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RECORD-SETTING NIGHT AT NATURAL BRIDGE VIRGINIA SPEEDWAY; RAMSEY TAKES LATE MODEL; BRYANT BROTHERS VICTORIOUS

Last Saturday was a night for record-setting speed and thrill-a-minute racing at Natural Bridge Speedway.

The Late Model pole was won by a driver who turned the fastest qualifying lap in memory, and four Late Model pilots ripped off sub-16 second qualifying circuits on the same night for the first time since the track was reconfigured from its original ½-mile oval to its current 3/8-mile trip.

The track set up heavy, tacky and fast, fast, fast – and drivers in all six divisions and visiting Virginia Sprint Series drivers took advantage before a large throng of speed aficionados who found themselves in the right place Saturday night.

There was a little bit of everything from multi-car metal-mashers to finishes decided by inches. Two drivers kept alive their streaks of having finished in the top 3 in each of their races this season. Not surprisingly, each rests atop the points heap in their respective divisions. A visitor from Winchester found the Bridge’s wide turns to his liking. A track champion from the late 1980s returned to Victory Lane and the top of the points standings in his class after a long hiatus. Two brothers each earned their second wins of the 2005 campaign.

A Harrisonburg Sprint Car Driver grabbed the checkers, just as his older brother had done during one of last year’s sprint car races.

During the entire 2003 season, there was one sub-16 second Late Model qualifying lap, a 15.85 lap cranked out David Sibold on June 21, 2003. Last season the rack yielded six sub-16s, which puts the qualifying speed right at the 85 mile per hour mark. Larry Ramsey and Reed Vess each clocked two of the six while Gerald Wolfe, Jr. and Sibold each earned one. Ramsey’s 15.69 on Aug. 21 was 2004’s quickest qualifying lap.

Saturday Shawsville’s Damien Wilson smashed that time with a sizzling 15.58. Wolfe wheeled the track in 15.77. Ramsey and David Bennett were clocked in 15.94 and 15.96, respectively. Two other divers, Lewis Hudson and Timmy Simmons, were less than one-tenth over 16 ticks.

Wilson continued to show his strength in the 35-lap Late Model feature. On lap 21, however, Wilson spun out all alone in turn 2 while leading the race and was sent to the rear as a result of the caution, allowing Ramsey to take the lead. The Lexington driver powered his way to his first win of the year, leading the remaining 14 laps. Bennett rolled home second. Millboro’s Reed Vess made his 2005 debut a good one with his third-place run. Points leader and defending champion Wolfe, who started sixth, finished fourth, and Wilson recovered from his spin to finish fifth.

The Sportsman division also posted some extraordinary qualifying laps. Buena Vista’s Chris Barger set the pace with a 17.25 trip, good for 78 MPH. Crafty veteran Tim Stalnaker joined Barger on the front row and moved to the front early on with Barger giving chase. Earl Brooks, Jr. ran third before making a harrowing exit from the track when his vehicle spun out in turn 4 and found itself in the trackside field. Brooks was uninjured; the car was not so lucky. On the restart, Barger spun out, allowing Danny Hylton to move into second behind Stalnaker. Barger made a powerful run over the last few laps to finish third. Terry Dame was fourth, and Hot Springs’ James Woodzell grabbed his first top 5 finish.

Fincastle’s David Brogan, looking for his third consecutive Street Stock championship, made it two wins in a row and six straight top 5 outcomes with his victory in Saturday’s 25-lap Street Stock feature. For the second week in a row, Lynchburg’s Ray McIntosh set the early pace, leading the first 18 circuits of the 25-lap feature. By lap 15, McIntosh was the locomotive for a three-car train with Brogan, Troy Fitzgerald and Clifton Mays running bumper-to-bumper in his wake. Brogan took the lead on lap 19, passing veteran McIntosh high in turn 2. Fitzgerald surged into second in turn 4 on the same lap, and Mays grabbed third on lap 22. Tom Guthrie finished fifth, right behind McIntosh.

Patience paid off Saturday night for Pure Stock winner Michael Bryant, who started 12th in a 19-car field. The Amherst driver worked his way steadily through the field and was in position to take advantage of the misfortune that struck several of the feature’s front runners. Danny Bryant took the lead on lap 3. It look as though he had the field covered until his car slowed on lap 17 and rolled to a stop on the backstretch. Toby Stalnaker took the lead with Seth Whorley running second. Bad luck sent Whorley off the track on lap 20. Michael Bryant had worked his way into the top 5 on lap 17 and took the lead on lap 20, surging past Stalnaker. Brian Campbell was running a strong third before spinning out in turn 2 on lap 24. Points leader Rick Mayberry joined Brogan I n keeping his streak of top 3 finishes unblemished as he finished third, beating Evergreen’s Todd Garrett to the flagstand by inches. Buchanan’s Gerald Hostetter finished fifth.

Mark Digges, who normally competes at Winchester Speedway, found his first visit to Natural Bridge Speedway to his liking as he picked up the checkers in the Mini Stock feature. Digges recovered from a tire problem on lap 11 and surged back through the field to claim victory. Mike Cromer continued to build his points lead as the Durbin, W.Va. Driver finished second. Rounding out the top 5 were Stephen Campbell, Robert Falls and Mike Cromer, respectively.

The Any Car feature ended with a multi-car pile-up coming out of turn 4, and with Jason Bryant grabbing the checkers for the second time this season to join older brother Michael in Victory Lane. Lexington’s Fred Clark ran second. Derrick Ayers and Roy Reaves finished third and fourth, respectively. Points leader Jamie Wright placed fifth.

In the first of three visits to NBS this season by the Virginia Sprint Car series, Tony Harris of Harrisonburg was victorious in the 30-lap feature. His older brother, Jerald, was a winner at the Bridge in one of last season’s sprint car features. The Virginia Sprint Car Series will return on July 9 and August 20.

This Saturday night, children will be able to visit the pits and meet their favorite drivers and see all the cars up close between 5:30 and 6 p.m. An adult must accompany them. There will be a Twin 20 Street Stock feature and regular action in the other five classes. Gates open at 4 p.m. with the first green flag scheduled to drop at 7:30 p.m.