By Dennis Daniel
Southern New Mexico Speedway – Las Cruces, NM (Nov. 7, 2010) – Happy, Texas’ Rodney Sanders drove under Tommy Weder, Jr. on lap 32 of the 50 feature in Sunday nights Fall Nationals to claim the victory and the $10,000 top prize. After three days of racing and 99 different drivers competing, it would be the young Texas hotshoe who bested one of the toughest fields of Modifieds you will find in the country. “I have to thank my Dad and Ron Frericks,” Sanders said in post race interviews after he climbed from his winning ride with a huge smile on his face.
The 50 lap feature was scheduled to have preliminary feature winners Tommy Meyer and Stormy Scott start on the front row of the 24 car field. Southern New Mexico promoters Royal Jones and Jimmy Ray added a huge incentive. They threw out a double dog dare to both drivers. They said if either or both would start at the rear, if they could win, they would get $25,000. Both drivers were a little reluctanct at first, but Jones said Rancho Milagro would guarantee either or both of them $5,000 if they would accept the dare. They both agreed to try it as fans roared for the chance to see them try to come from the back.
Track crews were busy farming the track as the field rolled out and readied for race introductions. The freshly prepped track would allow drivers to look for multiple grooves before it began to dry out and lock down, where the track takes rubber on the bottom groove and becomes the fast way around. The field would be lead to the green flag by Johnny Bone, Jr. and Weder. Weder immediately used the high groove to jump into the lead over 4th starting Alan Sharpensteen and Bumper Jones.
By lap 5, Weder had already opened a 10 car length lead over Sharpensteen but Bumper was pressuring him for the 2nd spot. Bumper would take the spot on lap 2 and look to try to chase down the leader. Sharpensteen would jump the cushion on lap 7 and lost several spots. While Weder continued to hold his 10 car length lead over Bumper, 5th starting Johnny Scott was following in third, with RC Whitwell and Kelly Shryock in tow. In the early stages of the race, the faster grooves to run looked to be from the middle of the track all the way up to the cushion. Most of the field had sorted out into single file with a really fast racetrack. Sanders said after the race, “The track was really racey for ¾ of the race.”
The two drivers who accepted the double dog dare struggled to gain much ground early, with S. Scott running 19th and Meyer running 21st on lap 14. While they looked to make up groung, Weder had opened a straight away lead over Jones and J. Scott. Bone and Shryock traded 5th spot several times, with Shryock regaining the spot on lap 18.
The first caution flag of the race flew on lap 18 when Tim Donlinger came to a stop at the top of turn 4. The yellow slowed the torried early pace and wiped out Weders big lead. The field would regroup and get ready for the Delaware-style restart, where the leader is out front alone and the rest of the field doubled up behind. Jones continued to run 2nd, with J. Scott, Whitwell, Shryock, Bone and Sanders behind.
On the restart, Shryock moved by Whitwell to take the 3rd spot away, while Weder continued to pace the field. Marshalltown, Iowa’s young star, Ryan Gustin, had been on the move through the early part of the race, and found himself in the top 10 after starting 18th. On lap 20, he moved by Whitwell for 8th, who had lost a few spots after the restart. On lap 21, Bumper went a little too high in turns 1 and 2, opening the door for J. Scott to drive by to take over 2nd.
As the race entered the middle stages, some drivers had begun to run the bottom groove, which most expected would be the preferred line later in the race. Bone used the bottom to move into 4th on lap 23, while Sanders also followed him and now ran 5th. Weder continued to lead but J. Scott was staying within 2 car lengths, as they both continued to run the top groove. On lap 26, Sanders and Whitwell split Bone with Sanders on the bottom and Whitwell up high, as they both moved by into 4th and 5th and hoped to chase down the leaders.
Gustin continued his march toward the front and after battling 4 wide for the 6th spot on lap 29, Gustin was final able to secure the spot a lap later. Weder continued to run up high and was closely chased by J. Scott, Bumper, Sanders and Whitwell. On lap 31, Sanders was able to use the bottom groove and raced under Bumper for 3rd.
