[media-credit name=”Tony Stewart Racing” align=”alignright” width=”107″][/media-credit]Back in February this night was a long way away. No one thought much about it. There were 81 races yet to be run. A summer yet to come filled with thrills spills and challenges. Tonight was the furthest thing from anyone’s mind. But the night had come. Was it possible that 81 races had come and gone so quickly? The night was at hand and the champions were crowned. The competitors all seemed to breathe a heavy sigh of relief. The fans a heavy sigh of regret. The 2012 World of Outlaws season had drawn to a close.
The second night of the World Finals was just as exciting as the first. There was a wild desperation in the air. There were matters to be settled. Changes to be announced, for instance the new tire for 2013 would be Hoosier despite the continued rumors to the contrary. Joey Saldana would be in the legendary 71M ride, which was made famous by Outlaws legend Doug Wolfgang, would again take the track in 2013. Daryn Pittman would take over the 9 for Kasey Kahne Racing. And the new logo would take on a bright and more colorful look with the red white and blue STP colors gracing the wings of every car next year.
Qualifying was Thursday night. The quick time was set by David Gravel, in his colorful tribute to Breast Cancer. The beautiful black pink and silver car proclaimed the dedication “Beyond Boobs” and made a strong statement to remind all of us that there were battles fiercer than those about to take place on the race track going on around the world. Gravel’s time was a lightning fast 13.026 seconds around the 5/8ths mile track. He was followed by Dale Blaney, Lucas Wolfe, Brian Brown, and Stevie Smith.
The first of 5 heat races would find Friday night’s winner picking up where he left off. Sammy Swindell jumped out to an early lead and ran away with the race. He would be followed to the line by David Gravel, Greg Hodnett and Brook Tatnell all transferring to the A Main.
The second heat race would also be a runaway show with Dale Blaney leading by 2.5 seconds at one point before being slowed by a caution flag on lap 4 when Shane Stewart hit a tire marker. The field would not get a lap in before Danny Holtgraver would hit the same tire marker and destroy the front end of his car. Holtgraver took the car to the trailer and retired from the heat. The cautions merely slowed the inevitable as Blaney took the win over Cody Darrah, Daryn Pittman and Tim Shaffer.
The third heat race was an incredible race with Lucas Wolfe and Jac Haudenschild exchanging slide jobs and maneuvering one another for 3rd and 4th place all the while Lance Dewease and Craig Dollansky were checking out on the field. In the end Haudenschild would claim third over the much younger Lucas Wolfe but it would be a hard race all the way to the line.
The fourth heat race would bring with it some drama. Bobby Howard was thought to have changed Right Rear Tires from qualifying on Thursday. Outlaws rules say that you must run the heat on the right rear you qualified on or you are disqualified from the heat. In the end the identifier mark was found on the tire and the start of the heat was called back after a half lap to allow Howard to join the field in his 10th place starting spot. The drama had little effect on the reigning champion, Donny Schatz who came back strong after a disappointing night on Friday, and won the heat with a hard charging Kraig Kinser on his back bumper. Also transferring to the A Main were Paul McMahan and Kerry Madsen, who prevailed in a hard fought battle with Sam Hafertepe Jr for the final transfer spot.
The fifth and final heat race of the season displayed a glimpse of the future with Jason Johnson in the Roush Stenhouse Ford taking the win over Stevie Smith, Ed Lynch Jr. and Dean Jacobs. The Ford power plant was the only one in the World Finals and it was the second race card for the 410 built by legendary engine builder Doug Yates.
The C Main presented an unusual situation and one that you won’t often see. Scheduled to start in the 5th spot was The King of the Outlaws, Steve Kinser. Kinser however, choose to take a provisional into the A Main and scratched from the C. The C was a race of desperation. Jimmy Seger would end up upside down on lap 7 but would exit the car uninjured. Caleb Helms and Danny Mumaw would fight hard to the checkers for the final transfer spot into the B with the position going to Caleb Helms at the line. Jack Sodeman Jr. would win the race.
