Cooper grabs Grand Nationals victory at Gap
By Robert WaldenVolunteer Speedway
BULLS GAP, Tenn. (Oct. 21) — Lee Cooper of Greer, S.C., overtook fast qualifier and race-long leader Brian Connor of Martinez, Ga., on a lap-26 restart and led the rest of the way Friday at Volunteer Speedway's Fastrak Grand Nationals.
Cooper and 39 other regional entrants with the Crate Late Model organization are gunning for the $30,000 grand prize in the two-race weekend at the 4/10-mile oval. | Video
"Well, that's one down and we've got another race tomorrow night and hopefully we can get us another win," the fourth-starting Cooper said Friday as the top finishers were going through postrace technical inspection. "There's a lot of very good race cars here for these final two rounds of the Grand Nationals and a lot of money is at stake, and you've just got to get up on the wheel and take care of business."
The pole-starting Connor settled for second while 15th-starting Mike Pegher Jr. of Wexford, Pa., rallied to finish third, taking the lead in the Grand Nationals point standings. Track champion Dale Ball of Johnson City, Tenn., and Robbie Blair of Titusville, Pa., rounded out the top five finishers.
Connor and Ball led the 24-car field to the green flag, with Connor grabbing the lead over Ball on the opening lap racing off turn two with Cooper, Baggerly and Vic Chandler in tow. Cooper got around Ball to move into second racing off the fourth turn on lap three, and just two circuits later the event's first caution waved when Wisconsin driver David Fieber's engine went up in smoke entering the first turn.
Connor chose the inside and Cooper the outside of row one for the double-file restart, and back up to speed Connor powered back into the lead over Cooper and Ball. At the end of the backstretch racing into turn three on lap seven, Mike Smith got to the inside of Chandler to take over the fifth spot, and with the door open Jensen Ford waltzed right in and moved to sixth, dropping Chandler back into seventh. The caution waved on lap 12, when Matt Long slowed at end of the front straightaway with a flat left-rear tire.
On the ensuing restart, several cars including Chandler, David Watts, Mike Smith, Dan Angelicchio, Ryan Montgomery, Brandon Umberger, Jerry Broyles, Ryan Atkins, Bobby Whitling, Blake Bentley and Josh Holtgraver got together in turn two and wrecked to immediately see the yellow wave once more. All continued with damaged sheetmetal except for Chandler, Smith and Broyles, who all retired.
Back under green Connor still was showing the way out front over Cooper, Ball, Baggerly and the hard-charging Pegher.
Hendren used the high-line to get around Kenny Peeples Jr. between turns three and four on lap 18 to move into sixth in the running order. A strong fourth-place run for Baggerly ended in disappointment when his car experienced driveline issues and slowed to a stop on the backstretch on lap 26 to bring out the caution.
With the green flag waving Connor and Cooper raced off into the first turn, but carrying the momentum off the high-side exiting turn two onto the backstretch, Cooper powered into the lead on lap 26 over Connor. The caution appeared on lap 30, when Umberger and Montgomery tangled in the fourth turn.
Poised for yet another double-file restart, Cooper and Connor brought the field up to speed from the front row. Just behind Cooper and Connor in the running order, Pegher passed Ball between turns three and four on lap 39 to move into the third spot, while a spirited battle for position involving Rob Blair and Hendren was taking place behind Ball.
While Pegher closed to the rear bumper to challenge Connor for the runner-up spot, out front the race belonged to Cooper, who completed the victory in his No. 57 Barry Wright Race Car.
Fastrak Grand Nationals: (1) Lee Cooper, (2) Brian Connor, (3) Mike Pegher Jr., (4) Dale Ball, (5) Robbie Blair, (6) Steve Hendren, (7) David Watts, (8) David Smith, (9) Kenny Peeples J.r, (10) Max Blair, (11) Dan Angelicchio, (12) Matt Long, (13) Bobby Whitling, (14) Brandon Umberger, (15) Ryan Atkins, (16) Blake Bentley, (17) Josh Holtgraver, (18) Ryan Montgomery, (19) Jensen Ford, (20) Daniel Baggerly, (21) Mike Smith, (22) Vic Chandler, (23) Jerry Broyles, (24) David Fieber. Fast qualifier (among 40 cars): Connor, 13.780 seconds. Heat race winners: Connor, Ball, Baggerly, Cooper. Consolation winners: Hendren, Atkins.