The action was slowed again on lap 32, as Jeff Taylor spun, bringing out the second caution and again regrouping the field with 18 laps left to be contested. On the restart, Weder would be alone out front, and second running J. Scott could choose to restart either high or low. He chose high, which put Sanders on the bottom groove, where he had been running really strong in the laps prior.
As the green flag flew to resume the action, Sanders used that bottom groove and pulled alongside Weder racing down the back straight. As they exited turn 4, Sanders had moved by Weder and took over the lead as they completed lap 33. Bumper began to fall back, as he appeared to have a left front tire going flat. This moved J. Scott to third, followed by Bone and Gustin.
Weder said after the race, “I’m disappointed. I thought the top groove was still the place to be but as soon as I moved down to the bottom, the car stuck.” He felt like he had continued to run that top groove just a few laps too long. With Sanders taking over the lead on the bottom, Weder quickly moved down and could stay glued to the rear bumper of Sanders. By lap 39, the top 5 drivers had begun to open a gap between themselves and 6th running Shryock. The top 5 all ran nose-to-tail on the bottom of the track.
Lap 44 saw the caution flag fly again with debris in turn 2. This would setup one last restart with the field bunched up yet again. The track had changed, as the bottom groove began to take rubber, meaning those restarting on the inside lane would have one last chance to try to advance. Weder would choose the bottom, while J. Scott was have to try the top groove. On the restart, J. Scott was able to get by and get back to the bottom groove, while Sanders continued to lead.
Over the final few laps, the cars had sorted back into single file, running the bottom groove, with passing being difficult. Sanders would continue his flawless drive and led the field to the checkered flag, claiming the big victory. J. Scott would chase him across the finish line, followed by Weder, Bone and Gustin. S. Scott, who gave up his 2nd starting spot wound up finishing 9th and would earn an additional $2,500 for earning the hard charger of the race.
While Sanders, crew and family celebrated, you could see the disappointment on Weders face. He was happy to have ran strong but he felt like he let one slip away. Bone also commented, “I’m a little disappointed but with this being my first visit to the track, I am pleased. I was not sure what to expect from the track with them tilling it right before our main. It was hard to setup my car for 3 types of tracks.”
Over the 3 days, 99 different Modifieds, representing 13 states, filled the sandy pit area of the always great facility in Las Cruces. After having a race party on Saturday night, where the track had a band and lit a huge bonfire, drivers were treated to some great food prepared by Sherman Barnett and gang. As the races unfolded on Sunday, 24 of the best Modified drivers in the country battled for 50 laps. Some superstars did not make the coveted feature but in the end it was the young Texas star, Sanders, who etched his name on the Fall Nationals trophy. Congratulations to Rodney Sanders, 2010 Fall Nationals Champion!