The Dash was a mix of experience and challenge. With names like Swindell, Gravel, Dollansky, Schatz, and Blaney the talent pool was deep. But the track had required work and water. The new track surface was a mystery to the drivers in the Dash. That mystery would take its toll on one of the legends of the sport, Sammy Swindell, when on the first lap he got into the greasy unworked part of the track and flipped the car violently. Swindell would retire from the dash and go to work to get the car ready for the A Main. The dash would see Stevie Smith dominate over Lucas Wolfe and Dale Blaney, with very strong performances coming from Donny Schatz, Kraig Kinser, Daryn Pittman and Craig Dollansky.
The B Main would transfer the final 6 qualifying cars to the A Main. The race was a hard fought battle between Joey Saldana who would win on the final lap over Brian Brown, Jason Sides and Brian Sebetto.
This was the final night of the season, which meant that everyone who didn’t make the field who had a provisional could now use it without fear of needing it worse on another night. Chad Kemenah, Bill Rose, and Steve Kinser all three did so to bring the A Main field to 27 cars.
The new surface had been run by the Modifieds, and the Late Models and had developed a hole in turn 1 right in the center groove. Although the hole didn’t bother the heavier cars, it was an obstacle that the Sprint Cars would avoid if at all possible. The track had turned dusty and dry and very slick after the track work, a condition that would play well into the hands of some and not so well in the hands of others.
There were questions, would Swindell make it back out for the A? Would the hole figure into the end result of the race? With Donny Schatz showing a much stronger performance after experimenting with engine and chassis the night before would he claim the final race of his 5th championship season?
When the cars pushed off the 1 of Sammy Swindell was in its 12th starting spot. But the car was hurt badly. Repairs had been made as best as they could be but the Big Tree Stands number one had frame damage on the front of the car. In reality probably only 5 or 6 drivers on the circuit would have even attempted the final night of the World Finals with a frame damaged car. Sammy Swindell was one of those drivers. How severely it would affect the car no one would know until the green flag dropped.
The A Main was a barn burner, with Dale Blaney picking up from the night before when he cut a tire and lost the race with 5 laps to go. Sammy Swindell would pull off the track after 3 laps with a car that simply was not drivable. Donny Schatz was making progress through the field when he tangled wheels with Greg Hodnett and spun to the top of the track. Unable to avoid the dead in the water STP #15, Jac Haudenschild clipped the front wing and spun. Cody Darrah would hit the nose of the 15 full tilt and flip down the banking to the middle of the track. Haudenschild would make repairs and return, Schatz was done for the night as was Cody Darrah. The race would resume but not for long, Craig Dollansky would lose a left rear tire and hit the wall in 3 collecting Stevie Smith and Kerry Madsen in the melee. All drivers were unhurt. The double checkers would wave over Dale Blaney and Paul McMahan who would make it a close battle all the way to the line. Jason Johnson would bring his Ford home third. McMahan would be the races hard charger coming from 22nd starting spot to finish 2nd.
Beyond the cheers and the thrills of victory there was weariness. The drivers were tired. The teams were tired. The officials were tired. Nothing illustrated that more than the exchange between Johnson and McMahan who disagreed on an on track incident but after a few words decided to let it be. Or the pushing of a winged sprint car into the infield by an Outlaws official on a 4 wheeler with a bump draft to safety and then leaving it in the infield grass for a push track to take it back to the pits following the race. The fans were tired but were already feeling the longing for just one more race.
The crowning of the champion and the presentation of the trophy brought a long season to an end. A season full of changes, lessons learned, victories hard fought, and tragedies. The Sprint Car racing community had lost 5 of its heroes in the span of 9 months. But the lasting lesson would remain that of perseverance. Never quit. Never give up. No matter how long the odds or short the resource, follow your heart, believe in yourself and your team mates and carry on. It is perhaps the greatest gift that our heroes can give us at the end of the year because that lesson alone will carry us through the winter and bring us to Volusia in February where we will begin the circle over again.
