Monday, October 24, 2011

King of America Modified Nationals at Humboldt (KS)

My weekend travels took me south to the Humboldt Speedway in Kansas. A friend of mine, Brett McCollough, and I woke up early Friday and made the nearly six hour trip to southern Kansas for the final two nights of the inaugural King of America Modified Nationals. The United States Modified Touring Series was putting this event on and attracted some of the best drivers in the country. While the car count fell short of what I was expecting, the racing action made up for it!

After reading that Ryan Gustin and Johnny Scott had won from the 12th starting positions on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively, I had high hopes for this event to possibly be one of the best of the year. Friday night saw fifty drivers race heat races, b-mains, and the feature along with a complete show for the b-mods. Twenty-nine b-mods were hand for the third of four nights for them.

As the qualifying events were completed, the b-mods came to the track for their feature. Nine cars had been eliminated for the starting field of twenty. Pole sitter Jeremy Chambers grabbed the early lead, but he quickly received pressure from fellow front row starter Nick Newton. As the two raced side by side, Newton would take the advantage on lap three prior to an early caution. Long time modified veteran Gary Clark used the restart to motor by Chambers for second while recently-crowned IMCA Northern Sportmod National Champion Bryan LaRiviere worked his way through the field to fourth after starting tenth. Up front Clark would work under Newton and regain the lead as the white flag was displayed. Newton would not be intimidated as he powered his machine around the top side of turns three and four and squeak out the win at the line. Gary Clark had to settle for second, Jeremy Chambers was third, Bryan LaRiviere fourth, and Mike Striegle completed the top five. Iowa driver Cayden Carter started fourteenth and finished sixth.

After the field was narrowed down to twenty-four starters, Mark Dotson and Brian Bolin brought them to the green flag of the thirty-five lap qualifier. Dotson would set the early pace with Bolin, Johnny Fennewald, and Tommy Weder giving chase. Nine-time USMTS national champion Kelly Shryock was making fast work on his way to the front as he climbed into fourth following a pass on Weder. Shryock, who started seventh, would continue climbing the leaderboard as he passed Fennewald for third on lap seven. However, the caution flag would come out at that time and Fennewald would line up third on the restart.

Shryock would again use the low side to slide by Fennewald for third while Bolin used the same line to pass Dotson up front for the lead. Steve Whiteaker Jr climbed the banking and made the pass on Fennewald for fourth as Shryock clicked off another in passing Dotson for second. Whiteaker Jr followed Shryock into the third position as the top four cars wound up by themselves with five laps to go while encountering lapped traffic. As the white flag came out Shryock went to the top side and passed Bolin for the lead, but a caution prior to the checkers meant a two-lap shootout. Shryock was able to hold on for the win while Steve Whiteaker Jr pulled out a second place finish. Brian Bolin, Mark Dotson, and Johnny Fennewald rounded out the top five.

Shyrock's late race pass for the win meant that all three qualifying nights provided a late pass for the win. As the evening concluded I couldn't help but get excited to see what the big 75-lap finale had in store on Saturday evening.

Fan count for the first three days seemed to be far less then expected, but it was evident upon arrival on Saturday that the fans wanted to see the finale. As we pulled into the track we parked further back then any of the previous handful of times I've been at the Humboldt Speedway. By the time racing action kicked off the grandstand was close to capacity with many people standing as well.

The USMTS staff along with the track officials did a great job of intertwining the b-mods and the USMTS "alphabet soup" throughout the night, keeping the show going as smoothly as could be expected. The alphabet soup consisted of an "E", "D", "C", and a "B" as drivers looked to secure a starting position in the thirty-car starting field. Meanwhile thirty-three b-mods had checked in for action as well and had to narrow their field to twenty.

After a lengthy farming session, the b-mods would be up first for their finale. Nick Newton, who had picked up wins on Thursday and Friday night, sat on the pole alongside long-time veteran modified hotshoe Scott Drake. While I expected Newton to bolt to the front, I was surprised that it was Drake blasting to the lead with Levi McGowen giving chase. An early caution realigned the field and Newton used it to his advantage as he swung to the inside of McGowen for the second position. Another caution flag came out and following the restart Newton began to fade, giving up two spots to McGowen and Tim VanGotten. Jeremy Chambers later passed Newton to climb into the fourth spot while VanGotten slowed and exited the track to end his night. Two more cautions would fly, but none of them distracted Scott Drake as he picked up the wire to wire win. Levi McGowen finished second, Jeremy Chambers was third, Nick Newton fourth, and Jimmy Davis completed the top five.

