The second round of qualifying for the East Coast Indoor Dirt Nationals for 600cc Mirco-Sprints was held Friday night at the CURE Insurance Arena in Trenton, NJ.
Once again, four 20-lap qualifiers would see the top two finishers in each race being elevated directly to Saturday’s A-main 50-lapper. For the second straight night, the track surface was a story, but instead of a bumpy close-quarters surface, it was a smooth, wide, and slick track, which produced fantastic racing.
It also opened the door for many different drivers to shine. In the final show of the night, Steve Buckwalter displayed his driving talents, carefully navigating the slick inside line on the then rubbered-up race track. This, coupled with great corner exit speed, allowed Buckwalter to take down the victory.
“I walked on the track before the Kart race and the only place I saw moisture was on the bottom. My car was rotating pretty good, figured if I could get to the bottom and get some speed up, we should be alright,” Buckwalter said at night’s end. “When they recut the track, I had the intention of running the top, got a pretty good drive off the exit, but I couldn’t get into it. So, I took the bottom on the restart and it seemed to work.”
Buckwalter’s win comes in a 600 originally prepared for his friend Jamie Spears, but Spears allowed Buckwalter to show his stuff this weekend.
“We tried to do some of that pavement indoor stuff and I was just getting wrecked, so we gave up on that. Put this car together for a buddy of mine, he hasn’t driven it yet, he asked me if I wanted to go to this race, and here we are. Just got a lot of work to do.”
Steve was not the only member of the Buckwalter family in the spotlight Friday. His cousin Tim Buckwalter was in a desperate fight for the final transfer spot in second position of the second qualifier against Eddie Strada.
Strada had opted for the low side of the track, but at that time of the evening Buckwalter was one of the first to use the outside line effectively, finding great speed up on the cushion to come up from the rear.
“You’re back there running around and everyone’s everywhere. I found the top down in four, I came off the top about 40 mph faster than the guy on the bottom. So, I told myself to just stay up there, try to get rolling, and then on that long run I just got the top rolling,” Tim Buckwalter explained. “But it was so slippery, you almost spun out on entry, but once you got over the cushion it would drive you straight. Guys on the bottom were going to play bumper cars so I figured that I had to go somewhere they’re not.”
But the drive was almost all for not, when Buckwalter and Strada made contact off turn four coming to the checkered flag, turning both cars sideways. Somehow Buckwalter maintained second ever so slightly, giving a thrilling end to the day after a frustrating beginning.
“I came off the wall and I saw I was ahead of him, but when we hit I thought he had me because we hit pretty equally, and they said we got him. Hopefully he’s not too mad, but you’re racing for the last transfer spot. After we broke a gear hub in the second practice and blew a radiator line in our heat, just to be able to put it in the show is awesome.”
In front of the spinning Tim Buckwalter, Jim Radney got the win in the second qualifier.
Another lucky driver Friday night was that of qualifier three winner Kyle Spence, who was an early favorite while battling Scott Kreutter in thrilling slide job vs slide job duel. Spence soon found himself back in the top five, but with laps winding down the seas parted at the top of the field as then leaders Kreutter and Kenny Miller III got each other out of shape.
“Pretty much just luck, the two leaders got together going for it and I had a huge run, shot right under them. From then on, I finally got the car a little bit better to work up top and just hang on to it basically,” Spence said.
But even this luck nearly ran out with less than two to go, as a spun-out car nearly sent Spence into the outside wall while trying to turn around.
“That was definitely close. I was doing everything I could to keep going because I was in a good spot. It was very nerve wracking seeing a car coming up the track with no yellow out at the time.”
Lee Nardelli also took advantage of the chaos to get the final transfer in the third qualifier.
From the first qualifier, race winner Billy Pauch, Jr. and runner-up Michael Carber both punched their tickets to the Saturday A-main. The final man to advance to Saturday was Sean Brierly, who got second in the fourth and final qualifier.
Alphabet soup feature racing begins at 5 p.m. ET on Saturday with a pair of G-mains being the starting point to help set the final eight spots for the East Coast Indoor Dirt Nationals A-main.
-Story by: Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com Northeast Editor - Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Speed51.com