by Robert Walden
BULLS GAP, Tenn. (March 17) — Volunteer Speedway opened its 39th year of exciting dirt-track racing before one of its largest crowds ever Saturday night, with a stellar field of some of the country’s top Super Late Model racers present for running of the $10,000-to-win 11th Annual Spring Thaw.
With legendary NASCAR race team owner Richard Childress in attendance watching grandson Ty Dillon, Dale McDowell and Richard Childress Racing Camping World Truck Series driver Joey Coulter wheel their RCR Team Dillon Racing machines, Childress couldn’t have been more pleased with the results. McDowell won the Super Late Model main event while Coulter, making his first-ever start at “The Gap,” visited victory lane in winning the Fastrak Racing Series-sanctioned Pro Late Model feature. Following RCR Nationwide Series driver Elliot Sadler winning earlier in the day at nearby Bristol Motor Speedway, the trio of chauffeurs pulled off the trifecta for Childress.
McDowell, from Chickamauga, Ga., set fast-time (13.078 seconds – 110.114 mph) in qualifying to earn the $300 Martin’s Roofing Service pole award. He launched into the lead at drop of the green and never looked back en route to a flag-to-flag romp to victory in the Spring Thaw 60.
“Hey, this is what it’s all about – having fun racing and getting the win,” said a smiling McDowell following his impressive Spring Thaw victory. “I’m not racing full-time with a series in 2012. It was just time to get away from the deal of traveling all over the country racing for points. We’re just going to go run races occasionally and when we show up, we’ll show up with intentions of running strong and winning.”
McDowell and Scott Bloomquist led the 22-car field to green from the front row, with McDowell grabbing the lead over five-time Volunteer Speedway Super Late Model track champion Vic Hill, followed by Bloomquist, Ray Cook and Mark Vineyard to complete the opening lap.
McDowell was setting a blistering pace around the high banks, quickly putting distance between his Ferris Commercial Mowers/Klotz Synthetic Lubricants/YouAreHollywood.com/Cometic Gasket/Xinergy/WTW Enterprises/Earnhardt Childress Racing Engines/Warrior Race Cars/Team Dillon Racing/No. 17m Chevrolet Impala and his closest challengers. While battles for position back through the field were taking place, out front McDowell was in command as he held right at a full-straightaway advantage over Hill, Bloomquist and Cook halfway into the 60-lap Spring Thaw.
Defending Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series champion Jimmy Owens, who was relegated to a 13th-place starting position after getting into the first turn a little too fast on his qualifying lap and getting up against the outside guardrail, was steadily working his way forward. Owens got around John Blankenship for seventh on lap 31 racing off the fourth turn, and just one circuit later he passed Billy Ogle Jr. to move into sixth in the running order. The event’s only caution flag waved on lap 34 when Ellery Leake spun in the fourth turn.
McDowell was out front all alone for the Delaware double-file restart, with Hill and Bloomquist side-by-side behind the leader. Back under green, Owens wasted no time moving into the fifth spot with a pass of Vineyard racing off turn two down the backstretch.
But with a clear track ahead, out front McDowell was in a class all by himself as he once again began to pull away from Hill, Bloomquist, Cook and Owens. Racing off the second corner on lap 37, Owens got under Cook to move into fourth position.
With 10 laps remaining and the cruise control set, there would be no denying McDowell his first-ever Spring Thaw victory as he outran Hill, Bloomquist, Owens and Cook for the $10,000 payday.
Completing the top 10 finishers were Ogle, Vineyard, Blankenship, Ty Dillon and Dennis Erb Jr.
“We had a really good car tonight, probably the best car I’ve ever had over the many years I’ve ran the special events here at Volunteer Speedway,” McDowell stated. “With the high banking here at ‘The Gap’ it’s such a momentum track, and you really want to get through and off the corners well.
“We’ve got a strong engine under the hood. We had the car really hooked up and had such good forward bite under acceleration getting up off the corners. I want to thank my brother Shane (McDowell) and the guys who work on these dirt cars back in the Team Dillon Racing shop. I also want to thank Mike Dillon and his sons Austin and Ty for giving me the opportunity to drive their cars.”
