East Alabama Motor Speedway
Mars leads Midwestern charge at National 100
By Todd TurnerDirtonDirt.com chief writer
PHENIX CITY, Ala. (Nov. 2) — Jimmy Mars was nearly 1,200 miles from his Menomonie, Wis., home at East Alabama Motor Speedway, but the track surface he found at the 3/8-mile oval was plenty familiar.
"It was more like what we usually run back at home, probably more than it has been in the past, and more tire selections of what we'd run back at home than what we'd normally run on a Southern track," said Mars, who made his third trip to EAMS. "Whatever they did to this track from the last time I was down here, I'll definitely come back. The track was as smooth as glass. It changed track conditions a couple of different times, but the track was just excellent." | Postrace notebook | National 100 history | Slideshow | Pre-race notebook
Mars used those excellent conditions to dominate the last 43 laps of the 34th annual National 100 for a $30,000 unsanctioned victory as he helped inject distinct Midwestern flavor into the Southern special event typically dominated by Dixie drivers.
Mars became just the third Midwestern dirt racer to capture East Alabama's richest event and led a trio of three Midwesterners among the top five, including runner-up Brian Birkhofer of Muscatine, Iowa, his traveling mate who joined Mars and his brother, crew chief Chris, in designing a new and successful chassis.
Fourth-place finisher Randle Chupp of Troutman, N.C., a two-time National 100 winner, knew the Midwesterners were worthy competitors for he and other Southerners trying to defend their turf. "I'm real proud for Jimmy and Birkhofer and those kids," Chupp said. "They work really hard to go a good job all the time, and they do a very good job."
Mars took command from race-long leader Dennis "Rambo" Franklin of Gaffney, S.C., on the 58th lap and cruised the rest of the way for his third victory in his last six starts worth a total of $62,000. Birkhofer, who started alongside Mars in the third row, briefly challenged Mars with 15 laps remaining but finished several lengths behind in second place in a race slowed by 14 cautions, all but two of them in the first half of the race.
Franklin, who started outside the front row, finished a half-track behind in third while Chupp recovered from a lap-26 flat tire to finish fourth. Dennis Erb Jr. of Carpentersville, Ill., was fifth to give Midwesterners three of the top five spots in a race won by a Midwesterner for the first time since Hall of Famer Larry Moore's victory in 1981.
Thirteen of 24 starters were running at the finish and two drivers who ran up front in the first half of the race didn't see the checkered flag. Hall of Famer Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark., the 1987 National 100 winner, was running second when he went over the turn-two banking on a lap-48 restart, moments after Ray Cook gave up the fourth position with engine problems. Moyer rejoined the field on the tail but later pulled out.
Last year's National 100 winner Chris Madden of Gray Court, S.C., started 18th but never worked his way into contention, while eight-time race winner Scott Bloomquist of Mooresburg, Tenn., who started in the 10th row, ran as high as fourth before dropping to eighth in the late stages.
The track surface was prepared for high-speed racing at the drop of the green flag, and Franklin was in control early while Moyer, Brady Smith and then Mars took turns in the second position. Mars was never worse than fourth but he knew his car would perform better when the track slowed down as the moisture was burned off.
"I was just kind of waiting around, 'Come on, let's get this thing a little bit blacker.' But really my car wasn't that bad at the beginning of the race," Mars said. "Rambo kind of drove off there for a little bit, and I thought I'm not going to beat on my car too bad, because you could start to see (the track) blackening up fairly well off the cushion. As soon as it started doing that, I was able to turn down off that lip and actually it was a little faster than running right on the lip."
Franklin wasn't challenged through the first half of the race, but when Moyer's lap-48 miscue handed second to Mars, track conditions began to favor the second-running driver from Wisconsin. Mars turned up the heat on Franklin, took control on lap 58, and was edging away when a lap-67 caution appeared.
Franklin said he was hampered by lost contact with a crew member signaling him from the infield — a misunderstanding about where the crew member was allowed to stand resulted in an altercation with security during the stretch when Franklin lost the lead — but he knew his car wasn't performing as good as it had in the first half of the race.
