"WOW!" SAYS PURE STOCK WINNER CAMPBELL OF 3-WIDE EXCITEMENT. WOLFE LEADS 49 OF 50 IN LATE MODEL WIN; DAME WINS 1ST SPORTSMAN; GOOD DIRT TRACK RACING AT NATURAL BRIDGE VIRGINIA SPEEDWAY
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Heartbreak and jubilation, twin emotions that are the hallmark of competitive dirt track tracing, were present in abundance at Natural Bridge Speedway last Saturday night.
While several drivers enjoyed the jubilation of powering their machines to flag-to-flag triumphs, there were others who felt the sting suffered when engines let go or other mechanical difficulties turned dominating performances into early exits.
For those on falling on the good luck side or the bad luck side of the fence, all who have been around the track a few times understand that any and all of it is "just of them racin’ deals."
Late Model champion Gerald Wolfe, Jr. continued to add to his growing legendary status by garnering his third win in five starts this season. The soft-spoken, humble Wolfe, is the first to deflect credit to others and does so publicly and comfortably. Saturday night, he qualified for the pole for the 50-lap Late Model feature with a lap averaging nearly 83 miles per hour, leading a quartet of drivers finishing their qualifying laps within one-tenth second of each other.
Lewis Hudson, who started beside Wolfe on the front row, got a good start and led the first circuit. Wolfe reeled in the Waynesboro driver on the next lap and was the lead dog for the remaining 49 laps.
Lexington’s Larry Ramsey, who had started fourth and fallen to sixth early in the race, made a stirring pass on the high side in turn 3 late in the race, moving from fourth to second, where he finished behind Wolfe. David Bennett ran third with David Sibold coming past the stand fourth. Damien Wilson finished fifth.
Heartbreak and Buena Vista’s Chris Barger were on a collision course in the 25-lap Lee’s Auto Repair Sportsman Division. Barger, however, had one sweet racing experience before heartbreak struck.
Grabbing the lead from the green, Barger’s car was as dominant as any seen at The Bridge in any division in some time. By lap 6, the black-and-white No. 32 led the rest of the sportsman field by at least one-half lap. Barger’s car was brought back to the pack by a lap 15 caution, but he immediately broke away once more on the lap 15 restart and was opening a sizable margin when another caution bunched the pack on lap 17.
Again, Barger pulled away on the restart. Rolling into turn 4 on lap 18, smoke suddenly billowed from underneath the hood of Barger’s ride, which rolled to a halt as more smoke emanated from underneath the expired machine.
Shad Cooper moved to the lead in the wake of Barger’s heartbreak with then-points leader Tim Stalnaker running second and Terry Dame making it an All-Rockbridge County top 3. On lap 20, Stalnaker’s car suddenly slowed and drifted into the pits, ending its run for the checkers and dropping Stalnaker from the points lead.
On lap 22, Dame made a powerful move past Cooper and surged into the lead, pulling away as he continued to the checkers. It was the first sportsman win for Dame, who won four Mini Stock features in the 2004 campaign.
Cooper finished second and moves into the points lead with a two-point edge over Earl Brooks, Jr., who finished fourth Saturday night. Shipman’s Mike Bryant and Craigsville’s Kendall Nelson finished third and fifth, respectively.
Watching three-wide racing anywhere will make you hold your breath, but to see it on a 3/8-mile dirt track will take your breath away. There were a lot of breathless moments in the 25-lap Pure Stock feature Saturday night as Brian Campbell, Toby Stalnaker and Ricky Mayberry spent several laps going side-by-side down the straights and through the turns, never touching, but coming so close they could have reached out and held hands.
Campbell emerged victorious. Sitting in his ride after coming to a stop in Victory Lane, he exclaimed "Wow! Wow!"As he got out, he said, "That was so much fun! Racing those guys like that with every one racing clean like that. It just doesn’t get any better than that."
Natural Bridge Station’s Stalnaker barely nipped Mayberry at the stripe for second. Mayberry’s third-place finish marked the fifth time in five starts that the division points leader has finished in the top 3. Danny Bryant and Ronnie Martin, Jr. finished fourth and fifth, respectively.
Defending Street Stock champion David Brogan, who started eighth, picked up his first victory of the season and took over the points lead. Veteran Ray McIntosh started on the pole and led the first nine laps before yielding the point to Lexington’s Troy Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald, however, had been battling a loose hood since lap 7, and it finally broke loose on lap 17, forcing Fitzgerald to the pits, allowing Brogan to take the lead. Tom Guthrie rolled home second. Ricky Higgins of Clifton Forge made a strong third-place showing. Timmy Downey and Clifton Mays completed the top 5.
The Any Car feature was a tale of two races. The first 12 laps of the race were run caution-free with Lexington’s Fred Clark pulling away to a commanding lead with Derrick Ayers, Francis Robinson, James Fitzgerald and Jason Bryant completing the top 5.
Once the first caution fell on lap 12, things got a little wacky for the rest of the feature with several cautions for on-track events. The race was then red-flagged for several minutes with four laps remaining when Mike Lawhorne’s vehicle got airborne between turns 3 and 4 and sailed over the guardrails, exiting the track surface.
After a few anxious moments, it was determined that the Tyro driver was fine after his wild flight, and the race was started again. Robinson made a late run at Clark, but Clark made the track wide and held on to grab the checkers. Ayers finished third. Points leader Jamie Wright, who started 10th, worked his way to a fourth-place finish. Lexington’s Steve Brown crossed the line fifth.
There was some more jubilation for Mike Cromer of Durbin, W. Va., who blew away the field in the 15-lap 4-cylinder feature. He started third, but moved to the lead before the first lap was complete. It was the third feature win of the campaign for the Durbin veteran, who moved into sole possession of the division points lead with the victory.
Stephen Campbell of Amherst and Adam Dobzeniecki, Jr. of Staunton, finished second and third, respectively.
This Saturday night, The Virginia Sprint Car Series will make the first of its three appearances this season at Natural Bridge Speedway. There will also be racing in all six of the speedway’s regular divisions. The gates will open at 4 p.m. with the first green flag scheduled for 7:30 p.m.