By Kevin Posival
Killeen Daily Herald
Some nights, especially early in the Texas Thunder Speedway season, it's too cold. Then, you miss the cold in the middle of July and August.
But every Saturday night from March to September, racing on the quarter-mile dirt track kicks up enough fun to warm the race-lover's soul.
Every Saturday night, that is, until this Saturday.
This weekend, Texas Thunder Speedway will be closed. And with the gates locked, two of the best drivers in the country will look to blow the doors off their national competition.
TTS regulars Keith White and P.J. Egbert lead the country in their respective classes. Egbert, a former IMCA Rookie of the Year, races in the IMCA Super Nationals beginning Monday at Boone, Iowa. White will race in the fourth annual IMCA Southern SportsMod Nationals on Friday and Saturday at Heart 'O Texas Speedway in Elm Mott.
White, who's won the Southern SportsMod championship two times in its three-year history, has been ranked No. 1 in the class most of the season and said he likes the distinction, especially going into a race that doesn't specifically figure into obtaining his third title.
"That's what you want," White said going in with the target on his bumper.
"I want them feeling that I'm the guy to beat. I don't think it's pressure at all (on me). It's pressure to get to the top. Once you get it, that's half the battle."
Egbert will be making his second trip to Super Nationals. Michael Walter, Mike McCarthy and Jason Batt will also be traveling from Texas Thunder to Boone.
"It's not for points but more or less bragging rights," Egbert said. "Just making the show is awesome. There'll be like 300 or 400 Modifieds there."
International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) points standings will not be affected by the outcome of these national races. But, both White and Egbert are closing in on those championships and could clinch with a few more weekly wins and a pair of track championships at Texas Thunder and Heart 'O Texas –which factor in with points in determining national champions.
"It's not said and done until it's all over," Egbert said. "It's close right now and hopefully we can pull this thing out. However we end up, we've had a pretty good season."
Before Saturday night's races, Egbert held a nine-point lead over David L. Murphy, and White held a 12-point lead over Jeff Turner in the Southern SportsMod class.
Having raced at Heart 'O Texas for the majority of the season, White said he has an advantage, but so does everyone else, he said.
"Knowing that race track definitely gives you an advantage," White said.
"But nationals has been held there the last three years, everybody's knows what it can do."
White, who lives in Little River-Academy, races both venues on the weekends –Heart 'O Texas on Friday nights and Texas Thunder on Saturday – doesn't call either track his 'home track,' but said he spends enough time on both tracks to feel familiar and known well enough.
"Most anybody (on my team) will tell you I don't have a home track because we're not from there," White said. "As far as racing goes, I'm out every week in Waco and Killeen.
"That hurts with the sponsors, but it helps to be seen out in Waco and to work on Fort Hood."
Egbert, who's from Kempner, races at both tracks and is a fan favorite at Texas Thunder, but didn't earn his No. 1 ranking until early July and has never been completely locked into the position.
"It feels pretty good (to be ranked No. 1)," Egbert said. "It doesn't really mean anything to lead it when you still have months left."
Egbert said if he doesn't grab his first national title this year, he hopes to finish with two track championships – he's well on his way – and a national top-five finish.
"Last year, at this point, I was leading both (tracks), but had a bunch of mechanical problems," said Egbert, who's won a Texas Thunder track championship as recently as 2006. "I've never won two in one year. That's kind of been my goal."
Egbert needs to just race in one single feature in the final three weeks of the season to claim the Texas Thunder title, though he still has competition at Heart 'O Texas with another Texas Thunder driver, Kenny Stone, trailing just 843-811.
White, who won the Texas Thunder Southern SportsMod title last season, leads up-and-comer Eric Tomlinson 954-906, but has a bit more of an advantage over Robert Black at Heart 'O Texas (832-765).
But just coasting isn't good enough for either of these two.
White, who won his 100th career SportsMod feature on the July 4 in Elm Mott, has won more than two dozen races between the two tracks this season, and Egbert set a Modified feature win record at Texas Thunder on July 5 with 83 and has been counting wins ever since.
But with little on the line at the national races this weekend, White and Egbert look to pad their legitimacy and their bank accounts.
"It won't earn you any points in the race. It just can count as one of your races. I already have my 30 wins, so I don't need it," White said of the points system.
Because some tracks race more than others and some nights are rained out while others are not, the IMCA takes a driver's best 30 finishes through an entire season and tallies that against everyone else. White, for example, already has 30 first-place finishes and a perfect 1,200-point score. Only track championships, now, can factor in to his winning or losing the title race he's currently leading.
The payoff for White and Egbert
comes with the experience and the bonuses.
"The prize money (for the Southern SportsMod winner) is like $2,000, which is like seven of these (weekly feature wins)," White said.
For Egbert, it could be about $3,000, not to mention IMCA prizes, sponsorships and products.
So some of it is about coming home with a trophy and some spending money.
Some of it is about proof and identity. And, then again, when you're No. 1, you have nothing to prove, it's everyone else that has something to prove to you.
Contact Kevin Posival at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7562.