Following his win Friday in the “Belleville Midget Nationals” preliminaries, Bobby East of Brownsburg, Ind. felt he had the car to win the 27th Budweiser “Belleville Midget Nationals” in Belleville, Kans. It didn’t take him long to prove his assumption correct. The 19-year-old scored the biggest of his four feature victories at the Belleville High Banks on Saturday, as he led from the opening lap to the checkered flag in his No. 9 Team ASE – Ford/Beast. The win was car owner Steve Lewis’ sixth in eight years in the annual event.
“I can’t say enough about my crew. They did an excellent job tonight, and Ford gave me a lot of power,” said East, who claimed his fifth National/Western Midget Car Series victory of the 2004 season. “I was just hoping to get a good restart that last time, and fortunately I did.”
East merely dominated the competition in the 40-lap feature after driving to fourth in the six-lap dash. Davey Ray had jumped to the lead in the first turn of the feature after polesitter and dash winner Jay Drake fell to fifth at the drop of the green flag. But East powered past the two and Josh Wise on the top shelf to take the point coming out of turn two. Coming out of turn four, East had already built a large advantage. He led by three car lengths after lap one and doubled that gap over Ray after two laps.
Dave Darland, who won the first heat, raced his way from sixth starting position to third after the first lap and led Wise and Drake. Adam Clarke, meanwhile, moved to sixth after five laps. Darland brought out the first caution period when he stopped on the backstretch on lap 10. Clarke pushed up two spots and claimed fourth on the restart, then battled Wise for the third spot. East had distanced himself again from Ray, and three laps later led by nearly 14 car lengths.
On lap 23, East began overhauling slower traffic, and that helped Ray catch the eventual winner. Ray had pulled to within seven car lengths and was closing when, encountering slower traffic, hit the outside turn two wall. As Ray maneuvered his car down the backstretch slowly, Wise swerved to miss Ray’s car and scraped the wall in turn three. Ray stopped his car in turn three where he retired, while Wise pitted, eventually returning to finish one lap down in eighth. During the caution, Clarke retired from competition with a smoking car, putting Don Droud Jr. and Drake into the “top three.”
The field bunched up again a lap later when Ron Gregory, who was running in fifth, spun and tumbled over the turn one wall, flipping multiple times. Gregory was transported to Republic County Hospital in Belleville for observations, but later released from the hospital. On the lap 29 restart, Drake passed Droud and the three lapped cars separating second from first and pulled to within three car lengths of East. He continued to gain ground when, on lap 33, pushed the advantage back to 14 car lengths, and led second-place Drake past the checkered flags.
Tom Hessert, who started eighth, finished third, ahead of former Western Midget Car Series champions Robby Flock and Wally Pankratz. East continues to lead the National Midget Car Series point standings, while Johnny Rodriguez, the Western Midget Car Series point leader, failed to finish the feature. The National Midget Car Series continues action Wednesday at the Blossom Chevrolet Indianapolis Speedrome, while the Western Series makes its way to the Perris Auto Speedway on Aug. 14 in Perris, Calif.