11th Annual Mesilla Valley Transportation UMP Western DIRTcar Fall Nationals
Southern New Mexico Speedway ~ Las Cruces, New Mexico
UMP DIRTcar West Modified Event Winners
(Sunday, November 7th 2010)
LCQ 1: Ryan Gustin, Zach VanderBeek, Josh Cain, Royal Jones, John Webb, Jeff Taylor, Don Earvan, Zane DeVilbiss, Owen Puckett, Derek Ramirez, Tyson Franks, Wayne Brooks, Chase Junghans, Kevin Boles, Bob Sikes, Duane Dechant, James Flemming, Jacob Gallardo, Todd Budlong, Mercedes Harris, Neal Debord, Steve Sutton, Ronnie Salas, Patrick Linn, Chris Sims
LCQ 2: Corey Dripps, Hunter Rasdon, Terry Tipton, Butch Reid Jr., Larry Fears, Jason Hughes, Bobby Sikes, Lucas Schott, Brady Coen, Wes Meeks, Roy Meeks, Joe Lackey, Steve Miller, Matthew Higgins, Troy Cooke, Donald Gorham, Owen Puckett, Steve Sutton, Dickie Gorham, Rick Ortega, Toby Herring, Kevin Fitzgerald, Kelly Gorham, Edward Munoz, Nathan Mayes
LCQ 3: Terry Phillips, Christy Georges, Neal Flowers, Jimmy Ray, Jake O’Neal, Scott Lenz, Greg Jenkins, Fred Wojeck, Curt Barnett, Roy Don Mason, Holly Jones, Dustin Hyde, Dusty Riggs, Martin Robinson, Randy Reeser, Morgan Bagley, Sherman Barnett, Jeremy Payne, Tristan Sikes, Pat Carney, Chad Ayers, Randy Brown, Porter Smith, Robbie Chiles, Wesley Summers
C-Main: Ryan Gustin, Terry Phillips, Zach VanderBeek, Josh Cain, Corey Dripps, Neal Flowers, Butch Reid Jr., Jake O’Neal, Jeff Taylor, Zane DeVilbiss, Christy Georges, Royal Jones, Hunter Rasdon, John Webb, Larry Fears, Scott Lenz, Jimmy Ray, Greg Jenkins, Terry Tipton, Fred Wojeck, Jason Hughes, Don Earvan, Bobby Sikes, Lucas Schott
B-Main: John Anderson, Rodney Sanders, Bobby Malchus, Alex Stanford, Tom Georges, Tim Donlinger, Zach VanderBeek, Fito Gallardo, Kellen Chadwick, Ryan Gustin, Terry Phillips, Jeff Taylor, Josh Cain, Neal Flowers, Royal Jones, Zane DeVilbiss, Brian Clark, Jake O’Neal, John Webb, Christy Georges, Hunter Rasdon, Butch Reid Jr., Corey Dripps, Robert Adams
$10,000 to win A-Main: Rodney Sanders, Johnny Scott, Tommy Weder Jr., Johnny Bone Jr., Ryan Gustin, Kelly Shryock, John Anderson, Bobby Malchus, Stormy Scott, Alex Stanford, Bumper Jones, Philip Houston, Tim Donlinger, Josh Cain, Tommy Myer, Tom Georges, Jeff Taylor, Zach VanderBeek, Kellen Chadwick (NF), Alan Sharpensteen (NF), Terry Phillips (NF), RC Whitwell (NF), Fito Gallardo (NF), Neal Flowers (NF)
**95 Modifieds ~ Total Event Modified Car Count: 99
Sunday: Just prior to the start of the 50-lap feature event, promoter Royal Jones announced that if Friday night’s winner Tommy Myer or Saturday’s winner Stormy Scott would drop to the tail, they would not only win $25,000 if they won the 50-lapper, but no matter what, they would be guaranteed $5,000 no matter where they finished. Both drivers eagerly took what the track dubbed as the Double Dog Dare!
Outside pole sitter Tommy Weder Jr. took the lead at the drop of the green and took off from the field as a tremendous battle ensued behind between Johnny Scott, Bumper Jones and Johnny Bone Jr. The trio circled the speedway in a tight pack as Weder drove alone out front uncontested. Weder ran away from the field out front as the battles behind the leaders were intense as well between the charging Ryan Gustin, Tommy Myer and Stormy Scott. Weder Jr., lead at the half way point with Scott, Jones, Bone and 12th starting Rodney Sanders in the top five at the 25-lap mark. The second caution of the event flew on lap 31, which bunched the field up and allowed Sanders to dive to the bottom and challenge for the race lead. Sanders dove inside of Scott and then Weder to take the lead with less than 20 laps to go and then he began to fend off the challenges from behind. Sanders was forced to withstand a third and final caution with just six laps left, but the 21 year old Happy, Texas racer was up to the challenge and raced to his second big-money event win of the season over Scott, who held off Weder at the line. Bone and Gustin waged a tremendous battle for fourth with Bone holding the spot as the checkered flag flew. Gustin ended up charging 13 spots to come home in fifth with Stormy Scott coming from 24th to 9th to earn the $2,500 hard charger award.