"I didn't know whether to run high or not, but we just tried to hang on. More or less, we just rolled the dice on tires and got beat," Franklin said. "I never thought (the track surface) would get black top to bottom. I figured it might get a black streak in it, when it went black on the bottom, we couldn't get turned. ... When it got black on the bottom, we just couldn't steer."
Birkhofer, who struggled to stay with the top-five cars through much of the race, was good enough to eclipse Franklin on a late restart and begin his chase of Mars. He got within a few lengths on lap 85, but Mars edged back away and wasn't challenged again.
"I really didn't feel that fast. We just kind of struggled around there. I was probably on a harder tire I think than anybody, and when I started out, I figured sometimes it kills you, sometimes it don't," Birkhofer said. "I was muscling around about the top seven, top eight, right around there. I said, 'Well, I'm going to keep hanging out and maybe I'll click some off on these double-file restarts. And that's what happened.
"(Mars) had a better car than I did. I kind of messed mine up today. I've been doing something different, but I couldn't find where I needed to be here to find a balance. Jimmy kind of got comfortable the other night (practicing) and I really didn't, so I was kind of throwing little things at it."
Mars, certain that his friend would race him clean, had a lap-91 scare on the backstretch when he and the lapped car of Vic Hill got together, but he cruised after that.
"I knew that if (Birkhofer) was better and I slipped up and he passed me, it would work out. I figured if I held my line and didn't slip up, that (we'd) be all right."
Notes: Mars uses a Pro Power engine with sponsorship from Deppe Enterprises, T.L. Sinz Plumbing, Keyes Chevytown and Baileigh Industrial. ... Mars ended his 2008 season with 16 victories overall, winning three of his first five starts and three of his final six. ... Mars also closed 2007 with a $30,000 victory down South at Pike County Speedway in Magnolia, Miss. ... Mars had started two previous National 100s. He was fourth in 2000 and seventh in 2002. ... Runner-up Brian Birkhofer won $15,000 the previous weekend at Whynot Motorsports Park near Meridian, Miss. ... Polesitter Casey Roberts of Toccoa, Ga., who lowered the track record in time trials, slipped back to sixth in the early going. He got back as high as third but was sixth at the finish. ... Brady Smith of Solon Springs, Wis., started fourth and was running second on lap 19 when he shredded a right rear tire. The damage broke a brake line and he was brakeless the rest of the way, finishing seventh. ... Chris Madden, Scott Bloomquist and Clint Smith all made the feature event despite missing National 100 preliminaries. After competing Saturday night in World of Outlaws Late Model Series action at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., they tagged the tail of Sunday consolation races and earned spots in the EAMS feature. ... Bloomquist, an eight-time National 100 winner, got up to fourth after a lap-48 restart but never threatened the top three before fading to eighth. ... The race was slowed by 14 cautions, mostly for flat tires or stalled cars. ... Mike Marlar departed after going over the banking between turns one and two on lap 32. ... Among drivers failing to make the feature: Jake Knowles, Lee Sutton, Glenn Brewer, Dewayne Johnson, Jack Pennington, Terrance Nowell, Jason McBride, Jeff Fortner, Riley Hickman, Stacy Holmes, Dana Eiland and Pat Doar, who drove a Jimmy Mars backup car. ... William Thomas of Phenix City, Ala., won the sportsman feature and Travis Pennington of Winston, Ga., drove a Thomas car to victory in the Crate feature over Ronnie Johnson of Chattanooga, Tenn.
National 100: (1) Jimmy Mars, (2) Brian Birkhofer, (3) Dennis Franklin, (4) Randle Chupp, (5) Dennis Erb Jr., (6) Casey Roberts, (7) Brady Smith, (8) Scott Bloomquist, (9) Chris Madden, (10) John Blankenship, (11) Vic Hill, (12) James Ward, (13) Gar Dickson, (14) Travis Pennington, (15) William Thomas, (16) Tony Knowles, (17) Billy Moyer, (18) Dingus Griffin, (19) Ray Cook, (20) Ed Basey, (21) Mike Marlar, (22) Aaron Ridley, (23) Ricky Williams, (24) Clint Smith. Fast qualifier (among 47 cars): Roberts, 13.74 seconds. Heat race winners: Roberts, Franklin, Moyer, B. Smith. Consolation winners: Ridley, Madden.