The 39th edition of East Bay Raceway Park’s Winternationals began with Monday’s rain postponing the Lucas Oil Late Model opener. The Monday program would be split into two parts following the Thursday and Friday scheduled events instead of attempting a daytime race on Saturday, which had been the norm in past years. East Bay’s Al Varnadore spent many hours turning the muddy grounds into usable acreage on his vintage tractor, providing parking spots for the fans and making the pits navigable to dozens of race teams. With some opting not to compete Tuesday, 42 cars answered the call and found out what the track’s new clay was like.
Veterans and first-timers joined racers from California, Canada, and everywhere in between. Their ages ranged from 64-year old James O’Hara to 18-year old Bobby Pierce. Legendary father Bob Pierce may have left Illinois snow behind, but was shoveling mud from his pit area earlier. We found Wisconsin legend Pete Parker helping Danny Schlieper, who returned in a CJ Rayburn car for Speed Weeks.
The track was fast right away, with Illinois veteran Dennis Erb Jr. posting the quickest lap in the first ten cars. After drawing for heat starts, the heats transferred the top four finishers to the main event, followed by a pair of B mains each moving up the top four as well. Erb won his heat, followed by Stormy Scott, Bily Moyer and Earl Pearson Jr. The third heat was scarred by second-running Eddie Carrier Jr. suddenly slowing in a cloud. The last heat saw Pierce clip the heavy inner berm in turn four and spin violently, but recover to finish in the top four.
Jimmy Owens and Mark Whitener led the two B mains to earn feature berths. Ten random non-winners were chosen for the Strawberry Dash, but only eight answered the call. The event was a rousing race between California’s Jason Papich and Canadian Ricky Weiss. Weiss clipped the inner berm and ended his run, leaving Wisconsin’s Doug Blashe to shadow Papich to the checkered flag. Carrier’s qualifying time gave him a starting berth with Papich in the final row of the 26-car feature field. Erb and Scott started the 25-lap contest in front of Moyer, Pearson, Kyle Bronson and Billy Moyer Jr. They had barely begun when several cars got sideways, resulting in a tangle involving Scott Bloomquist, Russell Brown Jr., Chad Hollenbeck and Gregg Satterlee. Bloomquist never stopped rolling despite sustaining visible body damage, and all but one stayed in the race.
Moyer led the first lap, Erb the second, then Moyer and Erb again. Satterlee slowed to force another caution flag on lap five, and Moyer took the lead the next time around. Unfortunately, that lap ended with Devin Moran spun in the first turn and hit hard by Mason Ziegler. Erb regained the lead again on the tenth circuit just before a spun car brought out the next yellow flag. Erb held the point on the restart and survived one more slowdown with ten laps remaining when third-place Scott spun in the corner. Moyer was passed by Pearson at the end, with Pierce coming from behind to finish fourth and Brandon Sheppard completing the top five.
Erb surprised many when exclaiming, “That wat the worst feeling race car I ever had. The car wouldn’t steer. That was just luck, I guess.” Erb was asked about the changes he made recently, replying, “We got a good combination going this year. We’re looking forward to this year.” Pearson also talked about track conditions, stating, “That was retty slick out there with these tires. I don’t know what was going on behind, but it was a handful up front. We’ll come back tomorrow and see if we can make it better. Moyer, who has more wins than anyone at East Bay, claimed, “It was a little tricky there. Dennis (Erb) did a good job out there. Having it jump out of gear is no excuse, but we’ll work on it.”
It was not yet ten o’clock when the night was complete, the damp night air giving a preview of colder weather coming in. Still, it was much better than single-digit temperatures in Wisconsin. More adventures to come tomorrow.
Story & Photo: Fay Hendricks