By: Gary Jacob|
Where: Casa Grande, AZ
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Casa Grande, AZ -- A part time racer in 2002, Jerry Bullis closed that season with a high dollar win at Central Arizona Raceway and Saturday afternoon, he emerged victorious again in the 2003 season opener for the street stocks. After winning his heat race, he drew a front row assignment and led all 20 laps to collect the win front of the brother duo of Larry Brigner and Mike Brigner. The racing action was in support of the highly successful Early Thaw dirt late model Speedweek. Former track champion Brian Barsness had a lot of late season success at the 3/8 mile clay oval after racing the point season on the pavement and he also was an opening day winner in the factory stocks. After a tough heat race, Barsness had to come from deep in the pack to win the 15 lap feature as he paced the final ten rounds. E J Jones ran second ahead of Matt Lundy.
The street stocks had nearly 30 cars on hand and they were divided into three heat races. The field included three long tows, ageless Billy Powell from Grants, NM and a pair of Colorado racers, Tony Hill and Jerry Fletcher. Former dirt modified champion Ted Robinson came from the rear to win the first heat ahead of front row starter Don Earven and Mark Harrison. Bullis came from last starting to win the second heat when leader L Brigner got out of shape in the final corner. L Brigner did finish second ahead of former champion M Brigner. Pole starter Mike Hancock drove his MoPar to a win in the third heat from the pole. Fellow front row starter Tom Hussak ran second ahead of Jack Buckner. Another former track champion Art Lacy returned to action as he has replaced Brad Whitfield in the Benji Lyons owned mount for 2003.
The top finishers from the heat action drew for their starting order in the front six rows of the large main event grid. Alan Compton and Bullis drew the front row with L Brigner and Hancock in row 2. Bullis raced into the lead ahead of L Brigner and M Brigner, but a big first lap incident ended the race for Ray Earven, Lacy and Hill. Jody Haynes pulled in on the restart with D Earven breaking into the top five. The front threesome checked out on the field with Robinson getting around D Earven for fifth. An ugly accident slowed the action on lap 8. Frank Soboski had tangled with his son Steve Soboski on the front stretch and Colorado's Fletcher was collected in the incident. The drivers were battling a setting sun that severely limited their visibility. Robinson did not see the accident scene until it was too late and he crashed into the drivers side door of F Soboski. A helicopter had to be called to airlift F Soboski to the hospital after he was cut out of his mangled Mustang. On Sunday, he was reported to have suffered a broken hip and S Soboski had a severe case of whiplash. After over an hour delay, racing resumed and went the final 12 laps without another caution. Hancock took third from M Brigner on the restart and fifth place Steve Nelson was blackflagged from the race when his car began to smoke severely. M Brigner got back around Hancock for third on lap 11. Both Brigner mounts were smoking, but they battled hard for second as Bullis increased his margin to 1/2 straight. Paul Banghart spun late in the race in the former Charlotte Williams Show Low championship car. Bullis won with L Brigner second ahead of M Brigner, a strong passing performance by Mike Tahtinen, Hancock, D Earven, Hussak, Buckner and Kent Nelson.
The 16 factory stocks were divided into a pair of heat races. Newcomer Justin Laughlin won the first heat from the pole with Matt Lundy second. John Gonzales won the second heat from the outside front row with Keith Wells second ahead of Jody Henderson. Michelle Ashcraft had a flat leading early in the event. The 15 lap feature was moved up on the scheduled when the officials had trouble doing the math involved in the passing point heat action for the dirt late models. After his strong heat run, Gonzales broke on the first lap of the main event. Laughlin led the first 5 laps after he fought off a stiff challenge from Henderson. Jones raced into fourth on lap 3 and Barsness was fifth a lap later. Wells got by Henderson for 2nd on lap 5 as the top five ran in tight order. Tom Hussak III pulled into the infield and the lead order was shuffled when Laughlin and Henderson crashed on the front stretch to end the race for both. Barsness was the new leaderf ahead of Wells and Jones. Crissy Langston spun for a lap 7 yellow. Jones took second from Wells on this restart and Lundy charged into fourth. Lundy beat Wells to a lap 12 yellow flag as Ashcraft spun. The final yellow flag came on lap 13 when a spinning Barry Martzall got hit by Gary Armes. Barsness stayed out front to win with Jones second ahead of Lundy, Ricky Cook, Dave Rowe, Wells, Mike Harris and Ashcraft.
Summary Factory Stock Heat 1-Justin Laughlin, Matt Lundy, David Rowe, Jacky Parmeley, E J Jones. Heat 2-John Gonzales, Keith Wells, Jody Henderson, Tom Hussak III, Mike Harris. Main-Brian Barsness, Jones, Lundy, Ricky Cook, Rowe, Wells, Harris, Michelle Ashcraft, Laughlin, Crissy Langston, Gary Armes, Barry Martzall, Parmeley, Henderson, Gonzales, Hussak. Street Stock Heat 1-Ted Robinson, Don Earven, Mark Harrison, Alan Compton, Tim Worth. Heat 2-Jerry Bullis, Larry Brigner, Mike Brigner, Billy Powell, Patrick Tolle. Heat 3-Mike Hancock, Tom Hussak, Jack Buckner, Steve Nelson, Scott Starns. Main-Bullis, L Brigner, M Brigner, Mike Tahtinen, Hancock, D Earven, Hussak, Buckner, Kent Nelson, Compton, Brandon Roper, Harrison, Paul Banghart, Nelson, Robinson, Frank Soboski, Steve Soboski, Jerry Fletcher, Tolle, Starns, Powell, Jody Haynes, Tony Hill, Art Lacy, Ray Earven.