Back Home Again in Belleville '05


Part One


By Chris W. Lovett


     This year I got to road-trip it to Belleville. Even though it was a solo flight it was still great to be on the road again. Coming in from the west on hwy. 36 allowed me to see a different part of Kansas and saved me the agony of having to drive through any part of Nebraska.

     Arriving in Belleville the Sunday before the Nationals afforded me the opportunity to see the only class I hadn't seen compete on the Highbanks and that was the dirt late models. Having heard over and over that they put on a good show I took advantage of the opportunity see it for myself. The first heat was taking the green flag as I paid my $20 and walked through the gate.

     Dirt late models get around Belleville extremely well. If a driver misses the setup you can tell it right away but for the ones that get it right it's as fast as they'll ever go. Side by side racing is the norm and no position is secure. A late model "Nationals" at Belleville would be an extremely successful event in my opinion.

     The fair doesn't actually start until Tuesday night. If you arrived early and looked forward to doing absolutely nothing then you came to the right place. There are plenty of people that show up early intentionally to spend a quiet afternoon with if you wanted to or you can enjoy the calm before the storm all by yourself. It's not as if there isn't anything to do at all but the feeling tends to be that you aren't going to do anything more than you absolutely have to.

     Kansas weather this summer has been extremely hot and there hasn't been a whole lot of rain. Mother Nature definitely did what she could to help in the rain department Monday night. The storm that moved into the area in the early evening on Monday didn't leave until early Tuesday morning after dumping 4-1/2 inches of rain.

     It's hard to believe that a rained out Tuesday night show could be the best thing to happen to a racetrack but that is definitely what happened this year. At least as far as the Thursday night program was concerned this was the case. With all due respect to Eagle Raceway in Nebraska whose Tuesday night USAC midget show was also a washout the NCRA 360 race that was supposed to run the same night at Belleville got moved to Thursday as a result of the same storm.

     The Fair Amusements Committee decided to have another go-around with the Ford Focus Midgets and made it a general admission gate set for Thursday night. Apparently there were very few pre-entries for this race, certainly less than half of the entries they received for the inaugural race for this class last year. It was generally agreed upon by everyone from race fans to fair board members that Thursday night's event was going to be little more than a very unspectacular dud. By adding the 360's, which run the half-mile track, to the already scheduled Focus race on the quarter mile an embarrassing disaster was averted.

     Watching the 360's during their 20 lap feature race is both an assault on the senses and, if you were able keep up with the action on the track, a lesson in smart driving. The drivers that were able to move up through the field had to be very strategic about how they made their moves for position since the entire field is moving at such a blistering pace. Also, on the quarter mile, the Focus cars had a much better racing surface to work with than they had last year. There was a cushion on top for the guys that wanted to run up there and a bottom groove that held moisture all night for those who wanted to do it catfish style.

     Fortunately for all in Belleville things cooled off and the rain clouds stayed away the rest of the week. The weather might have been cool but in the days leading up to Friday night the rumor mill couldn't have been hotter. Will Tony Stewart fly in for Saturday? Will he race? Are Tracy Hines and defending Champ Bobby East going to have to fly in Saturday and start scratch because of their truck commitments? Is it true that the Lewis cars won't be in Belleville this year? Will this be the last year for Camp Fun? Will the Highbanks renew with USAC or decide to go it alone next year? I could go on and on but you get the picture.

       Friday arrived and so did a healthy field of 53 midgets with 45 of them actually taking qualifying laps. Hot laps produced a track with a fast groove that was about a car-width off the fence with the exception of the apex of the back straight. At that point on the racetrack the groove ran right up to the fence. Australian driver Glenn Revell, in his first trip to the Highbanks, learned the hard way that you have to be careful with just how strongly you flirt with the fence here.

     Revell clobbered the wall on the back stretch sending him into a series of end over end flips that teetered between going out of the ballpark and flipping down the banking of the track. Amazingly enough, the car did stay in the ballpark and came to rest in the upright position at the bottom of the entrance to turn three. After a careful extraction, during which he was conscious, Revel was taken to Republic County Hospital before being forwarded to Wichita by helicopter for further evaluation.

     Qualifications were complete at 9:00. Preliminary events, which were halted by just two yellow flags, were in the books by just past 10:00. That's not to say there wasn't some breathtaking racing during those events. Two time champ Darland had to drive his ass off after starting at the back of his heat race to win it. Similarly Davey Ray survived a hair-raising drive from the back of the fourth heat, which included a three-abreast battle for third, to eventually win it in the end. Darland and Ray then proceeded to have a torrid battle for second in the dash which ended up being the battle for the lead when race-long leader Danny Stratton lost power exiting turn four on the checkered flag lap. Ray took the checkered flag in the lead and Darland settled for second.

     Twenty-five cars took the green flag in the 25 lap preliminary feature. The feature line-up included two of USAC's hottest drivers, Jay Drake and Josh Wise, who finished first and second respectively in the semi relegating themselves to a row 10 start. The green flag dropped at 11:10 and Darland promptly took over the lead. Green flag racing lasted until lap nine when the caution flew. Before the yellow Darland was stretching his lead over second place Jerry Coons Jr. but the veteran driver was audibly lifting entering turn one.

     When green flag racing resumed Coons did a better job of staying within striking distance of Darland and it appeared the leader was going to have to deal with a back-marker but the yellow flag flew again on lap seventeen which negated that possibility. With a clear track ahead of him Darland went on to lead the last eight laps finishing ahead of Coons with a five car-length advantage. The top six of Darland, Coons, Ray, Hines, Robby Flock, and Scott Hatton are locked into Saturday's 40 lap finale. PART II