Round And Around: Tuesday At East Bay Raceway

Night two of the six-pack special opened with several missing drivers and more new faces at East Bay Raceway Park. Daytime temperatures in the 80?s and shirtsleeve nights with no breeze made perfect conditions for fans to watch the ?car wars? in comfort. The Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series Winternationals has scheduled 30-lap features for the first three nights that pay $5,000 to win, then a 40-lap race for $10,000, a 50-lap event paying $10,000, and the finale 75 for $12,000 on Saturday. After a bumpy ending to a wild ride Monday, Randy Korte?s hard landing had him thinking he had broken his back, and he was among the missing on Tuesday. I was told that Korte had actually broken a rib, which is just as painful and just as debilitating for the Illinois veteran. Wisconsin?s Danny Schlieper had returned from his ailing back with a new sponsor, the same chiropractor who treated him and returned him to the driver?s seat. Tuesday?s opening ceremonies began with a moment for a local car owner who had passed away, and we realize how fortunate we are.

Qualifying took place with the Tamps Bay tide refreshing the clay midway through the field of 68 contenders. The groups of eleven or twelve cars kept their own fastest timers and stayed together for heat action as well. This makes the playing field as level as possible in changing track conditions, and works quite well. Josh Richards was fastest in the first pack, Damon Eller topped the second, then Shannon Babb, Tim Dohm, Matt Miller, and Dave Tyrchniewicz. Miller was the fastest overall in the mount owned by legend Larry Moore, and spun the wheel to the number one afterwards. This made everyone happy, for it meant the heats would start straight up instead of being inverted. Talking about the previous night?s feature, Miller claimed he was conserving his tires for the end of the race, adding, ? I probably waited a little too long.?

The six heats and three B mains placed 24 cars into the night?s feature, with the Strawberry Dash made up of those who just missed the mark. Not everyone answered the call for the dash, and alternates made up the lack for a field of nine cars on Tuesday. West Virginia?s Chuck Harper took the win with Rick Eckert close behind, a very happy winner who would start the feature in 25th place. ?Hats off to the crew?, stated Harper, telling the crowd, ?We tore it up last night bad. We struggled and struggled. We thrashed all day on it.? It?s nice to see hard work pay off.

Eckert wasn?t the only veteran to miss the main. Billy Moyer, the all-time leading winner for the Winternationals, suffered a flat tire in the closing laps of his heat. Clint Smith, Billy Drake, Eric Jacobsen, Steve Casebolt, and Doug Horton were among the 43 watching from the sidelines Tuesday night as the feature unfolded. Delaware?s Ricky Elliott was aboard a Wisconsin car built for Schlieper, and when caught up in a wreck, we wondered what the rent would be. Our media group picked probable winners before the feature began, most agreeing that Don O?Neal would be hard to beat from the front row. I, however, insisted Miller had learned much from the previous night and would pick up the pace when it counted. None of us made bad guesses. O?Neal stole the point from the pole starter, Donnie Moran, and took off on a tear. Lapping Harper before a dozen circuits were complete, this race would not turn out the same as the previous event, for the drivers were more patient on the second night.

Only one caution marred the 30 laps, and it was big. While contesting for the second and third positions, Dohm?s mount dropped a drive shaft and Moran got caught in the aftermath. Three laps later Miller made his move past O?Neal after several attempts, and held off the Hoosier veteran for the final nine laps. Some retired before the end, but the whole field finished on the lead lap. Miller claimed he had a terrible week at the previous track, but made up for it tonight. ?In the feature we had a little more traction. It was hard with all that traffic. We had a good car. Here at East Bay you always need a little luck. I think Don (O?Neal) got a little loose, and once I got past I held on. I want to dedicate this to a friend of Larry?s. He?s terminal right now.? Miller knows that racing is one thing, but it?s the people who really matter.

Making the biggest gain was Shannon Babb, coming from 14th to finish third, and Justin Ratliff gained eight positions for a fifth place finish. Tim McCreadie came from 20th to ninth place, and Steve Shaver picked up seven positions. The entire race, despite one slowdown, only took 14 minutes according to my watch, and shortly after 9:30 the fans were free to go where they wanted. The campground was quiet, the pits were full, the thermometer still in the 70?s. Life is good.

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