Dale Ball captured the Volunteer Speedway Super Late Model track championship in 1999, and he’s a three-time Pro (Crate) Late Model champion having won titles in 2008, 2010 and 2011. Closing in on 100 career victories, Ball set fast-time in qualifying to earn the pole for the $1,000-to-win, 30 lap feature.
With a very impressive field of 23 Pro Late Models present, Ball jumped into the lead at drop of the green over Kenny Peeples Jr., NASCAR Camping World Truck Series competitor Joey Coulter, Vic Chandler and Jason Welshan.
Caution quickly waved on lap 2, when John Harrell and Anthony White got together and spun in the fourth turn. Only five circuits back under green, the caution waved when fourth- and fifth-running Chandler and Welshan tangled and spun in turn four on lap 7. Yet another caution waved on the eighth lap when Forrest Trent, Mack McCarter, Justin Summers and Ricky Moore wrecked exiting the fourth corner onto the front straightaway.
With Ball running strong out front back under green, he began to distance himself some from Peeples, Coulter, Tim Byrd and John Tweed. Ball started to slow on lap 20, allowing Peeples and Coulter to close in on his rear bumper.
Peeples looked to get around Ball and contact was made between the pair on lap 22, with the caution waving when both cars slowed on the track. Ball and Peeples entered the infield pits in turn four and a crowd of people gathered around both cars. No harm, no foul – after all it is “March Madness.” Peeples stayed parked in the pits, while Ball rejoined at the tail of the field for restart.
Could Miami Springs, Fla.’s Coulter, making just his second-ever start in a dirt late model, record his first victory? To do so he would have to hold off a determined Byrd and Tweed, both drivers also looking to capture their first career feature wins.
On a couple of occasions Coulter got high up the banking in the corners to briefly open the door for Byrd, but Coulter managed each time to slam the door shut and preserve his lead. Though Byrd gave him a run for the money, Coulter held on to capture the Pro Late Model win over Byrd, Tweed, White and Welshan.
Completing the top 10 finishers were Chad Hale, Todd Brooks, Ball, Summers and Richard Adkins.
Weekly racing begins on Saturday, April 7 at Volunteer Speedway.
$10,000-TO-WIN “11th ANNUAL SPRING THAW”
MARCH 17, 2012
1. (1) Dale McDowell #17m-Chickamauga, GA
2. (3) Vic Hill #1-Morristown, TN
3. (2) Scott Bloomquist #0-Mooresburg, TN
4. (13) Jimmy Owens #20-Newport, TN
5. (4) Ray Cook #53-Brasstown, NC
6. (8) Billy Ogle Jr. #201-Knoxville, TN
7. (5) Mark Vineyard #4-Powell, TN
8. (15) John Blankenship #23-Williamson, WV
9. (11) Ty Dillon #41-Lewisville, NC
10. (12) Dennis Erb Jr. #28-Carpentersville, IL
11. (10) David Watts #04-Buchanan, VA
12. (17) Bryan Hendrix #5-Knoxville, TN
13. (9) Mike Weeks #22-Friendsville, TN
14. (19) Jacob Anderson #64-Murphy, NC
15. (22) Ellery Leake #34-Knoxville, TN
16. (7) Mark Douglas #52D-Knoxville, TN
17. (14) Jensen Ford #25-Piney Flats, TN
18. (20) Paul Grigsby #24-Springville, NY
19. (16) Jeff Wolfenbarger #11-Knoxville, TN
20. (18) Ryan King #30-Seymour, TN
21. (6) Ronnie Johnson #1G-Chattanooga, TN
22. (21) Tim Kyle #22k-Ten Mile, TN
PRO LATE MODEL (30 laps)
1) Joey Coulter #2; 2) Tim Byrd #24; 3) John Tweed #5; 4) Anthony White #2x; 5) Jason Welshan #29; 6) Chad Hale #51; 7) Todd Brooks #T1; 8) Dale Ball #2; 9) Justin Summers #40; 10) Richard Adkins #73; 11) Jerry Broyles #72; 12) Doug Price #p4; 13) Kenny Peeples Jr. #3; 14) Ricky Moore #75; 15) Tyler Dixon #00; 16) Forrest Trent #4Q; 17) Mack McCarter #51; 18) Vic Chandler #88; 19) Brad Hall #47; 20) Cory Hedgecock #23; 21) John Harrell #H19; 22) Mike Smith #4s; 23) Brent Hensley #B00