Lucas Oil Speedway
Notes: Rough track lifts Blankenship at Show-Me
By Todd TurnerDirtonDirt.com managing editor
WHEATLAND, Mo. (May 24) — Starting eighth in Friday’s fourth heat race at Lucas Oil Speedway, John Blankenship of Williamson, W.Va., knew he had his work cut out for him to earn a starting spot in the 21st annual Lucas Oil Show-Me 100 presented by Protect the Harvest.com. | Complete Show-Me 100 coverage
So while many drivers weren’t too thrilled with the rugged track conditions that sent cars bouncing, pushing and shoving through the corners, Blankenship saw it as his chance to rebound from a poor qualifying effort.
“I think that surface was what helped give us the opportunity,” said the 31-year-old Blankenship, just a week removed from a $20,000 Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series victory in Batesville, Ark. “When the surface is like this, you’ve got people who will make mistakes and all that, and you can get up there and race with 'em.”
Blankenship did just that, working his way to fourth early, then taking spots from Nebraska drivers Travis Dickes and John Anderson in the final five laps for a runner-up finish.
He’ll started 10th in Saturday’s 100-lap main event that has Scott Bloomquist of Mooresburg, Tenn., and Don O’Neal of Martinsville, Ind., on the front row at the 3/8-mile oval. Blankenship was thrilled to secure a start in the spotting field after he was among the night’s slowest cars time-trailing.
“I was depressed as anybody after qualifying. ... even hot laps, we weren’t even close in hot laps. I was like, 'Guys, I don’t know, we’re probably going to start in the back.' We were already prepared to start last, because I just couldn’t figure it out,” he said. “We just decided to go back to more of a standard (setup), and luckily, like I said, we’re lucky it got a little rougher. It helped us out. It helped us find the opportunities to pass. And I think it probably made it better for the fans. I’m sure they and a lot more fun watching people drive around on two wheels. But we had a ball.”
Battling the surface took a mixture of finesse and manhandling said Blankenship, who finished second to O’Neal.
“As the night went on, it got a little rough, got some slick spots in it. It became more about control of where you’re on the gas at, control of where you turn at.”
He spent nearly half the race trying to take the third spot from Dickes, who was valiantly gunning for his first Show-Me 100 starting spot.
“I was having to stay pinched down coming off the corner because I’d get up beside (Dickes) and he’d kind of come down, and I’d have to pinch myself down and it’d break my momentum,” Blankenship said. “But once I got around him, I made up a lot of ground on everybody else. I felt like I made up a lot of ground even on O’Neal — which, he may have slowed down towards the end because of the lapped cars he was catching.
“We were pretty good on the (stop)watch. We’re pretty happy with it. We’ll just see where we can go from 10th.”
Ignition failure hampers Vaught
Part of a two-car breakaway in the first heat, Will Vaught of Crane, Mo., was battling Scott Bloomquist for the lead — and the pole position in the feature — when ignition problems cropped up. Vaught slowed on the 12th lap, requiring a push off the track while Bloomquist went on to win the heat.
Vaught had led the first seven laps, and said he “was right there on (Bloomquist) and had a chance there to race him again — if nothing went wrong.”
The team was still trying to diagnose the engine problems nearly two hours later.
“In qualifying, on my first lap there, it popped and cracked and I thought we just had a bad connection on the MSD (ignition box) or something, so I just flipped boxes and I had a good second lap there,” Vaught said. “Then in the heat race, it just all the sudden shut off. I don’t know. I thought I actually had a motor issue. ...
“We can’t figure out the wiring issues ... it’s something in the ignition. It’s something goofy there. I don’t know what it is.”
There is good news. Vaught didn’t believe the engine was hurt — the Oberg filter didn’t show any signs of damage — and he’s assured a provisional starting spot because of the race’s co-sanction by the Lucas Oil Midwest LateModel Racing Association. Vaught entered the event leading MLRA points.
“We’ll be in the race — one way or another,” said Vaught, who is scheduled to start in the eighth row of Saturday’s first consy.
Payne’s big move
Jeremy Payne of Springfield, Mo., who just this week made a connection to drive a Woodward, Okla.-based Rowland Racing entry at Wheatland, made one of the most dramatic moves of the night in the fifth heat by going from fifth-to-third to move into a feature transfer spot after a lap-10 restart. And that came after starting eighth.
It was a move helped, in part, by an on-board change in his braking during a caution period before his charge toward the front. Payne, unfamiliar with the car, was wary of hitting he wrong switch to get the car off three-wheel braking.
“I knew where it was, but it’s kind of right next to your ignition switch, so I didn’t want to reach up there and get the wrong one and cause a pileup,” he said. “I was just kind of being patient and trying not to tear anything up.”
The braking change helped tighten up his Bloomquist Race Car and put him in the mix up front. He made a three-wide move to get past Mark Dotson and Wendell Wallace and grabbed the third spot.
“It was so hard to pass once we got going, you kind of get strung out,” said the 27-year-old Payne. “But both those guys dove to the bottom going into (turn) one, so I stuck it up high and just kind of held on. Then going into (turn) three, I was behind Dotson there, and Wendell under me. I just kind of drove it off in there and it stuck, and it worked. So I’m glad to be in the show.”