Lonnie Wheatley, LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Christopher Bell had been close to victory at I-30 Speedway before, only to come up one position short.
The 19-year-old from Norman, OK, changed that on Friday night by topping the fast and furious, non-stop 25-lap feature that put the wraps on the second night of qualifying at the track’s 27th Annual COMP Cams Short Track Nationals presented by Hoosier Tires.
Although he started from the pole position in Brandon Berryman’s All Pro Auto Reconditioning No. 31b JR1 chassis, his 23rd overall victory of 2014 didn’t come without a race-long battle with fellow Sooner State shoe Matt Covington, who paced the initial 16 laps.
“I had to work for that one,” Bell said in victory lane. “Matt drove a really good race, I was finally able to get a good run off of two to get him.”
With the triumph, Bell locked himself into his third consecutive $15,000-to-win STN finale after earning runner-up honors over each of the past two years. “We’ve been close here the last two years, this is a great track and it feels good to finally be in victory lane here.”
Covington settled for runner-up honors in the T&L Foundry No. 95 Triple-X to secure a position in his second career STN finale and first since 2011, while West Memphis shoe A.G. Rains landed a berth in his seventh career STN main event with a career-best third-place STN preliminary finish aboard the ACME Racing No. 3.
With Bell and Glenpool’s Covington earning the front row for the main event, Covington gunned into the lead at the outset. While Covington working the lower half of the track for the most part, Bell moved in on the topside and began pressuring the Devil’s Bowl Winter Nationals champion for the point after a handful of laps.
Dicing through traffic, Bell slipped by Covington in turn two on the ninth round only to have Covington battle back in front through turns three and four to retain command.
Bell kept the pressure on through traffic and finally made what proved to be the race-winning move coming off turn two on the 17th circuit.
The race was far from over though, as Covington kept Bell within striking distance and closed back to within a pair of car-lengths as the white flag flew. Bell was steady on the final round, moving to the low side of turns three and four to preserve his third ASCS National Tour victory of the season by less than two car-lengths at the line.
With Covington settling for runner-up honors, Rains battled past 1997 STN champ Wayne Johnson for third just past the midway point and held the position to the end. Johnson was fourth with fellow Oklahoma City racer Joe Wood, Jr., rounding out the top five.
Terry Gray, the seventh STN king in 1997, was sixth with Washington native Gary Taylor racing from 14th to seventh. Liberal, KS, native Tony Bruce, Jr., a back-to-back STN winner in 2008 and 2009, rebounded from heat race issues to advance from 12th to eighth with Tulsa-area racer Blake Hahn and Memphis-area shoe Jerod Roller completing the top ten.
Illini rep A.J. Bruns was the top-finishing STN rookie contender with a 13th-place run, besting Dale Wester in 19th after Thursday’s top rookie finishers were Morgan Turpen (14th) and Ryan Bowers (17th).
Wood, Jr., Jason Johnson, Glenn Styres, Bell and Rains topped heat race action for Friday night’s 37-car field with Bruce, Jr., Charlie Louden, Marshall Skinner and Bruns winning the qualifying races.
Johnny Herrera and Styres topped the 12-lap “B” Mains.
Howard Moore returned to action after sailing off the top of turn two early in the night’s third heat race.
The final lap of the night’s first “B” Main got ugly when North Carolina’s Eric Riggins, Jr., drove through Harli White in the final pair of corners in the battle for the final transfer position. Both drivers escaped injury after flipping wildly with Dale Wester the beneficiary by inheriting the position.
The 27th Annual COMP Cams Short Track Nationals presented by COMP Cams concludes with Saturday’s racing action that includes eight Saturday Night STN Showdowns along with three “C” Mains, three “B” Mains, the Dash and $15,000-to-win, $2,500-to-start STN championship finale. Action gets under way at 7:30 p.m.
27th Annual COMP Cams Short Track Nationals presented by Hoosier Tires Friday Night Results:
First Heat (10 Laps): 1. 03-Joe Wood, Jr., 2. 10g-Terry Gray, 3. 38-Rick Pringle, 4. 4J-Gary Taylor, 5. 44-A.J. Bruns, 6. 33z-Zach Pringle, 7. 16-Anthony Nicholson, 8. 21bx-Brandon Hinkle.
Second Heat (10 Laps): 1. 41-Jason Johnson, 2. 5r-Jerod Roller, 3. 45x-Johnny Herrera, 4. 82-Dusty Zomer, 5. 28-Jason Keith, 6. 75-Broc Elliott, 7. 00-Dane Lorenc, 8. 9jr-Derek Hagar.
