I love surprises ... and the closing yards of Saturday night’s IMCA Modified main event at Texas Thunder Speedway would have to qualify as one.
Killeen’s J.P. Dowell drove a race for the ages. It wasn’t an easy win, either.
His campaign started on lap three, when Dowell executed a thread-the-needle move, squeezing between leader Ken Old and Joe Spillman to take the top spot. After a restart, he recaptured the lead from Old’s No. 52, but here came Kempner’s P.J. Egbert, along with Ben Ketteman and defending national champion Keith White.
With the competition running fast and furious, Egbert pulled alongside Dowell on lap 15, got underneath and passed, taking over the point, where he stayed for the next 4¾ circuits.
Then, on the race’s final corner, there was another lead change when Egbert came up on a lapped car and had to brake, opening the door for Dowell to pass him on the driver’s side and speed to Victory Lane.
Like everybody else in the huge crowd, I was sure it would be another Egbert triumph and was all set to yell out his name as winner, but, like at every level of racing, sometimes the fates intervene.
What a race! My partner, Ken Essenburg, said it was one of the best runs he’d ever seen in his almost 40 years at the track ... and the demolition derby was still to come!
Sadly, only seven cars answered the green flag for Saturday’s battle, but fans saw crashing, banging, tires cut to pieces, blown radiators spewing steam and even a red flag, when one of the miniature tanklike vehicles caught on fire.
After emergency personnel dealt with that, three remaining drivers went back to the business of destruction. Finally, it was over when the car of Marble Falls driver Tommy Farrell was still running and all others were done.
Farrell said he had been competing in demos for 13 years and it was unusual to see him nonchalantly start up his 1973 Cadillac and drive it away with the big bucks in his pocket. Most derby cars have to be wreckered out of the arena. I’ll bet we see him again in July for Demo Derby II.
Some fans might have thought the demo started two races earlier in the IMCA Hobby Stock feature, when Kenny Ware of Belton, who had wrested the lead from China Spring driver Garrett Rawls on lap seven, got tangled up with Waco’s Andy Roller coming out of turn four. The two cars looked like they had been welded together, sliding down the track in an incident that saw Roller disqualified.
Once all that was settled, Paul Scrivner had the lead in his Waco-based 14 car, which he kept out front to the checkered flag.
Speaking of DQs, there was one in the Outlaw Twister class. Troy’s Shad Stevens had led from the opening green all the way to the final turn, with Kempner driver Chris Bruner nipping at his back bumper. Bruner’s car made contact with Stevens’ left rear quarter panel, knocking him off the lead with the finish line just ahead.
Bruner was already parked on the Winner’s Circle when the radio crackled, saying he was disqualified for taking out Stevens, who was awarded the win.
No surprises occurred in the Street Stock feature, since a familiar face wound up in Victory Lane. Copperas Cove racer Chris Florio, who’d been out of action for a couple of weeks getting his No. 21 back in shape after a rough wreck, inched by front-runner Kevin Finsley on lap seven and 10 circuits later had created a full straightaway lead over Nolanville’s Gary Norman and put another 40 points on his ledger.
In the IMCA Stock Car A-main, Lampasas driver Tony Hamil picked up his third career win with a flag-to-flag run, fighting off Jason Batt and national rookie points leader Tristan Carman, sometimes staying ahead by inches. Continually blocking his pursuers, Hamil rode to Victory Lane.
Something happened in the IMCA Southern SportMod feature that no race leader wants to see.
Belton’s G.W. Egbert IV had gotten his car around leader Dennis Purrington seven laps in, opened up a good lead and it was all over but the shouting, or so we thought ... until the red flag waved, calling a halt to G.W.’s party.
It seems that another sportmod which had pulled off, had an overheated rear end that caught on fire in the pits, prompting a call to the emergency crew to get back there quick and put it out.
Back to racing and it was no problem for Egbert on the restart. He was on a roll and got the win going away.
The Texas Twisters cranked up with many-time winner Brian Bagent of Killeen back in action and in the lead early. On lap two, Bagent slid up the track in turn four, allowing the 99 of James Enyeart to duck down and take over. Enyeart kept going out front until the checkered flag waved, giving him his third win in a row.
It was a great night all around with a big — no, a tremendous — crowd, lots of race cars to watch and more excitement than the new “Iron Man” movie.
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See ya at the track!