Bobby East Goes West, 'Steeles' the Show – By Bobby Gerould – 03/27/04 – Baldwin Park, CA. …It was supposed to be Dave Steele’s $50,000. A story worthy of nearby Hollywood’s attention. There was no way anyone was as fast in an open track as the Tampa, Florida pavement ace was Saturday night. He out-qualified the field by over four-tenths of a second on the banked half-mile Irwindale Speedway showplace. At stake in the MOPAR Twin 25’s was a 50 grand bonus from Automotive Racing Products to anyone who could win the first 25 lap midget race, and then start 25th in the second Twin 25, and somehow win that too. When Steele dominated the dash from sixth starting spot and had the lead in two laps, the writing appeared to be on the script. Steele looked like a shoe-in.
What happened though was a good old-fashioned Hollywood script flip. The rewrite saw Steele lose his left rear wheel on lap nine of the first twin 25. Sliding into turn one, Steele clobbered the unforgiving concrete while leading. He had just ‘checked up’ to avoid a tangle between Scott Thoman, and Johnny Rodriguez. The damage to Steele’s MOPAR powered, Nicholas #2 midget car was beyond repair, and although Steele emerged unhurt, himself, his night was over. That left the lead for Brownsburg, Indiana’s Bobby East, and a supporting role to Thomas Meseraull.
Driving one of two Steve Lewis Racing Beast/Pink Ford’s, East took advantage of Steele’s trouble to dominate the first 'Twin', an official USAC National and Western Midget points race. The racing behind East was excellent. In the early acts, a torrid battle for fourth saw Michael Lewis, Cole Carter, and Dave Darland improvising in the 26-car field. After Steele’s exit on lap nine, East held the lead over Tracy Hines, Darland, and Lewis. Action was cut with 12 laps down as Bobby Santos III, and Garrett Hansen did a double spin in turn three. Darland, the Lincoln, IN. veteran, pressured East with a low move in the first set of turns on the ensuing restart. East responded to the challenge by pulling away in the second half of the first Twin 25.
Carter, at the halfway mark, used the high line to sneak into fourth with a pass of Lewis. Meanwhile, Tom Hessert III was also worthy of note. The 17 year-old pilot from Cherry Hill, NJ moved into the fourth spot on lap 19. At the finish line it was East over Darland, Hines, Hessert, and Brad Kuhn.
The second feature was more for show. Without points, but with a healthy payoff, East was gridded 25th. He would have 25 laps to pass the field and take a shot at the bonus. East said over the public address, "There's no points involved in this second race, so we're going to go for it."
East showed his skill and bravery by jumping to the highest portions of the Irwindale turns on the opening lap of the second Twin 25. He passed seven cars on the first lap before a caution flag appeared for Jay Drake who did a quick spin. With the large Southern California crowd cheering each pass, the 19 year-old East operated with a surgeon’s precision. He spilt cars, he drove around cars, and he went underneath cars. By end of lap two, East was 13th, having already dispatched of teammate Darland.
San Jose driver Meseraull was setting a furious pace as the leader of the event, driving the Bay Muffler Beast / Esslinger. But all watching knew that East had a real shot at the bonus when he secured eighth place by the end of lap five. Taking a serious risk by extending three-wide, East pushed the issue and nosed his #9 into fourth place on lap seven. With 18 to go, East had Meseraull, Kuhn, and Jerome Rodela left to pass. Rodela was handled by lap nine, and with 15 circuits remaining, East was in third place but was three-quarters of a straightaway out of the lead. On lap 18 East widdled Meseraull's advantage to half a straightaway.
With the drama building to a climax, East put his midget on the tip-top of turn two to get around the fast-paced Kuhn, and set his sights on Meseraull. Time was running out. With four laps to go, and deep traffic separating he and the leader, East brought the fans to their collective feet by cutting Meseraull’s cushion to a quarter of a straightaway at the white flag. However, the feel-good hit of the spring did not end with a victory lap for East. Meseraull held his ground and emerged with the second Twin 25 win, prompting a wild jump from the top of his cage when he pulled into the winner’s circle.
East wound up second but left the West Coast with a new legion of believers. Kuhn, Darland, and Ron Gregory completed the top five. Darland and Jerome Rodela claimed qualifying races. Rodriguez won a 15-lap "last chance" race. Second-quick qualifier, Gregory, retired on lap two of the first Twin 25.
