After the sun went down and the lights went up Friday night at Twin City Raceway, the action was already expected to intensify.
Then, the drivers were told that they were on a 12-minute time limit in their feature races, if they could not complete 20 laps before then.
Needless to say, things got pretty wild.
A total of 42 cars took to the track across the five divisions Friday and Saturday, a two-day weekend of night racing that wrapped up the 2015 season.
On Friday, the final two feature races of the night — the late models and sprint cars — went all 20 laps, although not all of them were necessarily seen by the fans.
With a track curfew of 10 p.m., things had to move along with no delay, which also meant no break for the watering truck to wet down the 3/8-mile dirt track, known as the fastest in the state.
After the A-Stocks, B-Stocks and legends had their go, the last two most powerful groups of racing machinery were rushed out to race on a track that had dried up considerably. It produced a dustup of epic proportions.
With 10 sprint cars — the most in several years — on track, the haze of the dust caught in the artificial lighting made it nearly impossible to see who was where. The racers themselves had a difficult time spotting the flagstand.
However, the dust did not bother the McDonald’s. The family of racers that hail from Houston dominated the sprints all night long, and capped it with a flourish by sweeping the top five spots of the feature race, with 19-year-old Liam McDonald taking victory piloting his No. 24H car.
“I couldn’t really see it from the lights, but I saw the lap counter and was guessing, that must be the checkered there,” Liam said. “You’re moving pretty fast out there, so you don’t really look for a fixed point. You can see (other cars) by their shadows through the dust … it’s like a light fog.”
With lights positioned in intervals around the grassy infield, some areas were darker than others. In particular, turn four proved to be a challenge, as the dust caught in the nearby lighting only furthered the sighting for fans. Deep into the late models and sprint car features, drivers would appear to vanish into the middle of the turn and pop out of the dust storm as they charged to the flag stand.
Even with the dirt, drivers and fans universally loved it.
“You kind of just feel the car,” Liam said. “You just want to run the line you can carry the most speed through, it was just how the car wanted to slide through.”
Following Liam across the line in the feature was the patriarch of the McDonald family, John, Tyler in third, Logan in fourth and Emma in fifth.
Tyler, Liam’s 25-year-old brother, also proved a force to be reckoned with, winning the first heat comfortably but suffering a broken axle midway through the second heat after hitting the wall. Remarkably, Tyler had his No. 79 sprint car fixed up and back racing for the feature, where he finished third.
“A whole bunch of guys jumped in, and threw her back together,” Tyler said. “We just took off the old one and bolted on the new piece.”
John McDonald picked up the win in the second heat, taking advantage of his son’s misfortune and holding off Doug Fisher for the win.
Liam has been racing sprint cars since age 16, even before he earned his drivers license, and said Friday was his second time racing at Twin City. He added that his father John also got into the racing business around the same early age.
Tyler has also been racing since 16, but his experience helped him among the dust.
“You’ll watch them spin out sometimes, but you just take some evasive maneuvers,” Tyler said. “We have radio receivers with a spotter, so that helps a ton.”
In the late model division, Fairbanks racer Scott Sluka took charge and won the first heat and the feature, but couldn’t pick his way through the field in the second heat fast enough to catch winner Shawn Hutchings of Soldotna.
Sluka won the first heat, which placed him last on the starting grid in the second heat due to the inverted field. He managed to battle his way to second place in the waning laps when a caution for a wreck set up a green-white-checkered finish.
On the restart with two laps to go, Sluke dove to the inside of race leader Hutchings in turn one but couldn’t hold on, spinning out in front of the pack and causing a logjam that collected several other machines.
“It was my own fault, just driver error,” Sluka said, adding that Hutchings left open an enticing spot on the inside lane on the restart.
“I kind of pushed the subject a bit, and it bit me in the butt,” he said. “I was going for it.”
Sluka nearly saw his race end in the feature when he narrowly avoided a slower car to his inside with a darting maneuver exiting turn four.
“It definitely got hard to see, especially when you got up to lapped traffic,” Sluka said. “For the most part, you can tell where guys are going to go.”
In the feature, Sluka picked off Hutchings before the end of the first lap and quickly passed Mike Braddock to cruise to the victory.
Sluka said his style of driving is partly inspired by a quote he heard from a friend, which states, “You’ve got to drive like you’re mad at the world.”
With a win, a third and a fifth on Friday, Hutchings pushed his season point lead to the point that clinched him the track championship among late model competition.
In the A-Stock division, Dean Scroggins put on a clinic by sweeping all three races driving the white No. 13 car, finishing the night with a stirring duel with Sean Endsley in the 1/2 car. Scroggins tailed Endsley for the first nine laps before finally pulling off the pass for the win near the halfway mark. Endsley ultimately ended up losing second place to Jimmie Hale in the closing laps.
“It’s fun,” Scroggins said about the battle for position. “I had a smile on my face the whole time.”
Scroggins got the night off to a rough start after being involved in an early incident with a lapped car, but recovered nicely to pick up a clean sweep. When he heard that the feature race would be a timed event, Scroggins said it added an element of craziness.
“You work a little harder on things,” Scroggins said. “It had me right on the edge at all times, because that (scoring pylon) tells you how many laps are left, but nothing about time.”
In the legends class, Bryan Barber piloted his No. 88 car to the win in all three races, but had to hold off strong challenges from Ty Torkelson in the No. 44 and Andy Schwochert in the No. 47.
The victories proved to be crucial the legends class championship, as Barber went from trailing Alex Schwochert by 17 points at the beginning of the night to leading by 11 at the end.
In the B-Stock division, three different names emerged victorious Friday, starting with a wild finish in the first heat. Damian LaMountain, driver of the No. 77x machine, grabbed a comfortable lead but suffered a problem on the final lap, giving up most of his advantage to second-place Keith Jones, who tried to pass on the inside in turns three and four but got caught on the dirt berm on the inside groove. Jones had to settle for second while LaMountain took the win.
In the second heat, LaMountain spun out on lap two, hurting his chances for the win, and just four laps after the restart, Steve Hurst managed to squeeze his way by race leader Dustin Bass in turn one, but was immediately caught out by a yellow flag.
Because scoring reverts back the most recently completed lap under green, Bass retained the lead on the restart. However, Hurst finally made the pass for the win as the field approached the white flag, and took the checkers in his No. 26 car over Bass.
The B-Stock feature quickly became a race for third, as Jones and LaMountain gapped the field from the start. However, LaMountain’s mechanical gremlins returned midway through the 20-lap race, and he ultimately was forced to retire.
LaMountain’s exit allowed Jones to pull away for the victory.