Leader Blues

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

SPORTS >> Wallace wins first-ever MSRA race at Beebe

Leader sportswriter

Perhaps his competitors should have worn steel vests. Even then, they may not have been able to stop the driver known as the Batesville Bullet.

On a night when several other late model veterans struggled, Batesville driver Wendell Wallace piloted to his second O’Reilly MSRA series win of the 2009 season with a mid-race pass of Eric Turner to collect the $2,000 winner’s purse at Beebe Speedway on Friday.

Wallace quickly worked his way from the fourth starting spot to position himself behind outside polesitter Turner, and simply waited for the chance to strike.

That opportunity came on lap 22, when Turner got pinned behind lap traffic out of turn two, allowing Wallace to get alongside and pull into the lead heading down the backstretch.

Wallace kept his familiar 88 machine out front for the duration of the 40-lap, caution-free event despite Turner’s late attempts to reclaim the lead, and a bold outside charge by standout Kyle Beard that fell short in the final laps.

“The racetrack was real tight and hard to pass on,” said Wallace, who became the first repeat winner in MSRA this year. “The race car got really good, and he caught traffic, so I just kind of bided my time to see if he would make a mistake. He made one mistake, and I pounced on him from there.

“I knew lap traffic would be a factor. I didn’t know if it would be to my benefit or his, but generally, the second-place guy has got an advantage when you catch all that traffic because he can pick and choose (which line to take).”

Despite Wallace’s good fortune, the night did not turn out quite as well for some of the other well-known veterans, including Bill Frye of Greenbrier, who ended up as the only retired car in the A-main feature after handling woes took him too far out of contention.

Fellow Greenbrier driver Jack Sullivan and Jeff Floyd of Walnut Ridge were two more big names who found difficulty at their old stomping grounds. Neither acquired enough passing points during the heats and had to claim the top two positions in the first of two consolation features in order to get in the big show.

Sullivan took the ‘B’ win while Floyd finished second, but Floyd was forced to limp to an 18th-place feature finish two laps down, while Sullivan managed to salvage a 12th-place finish after taking the green 16th on the grid.

MARS series teammates Terry Phillips and Jeremy Payne claimed the two transfer spots in the second consolation, while defending MSRA champ Joey Mack, Randy Mitchell, Brandon McCormick and Darrell Mooneyham took the four provisional spots that filled the 22-car field for the MSRA/MARS challenge race.

That sent nine cars, including local favorite Joseph Long of Bryant and Clarksdale, Miss., pilot Ross Camponovo home early.

The absence of yellows made lap traffic a factor early on, and allowed Wallace to stay on the back bumper of Turner once the race leader reached the back markers on the 16th circuit.

Fast qualifier Jeff Moss of Harrisburg, who earned the top starting spot by winning heat three, found the heavy traffic up front difficult to maneuver, and eventually fell back to a seventh-place finish.

The track surface stayed smooth throughout the evening, but never picked up enough rubber in the outside lane to provide enough grip for two-groove corners.

That did not deter Trumann driver Beard from taking his chances in the vacant line. His move up high paid off initially to take him from his eighth-place start to as high as third in the closing laps, but the Silent Assassin’s luck ran out with three to go when he carried too much momentum out of turn two, and his GRT 86 car washed up on exit. Beard was able to recover after losing three spots to collect a sixth-place finish.

“I just knew there wasn’t going to be any other way to get up there,” said Beard. “Everybody was just hugging the bottom down there, so I had to try something to get up there. If you got one car length up just right above them, you could get a little grip, but if you ever slipped up just the least little bit, you got up in the slick stuff and just couldn’t go anywhere.”

Wallace stayed out front in the late going by carefully clearing the lap traffic, leaving Turner to duke it out with fellow Missouri driver Tony Jackson, Jr. for the runner-up spot.

Turner held on to second with Jackson Jr. taking third, while SUPR series veteran Ray Moore worked his way from seventh at the start to finish fourth.

A quiet but solid run for Russellville’s Jon Kirby rounded out the top five and earned him the hard-charger award for the race after starting in the ninth position.

For Wallace, it was his fifth overall super late model win of the ’09 season in only 15 starts.

“We’ve been running good here lately,” said Wallace. “The first of our year, we kind of struggled changing some things up. Now we’ve got some things headed in our direction, and hopefully it will keep going for us the rest of the year.”

David Ashley finished eighth, while Batesville’s Billy Moyer, Jr. held on to the MSRA points lead with a respectable ninth-place finish, and veteran Dewaine Hottinger rounded out the top ten.

MSRA will return to action on May 8 at Batesville Speedway in Locust Grove, and will make its way back to Beebe on June 26.