USAC NATIONAL/WESTERN MIDGET CAR SERIES
QUALIFICATIONS: 1. Dave Steele, 2, Nicholas, 16.665 seconds; 2. Ron Gregory, 22, Irvin, 17.074; 3. Bobby East, 9, Lewis, 17.153; 4. Tracy Hines, 11, Wilke, Pak, 17.205; 5. Steve Paden, 01, Farrier, 17.234; 6. Michael Lewis, 40, Western Speed, 17.279; 7. Teddy Beach, 125, Beach, 17.287; 8. Cole Carter, 7, Carter, 17.318; 9. Brad Kuhn, 74, James, 17.322; 10. Tom Hessert III, 5, Hessert, 17.348; 11. Dave Darland, 19, Lewis, 17.384; 12. Jay Drake, 29, Tomassi, 17.400; 13. Garrett Hansen, 70, Hansen, 17.470; 14. Drew Fornoro, 16, Campanale, 17.538; 15. Josh Wise, 20, Stewart, 17.602; 16. Bobby Santos III, 60, Western Speed, 17.602; 17. Johnny Rodriguez, 30, Rodriguez, 17.643; 18. Matt Mitchell, 37, Mitchell, 17.675; 19. Thomas Meseraull, 10, Walker, 17.694; 20. Danny Ebberts, 14, Schlachter/Ebberts, 17.707; 21. Stuart Birkinbine, 02, Birkinbine, 17.727; 22. Aaron Fike, 32, RFMS, 17.731; 23. Ryan Kaplan, 21, Kaplan, 17.776; 24. Jerome Rodela, 25, Rodela, 17.786; 25. Todd Beach, 15, Beach, 17.825; 26. Tony Hunt, 4x, Rosen, 17.832; 27. Ryan Durst, 51, Durst, 17.848; 28. Wally Pankratz, 8, Pankratz, 17.910; 29. Scott Thoman, 88, SST, 17.922; 30. Mario Marietta, 120, Marietta, 17.986; 31. Josh Ford, 41, Griffith, 18.032; 32. Michael Simpson, 59, Simpson, 18.192; 33. Stephen Graves, 94, Graves, 18.373; 34. Murray Erickson, 18, Guardian, 18.773; 35. Dallen McKenney, 88x, McKenney, no time; 36. James Miller, 48, Miller, no time; 37. Davey Ray, 111, Wilke, Pak, no time; 38. #20T, Stewart, no time; 39. #91, Lewis, no time.
TROPHY DASH (8 laps): 1. Steele, 2. Hines, 3. Gregory, 4. East, 5. Lewis, 6. Teddy Beach, 7. Carter, 8. Paden.
QUALIFYING RACE #1 (15 laps): 1. Darland, 2. Kuhn, 3. Meseraull, 4. Wise, 5. Hansen, 6. Todd Beach, 7. Rodriguez, 8. Thoman, 9. Birkinbine, 10. Ford, 11. Kaplan, 12. Graves, 13. Durst.
QUALIFYING RACE #2 (15 laps): 1. Rodela, 2. Drake, 3. Santos, 4. Hessert, 5. Hunt, 6. Fornoro, 7. Ebberts, 8. Marietta, 9. Aaron Fike, 10. Pankratz, 11. Simpson, 12. Erickson, 13. Mitchell.
LAST CHANCE RACE (15 laps): 1. Rodriguez, 2. Birkinbine, 3. Ebberts, 4. Thoman, 5. Durst, 6. Ford, 7. Marietta, 8. Graves, 9. Kaplan, 10. Pankratz, 11. Fike, 12. Miller.
FEATURE #1 (25 laps): 1. Bobby East, 2. Dave Darland, 3. Tracy Hines, 4. Tom Hessert, 5. Brad Kuhn, 6. Cole Carter, 7. Michael Lewis, 8. Steve Paden, 9. Teddy Beach, 10. Drew Fornoro, 11. Josh Wise, 12. Danny Ebberts, 13. Jerome Rodela, 14. Thomas Meseraull, 15. Jay Drake, 16. Garrett Hansen, 17. Aaron Fike, 18. Wally Pankratz, 19. Bobby Santos III, 20. Tony Hunt, 21. Todd Beach, 22. Johnny Rodriguez, 23. Dave Steele, 24. Scott Thoman, 25. Stuart Birkinbine, 26. Ron Gregory. Lap Leaders: Steele 1-8, East 9-25.
