Leader Blues

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

SPORTS >>Topless races featured pair of local drivers

Leader sportswriter

Locust Grove — A number of local drivers turned out for the 14th annual Comp Cams Topless 100 at Batesville Speedway this past weekend. Two of the hopefuls to make the Saturday feature were from The Leader coverage area.

The annual super late-model event draws the top drivers in the country. Of all the late-model races run in the entire nation yearly, only the Dream and World 100 at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, rank bigger among drivers in money and bragging rights.

Veteran driver Stacy Taylor of Jacksonville and 18-year-old Jordan Jones of Beebe made up two of the total 66 late-model hopefuls that tried to get into the 24-car feature for a chance at the $45,000 winner’s purse. Taylor made it in through the heats on Friday, taking the final transfer spot in the opening-heat race of the night behind Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin driver Jimmy Mars and Muscatine, Iowa’s Brian Birkhofer.

Jones was not quite as fortunate in his heat. He worked his way into a transfer spot in the early going, but a flat tire forced him to restart in the rear. The second-year MARS regular fought hard to get back up to the fifth position, but was two spots shy of a transfer, forcing him to take part in one of Saturday night’s ‘B’ main last-chance qualifier. Jones went out in the second of the last chance races on Saturday. Only two drivers would transfer out to the A main. After running third for most of the 20-lap race, and briefly challenging Batesville area favorite Peyton Taylor for the final transfer, an ill-handling car allowed Billy Moyer Jr. around for third on the final lap.

It all began with time trials on Friday night. Taylor timed in respectably in 24th. Jones ran mid-pack for the session in 35th, but was still fast enough to make the invert for the heats, which was not good news for the 60 racing team. The top 36 qualifiers were inverted for the six heats, with the top six qualifiers starting dead last for their respective heats, the next six starting next to last, until the top qualifiers filled the final six spots in each of the 11-car heats.

Taylor’s qualifying effort put him in eighth for the first heat, but he quickly sliced through the field to take the transfer. For Taylor, it was his fourth time to make the A main in his storied career. “That’s the biggest part of this whole deal is just making it in,” Taylor said as he and his crew worked on the car Saturday afternoon. “We’ve got some work to do to make it better before tonight.” Amazingly, the Topless would mark only the fourth race all season that Taylor had competed in, but he had the confidence of a veteran heading into the 100-lap event.

“I think we have a fairly good chance,” Taylor said. “We probably have a good top-ten car. 100 laps is a long time, so we will just have to see what happens.” Unfortunately for Taylor, the car developed mechanical problems early on in the event, forcing him to pull off and park before the completion of 30 laps. Taylor finished 23rd on the night.

Jones did not have the experience that Taylor had heading into the weekend, but is gaining it quickly. His father Cary acted as crew chief for the 60 car his rookie season, managing the setups and prep work for the car. Jordan now handles that as well, but dad is still there for advice and moral support on race weekends.

“I think I have a fair chance to make it into the feature,” Jones said. “There are a couple of guys I’m concerned about in the lineup, but I think I can pass a couple of them, hopefully.” Jones lined up third for his ‘B’ main, and would stay there close behind the final transfer spot until the final laps. Despite not making the feature, it was a chance for Jones to show he could hang with the best the country had to offer. Even more impressive is the fact that his car is actually outdated. His GRT machine is an over-rail car, whereas most of the top drivers are now running under-rails. That will not be a problem for much longer, however, as they are expecting a new GRT-by-Frye machine in the coming weeks that features and under-rail suspension package.

“We have the same car as last year, and it has had continuous problems,” Jones said “So our second season has not been a lot easier so far.” After his ‘B’ main, Jones seemed partially disappointed, partially relieved but mostly happy as he and his girlfriend walked through the pit area. “I think that next to last restart would have been my best chance,” Jones said. “I slipped a little on that restart after I got a good run into the corner. The car got tight on the last restart, so I think the one before would have been the key.”

The event was won by Mooresburg, Tennessee’s Scott Bloomquist, who is considered by many to be the top late-model driver of all time. It was the third Topless win for the driver known as ‘Black Sunshine’. Bloomquist set fast time in the trials, came from the rear to win his heat, started sixth and finished second in the five-lap dash-for-cash and lined up on the outside pole for the feature, and led every lap.