Qualifying – 1. 89G-David Gravel, 13.026; 2. 2-Dale Blaney, 13.072; 3. 5W-Lucas Wolfe, 13.176; 4. 21-Brian Brown, 13.187; 5. 19-Stevie Smith, 13.192; 6. 9-Joey Saldana, 13.212; 7. 49-Daryn Pittman, 13.271; 8. 7-Craig Dollansky, 13.278; 9. 11K-Kraig Kinser, 13.284; 10. 24H-Bryan Sebbetto, 13.352; 11. 39-Greg Hodnett, 13.352; 12. 71-Shane Stewart, 13.367; 13. 59-Jac Haudenschild, 13.376; 14. 29-Kerry Madsen, 13.411; 15. 41-Jason Johnson, 13.413; 16. 1-Sammy Swindell, 13.428; 17. 4-Cody Darrah, 13.450; 18. 30C-Lance Dewease, 13.491; 19. 15-Donny Schatz, 13.503; 20. 2L-Ed Lynch Jr, 13.506; 21. 19W-Brooke Tatnell, 13.517; 22. 13-Tim Shaffer, 13.521; 23. 28-Brian Paulus, 13.535; 24. 51-Paul McMahan, 13.553; 25. 24-Terry McCarl, 13.555; 26. W20-Greg Wilson, 13.568; 27. 7S-Jason Sides, 13.569; 28. 1X-Randy Hannagan, 13.587; 29. 15H-Sam Hafertepe Jr, 13.596; 30. 97-Dean Jacobs, 13.621; 31. 1S-Logan Schuchart, 13.646; 32. D4-Danny Holtgraver, 13.673; 33. 69-Ryan Smith, 13.682; 34. 63-Chad Kemenah, 13.682; 35. 77X-Wayne Johnson, 13.687; 36. 6-Bill Rose, 13.724; 37. 94-Jack Sodeman Jr, 13.731; 38. 40-Caleb Helms, 13.743; 39. 35-Jessica Zemken, 13.754; 40. 16-Danny Mumaw, 13.765; 41. 11-Steve Kinser, 13.980; 42. 25-Jimmy Seeger, 14.029; 43. 47-Eric Riggins, 14.102; 44. 60-Kory Crabtree, 14.134; 45. 25P-Michael Parent, 14.253; 46. 6W-Brad Wickam, 14.734; 47. O-Glenn Styres, 14.865; 48. 6X-Mark Cole, 15.175; 49. 49H-Bobby Howard, 15.630; 50. 10P-Jim Perricone, 15.657.
Heat 1 – (8 Laps – Top 4 finishers transfer to the A-feature) – 1. 1-Sammy Swindell ; 2. 89G-David Gravel ; 3. 39-Greg Hodnett ; 4. 19W-Brooke Tatnell ; 5. 9-Joey Saldana ; 6. 11-Steve Kinser ; 7. W20-Greg Wilson ; 8. 6-Bill Rose ; 9. 1S-Logan Schuchart ; 10. 6W-Brad Wickam .
Heat 2 – (8 Laps – Top 4 finishers transfer to the A-feature) – 1. 2-Dale Blaney ; 2. 4-Cody Darrah ; 3. 13-Tim Shaffer ; 4. 49-Daryn Pittman ; 5. 94-Jack Sodeman Jr ; 6. 7S-Jason Sides ; 7. 25-Jimmy Seeger ; 8. O-Glenn Styres ; 9. 71-Shane Stewart ; 10. D4-Danny Holtgraver .
Heat 3 – (8 Laps – Top 4 finishers transfer to the A-feature) – 1. 30C-Lance Dewease ; 2. 7-Craig Dollansky ; 3. 59-Jac Haudenschild ; 4. 5W-Lucas Wolfe ; 5. 69-Ryan Smith ; 6. 1X-Randy Hannagan ; 7. 28-Brian Paulus ; 8. 40-Caleb Helms ; 9. 47-Eric Riggins ; 10. 6X-Mark Cole .
Heat 4 – (8 Laps – Top 4 finishers transfer to the A-feature) – 1. 15-Donny Schatz ; 2. 11K-Kraig Kinser ; 3. 51-Paul McMahan ; 4. 29-Kerry Madsen ; 5. 15H-Sam Hafertepe Jr ; 6. 21-Brian Brown ; 7. 35-Jessica Zemken ; 8. 63-Chad Kemenah ; 9. 60-Kory Crabtree ; 10. 49H-Bobby Howard .
