My wife Christine is a fireworks fanatic, so more often than not I skip most of the races around the Fourth in an effort to somewhat makeup for all of the nights that I am gone the rest of the season. After two straight nights of spectacular displays in our hometown the plan was to take in the fireworks display over the river in Burlington on Saturday night so I hadn’t even thought about the possibility of going racing. But at 6:15 when she decided instead to focus on something else for the evening she suggested that I go racing and I was never more thankful to have such a great facility like 34 Raceway just twenty miles down the road.

Sitting between two special events on the track’s busy schedule, tonight’s weekly show was a five dollar Fan Appreciation night and the place was packed, topped only by the throng that was here a month ago when the World of Outlaws Sprint Cars rolled into town. The pits were plenty full as well with 104 cars signed in across the six divisions. While some tracks are experiencing lower than normal car counts this season that is definitely not the case at 34 Raceway in 2013 and with several fans making their first trip to the speedway this year, most of the drivers brought their cars to front stretch during intermission for an “on track autograph session”.

Following the break the IMCA Sport Mods were first up for the six main events with young drivers Dustin Smith and Kyle Hill leading the twelve car field to green. Hill would move to the early lead while Smith found himself in a tangle with the odds-on favorite Bobby Anders on lap three. Both drivers would restart at the rear and once back to green Victor Hastings put the challenge on Hill. Hastings would pull ahead on lap five only to slip high in turn three the following lap allowing Hill to regain the lead. Meanwhile Anders was quickly working his way back toward the front and with five laps remaining he was in second and looking for more.

Hill was running the preferred high line to perfection and held him off for the next three trips around the high-banked 3/8-mile oval, but coming to the white flag the pressure from Anders produced a slight bobble by the leader in turn three. This was the opening that Anders was looking for as his momentum pulled him even with Hill down the back stretch and when he drove into turn three on the low groove he drifted up in front of Hill to take the lead. The youngster was not about to give in though as he pointed the nose of his #14B just inside of Anders and pulled even with him as the duo exited turn four. It was a drag race to the finish line and at the stripe it was Hill by a nose to score his first career feature win. I had the pleasure of watching the grandson of long-time racing supporter Paul Boles score his best career finish up to that point when he finished second at Eldon’s fair race in June and it was really fun to watch grandpa give him a big hug here in victory lane on this night. Anders has quickly become one of the best in the division although tonight he settled for second, Hastings was third, Sean Wyett finished fourth while Smith made his way back up to fifth at the checkers.

In my entry from Wednesday night I mentioned that Austen Becerra may be becoming the man to beat in the Four Cylinder ranks at 34 Raceway and when he went from his outside row two starting spot to the lead going into turn one on the opening lap of the 12-lap main event it looked like this one would be a race for second. Brent Hartley started directly behind Becerra and he took up the chase staying within striking distance, but not close enough to make a real challenge. As the leader started to work through the back of the twenty-car field Hartley inched ever closer and when Becerra went a little too high in turn two on lap ten that was all that Hartley needed to takeover the lead. Austen tried to get back to Hartley’s rear bumper, but Brent was smooth over the final two laps to secure the win and he celebrated on the roof of his #00H in victory lane. Larry Miller was not too far behind Becerra in third. Ron Kibbe, who delighted the crowd by balancing his car on top of one of the track tires during his heat race finished fourth after starting sixteenth and ageless veteran Wayne Noble took fifth.

Two top contenders, Ryan Jamison and Dave Getchell lost engines during the heat races so it was a twenty-one car lineup for the twenty-lap 305 Winged Sprint main event. On the opening lap Keoni Texeira from Honolulu, Hawaii, went too high into turn one and slid off the top of the racetrack. Texeira was making his first appearance here and listed Moulton, Iowa, as his hometown for the night perhaps basing himself here in Iowa for the next month or so as the area becomes the focal point for sprint car racing with the running of the Knoxville Nationals.

Kyle Peterson ran away with his heat race and set a quick early pace in the feature, but he was no match for the Olson Brothers Custom Shop #1 of Jayson Ditsworth who took the lead on lap four. Three restarts around lap eight saw Donnie Steward emerge as the challenger after he started in tenth and as the two worked traffic late Steward looked as if he might be able to take the lead only to have Ditsworth fight him off each time. It’s always a party at 34 when the Olson car takes the win and tonight was no different as Ditsworth celebrated in victory lane. Steward was a solid second, Justin Newberry finished third, John Schulz made it three-wide for the lead on one of the restarts before taking the fourth position and Daniel Bergquist passed his teammate Andy Huston late to finish in fifth.

