Most fans go to a stock car race hoping for good competition with a few thrills and spills mixed in, and that's what they got, more than once, during Saturday's opening night at Texas Thunder Speedway.
A new class this season is the Budweiser Racing Outlaw Twisters. There were only four entries and their first-ever feature race was way down on the card, but the ending made fans go pop-eyed.
You could tell right away these "outlaws" were much faster and a lot more souped up than the regular Texas Twisters are allowed to be. Right off the bat, Kempner driver Tommy Hultz spurred his car to a big lead in the five-lap showdown.
As Hultz came around turn four and took the white flag, his fuel cell exploded into a fireball that looked like a barbecue pit gone mad.
Hultz alertly pulled up near the fire crew, which got him out and doused the blaze. Killeen's Brian Bagent, running second, was declared the winner in his No. 45 car.
No injuries, thank goodness, which would prove to be the case two races later.
When the green flag dropped for the 10-car IMCA Hobby Stock main event, Waco driver Anthony Simcik got inside Moody's Chris Gruesendorf for a quick advantage, which turned into disaster.
Going out of turn two, Simcik was all alone leading the field, when something happened which caused his car to roll four-plus times and come to rest on the driver's side. Simcik was out and waving to the crowd moments later. Catastrophe averted.
For the next eight circuits, Griesendorf was in command, while being pressed by Waco's Andy Roller and Belton driver Charles Cosper. Roller tried an inside pass on lap nine, made the move and cruised on to win.
Those were just two highlights of opening night, which began on time, unusual for a season opener, with a stirring rendition of the national anthem by Copperas Cove High School math teacher Rachel Owens Sizemore. After a memorial parade in honor of racer James Deane and former track promoter Ken Essenburg's wife Mary, both of whom passed away since last season, it was time to race!
Once the features got under way, fans were treated to another epic battle between Jason Batt of Harker Heights and Killeen's Eric Jones in the IMCA Stock Car class.
A first-lap wreck in turn four, involving Anthony Otken, Jesse James Cox Jr. and Adam Schwarz, slowed things down and set the stage for a complete restart, with Jones, Batt and former track promoter Pat Wilson barreling three-wide down the back straightaway. Jones and Batt raced side by side, when Jones inched ahead on circuit six.
Batt took over, just barely, with two to go, but got loose and went high on the back straight berm, giving Jones the opening he needed to beat his main nemesis to the checkered flag.
Once the green flag waved to start the IMCA Modified feature, there wasn't much doubt about the outcome. Barring mechanical problems or a clash with another car, this would be Kenny Stone's night.
Looking like an F-15 racing a Cessna 182, the Belton driver had his 5K car way ahead for all 20 laps. Two caution flags bunched the field up, but Stone got off to jackrabbit restarts and won by a full straightaway, his only rival a United States Modified Touring Series car being tested in competition by Killeen driver J.P. Dowell, who pulled off halfway through.
The IMCA Southern SportMod A-main started off with Killeen's Mike McDougal taking his No. 224 out front. A caution stopped the action when Garrett Jonse hooked the 78 of Trevor Egbert, earning Jones a black flag for rough driving.
McDougal carried on with not much happening behind him ... until lap eight of the 20-lap race.
Eddy driver Ricky Rodriguez had been patiently gaining ground and slid inside for the lead. Moments later, Rodriguez took a bump from somebody, which got him loose in turn four and allowed Waco driver Kevin Green to go ahead and stay there to the finish.
In the Street Stock feature, Copperas Cove racer Jacob Sakhnini, looking to give himself a 17th birthday present, got his car out front early, but was passed by Leander driver Gene Burnett on lap four. Burnett's lead evaporated quickly when Nolanville's Gary Norman went by. Norman screamed away from the field and took it to the house.
A six-car field ran 10 laps in the so-called "regular" Texas Twister race. Killeen driver Billy Tharp had the lead early, but was pestered throughout by 14-year-old James "Digger" Cochran. The two traded paint coming into the final turn, with Cochran winning the battle and the race.
And that was it. Opening nights can be glitch- filled, but this one went well, I thought. There are some things that need to be addressed, but I won't waste your time with the small stuff. The car count was good and the crowd was great for a chilly night.
Looks like a great season coming on for dirt-racing fans.
See ya at the track!