Orlando Speedworld – 6th April 2012

After the excitement of the previous week’s Bright House Challenge series race it was back to regular weekly division racing at Orlando Speedworld and the serious business of winning the track championships was first and foremost in every racer’s mind. With the first month of the new season in the books early favorites are emerging while new cars continue to appear as others return to their shops to be tweaked and improved based on early performances.

The Sportsman cars kicked off the evening’s racing and their heat race saw #25 Patrick Thomas setting the pace in his car that takes full advantage of this division’s innovative body rules. With a body that seems to blends the looks of a Late Model with the bumpers of a Modified, Thomas went flag-to-flag in the heat to take down an easy win. It was a different story in the feature race as this time #56 Brandon Morris got to the front and led all the way to the checkered flag. Thomas would have work to do passing #20 Justin Reynolds, but he managed to find a way underneath the former track champion to grab 2nd place, leaving Reynolds in 3rd and #50 Jeff Wright well back in 4th.

The Strictly Stocks once again provided the night’s biggest field of cars as they put on an action packed heat and feature. Their heat race was particularly entertaining and saw #37 Charlie King leading for most of the race, only to be passed by #3 Shane Sutorus for the win on the final lap. The feature race was dominated by #51 Wes Railing who started 3rd but took the lead coming out of turn 2 and never really looked back. Behind him there was plenty of action, including Sutorus giving #1 Eddie Moran the bumper to his rear and sending him spinning out, but Moran’s quick response to get back on the track and up to speed prevented the caution flags from coming out.

The biggest charge of the race was coming from #8 Neil Kirby who had signed in late and was forced to start at the rear. In a field of predominantly big full-bodied V8s it was the little Ford Probe of Kirby that was slicing through the cars and making his way forward. Soon he was battling with #81 Jimmy Barron and #00 John Townsend for 3rd spot in a wild race made even wilder by Townsend’s loose handling that saw his car sliding in every turn.  With contact throughout the field and every car seemingly fighting for position with at least one other driver the race soon ended with Railing leading Sutorus home, and Kirby clear but well behind in 3rd. The previous week’s winner #55 Brandon Christian and Barron rounded out the top 5.

The Super Stock heat race was dominated by #29 Donny Funk, so it was a surprise when his car was one of the first to retire to the infield in the feature. This left a 2-man show at the front as #1 Dustin Turnage Sr. held off the attack from #60 Rich Clouser, dropping down a few divisions after his dominant showing in last week’s Super Late Model 100-lapper. Although the early laps saw #16D Steve Daniels running side-by-side with Turnage for the lead he was soon back in the midfield leaving Turnage and Clouser alone at the front.

It quickly developed into an epic battle and one for the ages as Turnage had to fight off one of the region’s most skilled drivers. Clouser would try both the high and low grooves for a way past, but Turnage proved his equal and tenaciously blocked him wherever he moved. Clouser soon realized the way forward could be applying pressure to his rear bumper, but again Turnage was not overawed by the driver in his mirror and held his car down low on the track, preventing Clouser from passing. As the laps ticked past Clouser saw his chances disappearing, but with just a handful of laps remaining Clouser made his move and tapped Turnage to the rear fender entering turn 3, sliding underneath and completing the pass as they came out of turn 4 and onto the front straightaway.

Turnage immediately fought back and gave Clouser a taste of his own medicine, bumping him hard into turn 1, but found Clouser now fully in defensive mode. With one lap remaining it was all or nothing for Turnage and he gave Clouser a big hit to the rear to try and send him up the track, but Clouser held his car down and came through to take the checkered flag and win a tremendous race that was as action-packed as it was respectful. It also demonstrated perfectly how aggressive driving doesn’t have to mean spins and wrecks when it’s between two highly skilled racers. Daniels would have to settle for 4th behind #112 Shannon Kelly, as #911 Ray Mullis came home 5th.

The other great race of the night came in the Super Late Model heat race. This pitted #119 Dalton Zehr against #18 Jared Allison, making a welcome return to Orlando Speedworld after a couple of seasons racing mainly on dirt. Allison would lead most of the heat race with Zehr crawling over his back, but with no way underneath. With two laps to go Zehr took the risk of sliding up the track and trying the high groove, where he suddenly found a burst of extra speed and grip. Riding it for all it was worth, Zehr flew into turn 1 of the final lap without appearing to lift at all and powered around Allison to take the lead. This great move was rewarded with the win, leaving Allison helpless in 2nd place.

Taking the pole in the feature race allowed Zehr to quickly race off into the distance and with no cautions to regroup the cars he was soon coming around to take the checkered flag and the win, well ahead of Allison in 2nd. A good race for 3rd spot saw #9 Kurt Jett beat out #79 Dakotah Stevens, with #2 Jeremy Fitch right behind in 5th.

The evening finished with a reduced field of Open Wheel Modifieds running for 10 laps. This was won with very little trouble by #0 Josh Todd, while a mid-race spin for a caution did nothing to prevent #55 Shain Held finishing 2nd ahead of #00 John Hodge.