Sunday, April 23, 2006

Nine car pile-up highlights season opener

Nine car pile-up highlights season opener

By Matthew J. Sullivan

It was a cold night in Eureka, California, but that didn’t prevent thousands of race fans from attending the 2006 season opening race at Redwood Acres Raceway. A good number of fans were drawn by the buzz of the new thunder roadster division which made its debut. The night’s action was punctuated by several great races along with several wrecked race cars. Aaron Byers won the sportsman main event which featured a nine car melee. David Henderson became the first driver to win a main event race at the Acres in the roadster division. Doug Way nabbed real stock division honors while Chad Grammar won the mini stock main and Kenny DeMello won the limited street main.

Before the racing action began, the track held it’s annual Best Appearing Car contest. Those honors went to Jim Redd in the real stock division, Kavin Conn in the limited street division, Stacy Minnick in the mini stock division, Ray Elliott in the thunder roadster division and Lissa Uselton in the sportsman division.

Fast time in the limited street division went to Andrien Betournay with a lap of 17.610. Kenny DeMello won the trophy dash over Betournay, Kavin Conn and Terry Vallee. The division’s heat race was exciting as Betournay got by J.D. Frey to win followed by Conn, DeMello and Vallee. Due to the small car count, the main event was only 10 laps with Frey not making it out. DeMello got the jump from the outside of the front row over Vallee. However, Betournay was losing fluid from his car and the yellow flag was thrown. After the restart, another yellow flew when Vallee lost control of his car coming off turn four. When the green flag came out again, DeMello was briefly challenged by Conn, but by race’s end it was DeMello taking the checkered flag followed by Conn, Vallee and Betournay.

The mini stock division had a solid turnout of 10 cars and it seems as if the division is comprised of brothers, one duo being the Bakers, Scott and Craig, the other being the McIntoshes, Bryan and Byron. Scott Baker had the fastest qualifying lap with a 19.294 run. Craig Baker took the trophy in the dash over Chad Grammer, Stacy Minnick and brother Scott. Byron McIntosh won his first race in his first start in the heat with Scott Baker, Bryan McIntosh, Stacy Minnick and Glen Bernald in his trail. The initial start 20 lap main event was brought to the green flag by Bryan McIntosh and Bernald but had to be restarted when Grammer was forced into the dirt and Craig Baker spun.

When the green flew again, trouble occurred when Minnick and Craig Baker made contact collecting Byron McIntosh and Scott Baker. The lone survivor was Craig who was able to make it out on the restart before he parked his car for the night. Due to time constraints, the main was cut to 10 laps and on the start it was Bryan McIntosh leading Brian Murrell and Grammer. Murrell challenged McIntosh for the lead before Grammar got by both, taking the lead from McIntosh down the back chute while Murrell filled the hole Grammer left taking the second spot. Murrell tried to find a way past Grammer before the ninth lap when going into turn three he had a severe problem which forced him into the grass damaging his car and ending his race. The green and white flag restart was a formality for Grammer as he held off McIntosh, Bernald, Denzel Barrett and Nick Karanopoulos to take the victory.

Ryan Walters set the standard in qualifying for the real stock division with a lap time of 19.522. The trophy dash was won by Dan Browne followed by Jim Redd, Walters and Bob Lima. The first heat was dominated by Walters with Jason Belt, Bill Bradbury, Redd and Ray Demello in his wake, while the second heat was won by Browne over Lima, Doug Way, Troy Wood and Ryan Robinson. The 14 car field was brought to the green of the 25 lap main event by Brian Belt and Demello. Of the start, Demello took the lead followed by Bradbury. On lap three, Brian Belt lost traction of turn two and spun but kept his car going. That same lap, Bradbury got by Demello and brought Browne with him. Two laps later Browne got by Bradbury for the race lead. By lap six it was Browne and Bradbury running away from Demello, Walters and Way. While fighting for the third slot on lap eight, Demello and Walters made contact off the second turn causing Walters to get loose and lose several spots. On lap 10, Browne slowed dramatically going into the third turn, then between turns three and four, his right rear wheel sailed off his car. Bradbury had nowhere to go and rammed the back of Browne’s car finishing off a spin that was already started. Neither car was seriously damaged but Browne was finished for the night while Bradbury took his car into the pits and wasn’t a factor for the win.

When the green came out, Doug Way found himself as the leader over Demello, Jason Belt, Walters and Wood. On lap 12, Way was enough an eight car length lead while Belt moved past Demello and brought Walters with him. A few laps later, Walters began to challenge Belt for the second position. Meanwhile behind that duo, Demello and Bob Lima were dueling for the fourth spot. On lap 17, the two made contact in turn four and spun allowing Jim Redd and Troy Wood to fill in the fourth and fifth place spots. With two laps to go, Walters lost control of his car going into the third turn and hit the wall ending his race. The green and white flags came out for the final restart for Way. Belt tried to find a way by but it wasn’t enough as Doug Way won the real stock main followed by Jason Belt, Troy Wood, Jim Redd and James Bailey.

