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Monday, August 1st, 2011

Grant, Hannagan win at Big E

By Mike Ernst
ROSSBURG - A couple of former west coast sprint car drivers who have moved to the Midwest to advance their racing careers picked up the checkered flags on Saturday night during NAPA Auto Parts Night at Eldora Speedway.
Youngster Justin Grant, who now resides in Piqua, picked up his first career win at Eldora in the non-wing sprint car main event while veteran Randy Hannagan, who races out of Pitsboro, Ind., picked up his second consecutive National Racing Alliance (NRA) Sprint Invader feature win at Eldora and his third straight series win overall.
Grant was the fast qualifier and won his heat before capping the perfect night by winning the 25-lap main event, but it wasn't easy.
Pole-sitter Luke Hall grabbed the early lead, while Grant and Matt Westfall, who won a non-wing main event at Eldora back in April, worked their way to the front. Grant made a low move for the lead in turns three and four on lap nine, but Hall answered the challenge with a power move off the top side of the race track to hold the lead.
Three laps later Westfall tried a big slide job in turn two to temporarily move into the runner-up spot, but Grant dove low down the backstretch to take the second spot back. Grant then continued the run into the lead around Hall, with a slide job of his own around Hall and a lapped machine.
Hall attempted to power back around the outside, while Westfall made a move low as the front three came together in turn four. Hall got the worst of the contact as his car, which was pinched between the other two, vaulted into the air and did a series of flips. Hall was uninjured in the crash, but his attempt at his first Eldora win was over.
"I am not real sure what happened there with Luke," Grant said. "If I was in the wrong I apologize but it all happened so fast, I am not sure what all happened."
When the race restarted Westfall immediately began to pressure Grant, but just a lap after the restart, Westfall slowed on the front stretch with a mechanical failure as a bright flame was seen from the side of his car.
From there Grant was in firm control and motored off, relatively unchallenged to his first Eldora win.
"I am from California so this is pretty cool to win here," Grant said. "I just have to thank my car owner and crew for giving me this chance and I am just thrilled to win here."
Brandon Whited came home in the second position, while Todd Kane, Jason Holt and Matt Goodnight completed the top five. Grant, Westfall and Hall each won the three heat races.
Kyle Sauder, who owns 11 career 360 sprint car wins at Eldora, jumped to the early lead over Hall, who was pulling double duty by competing in both divisions and started both feature events from the pole.
Hannagan, meanwhile, started sixth, but steadily began working his way to the front. Hannagan jumped to fifth on the opening lap, moved to fourth on lap four and cracked the top three on lap 11.
Ryan Myers brought out the first red flag of the NRA event when he crashed hard in turn one, allowing Hannagan to restart directly behind the front two of Sauder and Hall.
Hannagan, who was the NRA fast qualifier, immediately moved around Hall for the runner-up spot on the restart as the 25-lap main event moved past the halfway point. Hannagan made several attempts to pass Sauder, but each time Sauder was up to the challenge.
"I had lost my right rear brake caliper early in the race and it really made it tough to finish off those passes," Hannagan said. "Kyle has always raced me clean and I wanted to race him the same way so I always left him a little room on top but I couldn't drive in there quite as deep as I wanted without any brakes."
Caleb Griffith flipped in turn two on lap 21 to set up a four-lap dash to the checkered flag. Hannagan followed Sauder for a lap before making a dive low in turns three and four to make the winning pass on lap 23. Hannagan pulled away over the final two laps to capture his third career 360 win at Eldora.    
"Winning here never gets old," Hannagan said. "This Dennis Yoakam-owned team is really on top of things right now and we just want to keep it going."
Sauder settled for second place ahead of Butch Schroeder, Hall and J.R. Stewart. Jared Horstman, Ron Blair, Caleb Helms, Jim Nier and Tim Allison completed the top 10. Hannagan, Sauder and Nier won the three NRA heat races.
Monster Trucks invade Eldora on Saturday night for the annual Monster Truck Show, while the next racing action at the high-banked, half-mile is Aug. 13th with the final Family Fun Night of 2011 featuring the UMP DirtCar Modifieds and the Eldora Stock Cars.
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