 410’s and 24 305’s, so it was great to see a strong car count. Lasoski lapped up to seventh place I believe. It was great to see one more sprint car race this summer.
I’m looking forward to the Monster Trucks and the Late Model Nationals in the coming weeks!!!
*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.