The much anticipated thunder roadster division had a great 22 car turnout. Former Eureka native and now North Carolinian Ryan Zeck set the mark in Nyle Henderson’s car with a lap time of 16.906. In the trophy dash after tire warmups, Randy Olson’s throttle hung going into turn one and he hit the wall. The dash was won by Zeck followed by David Henderson and Troy Combs. The first heat was won by Dave McMurray over Michael Ward, Jim Adams, Bruce Ziermar and Gary Payne. The second heat went to Paul Peeples with Bill O’Neill, Mark Arroyo, Ray Elliott and Mark Baldwin trailing him. Olson returned to the track in a different car and crossed the line ahead of David Henderson and Troy Combs in the third heat but was penalized for passing before the cone in turn four, so the win was Henderson’s.

The 26 lap race was brought to the green flag by Jay Bahner and O’Neill. Bahner got the jump off the start before Arroyo nabbed the lead by the end of lap one. Arroyo stretched his lead over the field as the two fastest qualifiers Zeck and Olson diced their way through the field. On lap seven, Combs moved his way to second. A few laps later, Combs grabbed the lead while working through slower traffic. On lap 19, the front five was stretched out with Combs leading, Henderson second, Lonnie Tamboury third, Zeck fourth and Olson fifth. On lap 22, Combs lost control of his car off turn four hand the lead to Henderson. With the laps ticking away, the front four got tighter and tighter as Henderson fought with lapped traffic. On the white flag it was anyone’s guess who would win as Henderson was hanging on tight to his lead. Coming down the back stretch, Tamboury, Zeck and Olson all tried to make their move at once. Off the fourth turn, it was nearly four wide as Zeck got loose off the corner and Henderson held on to win over Olson, Tamboury and Zeck.

Long time veteran Larry Pries was the fastest qualifier in the sportsman division with a time of 16.667. Angelo Marcelli won the trophy dash over Rick Fox, Al Acuna and Pries. In the first heat, Marty Walsh won with Marcelli, Aaron Byers, Jerry Peterson and Pries trailing while Acuna won the second head over Fox, Frank Billy, Brandon Barnwell and rookie Lissa Uselton. The start to the 30 lap main event was memorable, but for all the wrong reasons. Billy and Byers lead the field to the green with Byers getting the front spot from his outside front row position. Going into the third turn, Rick Fox took Billy and Marcelli three wide but it didn’t work. The three tangled, blocking up the track causing a massive wreck. Of the 11 starters, the only two cars who avoided the incident were leader Byers and Brandon Barnwell. Mercifully, the cars of Walsh, Peterson, Fox, Marcelli and Billy were able to take the restart while sadly Pries, Acuna, Uselton, and Donnie Brown were done for the evening.

The race was cut to 15 laps and on the start it was Byers and Barnwell leading the field to the green. Walsh got by Barnwell and tried to find a way around Byers. The two ran away from the rest of the pack while Barnwell and Peterson fought hard for third position. On lap 12, Peterson got outside of Barnwell and got by. The last two laps saw Walsh try the inside of Byers but it was to no avail as Byers held Walsh off with Peterson, Barnwell and Marcelli rounding out the top five finishers.

The next race at the Acres is April 29 as the North State Challenge Series opens their season along with the regular sportsman, real stock, mini stock and limited street divisions.

*Notes*

- I liked the new wall in turns one and two. Now drivers won’t have to worry about going over like Don Eyerly or Tim McCracken once did.

- Former sportsman champ Otis Stabler was driving the 99 car normally piloted by Phil Wood. Unfortunately in qualifications, the throttle hung and Otis hit the wall going into turn three. It was great to see him back in a race car, hopefully he’ll be back soon.

- Otis’ misfortune may have played into the hands of Aaron Byers, although at first it may not have looked like it. Byers was the first car on the track after Otis’ wreck and the dry sweep on the track definitely hurt his qualifying time. However, had it not been for that, Byers may not have started where he did in the race and he likely may have been caught up in the nine car incident.

- Aaron Byers and Frank Billy timed in one after the other. They both ran the same fast lap of 17.030.

- Brandon Barnwell did a couple nifty 360s. The first was during his second qualifying lap. He was able to turn a respectable 19.938. The second was in the heat race he ran.

- The limited street division has a lot of potential. The heat race between Betournay, Frey, Conn and DeMello was awesome to see. Hopefully there will be more cars and drivers out as the season progresses.

- My apologies for not covering the thunder roadster division better. With so many cars and drivers unfamiliar to me, it was hard to pick out who was who, besides the fact that these cars were haulin’ the mail!

- One thing that was clear about the roadsters is that if you’re one of the faster cars, you’ve really got to go from the drop of the green flag. Ryan Zeck and Randy Olson were definitely the fastest two cars on the track and were putting on a heck of a show coming through the field, but maneuvering through traffic was touchy thing to do.

- The incident in the sportsman main event was a real shame and it was disappointing for me as a longtime fan to hear fans in the stands cheering when the wreck happened. Hopefully fans will realize that wrecking is a part of racing but it isn’t racing, much like injuries are to other sports.

- Awesome crowd but getting out of the parking lot sucks... and hopefully it warms up next race!

- Hopefully all the drivers involved in any incidents this week will be able to get out and get after it again on the 28th.

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