It was Ladies first, and boy did the guys love it!
Carolina Speedway in Gastonia , North Carolina has been running one or two sprint car shows for several years. I have stood at the ticket window and watched people turn away when they were told sprint cars would be on the schedule that night. We’ve watched as fans got up to buy hot dogs rather than sit and watch the sprints race. The south just doesn’t understand these cars.
Slowly but surely they are now coming around. One thing that helped was two years ago when Tony Stewart showed up in his sprinter and treated the crowd to a show in hot laps, qualifying, heat race and one lap of the feature. That was all they saw and it was all they needed. Tony flipped on the backstretch and hung the car on the wall. The hook was set and the line was tight. The last few USCS sprint races have had good crowds of satisfied fans. That will not be the case from now on. The crowds will be standing room only and the fans will be screaming with enthusiasm.
How do I know? Because I was there last Friday night, April 15, 2011 when they saw the race they’ll be talking about for years to come. On the schedule that night was the normal classes of street stock, crate late model and renegade classes…always good racing and the fans love them. The USCS sprint cars were also there as were the micro–sprints (600cc motorcycle engines in something a little smaller than a midget racer).
Anticipation was high because two women would be racing in the powerful 360 sprint cars. And to make it record setting one team would be a husband and wife, with the husband in his very first sprint race! The 3/8 mile Carolina Speedway is a tricky place to run, with banked sweeping turns and quick straight-aways.
As the night wore on fans started to feel at ease with the speed and stopped worrying about any catastrophic crashes. On the 11th lap, race leader Johnny Bridges ran up on a lapped car and ended his attempt to win the race. This left 2nd place, teen aged Morgan Turpen with the lead. Then on lap 13 Brandon Rekow and Florida ’s Bob Auld tangled with both cars flipped violently off the turn 4 wall. Destroying the cars and reminding the fans what sprint cars can do.
On the re-start Morgan held the lead for much of the remaining race. She was only bothered by Erin Crocker-Evernham who followed closely in 2nd place. With 7 laps to go Erin pulled a high side pass that made every ones hair stand on end. Erin pulled away and as she streaked by to take the checkers she was about to lap her husband, Ray Evernham.
Fans went wild. She drifted up into the turn one marbles to pass Ray and the car slid…hit the wall…climbed the wall…and began tumbling over the embankment, into the darkness.
Excited happiness turned to chilled fear. Emergency crews rushed to the scene and disappeared over the wall. After a long minute or two the crew and Erin climbed back over the wall.
She was brought to victory lane…minus her car…to accept the crowd’s applause. Only then did they realize that gals had finished first AND second. Erin and Morgan would now make the record books. If you missed seeing this race and wonder if Erin is really that good a driver, just listen to what she said in victory lane.
“ I saw a flag and couldn’t tell if it was the white or checkers. So I stayed on the gas a little longer than I should have. As I was tumbling over the wall into the darkness I was thinking….’ I hope that was the checkered.”
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