Round And Around: Thursday At East Bay Raceway

The beginning of the end arrived Thursday at East Bay Raceway Park. The purse was boosted, more drivers showed up, and only two more shows remained before we had to leave the generous third-mile. A new day brought a new treat for Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series regulars. Series points would award provisional feature berths to a pair of drivers for the last three contests as this season?s points begin. The bad news was that only the winner of each B main would transfer to the main event, but at least there would be four contests instead of three. With 84 drivers competing, nearly 60 of them would miss the show. When the best of the best show up, the odds of making it through to the finale get very slim.

On Wednesday there were only ten drivers who had been in all three features. Thursday?s list was reduced to only seven. Don O?Neal began with a win, a second place, then third in the main, but Thursday didn?t follow the pattern with a fourth place finish. Matt Miller kept his string of top four finishes with a win, a fourth, and a pair of third place feature slots. Shannon Babb kept his feature run intact, but was the first to exit Thursday?s contest. Donnie Moran kept his series intact with a second top ten finish as well as a pair of top twenty runs. Steve Francis only had one low finish of his four nights, Thursday?s top ten the best so far. Terry English had two bad features and a top five before Thursday?s top twenty was posted. Tim Dohm, who had already seen enough adversity, had to borrow a car to keep his record intact, and posted a top twenty for his efforts.

Qualifying opened with very quick times and kept on going, with Terry Casey the quickest by far. ?It?s about time I get to spin the wheel?, said the Wisconsin veteran, with the spin resulting in heat races inverted by two cars. Asked about his misfortune in the previous night?s feature, Casey responded, ?If there?s oil on the race track, I?ll find it.? Still, he found a bright side to his night, ? It was fun running with Schlieper and Moyer.? Until colliding with a lapped car, that is. We learned that Steve Francis had a loose radiator during Wednesday?s feature. Then the thing hit the fan blades, and that was the end of his night. John Mason and Scott James were both installed with new engines Thursday, and Brian Shirley left the Rayburn house car for a different ride on day four.

Dennis Erb Jr. had something go awry at the end of his B while contending for the lead with Darren Miller, ending his string of consecutive features at three. Chuck Harper and Kevin Cole joined Babb at the end of their streak as well. But for every tale of woe there is a happy story of someone else making it through. Rick Eckert stayed ahead of Jimmy Owens, Earl Pearson Jr. beat English, Darren Miller bested Clint Smith, and Chris Wall was ahead of Eddie Carrier Jr. in the B mains. English and Scott James were the two Lucas Oil provisional starters by 2007 points.

Kentucky?s Bryan Barber won the Strawberry Dash for the 25th, and final, feature berth by leaping forward from third place to the lead on the opening lap of the ten-car race. The happy Barber exclaimed, ?It?s been a long week. I knew it was pretty much get there on the first lap. It?s been a long road.? Because he came out with a different mount, Dohm had to forgo his fourth-row berth and start at the back of the pack.

The 40-lap finale began and ended with Casey on the point, but not without some tense moments. Lapped traffic became an issue at one point, with Billy Moyer threatening to sneak past on the inside. But the veteran has stayed in the sport long enough to know better, staying out of trouble rather than force his car where there wasn?t quite enough room. The race was slowed four times, once ending with an irate Eric Jacobsen erupting out of his spun mount and rushing to Tim McCreadie afterwards. After three yellow flags in the first ten laps, it was all green-flag racing until five circuits from the checkered flag when Bart Hartman made his exit. You could say the track locked down early except for the fact that Moran was passing cars on the outside, picking up a remarkable ten positions to finish seventh.

For Casey, it was the very first victory at East Bay, and he was heard to say, ?It?s about time!?, before the announcer reached him with the microphone. Telling the full house, ?I?ve had the worst luck ever.?, then told of the luck of the draw for the feature start. ?It?s funny?, told the Wisconsin winner, ?Matt Miller drew one and I drew the other.? Explaining his feature run, Casey continued, ?I just started to slow down a little. We changed tires?, then saw his wife in tears and said, ?My wife and my son, I think this means more them,? and gave thanks to the man who supported his efforts even though things looked bleak. The $10,000 check made things so much better.

Just after 10:00 it was all over for another night. It was still in the 70?s as fans flocked to the pits to visit their heroes. The restaurant would feed those who missed supper to work on the cars, beverages of choice were bought, and life in the parking lot was reasonably quiet. Later the rain came as we slept instead of during the action, as predicted. Meanwhile, we learned that back home the terrible winter weather caused havoc. We are going to hate to go back.

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