The smooth, grippy dirt surface at Twin City Raceway in Kenai ignited a variety of emotions Saturday night under the lights.
The three-eighths mile track produced a quick night of action, thanks to a well-prepared surface that resulted in very few accidents, but the drama was pegged.
In the A-Stock class, the feel-good story of the night went to Soldotna’s Jackson Kahn, who returned from a frightening crash earlier in the summer to finish his season with a pair of heat victories, the first two wins of his young racing career.
Meanwhile, in the Sprint Car category, the surprise of the night went to Dean Scroggins, whose powerful No. 13 machine went from leading the race to hanging on with three wheels.
And, in the Late Models class, a tight championship points battle flared up with an on-track incident that left two contenders in the wall.
What was supposed to be a two-night weekend of racing turned into one. The field of racers returned Sunday evening to finish off the season, but persistent rain kept the competitors off the track. Ultimately, Twin City Raceway staff decided to cancel the night, meaning the season finished up as well.
A championship battle also finished up between Shawn Hutchings and Al Ulman in the Late Model class. The two men entered the weekend separated by just three points in the division — Hutchings in front — and a strong night could spell the difference between hoisting the championship trophy or going home empty-handed.
Mike Braddock won the first heat with Ulman taking second and Hutchings third. In the second heat, Jason Magers took the win with Braddock in tow and Bill Williams in third.
However, the 20-lap feature grabbed all the headlines. Ulman and Hutchings were running first and second, respectively, for most of the race as Hutchings applied pressure on Ulman. Several times, Hutchings found room on the inside of Ulman, only to have Ulman shut the door on Hutchings with a block.
With six laps to go, Hutchings had had enough and did not lift as the two raced side-by-side into Turn 1. The pair made contact and both slid up the track and slammed the outside guardrail.
Hutchings said he and Ulman do not have a prior history and enjoys racing with him, but with everything on the line in the title race, he had to stand his ground.
“He kept cutting down on me in the corner, and I wasn’t going to lift,” Hutchings said. “That was everything on the line.”
Ultimately, it proved to be game-changing. Because Ulman was able to pick up one point in qualifying, each heat and the feature race, he made up the deficit and claimed the season crown by one point over Hutchings.
Braddock ended up taking the feature win, holding off Magers in a six-lap shootout.
Hutchings said his No. 27 machine escaped relatively clean with the side panel and tires taking the brunt of the impact.
In the A-Stock class, 26-year-old Kahn capped a big summer with a big night of racing. Saturday night, Kahn won his first race in the opening eight-lap heat of the night, then added a second win in the second heat, holding off a determined Dean Scroggins by just a few feet in a photo finish.
Kahn got his start this year courtesy of Soldotna racer Dustin Bass, a regular competitor in the B-Stock class. Bass invited Kahn to help install the new guardrail fencing on the perimeter of the track after Kahn noticed an ad posted on Facebook asking for volunteers. Kahn had helped out on Bass’s pit crew two years earlier, and decided the racing business was worth a shot.
“It was an adrenaline rush for sure,” Kahn said.
Kahn, who works for Peak Oilfield Services in Kenai, had no prior racing experience, but his father Jack Kahn raced down south in his younger years. The younger Kahn hooked up with “Fraction Racing,” an operation headed up by Kenai resident Sean Endsley, a longtime racer at Twin City that drives the No. 1/2 car. Kahn picked the number 1/4 to keep up the company name.
However, Kahn’s young career hit a speedbump in July when his car flipped and landed on its roof in a heat race. Kahn was clipped by another racer, spun sideways and was hit again by another car, but a third impact to his door was hard enough to propel him upside down.
After realizing he had landed on his roof, Kahn came to another startling conclusion. There was some liquid draining out of the engine and onto him.
“It all happened so fast,” he said. “But I got my bearings, got unclipped and got out.”
Luckily, the liquid only turned out to be mostly water from his cracked radiator. In a feat of teamwork, Kahn managed to get back on track with the help of his team, never missing a race.
“My pit crew spent every single day for three weeks helping to fix it,” Kahn said.
Scroggins received a startling surprise in the Sprint Car division. After winning the first heat, Scroggins was on cruise control in heat No. 2, having staked out a comfortable lead midway through the race. Without warning, his right front wheel suddenly popped off in the middle of Turns 3 and 4 and catapulted itself over the retaining wall and into an empty parking lot. Thankfully, no one was hurt, although there was one surprised security guard who saw the wheel land no more than 6 feet from his parked car.
“I thought, ‘Oh no, not another wall!’”, Scroggins recalled. Earlier in the summer, Scroggins hit the wall in a nasty crash while driving his boss’ car, the No. 9 owned by John Mellish.
Saturday night, Scroggins discovered that a cracked hub was the culprit in the loose wheel incident.
“Stuff happens,” he said. “It was shimmying around a lap before that, and I felt it.”
In the Sprint class, Scroggins and Allen Pool won the heat races while Sean Whitmore won the feature. In the season title race, Randy Barnes finished on top by 26 points over Scroggins.
In the A-Stock class, Scroggins won the season title by 43 points over Sean Endsley.
In the B-Stock class, Dustin Bass and Mike Eyre took victories in the heats, while Chuck Winters dominated the feature to win the big prize. Winters ended up hoisting the championship trophy by 55 points over Eyre.
Bryan Barber and David Kusmider won the two heats in the Legends division, but it was Barber coming away with the feature win, holding off Kusmider in his No. 88 machine. Barber captured the Legends season championship by 28 points over Ty Torkelson.