The infield was bustling with busy hands and bright shining cars with numbers and sponsor names proudly emblazoned on their wings. Outside the t-shirts swung from trailer awnings of bright oranges, reds and blues. The lines gathered around the racks looking for that special shirt from that special driver at that can’t beat price. Anticipation ruled the cold evening, but the stands continued to fill. The water trucks and pack vehicles circled the track bringing much needed water to soothe the dry thirst of the dirt and clay track.
Familiar names and faces, legends and up and comers both side by side in the early spring sun. Nomex and helmets spoke to safety and success. It’s Friday – and the dream has begun again, in a new town on a new track with the same goal a race victory and a journey towards the championship. As the sun sank in the sky and the wind picked up it was finally time…The World of Outlaws had arrived.
As the hot laps unwound the haze of methanol and track dust and hot rubber hung in the air. The sounds of 900 horsepower engines and the sight of the greatest drivers on dirt and the master magicians of speed began to show their talents and magic. But it was merely a taste of the journey that these masters of speed would take this small town crowd on.
The field was made up of strong competitors and champions, from Tony Stewart, the current reigning Sprint Cup Champion, to the king of the outlaws, 20 time WoO champion, Steve Kinser, Sammy Swindell, Donny Schatz, Danny Lasoski, Joey Saldana to name just a few. Qualifying would be an exciting show of speed and car control with quick time belonging to Craig Dollansky who turned a lap around the ½ mile track of 15.98 seconds. Followed by Chad Kemenah and Steve Kinser. The top 10 qualifiers were separated by .13 seconds.
The heat races set the tone for the evening. Rapid fire fast and dramatic. The first heat race showed Brian Brown leading all but the last 4 laps of the 8 lap race. At the half way point Brown began smoking from the left side as he came on to the front stretch. By the time he reached the middle of the back stretch the smoke was pouring from the car and Brown needed assistance from a push truck to get back to pit road. That left the Rushville Rocket, Tony Stewart, who had been pressuring Brown, to take the lead. Stewart would take the green and never look back. His margin of victory 1.112 seconds. Coming home behind Stewart in the first heat were Craig Dollansky and New Zealands Kerry Madsen, Kraig Kinser, Tony Bruce Jr. , Paul McMahan would all transfer to the A Main.
The second heat race would be won by Missouri local Danny “the dude” Lasoski. Lasoski would lead all 8 laps and his margin of victory was 1.411 seconds. Following Lasoski across the line was Brady Bacon, Joey Saldana, Lucas Wolfe, Donny Schatz and Chad Kemenah. All would lock into the A Main.
The third heat would present a rare night of difficulties for the King of the Outlaws, Steve Kinser. Kinser who was moving well through the field suddenly slowed between one and two and came to a stop in the middle of the back stretch. The car seemed to lose power and then just shut off. A push truck brought the oddly silent Bass Pro Shop number 11 to the pit road at lap number 5. Although the familiar bright orange and black car would be pushed back to the track it’s silence would not be broken and Kinser retired from the heat race relegating himself to the B Main. Sammy Swindell however, was on a terror. Leading all 8 laps in dominating style. The Big Game Tree Stands, Rossi Feed and Grain black and hot pink and silver car took the checkers .829 seconds ahead of Stevie Smith, Jason Sides, David Gravel, Cody Darrah, Terry McCarl would all advance to the A Main.
The Dash inversion draw was 6. Putting Cody Darrah on the front row next to Danny Lasoski. But they would have lots of heat right behind them in Tony Stewart and Sammy Swindell. The Dash wouldn’t make it to turn one before there was a three car pile up on the front stretch with Craig Dollansky, Stevie Smith and Kraig Kinser. Dollansky took a wild ride off the front of Stevie Smith’s nose and Kraig Kinser would tumble in an attempt to keep from hitting Dollansky. Dollansky’s car was brutalized and required a lot of work to get it on the wrecker and back to the pits. None of the 3 would return to the dash but all three would maintain their top 10 starting spot in the A Main if they were able to start. The dash would go to Cody Darrah followed by Lasoski, Swindell, Stewart and Saldana. With the first 5 rows of the A Main set. It was time to fill in the field.
The B main was a 12 lap last chance dash. With Steve Kinser scheduled to start on the pole. Kinser would not be able to start the main and would take a provisional into the A Main. The B main was lead from green flag to checkers by Grain Valley Missouri’s Brian Brown. Brown won by a commanding 3.397 seconds. Followed by Brad Sweet, Cap Henry, Bill Rose, Danny Smith, Austin Wheatley.
With the field set it was time for the greatest show on dirt to begin. The four wide salute out of four generated almost an electric response from the crowd. At the green flag Cody Darrah flexed his muscle and set fly to a big lead with Lasoski setting sail behind him. Stewart and Swindell would fight for the third spot. But the initial start was not to be. A wild crash by Brad Sweet in turn one saw the car destroyed but the driver walked away unharmed. When the green flew again Darrah set sail. Stewart and Swindell fought for the third with Stewart looking high and then low. Stewart could make it to the door of the 1 but couldn’t complete the pass. Joey Saldana was pressuring Stewart pushing the low line in every corner. Behind the leaders it was a battle for every position all the way back to the final spot. The final caution flew with 3 laps to go. At the drop of the green Stewart would veer high between 1 and 2 and off above the buffer. A flat right rear took the Sprint Cup Champ out of the race from 4th position. Sammy Swindell took the lead with 5 laps to go and set sail. Ultimately taking the checkers and the first leg of the Kasey Kahne Challenge by 1.328 seconds. Followed by Joey Saldana, Brian Brown on the podium. In fourth position after starting deep in the field was four time champ Donny Schatz.
The cold had increased in intensity as the night went on. Jackets, sweatshirts, hats and even gloves were the rule in the grandstands. But excitement didn’t die down with the final checkered flag of the night. Instead it lingered like a sweet memory of a perfect evening. Magicians signed autographs and posed for pictures in the pits next to the tools that had so skillfully used to work the magic of the night. Magic that would linger long after bite of the cold had gone. And long after the haulers had pulled out on their way to Indiana for the next race only one night away. But for another year the greatest magic show on dirt had come and gone.
Many thanks to Shawn Miller from the World of Outlaws for his hospitality and education. You went above and beyond and it’s greatly appreciated. To all the drivers thank you just thank you for your patience and your talents and most of all for being the magicians of speed you are. To the crew of the 14 from Tony Stewart Racing thank you for taking time to answer what had to be stupid questions to you. Your driver and your boss should be very very proud of all of you.