Leader Blues

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

SPORTS >> Cook picks up flag-to-flag win

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

Curtis Cook may not be old enough to be considered a master of restarts, but Friday’s Scrapp Fox Memorial race gave him plenty of practice at working toward that honor.

The 24-year-old Vilonia pilot known as “Hollywood” held off hard-charging shoes Dale Proctor and Jack “The Man” Sullivan on eight different restarts during the 30-lap, $2,000-to-win crown-jewel modified event at Beebe Speedway to give him a flag-to-flag win in dominating fashion.

Cook, who started on the outside pole, out-ran Proctor, the fast qualifier from Hector, into turn one at the drop of the green and never looked back in collecting his fourth win at Beebe in his last six starts. It was also his fifth consecutive open-wheel modified win overall.

“If I couldn’t have started on the front row, I don’t think it would have happened,” said Cook. “Having good runs in the heat races to get a good starting position is everything. Nowadays, with the class of field that we’re racing with, you can’t start from the back and win. It’s almost too tough. I mean, it happens from time to time, but 90 percent of the time, it’s somebody from the first two rows who wins the race.”

The only thing close to a tense moment for Cook was the seventh restart on lap 24, when Greenbrier’s Sullivan briefly got to his outside for one circuit until the driver of the black and green 601 machine got his ride hooked back up on the inside and set sail once again.

“Right there with a couple of restarts to go, I don’t know who it was, but someone was bobbing to the outside as soon as we came out of two,” Cook said. “I felt like I was getting a good run. I never heard them after that.

“So I wanted to maintain a good rhythm and gain momentum right around the bottom, just to try and protect (the lead). It might not have been the fastest line, but I was wanting to run somewhat protective.”

The frequent re-starts also gave longtime standout Sullivan many chances to try and intimidate Cook.

“Old Jack Sullivan, he was over there under cautions bumping me in the back end, I guess trying to rattle me a little bit,” Cook said. “He’d goose it and come up beside me, but I just sat there and tried to focus and maintain a cool head and be consistent, be smooth.”

While Cook went virtually uncontested at the front, bedlam ensued behind him as, on eight different occasions, the caution flags came out.

From the first two yellows for spins by North Little Rock veteran Mike Bowers to the scariest moment of the night, when Little Rock driver Patrick Lynn smashed into the turn one wall after his throttle hung open on lap 23, pacing under caution became a common occurrence.

It was a tough night as well for local drivers. Jacksonville’s Cory Dumas and Searcy driver Robert Davis each struggled, but still managed to pick up the final two qualifying spots in the heats.

Hometown favorite Todd Greer of Beebe and Searcy’s Tyler “Rocketman’” Stevens proved competitive in their heats, but bad luck in the form of a flat tire sent Greer off the track under caution on lap 23, and Stevens pulled off the track while pacing in the ninth spot under caution on lap 13, never to return.

Dumas’ night went from bad to worse on lap 19 when he spun to bring out the fifth caution and retired in the 18th spot, while Davis spun on lap 13 and finished with a DNF in 19th. Stevens ended up scored as last place in 20th.

Greer recovered from his flat to claim a respectable ninth-place finish after starting seventh, while Cabot’s Jason Flory battled to an 11th-place finish. Flory was strong in his opening heat until contact with the 52 car of Oklahoma driver Hank Long sent the back end of his car up in the air, and his F3 machine was never the same for the rest of the night.

The battle for second between Proctor and Sullivan proved dicey at times, as Sullivan held the spot for the majority of the race until Proctor finally out-dueled him on the final restart at lap 26 to take the $1,000 runner-up check, forcing Sullivan to settle for third.

Defending champion Randy Weaver stayed out of the trouble that broke out in front of, beside and behind him, but could never find his way up to challenge the top three. He spent most of the race battling various drivers for the fourth spot until a resurging Bowers snuck past him on the final lap to claim it.

Weaver held on to round out the top five, with Jeff Davis, Casey Findley, Lynnsee Provence, Greer and Mabelvale’s Travis Broach completing the top ten. Jonesboro driver Davis’ sixth-place run made him hard charger for the race after starting 17th, while Findley also had to make his way back toward the front after he cut a right front tire down heading into turn four on lap 26 to bring out the final yellow flag.

After some tough weekends during the final months of the ’08 season, Cook said it was a late-night pow-wow with his crew earlier this spring that got the Lawson Farms-sponsored team back on track.

“We struggled there at the end of last year,” said Cook. “We came off a pretty good win streak about a year ago, but everybody else got faster, and we just went to struggling. It seemed like we went from racing for the lead to just trying to stay in the top ten, but me and my cousin — my crew chief — we sat down in the shop one night about 12 o’clock.

“We got the notebook out and started throwing ideas around, talking about the car and what we wanted it to do. We made a to-try list. We sat out there until three or four in the morning just throwing stuff at the car, and we rolled out the next weekend and won. The car’s been great ever since.”