Tuesday, June 01, 2010

SPORTS>>Small numbers, big action at speedway

Leader sportswriter

A small field of cars did not take away from the excitement at Beebe Speedway on Friday night. The track lost a number of drivers to Memorial Day weekend activities, but the 54 cars in five classes provided plenty of action.

Vilonia driver Curtis “Hollywood” Cook took the victory in the modified division after a fierce battle with veteran drivers Mike Bowers and Randy Weaver. The three cars battled inches apart from a restart on lap nine until a flat left-rear tire for Bowers took him and Weaver out of contention with two laps to go.

Bowers started on the inside of the front row after winning the first heat. Beebe driver Todd Greer won Heat 2 to take the outside pole, but his No. 77 car stopped on the backstretch as the cars came out to line up for the feature.

Instead of starting the race from the front row, Greer’s car was towed off, and he was listed as a Did-Not-Start.

Donnie Stringfellow’s No. 88 car did not start the feature after he made contact with the No. 71 car of Robert Baker at the end of the second heat. Stringfellow spun in turn one on the first lap and never recovered, and he drew the black flag when he charged Baker’s car after the checkered flag.

Cook took Greer’s starting position with Weaver behind him in the outside of row two alongside third-place starter Jason Flory of Cabot. It didn’t take long for Weaver to find the fast way along the outside, as he took his F1 machine high on the cushion through turns three and four.

Weaver passed Cook for second on the fourth circuit and set his sights on the leader Bowers.

Cook caught up to the pair by lap seven, but the action slowed on the next lap because of a wreck involving Beebe’s Jody Jackson, Walt Butler and rookie Tyson Franks.

But the three cars resumed their shootout on the restart. Weaver went from the outside to the middle of the track trying to thread the needle between Bowers and Cook.

Bowers stayed out front with Cook to his inside and Weaver running anywhere there was open space. They made it three wide exiting turn four on lap 12 before Bowers began to explore the outside line.

That move hindered Weaver’s progress, but the five-time modified champion stayed in the hunt until Bowers caught him out of turn two with two laps remaining. Bowers’ left rear tire popped and caused him to turn sideways, leaving Weaver with nowhere to go.

Weaver avoided heavy contact by spinning to the right, but both drivers were forced to restart in the back. Bowers went to the pits for a new tire and restarted eighth with Weaver right in front of him.

Cook went unchallenged in the final two laps, followed by Casey Findley, Flory, Searcy’s Robert Davis and Mikey Bolding to complete the top five. Jackson recovered from earlier troubles to take sixth, followed by Bowers and Weaver.

Beebe’s Jacob Kurtz had the fastest car in the factory-stock feature but left the track empty handed when Thomas Payne spun him out on the white-flag lap.

Kurtz took the lead from Payne on the first lap and pulled away before a flat tire sent him to the pits and forced him to restart in seventh on lap seven.

Kurtz quickly worked his way back through the field and caught up to Payne on the final lap and made a clean move to the inside to reclaim the lead.

But with the checkered flag in sight, Payne put his front bumper to Kurtz and sent him into the infield in turn two.

Race flagger Will Essex gave Payne the checkered flag. Kurtz attempted to pull into the winner’s circle but was sent off by track officials to clear the way for Payne, who stood in his driver’s-side window and cheered as the crowd sat silently.

The track announcer even questioned the call, and a few fans decided to heckle Payne.

Todd Joslin led from flag to flag to win the E-mod feature in front of Blake Jones and Joey Gee, while Paul Shackleford won the mini-stock feature with a mid-race pass on Cabot’s Doyle Blankenship. Blankenship held on for second while Jim Atcheson took third.

Hobby-stock points leader Jeff Porterfield of Benton put on a show in the hobby feature when he drove through the field to finish second behind race winner Jeremy Kester. Porterfield earned a front-row start, but had to start the feature in the back due to receiving a push onto the track and not starting under his own power.

Kester also started near the back, but quickly made his way through the field and claimed the point by the seventh lap.

Porterfield battled with Jacksonville’s Steve Capps for second in the last half of the race before Capps’ No. 43 machine began to fade late.