Lucas Oil Speedway
Notes: For now, Hicks back with Bloomquist
By Todd TurnerDirtonDirt.com managing editor
WHEATLAND, Mo. (May 25) — One of Dirt Late Model racing’s highest-profile crew chiefs is back with one of the highest-profile teams — at least for the time being.
Tommy Hicks of Morristown, Tenn., took a leave of absence from Hall of Fame driver Scott Bloomquist’s team during the off-season, citing a need to take a break from the racing grind. After taking some time off, along with free-lancing for other race teams including Kentucky-based Wells Racing, Hicks says he’s “recharged his batteries” and he’s “ready to get back to work.” | Complete Show-Me 100 coverage
But bushy-bearded Hicks, who has been working with Bloomquist for 10 seasons, stopped short of committing to a full-time return to Bloomquist’s operation. He’s been spending time at Bloomquist’s Mooresburg, Tenn., shops during the week in recent weeks — and considered sticking with a shop-only schedule — but at the 21st annual Lucas Oil Show-Me 100 at Lucas Oil Speedway, Hicks was back in his role as crew chief.
“We’re just rolling with it and we’re going to see what happens,” said the 54-year-old Hicks, choosing his words carefully. “We said we’ll get through the weekend and see what happens.”
Bloomquist, whose team was led by Jason Palubicki during part of Hicks’s absence, said having Hicks around was a big help to a team in the midst of crew turnover.
“Having new guys around, it’s hard for anyone to just step into something and even know where something’s at in the rig, to know how I like to do things, not to mention to work for me — that’s just way more demanding than people realize,” Bloomquist said. “People think that’s not so hard to do, but I change my mind two or three times sometimes in a short period of time.”
When it comes to Hicks, Bloomquist is confidence in a crew member that will meet his demands. “We’ve been together for 10 years ... as soon as I say something, I know that’s the way it’s going to be,” he said.
Hicks said the racing grind of 75 races a year was tough — “That’s for the young guys, you know what I mean?” — and that he enjoyed weekends with his wife that didn’t involve changing tires or tuning an engine.
“Come Saturday night, I didn’t pull my hair out because I wasn’t at the races,” he said with a smile.
Chris Simpson of Oxford, Iowa, got a career-best crown jewel performance at Wheatland, rallying from his 12th starting spot for a runner-up finish to race-dominating Jimmy Owens in the Show-Me 100.
Simpson’s impressive run and $10,000 payday continues a string of solid finishes since he connect with fellow Iowan Brian Birkhofer to pilot MB Customs chassis. Simpson was quick to credit Birkhofer with helping him out in Friday night’s heat races that helped lead to his success Saturday.
“Brian helped us out a lot,” said the 29-year-old Simpson, whose older brother Chad finished fifth. “I kind of went with a little different setup than what (Birkhofer) had. I kind of ran the same one I had last night because it felt so good in the heat race.
“I’ve gotta thank him, because I was getting ready to go out for that heat race with a total different setup, and he got back in from his heat race and completely rebuilt the whole thing. We haven’t touched it yet, so we’re going to go home and throw her on the scales so we know where we’re at.”
Simpson took second from Scott Bloomquist on the 82nd lap and took a shot at Owens on a lap-91 restart, but he couldn’t pull off a miracle pass against a driver winning his third straight Show-Me 100.
“I gave it my all, I really want to win this race,” Simpson said. “You know, this is a good place to come, and the facilities are awesome, the fans are great. This is probably the biggest crowd I’ve ever raced in front of, so I want to thank all of 'em for coming out. I appreciate it all.”
Money ain’t everything
After Mike Marlar of Winfield, Tenn., outdueled Travis Dickes for a victory in the non-qualifiers’ race, it was decision time. He could take the $2,000 winner’s purse or start in the second-to-last row of a 32-car field for the $30,000-to-win Show-Me 100.
It wasn’t such a difficult decision for Marlar, who pilots the No. 5B Rocket Chassis for Georgia car owner Norman Bryson. He opted the compete in the race that paid at least $1,500 to every start; he’d need to run 11th or better to make up the $2,000 he passed up.