Heat 5 – (8 Laps – Top 4 finishers transfer to the A-feature) – 1. 41-Jason Johnson ; 2. 19-Stevie Smith ; 3. 2L-Ed Lynch Jr ; 4. 97-Dean Jacobs ; 5. 24H-Bryan Sebbetto ; 6. 77X-Wayne Johnson ; 7. 25P-Michael Parent ; 8. 24-Terry McCarl ; 9. 16-Danny Mumaw ; 10. 10P-Jim Perricone .
Dash – (6 Laps, finishing order determined first 12 starting positions of A-feature) – 1. 19-Stevie Smith ; 2. 5W-Lucas Wolfe ; 3. 2-Dale Blaney ; 4. 7-Craig Dollansky ; 5. 11K-Kraig Kinser ; 6. 49-Daryn Pittman ; 7. 15-Donny Schatz ; 8. 41-Jason Johnson ; 9. 4-Cody Darrah ; 10. 30C-Lance Dewease ; 11. 89G-David Gravel ; 12. 1-Sammy Swindell .
C-Main – (10 Laps – Top 2 finishers transfer to the B-feature) – 1. 94-Jack Sodeman Jr  [-]; 2. 40-Caleb Helms  [-]; 3. 16-Danny Mumaw  [$150]; 4. 35-Jessica Zemken  [$125]; 5. 47-Eric Riggins  [$125]; 6. 6W-Brad Wickam  [$100]; 7. O-Glenn Styres  [$100]; 8. 49H-Bobby Howard  [$100]; 9. 10P-Jim Perricone  [$100]; 10. 6X-Mark Cole  [$100]; 11. 25-Jimmy Seeger  [$100]; 12. 60-Kory Crabtree  [$100]; 13. 25P-Michael Parent  [$100]; 14. 11-Steve Kinser  [$100].
B-Main – (12 Laps – Top 6 finishers transfer to the A-feature) – 1. 9-Joey Saldana  [-]; 2. 21-Brian Brown  [-]; 3. 7S-Jason Sides  [-]; 4. 24H-Bryan Sebbetto  [-]; 5. 15H-Sam Hafertepe Jr  [-]; 6. W20-Greg Wilson  [-]; 7. 63-Chad Kemenah  [$200]; 8. 24-Terry McCarl  [$180]; 9. 1X-Randy Hannagan  [$175]; 10. 69-Ryan Smith  [$160]; 11. 28-Brian Paulus  [$150]; 12. 40-Caleb Helms  [$150]; 13. 1S-Logan Schuchart  [$150]; 14. 71-Shane Stewart  [$150]; 15. D4-Danny Holtgraver  [$150]; 16. 77X-Wayne Johnson  [$150]; 17. 94-Jack Sodeman Jr  [$150]; 18. 6-Bill Rose  [$150].
A-Main – (30 Laps) – 1. 2-Dale Blaney  [$10,000]; 2. 51-Paul McMahan  [$5,500]; 3. 41-Jason Johnson  [$3,200]; 4. 11K-Kraig Kinser  [$2,800]; 5. 39-Greg Hodnett  [$2,500]; 6. 21-Brian Brown  [$2,300]; 7. 7S-Jason Sides  [$2,200]; 8. 5W-Lucas Wolfe  [$2,100]; 9. 30C-Lance Dewease  [$2,050]; 10. 89G-David Gravel  [$2,000]; 11. 49-Daryn Pittman  [$1,500]; 12. 19W-Brooke Tatnell  [$1,200]; 13. 11-Steve Kinser  [$1,100]; 14. 97-Dean Jacobs  [$1,050]; 15. 9-Joey Saldana  [$1,000]; 16. 59-Jac Haudenschild  [$900]; 17. 2L-Ed Lynch Jr  [$800]; 18. 63-Chad Kemenah  [$800]; 19. 7-Craig Dollansky  [$800]; 20. 24H-Bryan Sebbetto  [$800]; 21. 6-Bill Rose  [$800]; 22. 13-Tim Shaffer  [$800]; 23. 19-Stevie Smith  [$800]; 24. 29-Kerry Madsen  [$800]; 25. 15-Donny Schatz  [$800]; 26. 4-Cody Darrah  [$800]; 27. 1-Sammy Swindell  [$800]. Lap Leaders: Craig Dollansky 1-15, Dale Blaney 16-30. KSE Hard Charger Award: 51-Paul McMahan [+20].