Owens Takes Crate Cash, Maxwell Keeps String Intact
By Larry Jewett
The richest race in the history of crate Late Models was contested at East Bay Raceway Park with over 60 drivers coming from throughout the country. The event, sanctioned by the StormPay.com crate Late Models, under the auspices of Crate Racin’ USA, paid $10,000 to the winner of the 100-lap main event.
In Friday action, Omaha, Nebraska shoe John Anderson posted the best qualifying effort as the times went down steadily throughout the qualifying efforts. Six heat races were held to determine the first 18 starting spots in the A main with heat winners making up the first three rows. Anderson, Rodney Melvin, Jimmy Owens, Jimmy Sharpe, Ken Schrader, and Scott Sexton earned their victories.
Friday racing also featured three local divisions for East Bay Raceway Park. Street Stocks opened the program, but the class was victimized by ragged starts. On the third attempts, a major incident in the backstretch wiped out several cars. The field was reduced by 7 for the eventual start, which saw Paul Gibbs grab the lead. Tim Spencer and Donnie Reed swapped spots inside the top five while Buck Woodhouse ran in the shadow of the leader. The top five held their positions throughout the race. Due to the class time limit, the race had to be called after only 10 laps. The front four cars passed the checkered flag without incident, but contact between Steven Johnson and Mac Kersey in a battle for fifth resulting in Kersey’s car flipping twice, then landing on its roof. Kersey climbed quickly for the demolished race car and he was not injured.
Limited Late Model action saw Randy Shields take the early lead before Robert Douglas asserted himself at the point. Douglas had a challenger arrived in Tim Gay, who was on the move. On the restart, Gay went to the outside to take the lead, only to have the pass negated by a caution flag. As the field returned to green flag racing, Gay repeated the feat, only to have the yellow appear again. On the third restart, Douglas was able to thwart Gay’s attempts and hold him at bay for several laps. As the cars took the halfway signal, Douglas led, but spun to the infield, leaving gay an open race track. Gay took the lead with William Hampton following. Douglas found himself in three-wide battle with David Simpson and Bruce Harvey as Simpson took third. Gay came away with the win, ahead of Hampton and Simpson.
The Limited Sprint field closed off the Friday night activity as Donnie Maxwell made it clear that he would be a force. On the start, Maxwell moved to the high side and passed cars in clusters. In a matter of the first few laps of the 20-lap main, Maxwell had moved into command and started stretching it into a big lead. At one point, he led by more than 1/3 of the track, but the dreaded yellow flag took care of any advantage. On the late race restart, Maxwell found his challenger to be Greg Leonard. Undaunted Maxwell powered out to the lead as Leonard searched for a chance to pass. Nothing was available as Maxwell drove a masterful race to pick up the win. For Maxwell, the win keeps a streak alive. He has won a feature in each of the last 10 years. He needed the Friday night win to achieve that feat and it was a joyful Victory Lane celebration.
Saturday activity opened with Open Wheel Modifieds taking the track for a 15-lap main. Jamie Burrows took over the lead at the start and Jeff Mathews made a strong charge to quickly take the top position. Mathews and Burrows were ahead of the action when Roger Crouse, David Schmauss and Wayne Hammond ended up stopped on the track. Trevor Merrill and John Bradley slipped into the top five, but there was plenty of three-wide racing action throughout the field. Devin Dixon was driving a strong race to charge into third by the ninth lap. On the next circuit, Dixon slipped into second and chased Mathews. No one could catch the leader and Mathews ended up in Victory Lane. Dixon finished second with Burrows, Bradley, and Perry Brown rounding out the top five.
