Champion Park Speedway
Teen is latest first-time winner on SUPR tour
By Bryan WimberleyDirtonDirt.com correspondent
HAUGHTON, La. (March 19) — A teenaged standout for four seasons, it was only a matter of time before Gary Christian of Broken Bow, Okla., broke through with his first Dirt Late Model victory. Christian's benchmark victory came Saturday night at Champion Park Speedway with a full moon glaring down as the 17-year-old earned a $2,500 triumph on the O'Reilly Southern United Professional Racing tour. | Slideshow
Christian, who first began racing Late Models at the tender age of 13, outran winningest SUPR driver Kenny Merchant of West Monroe, La., by three seconds to get the job done at the quarter-mile oval.
While the polesitting Christian led flag-to-flag, it was mayhem behind him with third-starting Merchant and others battling among the top five. Merchant withstood many challenges to claim second despite nursing an ailing motor late in the 40-lapper while hometown favorite Ray Moore finished third. Second-row starter Allen Tippen of Minden, La., was fourth and Robbie Starnes of Baytown, Texas, rounded out the top five.
"We've worked really hard for this the past couple of years. We just had to dig down deep and keep going no matter what, and keep telling yourself you're going to get one," said Christian, who drives for car owner Terry Pannell. "We worked really hard for it, and the first one's always the hardest. I'm just glad to get it over with."
Christian's victory gave the SUPR tour its third straight first-time series winner to open the season following Will Vaught's victory at Texas Motor Speedway and Morgan Bagley's victory Friday at USA Speedway. Not since the inaugural 1990 series season has three drivers consecutively posted their first series victories to open the season. Bagley's March 18 victory was also the first overall of his brief Late Model career.
At the outset of the main event, Christian edged ahead of Merchant while Starnes, Moore and Kevin Sitton battled for third behind him. Christian's blistering pace put him amid lapped traffic on the sixth circuit as he built a four-second margin.
A lap-seven caution slowed the action, followed by a multicar pileup in turns three and four on the ninth lap.
When action resumes, Christian resumed his lead while Moore took third from Starnes and pressured the second-running Merchant, whose engine began popping noticeably by lap 12.
With Christian alone out front at the halfway mark, Merchant doesn't give up, regaining the second spot from Moore on the 22nd lap while Tippen moved into the top-five battle.
Another yellow erased Christian's straightaway lead, and with nine laps remaining Tippen got third, going past Moore and Starnes. A final caution set up a dash to the finish, but Christian held on while Merchant's ailing engine survived the final two laps as he held off Moore.
Notes: Christian's MasterSbilt Race Car is powered by Jay Dickens Racing Engines and sponsored by Pannell Chipping of Broken Bow, Team 5 Enterprises, Triple A Diesel Service, Smith Towing and Joe Gibbs Driven Racing Oil. ... Christian has nabbed Rookie of the Year titles on three fours: SUPR in 2009, Comp Cams Super Dirt Series in 2009, and the MARS Dirtcar last season. ... In his heat race, Christian caught race leader Timothy Culp of West Monroe, La., napping at the line to win a photo finish that gave him the feature's pole position. ... The main event took the green flag at 11:05 p.m.; four cautions slowed the action and nine cars finished on the lead lap. ... SUPR points leader Morgan Bagley of Longview, Texas, finished a lap down after his 17th-to-ninth run. ... Two drivers came from deep in the field. Bubba Mullins of West Monroe, La., started 18th and finished eighth while Josh Danzy of Heflin, La., started 21st and finished 10th. ... Derek Perkins of Oakdale, La., changed his car's gearing after his Late Model debut the previous night in Sterlington, La. He finished 14th at Champion Park. ... Nicholas Brown of Hodge, La., was on pole for his consolation race, but a faulty distributor forced him to scratch. ... Modified driver Jamie Burford of Keatchie, La., made a rare Late Model start in the Gilbert Swayne-owned No. 96, but missed the main event. ... Reigning SUPR champion Rob Litton of Alexandria, La., is the only driver to finish in the top 10 in the last four series event held at Champion Park. ... Saturday's race was the 32nd SUPR visit to Champion Park; Kenny Merchant and David Ashley have five victories apiece. ... Drivers failing to make the feature: Brown, Burford, Jim Bryant, Wesley Chanler, Jeff Gandy, Justin Ingalls, Phil Miller, Eric Neal, B.J. Robinson and John Sliney. ... SUPR competitors take a month off before returning to action April 16 at Baton Rouge Raceway in Baker, La.
SUPR @ Champion Park: (1) Gary Christian, (2) Kenny Merchant, (3) Ray Moore, (4) Allen Tippen, (5) Robbie Starnes, (6) Timothy Culp, (7) Rob Litton, (8) Bubba Mullins, (9) Morgan Bagley, (10) Josh Danzy, (11) Jon Mitchell, (12) Troy Berdan, (13) Jay Brunson, (14) Derek Perkins, (15) Jody Prince, (16) Ronny Adams, (17) Robbie Stuart, (18) Kevin Sitton, (19) Jeff Chanler, (20) Brett Frazier, (21) Chris Holley, (22) Alan Murray. Heat race winners (among 32 cars): Merchant, Sitton, Christian, Tippen. Consolation winners: Bagley, Mullins. Provisional starters: Danzy, Murray.