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AYERS "STEALS" LATE MODEL CHECKERS WITH LATE RACE PASS

COOPER, REYNOLDS WIN 1st AT NATURAL BRIDGE (Virginia) SPEEDWAY

It was hard to tell which was hotter at the Natural Bridge Speedway last Saturday night: the level of the racing competition or the torrid temperature outside.

Just the right mixture of water, heat, humidity and driver cooperation combined to create a heavy, tacky, fast track that had fans on their feet all night long applauding bumper-to-bumper, door-to-door racing.

Three drivers let it be known they would be factors in their divisions as the points race exited the backstretch by earning their first victories of the 2005 campaign. Two veterans made strong runs in picking up the checkers from the pole while a third burst to a 14-point lead in his division with just five races remaining.

The Harris brothers of Dayton continued their love affair with NBS, adding another Virginia Sprint Series trophy to the family trophy case as Jerald Harris joined brother Tony as a 2005 sprint car victor at Natural Bridge Speedway.

After biding his time for the first 32 laps of the 35-lap Late Model feature, Fincastle’s Mike Ayers blew past Waynesboro’s Lewis Hudson and Covington’s David Bennett on the high side entering turn one to take the lead on his way to grabbing the Late Model checkers. Ayers moved into second position in the division points battle with his first win of the season.

Bennett backed up his win of the previous week with a runner-up finish and leads the Late Model points battle. Defending champion Gerald Wolfe, Jr. stands third in the points after finishing 10th Saturday night. Hudson led the first 31 laps before fading to a seventh place finish. Buchanan’s Neil Murray ran a strong third Saturday night. West Virginian Billy Beachler came home fourth followed by Mike Lawhorn of Rustburg.

The first time the 14-car Sportsman field took the green, it never made it back to flag stand as a five-car pile-up in turn two brought out the yellow, setting up a complete restart. Buena Vista’s Shad Cooper, starting on the outside of the first row, got the jump on the restart and surged to the lead, a position he would hold throughout the 25-lap Sportsman feature. Tim Stalnaker ran a strong second before spinning out in turn four on lap 13, taking Terry Dame with him. Ricky Wells moved to second, allowing division points leader Danny Hylton to move into the third slot. That is how the top 3 finished with Earl Brooks, Jr. coming home fourth and Chris Barger recovering from an early caution to earn a fifth-place finish. Hylton leads Cooper by two tallies and Barger by four markers in the points battle.

Rustburg’s Skye Reynolds motored to his first victory of the 2005 campaign in the Street Stock division. Reynolds took the lead from Ricky Higgins of Clifton Forge on the third lap and held it the remainder of the 25-lap feature despite intense pressure from two-time defending champion David Brogan, who finished in the Street Stock top 3 for the 15th time in 15 starts this season. Troy Fitzgerald finished third behind Brogan and leads the Fincastle veteran by a single point in the points race with five races remaining. Keith Nelson of Madison Heights finished fourth, and the venerable Tom Guthrie of Lynchburg placed fifth.

Amherst’s Stephen Campbell bounced back from a rough ride the previous week and claimed his third checkers of the year in the Mini Stock feature, beating chief rival Kenny Gibson of Waynesboro to the flag stand. Campbell started on the pole, but yielded the lead to Gibson for several early laps before taking it back and leading the final eight laps. Mike Cromer of Durbin, W. Va. finished third and continues atop the division points pile with a six-point lead over Campbell and Robert Falls of Rockbridge Baths, who are tied for second. Gibson is fourth, seven points behind. Barney Gunter and Gary Tracy finished fourth and fifth, respectively, on Saturday night.

Like Campbell, Jason Bryant bounced back from a sub-par performance the previous week and led flag-to-flag in dominant fashion to claim his fifth win of the season in the Any Car class. The cars that started in the top 5 finished in the top 5 as they controlled the action throughout. Jamie Wright started fourth and finished second. Lexington’s Fred Clark started and finished third, holding on to his lead in the points battle by two points over second-place Wright. James Fitzgerald started second and finished fourth. Derrick Ayers started third and finished fifth.

Buchanan’s Brian Campbell was dominant on the track, appearing to claim a flag-to-flag Pure Stock victory. However, his car was disqualified during post-race inspection, and the win was awarded to veteran Rick Mayberry, adding a belated present to the Spout Spring driver who had celebrated his birthday the previous Thursday. The win boosted Mayberry to a large 14-point bulge over points runners-up Gerald Hostetter and Toby Stalnaker. Many of the points title contenders suffered bad racing luck Saturday night as Mayberry was able to avoid trouble. Sandy Sale of Lynchburg had his finest run of the season, posting a second-place finish. Buena Vista’s Ronnie Martin, Jr. had a strong third-place run. Gerald Hostetter and Buck Gunter finished fourth and fifth, respectively.

After finishing second in the first of three Virginia Sprint Series visits to NBS in June and then watching brother Tony take the checkers in July, Jerald Harris of Dayton ran a great race and claimed the checkers in his sprint machine Saturday night.

Beginning with this Saturday night’s show, all gates will open at 5 p.m. for the remainder of the season. There will be a 50-lap Late Model feature Saturday night.