Tuesday, April 14, 2009

SPORTS >> MSRA invades Beebe

Leader sportswriter

The Mid South Racing Association will make the first of three scheduled appearances at Beebe Speedway this Friday. The 40-lap, $2,000-to-win event at the quarter-mile sandy clay oval will be the fourth race on MSRA’s 24-date 2009 schedule.

It also marks the first time that the series based out of Beebe will run at its hometown track. Late-model racing returned to the track in 2007 after a 12-year hiatus with the now defunct Arkansas Motorsport Professionals, but Friday’s race will mark the first super late-model event under the MSRA banner.

The series, which is led by director Chris Ellis and Cary Jones of Beebe, has already made history in 2009 with last week’s trip to Riverside International Speedway in West Memphis, the oldest operating race facility in the state. Riverside had not hosted a super late model race in 20 years when the MSRA pulled 33 drivers from seven different states to the quarter-mile, gumbo-surfaced facility.

The race brought nostalgia to race fans with veteran drivers Larry Potter of Alexander and Terry Henson of North Little Rock leading the bulk of the laps before bad luck took them both out of contention. In the end, it was MSRA points leader Billy Moyer Jr. of Batesville taking the win with a bold last-lap pass against Houston, Texas, driver Howard Willis.

Friday’s race will be a series challenge race with the MARS DIRTcar series based out of Missouri, which will bring even more big names to the track. Joining MSRA regulars Moyer Jr., Kyle Beard, Jeff Floyd, defending champ Joey Mack and 2008 Rookie of the Year Jon Kirby will be Springfield, Mo., driver Terry Phillips, Will “The thrill” Vaught out of Crane, Mo., Greenbrier’s Jack Sullivan and Wendell Wallace of Batesville, who has already posted four wins in 14 starts early on in the 2009 season.

It will be the first of a three-day triple header for the MSRA and MARS series. The two tours, which are both sponsored by O’Reilly Auto Parts, will travel north to West Plains, Mo., on Saturday, and wrap up the weekend in nearby Monett the following night.

For Ellis, having his series run at Beebe Speedway where he once flagged and helped manage with promoter Terry Butler is special to him for a number of reasons. Ellis resides in Beebe, where he is an administrator at Beebe High School.

“It’s exciting to have a race in my home town,” said Ellis. “To be where we live, and at a place where I used to manage. It’s going to be even better with it being in conjunction with MARS. That will bring guys like Terry Phillips and all of their regulars down to race at Beebe. It should be a big draw. It’s a good way for us to help support our local track.”

The track surface at Beebe has felt the effects of all the rainy weather in the area this spring. New promoters Harold and Kevin Mahoney have already had to cancel one weekend of racing in the first month due to wet conditions, and the last two weeks of racing has been a struggle to prevent rutting on the track.

With the heavier super late models, which also generate close to 600 horsepower, coming to the track, Ellis is bringing in former pit steward and track-prep specialist Brian Voiles to assist this week.

Ellis is not only the director for the series, but also dutifully climbs the flag stand for every MSRA heat and feature. While Ellis doesn’t have a particular desire to continue being a flagman, he said it is much better than some of the other tasks involved in running a late-model series.

The Riverside race was a challenge race with the Louisiana SUPR series, which has longtime series flagman David Corbello.

That gave Ellis an opportunity to try out a different detail.

“I had to chase down (cars with) flats the other night,” Ellis said. “That was a completely new experience for me. I was like a duck out of water. My drivers and crew like for me to flag. It’s most of the same people that work or have worked at Batesville at one time or another, so they’re all used to my way of doing things on the flag stand. I’m just more comfortable up there.”

Racing at Beebe Speedway will begin at 8 p.m. with heat races for the regular weekly classes and MSRA late models.