L.J. GRIMM TOPS MODIFIEDS
It was quite a night of racing Saturday at Auburndale Speedway as eight classes ran features with the action producing two first-time winners. A fine crowd was on hand under perfect weather conditions.
The night began with a bit of irony. Earlier in the afternoon it was announced that former NASCAR/ARCA star James Hylton had lost his life in a highway crash while returning home from Friday’s ARCA event at Talladega Superspeedway. For many veterans at the speedway it was a sad day for sure as many of us had followed Hylton’s long career.
Of all the cars in the pit area, there was only one carrying the number 48, Hylton’s number throughout most of his career. That car was the Mini Cup machine driven on the night by young Brey Holmes who really had never heard of Hylton. The Mini Cup feature was first up on the night and it was Holmes who zipped past Clay Samuels with two laps to go to put the #48 in victory lanes as the first winner of the evening. Samtuels held on for second. Bill Rychel, who spun out of the lead on the second lap, came back to finish in third spot ahead of Russell Bush, Easton Bush, Bryton Horner and Douglas Herrin, Jr. Herrin was going for his fourth consecutive win but suffered mechanical issues during the caution flag for Rychel’s spin on lap two and was forced pit side.
The big race of the night would be for the Pro Trucks and they were out in force with 22 teams signing in to compete in the 50-lapper. Qualifying was held under bright sunshine and warm temperatures and the drivers struggled getting a handle on the slick race track. Jason Lester of Palmetto was easily the fastest as he clicked off a lap of 14.505 seconds, quite a bit quicker than the 14.565 lap turned in by Bartow’s Cody McDuffie who was seeking his third Pro Truck win in a row. 17-year-old Derek Pugh of West Palm Beach was third quick at 14.596 followed by Becca Monopoli, Leroy Moore and Big Donnie Burkhalter. Those six would then be the inversion for the start of the half-century run.
Burkhalter sped to the lead at the drop of the green only to have the start called back for a William Kerns spin. Burkhalter again took the measure of the field as the race got under way. Fifth-starting McDuffie quickly worked his way to third spot right behind Monopoli. Seventh-starter Danny Anderson charged up to fourth just before Jabob Nicoletti spun on the front stretch to bring out the first yellow flag on lap five.
Burkhalter continued to hold the top spot while McDuffie slipped by Monopoli for second two laps after the restart and set sail after the leader.
Nicoletti looed his truck again on lap 11 for another caution. Leroy Moore, running fifth at the time, headed for the pits and did not return.
The restart saw the beginning of a great battle between Burkhalter and McDuffie that was quickly interrupted as Kerns spun in turn four for another yellow. Sixth-running Mike Kohut pitted for adjustments and returned before the restart. Again the two front runners rsumed their side-by-side battle before the caution came out a fourth time for a big scramble among trucks running at the back of the field that saw Billy Carlbert, Jr. get turned around.
McDuffie got the run he needed on the restart and he passed Burkhalter for the lead. Meanwhile, fast qualifier Jason Lester, who had been biding his time, got by Anderson for fourth bringing Pugh with him. Pugh had fallen back as far as eighth after starting fourth. McDuffie began to pull away only to see yet another caution, this time for a back stretch tangle between Jeff Williams and Cody Krucker on lap 25.
Two laps after the restart, Pugh ducked under Lester to take fourth spot. The field continued under green until lap 37 when Williams spun off turn four.
Burkhalter tried hard to pass McDuffie on the restart but had to settle back into second in front of Monopoli as the lead trio sped away until Colt Cecil spun in turn two during the 43rd lap and was hit by Carlbert’s truck. Cecil was done for the night while Carlbert continued.
McDuffie’s truck seemed to stumble on the restart and Burkhalter took advantage grabbing the lead away although McDuffie was right back on his tail gate. Pugh had just ake third from Monopoli when Mini Cup winner Brey Holmes spun in turn two. Burkhalter held sawy on the restart and was looking good only to see a final yellow flag on lap 47as Kohut’s truck slowed suddenly with what appeared to be an overheating issue with Holmes spinning to miss him.
The final restart was a dandy. Burkhalter slid up the track in turn two just enough to let McDuffie get beside his rear fender. But Pugh saw an opening and dove under both of them, taking the lead. Ever the opportunist, Lester followed Pugh right on by to take second. Burkhalter managed to recover in third while McDuffie was hung out to dry.
Pugh crossed the stripe to score his first-ever Pro Truck victory while Lester and Burkhalter trailed closely. Cody Blair came out of nowhere to claim fourth while a disappointed McDuffie held on for fifth. Monopoli faded to sixth ahead of Anderson with eighth through tenth positions going to Carlbert, Krucker and Holmes. Twelve of the 22 starters were still running at the finish with Tyler Davis and Kristen Clements the last two trucks still in competition. Rounding out the finishers (all DNF’s) were Kohut, Cecil, Carter Brown, Williams, Mick Lizzano, Brennon Pletcher, Nicoletti, Kerns, Marc Kemick and Moore.
