Monday, May 12th, 2008
Hines has successful return to the track after short 2007
By Jim Morrison
Tracy Hines leads the way during the closing laps at Eldora Speedway on Saturday. . .
ROSSBURG - Tracy Hines quickly made up for lost time Saturday night at Eldora Speedway, when the non-winged Sprint Cars of the United States Auto Club (USAC) made their initial 2008 appearance in the Larson/Branson Classic.
Also, Jerry Bowersock redeemed himself in the Moser UMP (United Midwestern Promoters) DirtCar Modified finale and Jeff Babock powered to victory in the Advance Auto Parts Stock Car main event on a night sponsored by Curb Records.
Hines' 2007 season came to an abrupt halt early a year ago with a non-racing accident. However, car owner Tony Stewart remained steadfast with his decision to hire the New Castle, Ind. veteran and promised that when healthy, Hines would have a ride.
Hines is back to full speed and certainly didn't let anyone down Saturday night, as he led all but four laps of the 30-lap finale and those were at the expense of teammate Levi Jones.
As the green flag flew over the talented field of entrants, Hines shot into the lead, but by the end of the second circuit, Jones had shot past Hines and was looking flawless.
The action came to a quick halt on lap five when Brad Sweet, flipped coming off of turn four. At the same time, Rob Chaney did a rollover in turn three. Neither were injured, but their cars were eliminated for the balance of the chase.
During the red flag clean up period, USAC officials announced that Jones had jumped the initial start and was being assessed a two position penalty on the restart.
That gave the lead back to Hines, with Jerry Coons, Jr. moving into runner-up position and Jones back to third.
That only served to spark Jones, who shot by Coons, Jr. in lap two on the restart. Coons slipped above the cushion and fell deep into the back, while Jones set aim for teammate Hines.
The run was again slowed on lap 7 as Brad Kuhn and Bret Mellenberndt spun in turn two. During this caution flag period, Coons slipped into the pit area to allow adjustments to his Hoffman Brothers entry.
Hines remained in command at this point, although Brady Bacon had joined the chase with Neal Shepherd and Darren Hagen entering the fray with their own spirited chase.
That chase was the cause for the final caution of the event, two laps into the restart. Hagen apparently misjudged his proximity to Shepherd going into turn three and the resultant nudge put Shepherd into a spin and into the outer wall.
The resulting contact pushed the nerf bar into his rear tire and Hagen made a hasty stop in the pits for quick repairs and a restart at the tail of the field. Shepherd was done for the night.
Bacon made a few bold moves to try and reel in Hines' Chevrolet sponsored machine, but Hines was not to be outdone and cruised to the win.
Bacon crossed the line second, while Shane Cottle salvaged a third-place finish with Brady Short and Jesse Hockett completing the top five. Short had topped the 32-car field during the time trial runs with a clocking of 15.388 seconds on the one-half mile clay oval.
In recent weeks, Jon Henry has deemed himself as the driver to beat amongst the Moser Modified ranks, but Saturday, veteran Bowersock simply outsmarted him.
True to form, Henry shot into the early lead and in his unique style rim rode the high side of the track, flirting with the outside retaining wall.
Early race action found Henry in an intense battle for the lead with defending champion Scott Orr, while Bowersock was moving forward from mid-field.
Bowersock got by third-place runner Todd Sanders on lap seven to set his sights on Orr and Henry. A restart tangle with another car found Orr slipping back in the pack, while Bowersock waited a few laps before slipping by Henry.
Following a caution flag restart, Henry pulled up alongside Bowersock and nearly overtook the lead going down the back chute, when yet another yellow slowed the pace.
This time, Bowersock, aware of the Henry's style, chose to ride the high side himself and Henry made contact with the wall, inflicting enough damage to see him retire to the pit area.
That left smoother sailing for Bowersock, as he bested Matt Westfall in his first Modified run, Todd Sherman, Sanders and Tim Richardson.
Babcock had destroyed his machine on opening night, and following a near complete rebuild of the machine, was back in the thick of things Saturday night.
That meant bad news for the balance of the field, who was struggling to keep up with Babcock's torrid pace.
Drama reigned supreme on laps 10 and 11. Perennial top runners Kevin Gossard and Earnie Woodard suffered flat tires and dove to the pits as the field completed lap 10, with neither making it to the front stretch to be scored in that lap.
Then, on lap 11, Jeremy Creech's had something break on the right front of his Stock Car and he did a wild end over end flip into the outer retaining wall. He was not injured in the frightening accident, but the lengthy clean up period allowed Gossard and Woodard enough time to make repairs and join the field, one lap down to the field.
On the restart, numerous caution flags were not enough to stop Babcock from running away with the win. Doug Tiemann turned in his best performance of the year to come home in second, with Barney Craig, Mike Dirksen and Chad Barr completing the top five.