By Chris W. Lovett
This year I got to road-trip it to
Dirt late models get around
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.
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
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
Qualifications were complete at . Preliminary events, which were halted by just two yellow flags, were in the books by just past . 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 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