Perennial contenders Bryan LaRiviere and Cayden Carter both failed to finish. I made a statement to people sitting around me that it's rare to see two drivers in the same race with 30+ feature wins to their credit on the year as both drivers had incredible seasons!

The stage was now set for the big 75-lap USMTS feature. Pre-race ceremonies included drivers walking from the ends of the grandstand towards the center and using a spotlight in the dark. Once all drivers had been introduced, an "event photo" was taken in front of the "King's thrown" as fireworks went off in the background. As drivers strapped in and began to roll off, the ever-popular "God Bless the USA" by Lee Greenwood hit the PA and fans rose to their feet. A parade lap and then the four-wide salute to the fans followed as the fans waved to their favorite driver(s).

Mark Dotson and Kelly Shryock brought the field to the green flag with Dotson setting the early pace. Brian Bolin and Steve Whiteaker Jr battled side by side for the fourth spot for a few laps, but the caution flag on lap nine halted that action temporarily. Two more quick yellows came out, but after the lap nine restart the green flag would come out and the green light stayed on for 47 laps as the drivers put on a great show for the fans!

Jon Tesch found the top side to his liking as he passed Shryock for second. Terry Phillips used the low line to make his move on Bolin for fifth as Tesch took the lead away from Dotson on lap thirteen. Dotson and Shryock raced wheel to wheel for the runner up spot as Tesch began to pull away. Shryock would eventually get the better of Dotson and snare the second spot while Phillips found the quick way around Whiteaker for fourth. He didn't keep that position for long, however, as Johnny Scott made the pass. Scott was driving Jason Hughes' backup car this past weekend.

Tesch would find himself making significant contact with the turn four wall and slowed his momentum, allowing Shryock to close in as they encountered lapped traffic. Dotson and Scott chased down the front two cars as well to make it a four-way battle for the top spot. With Tesch continuing to run the top side, Shryock ducked inside and took over the lead around lap thirty-six. Tesch would regain the lead a few short laps later while Dotson and Scott ran door to door for third. Dotson would get the position and pull alongside Shryock for second as the two made contact on the front straightaway, lifting Shryock's back tires off the dirt. Both cars were unharmed and continued on.

Scott and Phillips took advantage of the mishap and got by Dotson for third and fourth place, respectively. Tesch, Shryock, Scott, and Phillips again would work lapped traffic while being closely bunched together. Shryock would again take over the top spot while Scott later worked his way by Tesch for second. Phillips would also get by Tesch as the caution flag waved on lap fifty-eight as Dotson and Ryan Gustin spun in turn three. A single file restart was used, but no passes would be seen at the front of the pack during the remainder of the race as Kelly Shryock was crowned "King of America" and pocketed the lute that went with it. Johnny Scott finished second, Terry Phillips was third, Jon Tesch fourth, and Steve Whiteaker rounded out the top five.

With as much action that was seen in the first fifty-some odd laps, I was disappointed that the track didn't allow for it late in the race. However, I came away satisfied seeing the pack work through lapped traffic with little to no contact made on the tight quarter-mile speedplant.

USMTS officials announced Saturday night that the event would be held in late March in 2012. I'm sure those in attendance have already marked it on their calendars, and this race fan will be doing so as well.

I'd like to thank the USMTS staff, namely Todd and Janet Staley along with Jeff Nun, for their continued hospitality throughout the 2011 racing season. These three people were always willing to take the time to talk with me and ask my opinions on what I had witnessed each night. Hopefully next year I can schedule a few more shows into my plans.

For a rundown from each of the four nights at Humboldt this past weekend, check out the USMTS website. For those of you who may be able to travel, the USMTS series has three more shows left on their schedule. They will head to the Royal Purple Raceway in Baytown, Texas on November 17-19. Formerly known as Houston Raceway Park, the state-of-the-art facility just east of Houston provides a great view for fans as I rate it in my top five of best facilities I've ever attended. If you get the chance, I'd highly recommend checking it out!!

- Racing may be a hobby, but it's DEFINITELY addictive!!

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