The long anticipated Tucson Raceway Park PIR Stars Open was held on Thursday night, November 6th to accommodate the tight schedules of NASCAR Stars participating at nearby Phoenix International Raceway. But, as it would turn out, none of them could break from their busy schedules to return to the track that boosted many of their careers. None the less, the Stars of Tomorrow showed up to prove that they could master the compound banking of TRP and SHOW UP they did! Half the field would consist of out of state drivers with Jack Chisholm from Alberta, Canada coming farthest. Randy Knight’s Knight Fire Protection Racing coming all the way from Olympia, Washington would be the first to arrive for Wednesday evenings practice with drivers Dan Rhodes and Jared Vorse. As it would turn out, arriving early to share a cold beer and hot Southwestern style fajitas with yours truly would be the highlight of their TRP adventure as the team would blow up both of their engines early in practice and burn the midnight oil rebuilding and changing engines in both cars only to have both engines expire again on race day. This team is truly a team that never gives up and after they had used up all of their resources Dan Rhodes would take over the Blue Media Toyota Camry of Butler Motorsports for the 100 lapper and garner a well deserved fourth place!
The evening would start with time trials in all of the four competitive classes and when it was all over, Jamie Dick from Albuquerque New Mexico would be on top followed by 2008 TRP Late Model Champion Joe Paladenic. The Factory Stock open competition fast qualifier would be Mike Saylor's from Olympia Washington sporting NU THREADS racing recaps from Tire Dog’s followed by Tom Comeau from Tucson on 970 Hoosiers..
The TRP Bomber (V8 class) would also qualify and Bob Davis from Tucson would set a new record in the process. The TRP Bomber Lite (4 cyl. Class) would also see a Davis on top of the charts with Jason Davis, no relation setting the pace with a new track record.
The Lucas Oil Trophy Dash would be up first and the top six qualifiers would battle for starting positions one through six in the 100 lap feature. Travis Bennett">Travis Bennett from Ellensburg, Washington would start fourth and take the lead on lap two of fifteen to win the action packed Dash over Paladenic and Dick.
Qualifying Heat 1 consisting of odd numbered qualifiers from 7th back would see outside front row starting Paul Banghart lead all the way to secure a seventh starting position in the feature. Unfortunately, a spin by Kenny Vanderham of Jerome Idaho in turn one would see young R.C. Whitwell of Tucson hit the stalled vehicle very hard ending the day for both with heavy damage.
Heat 2 would be a carbon copy as outside front row starter Mathew Williams would snatch the lead on lap one and hold it to the end over Matt Levin.
With the field now set, it was time for the Bomber Lite feature event and the action by the front three competitors kept the crowd on their feed. Slight contact between Kyle Milburg and Jason Davis with just a few laps to go would put Joel “Big Johnson” out front with Davis in pursuit followed by Milburg. Davis would catch Johnson with one to go but Johnson was just too strong and he would win by 6 inches at the line. This would be Johnson’s first win ever and Victory Lane celebrations would reflect all of his enthusiasm.
The Bomber Feature would be a close competition between Bob Davis and Brad Kleifgen all the way with Davis also taking his very first pavement race win over Kleifgen.
The Factory Stock “Run what ya brung” 50 lap Feature event was full of non stop action as it soon became obvious that there were three distinct groups of cars battling throughout the 50 lap event with Gerrit Cromsigt from Saugus California being the class of the field in his low slung Irwindale Super Stock setting the pace over Saylor’s and Comeau. Many of the competitors were racing on pavement for the very first time and they would find out soon that chassis balance was very important to tire wear and race success. Saylor’s who seemed to be the only competitor capable of keeping pace with Cromsigt would experience a flat tire sending him to the pits while Coma and Jeremy Smith would battle all race long for second. At the end, Cromsigt would win over Comeau and Smith whom had been dragging his exhaust almost the entire event with sparks thrilling the crowd.
The STARS Open would be paced by Travis Bennett and Joe Paladenic and Paladenic would get the jump going into turn one and lead until lap eight when second running Bennett would blow his engine big time entering turn one collecting Ray Robinson of Rancho Cucamonga California and Jamie Dick in the process. A red flag was thrown to clean up the track and Bennett and Robinson would be done for the night. Dick would return laps down with his beautiful Mike Naake tuned Late Model looking like a modified.
When racing resumed, Paladenic would again set the pace out front with Miles Copenhaven from Lancaster California in hot pursuit in his Irwindale Late Model. On lap twenty five we would see a new leader in a car familiar to leading at this track. Paul Banghart, driving Scott Rueschenberg’s project Blue Oval Ford Fusion crate engine powered ASA Late Model would now set the pace working the bottom line around the 3/8 mile oval. By lap fifty there wasn’t a Bow Tie in the top five as Fords were first, second and third followed by a Pontiac and a Dodge.
Contact between two young lions from Tucson running fourth and fifth at the line would send Brian Harrington JR. spinning in turn four resulting in a short caution with Harrington sent to the rear. Harrington’s day would end laps later from the engine damage caused by the spin over rev. NASCAR Drive for Diversity recipient, Cassie Gannis, would spin in oil dropped by Harrington’s wounded mount on lap ninety six while running a strong fourth and the resulting caution would bunch the field for the fight to the finish but unfortunately third running Copenhaven would lose power under the caution and not continue and Paladenic would retire to the pits with an unknown mechanical issue. The lap 96 restart would be two crate engine powered Fords out front lead by Banghart with Victor Pfluger doing everything he could to get by in Mike Donoho’s Ford Fusion. At the end, Banghart had scored his first pavement win in over ten years as he has been concentrating on dirt modified racing, with Pfluger second followed by Matt Levin and Dan Rhodes. The top ten would consist of a mix of powerplants and overall adjusted weights proving that the Tucson Raceway Park Late Model rules structure does indeed work thus allowing many combinations to compete with a fair chance at winning! The race turned out to be a Great First Time event for Tucson Raceway Park as it stays focused on presenting Special Events Only until the Victory Circle Marketing Plan takes shape in the Spring of 2009.