Three 20-lap B Main features set the rest of the field for the night’s 100-lap Crate Late Model main. Danny Jolly prevailed in a battle with Jack Pennington and Roger Crouse to take the first race. Five cars piled into a turn two collision on the start of the second event. Scott Hutchinson took the lead as local racers Steve Mathis and Philip Cobb sparred for second. Pete Cochran spun on lap 12 for a caution period. Starting at the back, Cochran raced up to take second behind Hutchinson at the end of the race. The third B Main saw Jeff Mathews return to the winner’s circle from his earlier Modified win. Mathews, one of a handful of local drivers doing double duty, prevailed over Ronnie Johnson and Steve Kosiski, locked in a photo finish for second. Johnson took the spot and moved to the 24th starting position.
Two provisionsals were available in the 26-car crate Late Model field. Those spots went to 2005 Crate Racin’ USA champion Denny Slayton and local racer Roger Crouse.
Four cylinder racing continued with two local divisions. The Outlaw 4 main saw Eddie Mercer loops his mount at the start, forcing him to the rear. Plenty of early attrition thinned the field as Pete Grantham led the early stages. Grantham had challenges from Robert Douglas and a hard charging Mercer. Douglas yielded second on lap 10 and Mercer made his move quickly on Grantham. The move stuck as Mercer went from worst to first, followed by Grantham, Douglas, Jeff Conyers and Brad Boerner.
The 4 cylinder bombers brought 16 cars to the start as J.L. Moorehead took over. Moorehead was running strong until wisps of smoke began to show. Race favorites D.B. Hogwaler and Buck Skinner ran side by side on their way through the field. Hogwaler’s attempt to lead stopped when he lost a wheel in pursuit of the leader. As Skinner approached Moorehead, the leader’s engine let go, allowing Skinner to cruise to his seventh consecutive win.
The 26-car starting field gathered for the Jasper Engines and Transmission Crate Late Model World Championship presented by American Race Tires. Polesitter Rodney Melvin and outside front row mate Jimmy Owens brought the field to the start, but it was waved off when Slayton spun. On the keeper, Owens marched outside to the lead with Melvin settling in second. Ken Schrader moved ahead of Jimmy Sharpe into fourth. On lap 5, Melvin darted past Owens, but it was short lived. Owens returned to the point and Sharpe regained his position behind Scott Sexton.
While the front five was holding its order, the action was coming deeper in the field. Several position swapping battles were taking place in mid-field as the leaders approached lapped traffic. Owens picked through a couple spots before a caution waved, re-racking the field and giving the leaders some breathing room. On lap 20, Owens approached lapped traffic again, which held him up enough for Melvin to close. Owens dodged a bullet when Jeff Mathews spun directly in front of him, bringing another caution for a restart.
Ronnie Johnson was the driver on the move through the mid-stages of the race. After starting 24th, Johnson had moved up seven spots in the first 20 laps in a steady charge. Outlaw 4 racer Josh peacock, in his first Late Model start, suffered some car woes and parked the car on the top of the corner as the leader again approaching the field for lapping. Marshall Green had stepped up the pace move into seventh and challenge John Anderson. Georgia racers Jake Knowles and Frank Ingram were sparring for 10th, swapping the position each lap. The two got into a three-wide battle that saw Ingram against the wall and done for the night.
Johnson hooked up to battle Ed Kosiski, making the pass and setting his sights on Shannon Buckingham. Owens continued to set a torrid pace at the head of the field, but late race cautions kept pulling the pack together. With 10 laps to go, Green and Johnson had the best battle on the track for seventh. Johnson moved low on the next lap to take spot.
Owens ran untouched for the rest of the event, picking up the $10,000 check in Victory Lane. Melvin held second with Sexton third, Sharpe fourth, and Schrader fifth. Johnson ended up as hard charger, coming from 24th to seventh. Complete results can be found at the series website at www.crateracinusa.com.
East Bay Raceway Park has two more weeks remaining in the 2005 season. Action continues Saturday, December 10 with Open Wheel Modifieds, Street Stocks, Outlaw 4s, 4 Cylinder Bombers, Gunslinger Trucks and a Fan’s Race. Details can be found at www.eastbayracewaypark.com.