The full moon hid behind the clouds Saturday at the end of an amazing night of sprint car racing at Plymouth Dirt Track (PDTR). After losing two consecutive shows to rain, the Bumper to Bumper IRA Outlaw Sprint Series found the third time the charm on their first annual visit to the former home of so many of their racers. This time they would find the oval a bit longer, high banking in the turns, bleachers in the back pits and a new catch fence. The fencing passed the acid test, catching and returning several racers safely. The rapt audience watched and waited for the drivers to climb out of their mangled mounts, gratefully applauding them with relief.
The full house arrived early for the night of sprint car racing, cheering their favorites all night. Brian Kristan was the fourth IRA qualifier, posting the fastest lap of the field Saturday. The second heat began with Ken Jay Fiedler the first to test the new fencing, returning to the pits before quickly climbing into his 360 sprint car for the next division’s heat only two races later. The IRA heats were won by Steve Meyer, Ben Schmidt and Dave Uttech, and the first fifteen cars were set into the feature. The B main completed two laps when suddenly Dennis Spitz and Allen Hafford got airborne, but both climbed out unhurt. Scott Uttech led the seven transferees in the reduced field before the feature invert was set.
As luck would have it, the front row of the 30-lap main contained the top two championship contenders, Phillip Mock and defending champion Billy Balog. The other twenty hopefuls could only follow. Behind the pair were Blake Nimee, Bill Rose, Dave Uttech, Schmidt, Meyer and Wayne Modjeski. The 22 winged machines gathered four abreast to the cheers of the crowd before settling into race mode. All eyes were on the front row as they approached the starting cone. Balog only had once chance to beat Mock and took it, vaulting ahead at the green flag. One could say Balog never looked back, but in fact he did, seeing his top rival still there at the end.
Beginning to lap the back of the field on the fifth circuits, Balog couldn’t shake Mock as the race came to the closing laps. With six circuits remaining Schmidt got airborne and Dave Uttech stopped nearby as the red flag came out again. Schmidt became the third and final one out of the race before the end. The safety crew worked overtime Saturday, clearing the track once again. It was confusing to see the lapped cars posted on the scoreboard along with the leaders, reflecting the order on the track instead of the actual leaders. Balog had to keep Mock behind him one more time at the green flag, and the field roared ahead to the finish line without delay. Only ten cars were on the lead lap at the end, Balog and Mock followed by Jordan Goldsberry, Rose and Meyer.
Balog wasn’t sure starting in the front row would be a good thing on the newly-configured track, happily notching his third consecutive win of the season. Balog stated, “I was lapping cars and I looked up on the red and saw Phillip was there behind me. I got a little bit nervous.” Asked about his first time on the new surface, Balog claimed, “We didn’t change too much. The track isn’t that much different.” Mock talked about his experience, “When he (Balog) got the jump on me I got up on top to try to catch him. He’s just so good. We’re not changing the car much at all,” stating he now changes his driving more than changing his setup. Goldberry was very happy, declaring, “I really didn’t realize we were third. There were so many lapped ones in there.”
More than thirty 360 sprints put on their own spectacular, beginning with drawing for heat positions. Passing points would take the top sixteen cars for the main before two B mains completed the field. The first heat was halfway done when Dannon Tessmer’s car flipped in the air, but the driver was okay. Travis Luedke Donny Goeden, Paul Pokorski and Doug Wondra were the heat winners, with Randy Sippel and Al Schlafer winning the B mains. Schlafer had the honor of setting a new race record as well. The field of 22 cars gathered four wide and rolled along to the waves of the crowd before getting to work in their 25-lap feature.
After the random inversion it was Chris Clayton and Josh Walter pacing the pack, followed by Goeden, Jason Johnson, Luedke, Brandon McMullen, Paul Pokorski and Danny Schlafer. Clayton launched ahead at the green flag and left the rest to solve their own problems, but Walter’s car got sideways to bring out the only caution of the race on the eighth circuit. Again Clayton led the way and Goeden challenged in the high groove for many laps before settling into the bottom behind the leader. Goeden saw a bit of an opening inside Clayton late in the race, and used it to forge ahead with six laps remaining. Meanwhile, all eyes were on Danny Schlafer, riding the high line and gaining on the frontrunners to challenge for the win. Schlafer had to settle for second, with Clayton, Luedke and Johnson rounding out the top five.
Goeden did not drive to victory lane, instead parking in front of the grandstands to the cheers of the crowd. His third win in the Bob Hood mount in four races, Goeden was asked if the outer lane was not working for him. The winner replied, “I was just being patient. I was just running the outside. My family and friends are here in turn one. This one’s for them.”
Just after 10:30 the show was complete in the chilly air. The third time was the charm for the IRA traveling troupe as Balog and Goeden matched it with their third wins of the season. Generations of racers and fans from several states left PDTR knowing they had seen the best. One lucky person left much richer when his 50/50 ticket was worth $1740. The rest of us were richer at seeing what transpired.
(Editors Note: Fay Hendricks is a long-time racing columnist and periodically will share her racing stories on Speed 51.) Photo Credit: Fay Hendricks.