A somewhat bewildered Pugh was as happy as could be in victory lane and thanked his mom and dad along with crew chief Bobby Shelton and set-up man Mike Toemmes who unfortunately was not on hand due to ongoing medical issues.
Lester was very happy with his unexpected second place run but even happier that he set fast time for the first time in his career earlier in the evening.
Burkhalter said he “gave this one away” in the closing laps but was still happy with his truck. “I really think we’ve got something for the the rest of the year,” he said.
The Open Wheel Modifieds were scheduled to run a big 75-lap contest but when only seven cars showed up, the drivers and track officials agreed to cut the race to 40 laps with only a small cut in the purse.
Herb Neumann grabbed the early lead but gave way to L. J. Grimm on lap four.
Only two minor cautions late in the race slowed the event as Grimm sped away to a comfortable victory. Neumann looked like a sure second until falling out during the final caution flag period on lap 35. At that point Matt McCrary picked up the second spot and held it to the checker ahead of a tight battle with Shawn Harper and Ricky Coffin who claimed third and fourth. Norman Dismuke debuted his new machine in fifth ahead of Neumann and Marilyn McCrary.
The 30-lap Legend Car feature saw a number of caution periods and a familiar face back in victory lane. Greg Welage of Cincinnati, OH, who also has a home in Punta Gorda, returned to action along with his son Jason and led the opening two laps before Seth Adams came storming by. From that point it was Adams all the way despite having his pace slowed by the numerous yellow flags that were all for just minor incidents. The fans were entertained by the constant position-swapping going on behind Adams, though.
Jim Smith eventually made his way to second and added to his current point lead in the class. Las Vegas, NV visitor Michael Anderson had a good run for third in his first visit to Auburndale Speedway. Young Brandon Taylor scored a nice fourth place finish in just his second race in the class while 13-year-old lady driver Jade Hubert was fifth. Jason Welage was sixth followed by Bob Wilson, Cale Nolen, Blake Boyette, Gavin Sexton, Greg Welage, Mitch Verhaagh and Alan Hiefnar.
Another good field of Modified Mini Stocks were on hand and put on quite a show. The initial start was called back for a three car tangle in turn one but all cars continued. Tim Scalise snared the early lead but Fred Harrison was quickly on the move. Harrison started deep in the pack but was already up to third place by the conclusion of lap three then took second two laps later with Chris Spring right behind him.
Harrison caught and passed Scalise for the top spot on lap 11 with Spring following suit four laps later. The 30-lap run was halted on lap 17 as jimmy Frazier blew the engine in his car oiling down the track through the first and second turns. Fortunately all cars made it through despite a little “slipping and sliding.” Just after the restart the final caution appeared as Chris Falkner and Scott Bumgardner spun in unison in turn two.
Although Spring closed to his bumper several times, Harrison held on for the win, his first here in quite some time as he has just returned to racing at Auburndale after around a three year hiatus. Spring was a close second while Scalise scored his first career podium finish. It was this first time ever that Dodge-powered cars finished 1-2-3 in a Mod Mini feature here. Fourth and fifth went to Clint Holmes and Matt Cummins who had a nice run in a new car after showing up late. Rachelle Rudolph came home sixth trailed by Falkner, Dave Barnett, Bumgardner, Frazier, Mike Kerrivan, Dave Davis and T. J. Tanner.
Despite having to run his car in third gear after a late race restart, James Wright III held sway to score another V-8 Bomber win and add to his point lead. Wright took the lead from David Purvis on lap five and sped to the win despite two cautions and his tranny problem. Danny Burchfield was third followed by Ronnie Abney, Jammie “Wild Child” Dunnahoe, Jr., Jamie Castleberry and Purvis.
Put yet another win sticker on the windshield of Chris Narrmore’s Q Mini Stock as he claimed his fourth win of the year in the class. Freddy Martin grabbed the early lead but saw Chris Narramore, Jr, move out front on lap 12. The senior Narramore was not to be denied this week, though, as he passed his son on lap 20 and drove to a comfortable win as this was the only race all night to run green to checker. Narramore, Jr, was second with Bruce Cozad in his “usual” third spot. Martin came home fourth ahead of Duker Holley, T. J.
Tanner, David McCaig and Ashley Eldridge.
Travis Todd led all the way to claim his first-ever win at Auburndale in taking the Scrambler feature. Although his teammate Danny Burchfield brought out the red flag blowing an engine mid-race, Todd streaked to a fairly comfortable win over Chuckie Harrison and his dad Chuck Harrison. All three were driving Saturns. Wayne Dunnavent, Jr. was fourth in his first race here trailed by Burchfield, Serena Young, Trevor Appling and Joe Mezenbach (all DNF’s)