A capacity crowd showed up Saturday night at Twin City Raceway in Kenai under clear, sun-drenched skies to watch some good ol’ boys sling some dirt, and the drivers did not disappoint.
A dry, dusty, bumpy track created chaos among the field, as 24 total cautions were thrown across all four classes of racing, nearly all of them due to spinouts.
Seventeen yellows were waved in the first two heats of each class alone, before the feature races even began, and when drivers weren’t parking themselves into the dirt berms lining the inside corners, it was flat tires that were afflicting the cars, which were attributed to the bumpy surface. On more than one occasion, tire smoke could be seen spouting off the rear tires of Legends and A-Stock machines, caused by excessive bouncing.
Even the fastest drivers found it difficult to navigate the turns, which bore a closer resemblance to the Baja 1000 sand dunes in the prestigious desert endurance race than a quarter-mile oval in Kenai, Alaska.
“Those grooves would grab your rear end,” said Keith Jones, who swept all three B-Stock races in his orange No. 28 Monte Carlo. “You’d be in a slide, you’d hit (a bump), and it would snap around on you.”
Mike Thomas, driver of the No. 5 Legends car, claimed a heat victory Saturday night but ended up on the wrecker after a hard hit with the wall in the feature race.
“It’s a lot of fun, but if we’re going to race competitively, things will have to be better,” Thomas said. “It was terribly bumpy.”
However, as unpredictable as the track proved to be, drivers accepted the challenge and provided a show not soon to be forgotten.
The Memorial Race weekend was hosted in memory of Collin “Cowboy” MacCarty Jr., a former racer who died at age 68 from a heart attack at Twin City Raceway on July 4, 2011.
Jones got the evening started with a win in the first heat of the A-Stock division, sending then-race leader Dean Scroggins for a spin before adding three more wins in the B-Stocks. Jones was busy all night hopping in and out of the No. 2 A-Stock racer and his usual No. 28 B-Stock car between heat races, as he was filling in for daughter Ashton.
“I barely had time to catch my breath all night,” he said.
Jones collected his 70th overall feature victory of his career in the No. 28 car when he took the checkered flag in the B-Stock finale, but he had to earn it with a late restart. Jones had built up an advantage of 13.7 seconds — over half a lap — when the caution came out with just two laps left for a spin.
But Jones said his confidence never wavered, as he took off on the restart with two laps to go and cruised the win. Jones said his diligent work on suspension and shocks helped his car handle the bumps better.
“Basically I took stock springs, and cut them down, put them in, lower the car, have different weight-rated springs,” Jones said. “It ran beautifully.”
Jones, a Wasilla resident who raced at the defunct North Star Speedway, managed to rally back to win heat two of the B-Stocks after race leader Dustin Bass spun in turn four and collected Jones and Butch Savely on the second lap.
In the Legends class, the first heat was never even completed before track officials ended it early in an attempt to ease the dusty situation by watering down the particularly dry track. Four cautions slowed the early laps, including race leader David Kusmider going around in turn four on the fifth lap.
On the second attempt at heat one, only two cautions were shown, and Ty Torkelson held off a charging Brent Roumagoux by 0.21 seconds.
The second Legends heat provided the most thrilling finish of the night, as Kusmider took the white flag as the leader ahead of a fierce battle for second ongoing behind him, including Bryan Barber and Mike Thomas. As Kusmider was rounding turns three and four, headed for the checkered flag, he suddenly spun and found himself facing the infield, allowing Thomas to claim the surprise victory in his green and black No. 5 car. Kusmider made it to the line in fifth place.
“They gave me a gift in that heat,” Thomas said. “I liked it. I’ll take them any way I can get them.”
In the 20-lap feature, Alex Schwochert, driving the dark blue No. 22 machine, built up a comfortable gap over the field in the opening laps, but saw it erased with a late yellow flag.
Just two laps after the restart, Thomas and Barber made contact while racing for third and both suffered hard hits into the backstretch retaining wall, retiring both cars for the night. Coincidentally, it was the third year in a row that Thomas and Barber have collided in a rough wreck, as Thomas found himself flipping end over end in a wild wreck last summer after hitting Barber’s No. 88 car.
This time around, the damage was not enough to put him out of the race.
“If there was another race tonight, we’d be ready to go,” Thomas said.
Barber said he was holding his line Saturday night when he saw Thomas run up the track and make contact with him that hooked both drivers into the wall.
“We were both coming out of the corner, he was down low, and he just came up and we tangled,” Barber said. “We talked afterwards and it’s all OK.”
Barber said the collision broke both tie rods on his racer, as well as damaging the oil cooler, bumper and grill, but he expects to be back next weekend.
However, Barber’s biggest concern was losing the championship lead in the Legends division. Coming into the weekend, Barber was leading the Legends class by eight points over Alex Schwochert, and the crash — combined with Schwochert’s feature victory — means Schwochert leapfrogged Barber in the points with a 22-point advantage.
Barber said he is gunning hard to win a third straight Legends track championship at Twin City Raceway.
“It’s not so much the wins I’m going for, it’s the championship,” Barber said. “I want to get that three-peat.”
In the A-Stock class, Dean Scroggins rebounded from a fourth-place finish in the opening heat to take wins in the second heat and feature race, piloting the white No. 13 car, though he had stiff competition from Jimmie Hale along the way. Hale finished second to Scroggins in the final two A-Stock events of the night.
In the Late Models division, Shawn Hutchings showcased his dominance with convincing victories in the first heat and feature races, while racing from the rear of the field in the second heat to claim an impressive second-place result in his No. 27 GCI-sponsored machine.
In the second Late Model heat, the Soldotna resident started last and bided his time as the rest of the seven-car heat fought for position. Once Hutchings was able to find some space ahead of him, he quickly took to the high line of the track and began picking off cars each lap, eventually grabbing second on the final lap with a pass on Mike DeVaney.