“You know, that decision, I’m a racer, and we never started racing for the money anyway. So that was OK,” said Marlar, who rallied to a seventh-place finish (and $2,400 in earnings). “Norman there, he wants to see his car going around in circles on TV. I had Norman in mind, and Chris Davis (of Midwest Sheet Metal) there, he sponsored the event, and thanks to him I even got in it. We were pretty much out of the event had he not had that event for us to enter.
“It’s just a chance of winning $30,000. We spent a lot more than that to take a chance to win it, so that’s OK.”
Marlar didn’t exactly storm to the front, but he nearly pulled off a top-five finish by picking his spots in the second half of the race. It was a big improvement over his struggles the previous night in different conditions.
“Once we got in that racing condition in the feature, we could maneuver around on the racetrack more, and had a little better suited car for that,” he said.
Solid three-week stretch
Living in extreme northern Wisconsin, Brady Smith of Solon Springs has to pick his spots wisely when he travels south for racing journeys. Making it worthwhile for his bank account is key.
Smith couldn’t have done that much better the last three weekends on the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series, grabbing a $10,000 victory on May 11 at La Salle (Ill.) Speedway, a $10,000 runner-up finish May 18 at Batesville (Ark.) Motor Speedway, and finally a $4,000 fourth-place finish at Wheatland’s Show-Me 100.
“We couldn’t have asked for any more,” said Smith, whose three-week stretch were his first events since Florida Speedweeks after undergoing surgery on a bum knee. “You know what I mean? We’ve been, feature-time anyway, we’ve been competitive. Last night was a little scary, but yeah, we’ve been going good. ... I just really gotta pick and choose and hopefully, financially it pays off.”
The layoff for surgery — and, as it turns out, a lousy spring — didn’t turn out to be a problem.
“We worked hard on our race cars, so I knew our cars were ready. I felt I was ready to go win that race the first night we came back, I felt like I was,” Smith said. “My budget is only going to allow me to race so much. Granted, you make some money, and it definitely helps, but my team, sponsor-wise, crew-wise, we’re only capable of doing so much. I’d love to race all the time if I could. I don’t know. We’ll just have to take it as it comes.
“We’ve got a great group of sponsors here with Mid-States (Equipment), and Michaletz Trucking and Big Red Motorsports. Yeah, being competitive really keeps them fired up and gives them some good exposure and gives them some bang for their buck.”
Smith, who rallied from 22nd for a top-five finish at Lucas Oil Speedway, wasn’t convinced he was going to get there after a scrape with Don O’Neal in the second half of the race. Contact bashed in the driver’s side door of Smith’s No. 2 Bloomquist Race Car.
“It did feel a little different, but I didn’t know that we were going to be able to continue,” Smith said. “Even under caution, it felt like, I don’t know, almost like I had a drag of some kind. I didn’t know if the body was up against the tire or what ‚— it wasn’t — so we’ve gotta check our rear end.”
Tanner English of Benton, Ky., has long wanted race in a Show-Me 100 and take a trip to the state-of-the-art Lucas Oil Speedway. “I’ve been wanting to race this race for a while,” said English, who turned 20 years old Sunday, “just because it’s such a nice place.”
This year English got the opportunity through his connection with Texas driver Allen Murray. After spending a three-race weekend in Illinois together with English helping Murray get dialed in with his new Pierce Race Car, Murray was flying back to Texas to tend to his M&M Painting and Construction business in San Antonio.
They made plans for English to drive the No. 2 car in the Show-Me 100, so Murray's hauler headed to English’s western Kentucky race shop where the team went over the car with a fine-toothed comb to be sure Murray’s setups were up to snuff.
“We were just trying to help him out and get things straightened out,” said English, who got the benefit of taking the car to Wheatland.
English and Murray first met years ago at Comp Cams Super Dirt Series events in Harrisburg, Ark., then on other occasions, including when Murray saw Pierce drivers Jason Feger and Tanner English run 1-2 in Paducah (Ky.) International Raceway’s World 50. That helped impressed Murray to switch to Pierce cars, making him a rare Southerner to pilot the chassis.
English, who use a loaner engine from Murray in his own No. 96 earlier this season, hopes the connect with Murray leads to more changes to race at major events. He missed the feature lineup at Wheatland but was in contention to transfer in his heat and consolation race.
“This was just kind of a spur of the moment deal,” English said. “We just wanted to get this car going and get him on the right track.”