TAMPA, FL…..2/1/03….."I was scared I would lose this race by getting hung up in lapped traffic, like what happened last year," said Sport Allen wearing the King of 360's crown he had just earned after winning the biggest race of his career, the $10,000 Ronald Laney Memorial, Saturday night at East Bay Raceway Park. Allen became the fifth different winner in five years and the story of the night was how masterfully he worked lapped traffic.
"We built this car especially for this race and we hoped to be high enough in points to start on the front row and it all worked out for us," said winning car owner Taylor Andrews, standing beside his driver. He continued, "Bucky Ziegler built us a heck of an engine and the chassis is what Brian Schnee thought we needed. We never changed the car since the second night we ran."
The four-night stand for 360 Sprint cars climaxed with a format using total points accumulated over three preliminary nights. The top six were locked in straight up for the front three rows of the feature and the balance ran four heats which qualified another 12 cars. The rest of the field came from the B-Main, for a 26 car starting field.
Terry McCarl and Allen were in row one with Lance Dewease and Jason Sides in row two. The third row showed Gary Wright and Greg Wilson. Masterfully working lapped traffic, Allen started outside Terry McCarl in the front row and immediately took the lead. He came up on lapped traffic late in lap four and lost no momentum, splitting two of those car with a slick move in turn three. He had put another two cars down a lap by the time the initial yellow came out on lap eight when the two cars of Gary Wright and Jason Sides bumped. Wright was able to hold on to third spot, but Sides went off on a wrecker. Allen had McCarl, Wright, Shane Stewart, Greg Wilson, Lance Dewease, Greg Leonard and Darren Stewart in single file behind him on the restart, but Darren stopped against the turn one wall on lap 11 for the second yellow flag. On two occasions during the next stretch of 11 green flag laps, McCarl tried every move he could to take the lead away from Allen, but could not pull it off.
By lap 19 Shane Stewart, who had started tenth, swept around the outside of fourth-running Wright in turn two to take the spot. But, on lap 23, Wright coasted to a halt high in turn four with a broken power steering line. When the green came out, McCarl, Shane Stewart and Leonard were still in line behind Allen, however, the lapped traffic was heavy by lap 33 and Stewart slipped inside the group to take second place away from McCarl. With five laps to go, Stewart was closing, but Allen made no mistakes and crossed under the waving double checkered flags of Julian Mullis with Stewart two car-lengths behind.
Stewart was driving a new MCI Chassis out of Brownsburg, Indiana powered by an Indianapolis based Schneider Engine. Scott Shilcutt, the owner, hired Rob and Kathy Hart for the season to keep the car race ready. Stewart also gave credit to Penske shocks and Sander Engineering. Leonard's third place finish was his highest ever in the King of 360's and he thanked his sponsors Art Janes Insurance, Hungry Howie's Pizza and his Mom and Dad. Two weeks ago he had to put a sleeve in the four-year old Gaerte engine that he used tonight in his four year old Eagle chassis. McCarl crossed the line fourth ahead of Joey Saldana, Greg Wilson, Dewease, Darren Eash, Freddie Rahmer and Paul McMahan up from 19th starting spot to land tenth place.
Heats went to Rahmer, Saldana, Darren Stewart and Shane Stewart. The l5-lap B-Main advanced Brad Pake, McMahan, Mike Woodring, Erin Crocker, Jeff Buckner, Jake Peters , Ryan Coniam and Brian Thomas to the A-Main. The Goodson Farms Strawberry Dash went to Alan Gilbertson, followed by Chuck Swenson, Terry Pletch, Corey Herring, Mike Lutz, Brian Maddox, Dan Bennett, John Karklin, Red Stauffer and Mark Cole.
The 2nd Annual Young Gun Challenge for drivers under 21 had eleven eligible drivers and 16 year old Danny Martin, Jr. from Sarasota, Florida in his third season, took the lead from Dusty Ballenger and collected $1,200 for the 15 lap event. Originally slated to pay $800 to win, the pot was sweetened by four sponsors, Goodson Farms, Kear's Speed Shop, Simpson Uniforms, Benic Enterprise and Putnam County Speedway.
The Limited Late Model feature winner was Bill Howard with David Reutimann, Jeff Matthews, Terry Bronson and John Norris in the top five. Third generation driver, Reutimann signed autographs and told the fans about his Hills Brothers Coffee sponsorship for seven Busch races this season, starting in Texas.
Jack Hewitt and wife Jody were on hand to give fans a few quotes from his new book, Hewitt's Law. The Dave Blaney Driving Experience two-seater gave ESPN sportscaster Dave Rieff a fast ride around this 1/3 oval. Thanks, Jean Lynch for East Bay Raceway Park