Fourteen Mod Lites would make the call for their 12-lap headliner as Gary Snyder raced to the lead at the drop of the green. High school senior-to-be Evan Epperson had started tenth and was on the fly using the top side of the track and he swept by Snyder on lap four to take the lead. Daniel Keltner soon moved to second and was sizing up Epperson before contact with a lapped car sent him for a spin in turn three on lap seven in an accident that also collected Justin Bucholz. On the restart Chase Flatt pulled even with Epperson in turn one before spinning in turn two and young Devon Rouse had nowhere to go but into the side of Flatt. Once back to racing Epperson pulled away over the final five laps to secure the victory with Jimmy Halcomb several car lengths back in second. Keltner came charging back up to third at the finish while Snyder and Michael Dominguez completed the top five.

The IMCA Stock Car feature had a hard time getting started, but once it did the racing was fantastic as it always seems to be for this class wherever we go. Abe Huls originally started on the inside of the fourth row and after the driver in front of him jumped the initial start and the pole-sitter suffered a flat tire on the second start, Huls wasted no time in going from third to first once the green flag stayed out. The racing behind him was intense as John Oliver Jr., Jason Cook, Tom Bowling Jr. and Brett Timmerman waged war for the second spot and eventually Bowling emerged from that pack. Huls’ lead faded away over the closing laps and when the white flag waved Bowling was able to pull alongside the leader. They raced that way throughout the final lap and the crowd came to their feet as the duo came off of turn four door-to-door. It was a finish that was literally too close to call unless you were stationed right at the finish line pole and announcer Rich Adams even had to pause for a moment before confirming that both scorekeepers had Bowling taking the win by inches over Huls. Oliver Jr. was right there behind them in third followed by Cook and Timmerman for a very tight top five.

Eighteen IMCA Modifieds for twenty laps would close out the evening with Rich Smith gaining the early advantage. Smith was on board the #10 car normally driven by A.J. Fike and the leader had plenty of company as Scott Hogan, Steve Stewart, Mitch Morris and Bill Roberts Jr. made it a five-car battle for the lead often going three-wide on the perfectly prepared surface. Roberts edged ahead to hold the lead on laps ten and eleven before Morris rode the rim to the top spot on lap twelve. Stewart found a new line on the bottom exiting turn two late in the race that would allow him to steal the lead away from Morris down the back stretch only to have Mitch come storming back to the front with the momentum off the high side of turn four. This scenario played out each of the final three laps while Hogan tried to find a line that would allow him to go from third to first and on the final circuit it looked like Stewart might have pulled away from Morris just enough to snare the victory. The cushion was still good though in turn four though and Morris was able to make the pass just prior to the finish line and take the win ahead of Stewart and Hogan. Roberts was right there in fourth holding off Smith who finished in fifth.

During the heart of the season I don’t often get a chance to go to a weekly show choosing to instead fill my race nights with the many special events that we are blessed with here in the Midwest. However, a night like this truly reminds me of just how much fun a weekly show can be and this one had not one, not two, but THREE “photo finishes” to make it a great evening. One of my “super fan” friends Nick McCarrick said that it was the most fun that he has had at the races this season and I would have to agree. Of course any night I get to watch the races with Scott Vantiger is memorable!

Thanks to Jeff and Amy Laue and the entire 34 Raceway crew for a spectacular night of racing and don’t forget that the UMP Summer Nationals will be here next Saturday, July 13th.


There are a few things that I wanted to comment on as we come out of the holiday weekend of racing…..

