Friday, June 04, 2010

SPORTS>>Trip back home pays for Crawley

Leader sportswriter

Tim Crawley has enjoyed racing success all over the country, but he still looks right at home at Beebe Speedway.

Crawley was one of 22 sprint-car competitors at the USCS Speedweek race at Beebe on Thursday night.

It was the first trip to the quarter-mile, sandy-clay bullring for some drivers. For Crawley, it was a successful return to the place where he started.

The Benton driver was barely into his teens when he began racing at Beebe in a late model during the 1984 season. He went on to become the track champion in late models the following year before sprint-car success came calling.

Now, 26 years later, Crawley is considered one of the top 360 sprint drivers in the country.

“Coming back here, I feel like I can close my eyes and go around this racetrack,” Crawley said. “There’s no telling how many laps I’ve got here.

“It has changed, but for the most part, it’s still the same old Beebe.”

Crawley put his years of experience and track time at Beebe to good use in the middle stages of the USCS feature when he took advantage of leader Lee Sowell’s struggles with lap traffic to catch up and eventually pass. Crawley led the last half of the race and won by half a straightaway.

Though he is now 40, the inner child in Crawley could still be seen as he went back and forth from his luxurious hauler to the fencing on the pit-side stands to watch the action in different classes. The visits helped Crawley keep up with track conditions, but the smile on his face also hinted that memories from his younger years had also crept in.

“It’s neat. Here and Little Rock were the two places that I really got my feet wet,” Crawley said. “After I got out of racing go-karts and first started in cars, Beebe and Little Rock was my life; every Friday here, every Saturday at Little Rock. And it was that way for quite a few years.”

Crawley made his mark by winning three ASCS national championships in the early 1990s. But instead of pursuing a career in 410 sprint series such as the World of Outlaws, Crawley opted to stay in the Mid-South area and run a true outlaw-style schedule from year to year.

That included a part-time return to late models and a stint running big-money modified shows. Now that Crawley drives for owner Mike Ward and has returned to running for points in the ASCS series, Crawley said he is happy to leave the full-bodied cars behind.

“I like the sprint-car scene,” Crawley said. “It just got to a point there for a little while where there were a lot of modified shows here close to what I call home — a 4-6 hour radius of Little Rock – and they were good-paying shows.

“I mean, I’ll be dead honest with you, I hate working on them. All the sheet-metal work and tire work — they are a ton more work. It’s a lot more work weekly to maintain than a sprint car.”

Crawley had plenty of success running his own operation. But when Ward suffered a career-ending injury in the spring of 2007, it created a vacancy in one of the best seats in 360-sprint racing, a seat Crawley jumped at the chance to fill.

“It’s great,” Crawley said. “Mike’s a great guy. He raced himself for so long; he’s not your typical car owner. He’s been in the seat for years himself and owned his own cars. We get along great. He’s got superb equipment. We think a lot alike when it comes to the car and setups. It’s just a perfect combination to me.”

The combination has proven successful. Crawley has posted over 50 of his almost 200 career sprint-car victories with Ward in just over three years together, including a sweep of last year’s Rock ‘N Roll 50 at Riverside International Speedway in West

Memphis and the USCS Razorback Rumble.

Crawley sits fifth in the ASCS series points standings, six points behind fourth-place Tony Bruce, Jr., and he trails points leader Brady Bacon by 64.

“We started out a little slow in our national series that we run with,” Crawley said. “Things have picked up. I think we’ve moved from about 18th in points to fifth in the last couple of weeks. We just stepped up the program a little. Things are looking better now.”

While the changes in Crawley’s career path over the years and the changes at Beebe Speedway offer a different scene from his youth, the thing that has not changed over time is Crawley’s ability to win there.

“Tracks change — different promoters get them and work the dirt different,” Crawley said. “This thing is a little different from the way it used to be when we were here. Used to, right around the bottom was the only way you could win a race here. If you got off the bottom, you got passed.

“And now, with them building an outside barrier around one and two and the back straightaway wall that they have, there’s enough now where you can get on the top and pass cars as well.”