Third Heat (10 Laps): 1. 0-Glenn Styres, 2. 47-Eric Riggins, Jr., 3. 17w-Harli White, 4. 8m-Kade Morton, 5. 18-Tony Bruce, Jr., 6. 40-Howard Moore. DNS: 14m-Jordon Mallett.
Fourth Heat (10 Laps): 1. 31b-Christopher Bell, 2. 77x-Wayne Johnson, 3. 52-Blake Hahn, 4. 51b-Joe B. Miller, 5. X-Charlie Louden, 6. 58-Gary Floyd, 7. 12w-Dale Wester.
Fifth Heat (10 Laps): 1. 3a-A.G. Rains, 2. 95-Matt Covington, 3. 14k-Kyle Bellm, 4. 26-Marshall Skinner, 5. 91-Shane Golobic, 6. 17b-Ryan Bickett, 7. 31g-Johnny Gardner.
Qualifying Races – Top 14 in Combined Passing/Finishing Points to “A” Feature; Balance to “B” Mains
First Qualifier (10 Laps): 1. 18-Tony Bruce, Jr., 2. 52-Blake Hahn, 3. 5r-Jerod Roller, 4. 82z-Dusty Zomer, 5. 45x-Johnny Herrera, 6. 33z-Zach Chappell, 7. 41-Jason Johnson, 8. 16-Anthony Nicholson, 9. 58-Gary Floyd. DNS: 14m-Jordon Mallett.
Second Qualifier (10 Laps): 1. X-Charlie Louden, 2. 4J-Gary Taylor, 3. 31b-Christopher Bell, 4. 03-Joe Wood, Jr., 5. 38-Rick Pringle, 6. 51b-Joe B. Miller, 7. 12w-Dale Wester, 8. 28-Jason Keith, 9. 75-Broc Elliott.
Third Qualifier (10 Laps): 1. 26-Marshall Skinner, 2. 91-Shane Golobic, 3. 10g-Terry Gray, 4. 14k-Kyle Bellm, 5. 0-Glenn Styres, 6. 47-Eric Riggins, Jr., 7. 40-Howard Moore, 8. 9jr-Derek Hagar, 9. 00-Dane Lorenc.
Fourth Qualifier (10 Laps): 1. 44-A.J. Bruns, 2. 95-Matt Covington, 3. 3a-A.G. Rains, 4. 77x-Wayne Johnson, 5. 17b-Ryan Bickett, 6. 8m-Kade Morton, 7. 17w-Harli White, 8. 21bx-Brandon Hinkle. DNS: 31g-Johnny Gardner.
“B” Features – Top 3 from Each Advance to “A” Feature
First “B” Feature (12 Laps): 1. 45x-Johnny Herrera, 2. 91-Shane Golobic, 3. 12w-Dale Wester, 4. 38-Rick Pringle, 5. 58-Gary Floyd, 6. 17w-Harli White, 7. 47-Eric Riggins, Jr., 8. 75-Broc Elliott, 9. 17b-Ryan Bickett, 10. 28-Jason Keith. DNS: 31g-Johnny Gardner, 14m-Jordon Mallett.
Second “B” Feature (12 Laps): 1. 0-Glenn Styres, 2. 14k-Kyle Bellm, 3. 41-Jason Johnson, 4. 51b-Joe B. Miller, 5. 33z-Zach Chappell, 6. 9jr-Derek Hagar, 7. 40-Howard Moore, 8. 00-Dane Lorenc, 9. 16-Anthony Nicholson, 10. 21bx-Brandon Hinkle, 11. 8m-Kade Morton.
“A” Feature – Top 3 Finishers Locked into Saturday night’s $15,000 to win STN Finale.
A Feature (25 Laps – Starting position in parentheses): 1. 31b-Christopher Bell (1), 2. 95-Matt Covington (2), 3. 3a-A.G. Rains (3), 4. 77x-Wayne Johnson (4), 5. 03-Joe Wood, Jr. (5), 6. 10g-Terry Gray (6), 7. 4J-Gary Taylor (14), 8. 18-Tony Bruce, Jr. (12), 9. 52-Blake Hahn (9), 10. 5r-Jerod Roller (11), 11. 82z-Dusty Zomer (10), 12. 45x-Johnny Herrera (15), 13. 44-A.J. Bruns (8), 14. 91-Shane Golobic (17), 15. 41-Jason Johnson (20), 16. X-Charlie Louden (13), 17. 0-Glenn Styres (16), 18. 14k-Kyle Bellm (18), 19. 12w-Dale Wester (19), 20. 26-Marshall Skinner (7).
Lap Leaders: Matt Covington 1-16, Christopher Bell 17-25.
Track PR – Lonnie Wheatley photo