In my entry from Saturday night’s action at 34 Raceway I stated that IMCA Sport Mod driver Bobby Anders had become one of the best in the division. Shortly after making that post I learned that Anders had been suspended and fined by Quincy Raceways for triggering Chris Larson’s nasty barrel-rolling accident there on Tuesday night. I was at that event as well and while watching the incident unfold from the opposite corner of the facility, a grandstand seat near turn one, it looked like something broke on Anders car that caused him to drive straight up the track and into Larson. It was, after all,  the first lap of the first heat race of the night and it was contact with a driver that he does not often race against as Larson has run a sporadic schedule so far in 2013. After reviewing video of the incident QR officials determined that the move was intentional and made the decision to suspend Anders for the remainder of the season. It is the second time that the track has taken action against the driver from Quincy as he was suspended for one month back in 2011 after a run in with Steve Carlin in the Hobby Stock division. I stand by my statement from the 34 Raceway blog as Anders has quickly become one of the top Sport Mod drivers in the area, the race results support that, but if IMCA also takes action Anders may be completely on the sideline for the remainder of the year.
I predicted that there would be a story in Monday’s paper with NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers complaining about restrictor-plate racing and I chuckled as I opened up my Burlington Hawk Eye and found that I was right. I have written about this in more detail before (hint: my way of encouraging you to go back and read older entries of the Back Stretch) so I won’t rehash it all again, but isn’t it amazing how they can race in tight formation just fine for 95% of the distance and then all of a sudden “the rules” cause all of this havoc? And then somehow it becomes the fault of NASCAR and bloodthirsty fans. Hmmmm, maybe you boys (and girl) should go back and watch how the Nationwide drivers were able to actually finish their race Friday night without wadding up a bunch of equipment. How did they pull off this amazing feat? Well, for one thing nobody made any stupid banzai moves trying to get from tenth to ninth entering the tri-oval and as one of those so-called “bloodthirsty” fans I was pretty impressed and pleased that there was not a bunch of wreckage strewn across the infield just beyond the finish line. Sprint Cup drivers need only to get in a room together and look at each other to find what and who is to blame for what happens in the final laps at Daytona and Talladega.
Perhaps the expectations for Farley’s After Market Nationals were set too high as getting 56 Modifieds in for a two-night show smack dab in the middle of the season while many other events are going on is pretty darn impressive. All reports tell me that the racing was very entertaining to watch as well so why is it that some people, especially those who were not able to attend, are acting like the show was anything but a success? The fact that the Sport Mod division drew only 27 cars for $5,000-to-win is getting the most discussion and that may simply be explained by statistics. The next time that you are at an IMCA track look at the cars in the Sport Mod division and see what the proportion is that have “Crate” written on them compared to “Claim”. My unofficial observations have that at about 3:1 so the number of drivers/cars that could have participated in the Farley show is likely much lower than what some people have assumed. I have also seen some internet forum posts basically saying that any Sport Mod drivers who complain about payouts and did not show up for this event should just shut up going forward. Really? If a Sport Mod driver is complaining about the purse at his or her track I would think that the promoter would just say “you drive a Sport Mod, here are the classes that you can race in for more money.”
A popular argument is that drivers are racing for the same money today that they were forty years ago and that is true if you only look at what it pays to win. Pull out an old Hawkeye Racing News and you will see ads for Late Model events that say “$700-to-win”, but then continue on and see that it also proudly boasts a “$2,500 total purse”. Do the math and you will find that this is an average of $95 for the other nineteen starters in a 20-car field. Most tracks now pay the Late Models at least $100 just to start the feature. If drivers in any division, Late Models, Sport Mods, etc., want to race for more money than what is offered now then two things have to happen. One, the number of fans attending has to increase and two the number of divisions need to be reduced. That one class that is only drawing seven or eight cars, you do realize that the feature winner is getting a check that is probably two or three times what the starters in the premier class are getting? Second-place is getting a nice check, third is doing better than most, etc., etc. My opinion is, and always has been, if your track has five or more classes and averages 12 cars or less per class then you have one, two or maybe even three too many classes. Race fans don’t want to watch a second set of organized hot laps, otherwise called a “heat race”, and then a 15 or 20 lap “feature” race with so few cars in it. Make some cuts at the end of this season, put up with four or five people per discontinued division complaining about it for a few weeks, and then welcome them back with open arms in 2014 when they make their way into one of the remaining classes.
Enough stepping on toes for today, I am looking forward to getting back into action this Tuesday night as the Deery Brothers Summer Series returns to the West Liberty Raceway on Tuesday night then, after missing the last couple of weeks, I look forward to returning to the Southern Iowa Speedway on Wednesday night. Hope to see you on the Back Stretch!

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