FEATURE #2 (25 laps): 1. Thomas Meseraull, 2. Bobby East, 3. Brad Kuhn, 4. Dave Darland, 5. Ron Gregory, 6. Cole Carter, 7. Tracy Hines, 8. Jerome Rodela, 9. Drew Fornoro, 10. Josh Wise, 11. Garrett Hansen, 12. Teddy Beach, 13. Aaron Fike, 14. Bobby Santos III, 15. Steve Paden, 16. Tony Hunt, 17. Jay Drake, 18. Wally Pankratz, 19. Johnny Rodriguez, 20. Michael Lewis, 21. Scott Thoman, 22. Tom Hessert, 23. Danny Ebberts, 24. Todd Beach. Lap Leaders: Meserraul 1-25. National and Western Points Standings (top 10): 1-East-122; 2-Darland-99; 3-Steele-82; 4-Wise-79; 5-Carter-76; 6-Kuhn-75; 7-J.J. Yeley-65; 8-Lewis-65; 9-Fornoro-56; 10-Drake-56. Next National Race: April 24, The Raceway @ Powercom Park, Beaver Dam, Wis. Next Western Race: April 3, The Bullring at Las Vegas (Nev.) Motor Speedway.
USAC CALIFORNIA FORD FOCUS MIDGET CAR SERIES QUALIFICATIONS: 1. Bobby McGowan, 15, McGowan, 14.746 seconds; 2. Josh Lakatos, 4, Bristing, 14.797; 3. Patrick Carpentier, 1, Ford, 14.812; 4. Ryan Pace, 14, Pace, 14.872; 5. Matt Triplett, 38, McGerigle, 14.977; 6. Bobby Owens, 7, Owens, 14.986; 7. J.J. Ercse, 40, CamLand, 14.994; 8. Chase Barber, 91, Barber, 14.999; 9. Chris Rahe, 31, Rahe, 15.000; 10. Todd Hunsaker, 86, Graves, 15.005; 11. Bobby Michnowicz, 21, Michnowicz/Zoriki, 15.019; 12. Steve Koster Jr., 12, Koster, 15.130; 13. Scott Pierovich, 35, Pierovich, 15.159; 14. Steve Koster Jr., 12, Koster, 15.261; 15. Jeff Sakowicz, 62, Sakowicz, 15.270; 16. Stephen Davis, 77, Davis, 15.290; 17. J.R. Williams, 74, Williams, 15.297; 18. Jody Bandfield, 22, Michnowicz/Zoriki, 15.343; 19. Michel Jourdain Jr., 2, Ford, 15.401; 20. Robert Hawks, 6, Hawks, 15.477; 21. Eric Pace, 28, Pace, 15.554; 22. Cal Smith, 39, Smith, 16.221; 23. Brett Engstrom, 5, Engstrom, 16.255; 24. James Miller, 48, Miller, no time.
FEATURE (25 laps): 1. Josh Lakatos, 2. Ryan Pace, 3. Matt Triplett, 4. Bobby Owens, 5. Patrick Carpentier, 6. Bobby McGowan, 7. J.J. Ercse, 8. Bobby Michnowicz, 9. Chris Rahe, 10. Scott Pierovich, 11. Steve Davis, 12. Chase Barber, 13. Steve Koster Jr., 14. James Miller, 15. Eric Pace, 16. Cal Smith, 17. Jeff Sakowicz, 18. J.R. Williams, 19. Brett Engstrom, 20. Jody Bandfield, 21. Todd Hunsaker, 22. Robert Hawks, 23. Bradley Galedrige, 24. Michel Jourdain Jr. Lap Leaders: Owens 1, Pace 2-6, Lakatos 7-25. Points Standings (top 10): 1-Lakatos-65; 2-Ryan Pace-60; 3-Triplett-56; 4-Owens-52; 5-McGowan-51; 6-Ercse-42; 7-Michnowicz-39; 8-Rahe-36; 9-Pierovich-33; 10-Davis-31.
Next Race: April 3, The Bullring at Las Vegas (Nev.) Motor Speedway.
The companion USAC Ford Focus Midget 25 lapper took place on the inner third-mile track. Josh Lakatos stomped the field that included Champ Car driver, Patrick Carpentier. Also suited up for action was Michel Jourdain Jr. However a mechanical failure never allowed Jourdain to get up to speed, and he pulled off the track immediately after the green flag.
…Before the start of the second Twin 25, California Highway Patrol squad cars escorted a Loomis Fargo armored vehicle around the track, stopping at East's 25th starting spot on the pre-race grid. The MOPAR Twins, Kylie and Katie Huffman then hopped out of the truck and reminded East of the $50 grand waiting for him if he could pull off the job. The twins held a mock-up of the winners check while East was interviewed by SPEED Channel pit reporter Dave Argabright. The event was called "live to tape" by SPEED's Ralph Sheheen, and Larry Rice.