East Alabama Motor Speedway
Francis, Clanton to share front row at National 100
By Joshua JoinerDirtonDirt.com staff writer
PHENIX CITY, Ala. (Nov. 10) — Steve Francis’ comeback season behind the wheel of the Barry Wright Race Cars house car has been nothing short of stellar. But it could get even better Sunday if the Ashland, Ky., driver can turn a pole starting spot in East Alabama Motor Speedway’s 38th annual National 100 into a $20,000 victory in the unsanctioned special event.
Looking for his second National 100 victory, Francis will share the front row with Shane Clanton of Fayetteville, Ga., for the start of Sunday’s 100-lapper after the two national-touring drivers scored heat race victories during Saturday’s preliminary action at the high-banked 3/8-mile oval. Ray Cook of Brasstown, N.C., and Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tenn., will share the second row after winning Saturday’s two other heats. | Sidebar | Video | Slideshow
“We’ve had a pretty good year, but it could always get better,” said Francis, who after going winless in 2011 rebounded big this year on the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series with highlights such as a Topless 100 victory at Batesville (Ark.) Motor Speedway and a win in the finale of Knoxville (Iowa) Raceway’s Knoxville Late Model Nationals. “It’d be a good way to finish the year off down here. It’d give us a little momentum and financially help us get through the winter a little better.”
Earning the pole wasn’t an easy task for Francis. Starting second in Saturday’s first 15-lap prelim, the veteran 45-year-old racer had to find away around polesitter Scott Bloomquist, the Hall of Fame driver from Mooresburg, Tenn., who leads the National 100’s all-time win list.
After trailing Bloomquist through the first half of the race, the low-running Francis used a lap-seven slidejob to get take the lead and turned back Bloomquist’s repeated high-side challenges to score the victory. Bloomquist, who earlier in the night topped 35 qualifiers in time trials, settled for second followed by Dennis Erb Jr., of Carpentersville, Ill., hometown driver William Thomas and Chase Edge of Lafayette, Ala., in a race that transferred the top five finishers to Sunday’s main event.
“We had a good car there. Scott zigged and I zagged and it happened to be the right lane to pick at that time,” Francis said of his heat race-winning pass. “The car was pretty comfortable. We probably should’ve moved around a little more, but I didn’t want to give him the opportunity to get back by me like I did him.
“I think we’re in pretty good shape for tomorrow. The car feels pretty comfortable, and that’s the main thing here is just to get comfortable.”
Starting from the pole, Clanton cruised in heat two, topping Tyler Ivey of Tallahassee, Fla., and Dale McDowell of Chickamauga, Ga., by more than a straightaway. Randy Weaver of Crossville, Tenn., and Dana Eiland of Salem, Ala., also earned feature transfers.
Clanton, a frequent competitor at East Alabama, is looking for his first victory in the track’s biggest event. He’s come close before, most notably in 2006 when he dominated the majority of the race until losing his left-rear wheel with just a few laps remaining.
“This is definitely one of the races I’ve always wanted to win,” said Clanton, a regular on the World of Outlaws Late Model Series. “I led it for 93 laps one year. Hopefully we got a good car and we can last 100 laps and win this thing.”
Cook held off Vic Hill of Moshiem, Tenn., through the caution-free third heat with Clint Smith of Senoia, Ga., Hunter Peacock of Macon, Ga., and Jerry Lierly of Camp Point, Ill., also transferring to the main event.
Starting from the tail in a backup car, Owens rallied through the field and dominated the second half of the fourth and final heat race. Jason Hiett of Lincoln, Ala., was second followed by Brian Reece of Sharpsville, Ga., and Tyler Millwood of Kingston, Ga. Jake Knowles of Tyrone, Ga., won a back-and-forth battle with Jack Sullivan of Greenbrier, Ark., to grab the final transfer spot in a photo finish.
Saturday’s action was marred by tire testing issues that saw three competitors disqualified after their tires were found illegal based on tests conducted at the track with a chemical measuring device commonly referred to as a sniffer.
Initial fast qualifier Mike Marlar of Winfield, Tenn., and Chris Madden of Gray Court, S.C., who was initially third fastest, were both disqualified following time trials while Eric Jacobsen of Seacliff Beach, Calif., was disqualified prior to qualifying. Marlar and Madden both denied chemically altering their tires and questioned the track’s testing procedures. Jacobsen was not available for comment.
Notes: Following an afternoon of support division action, the Super Late Model consolation race is slated to run at 6 p.m. Sunday followed by a 15-minute break before the start of the National 100 main event. … Francis’ previous National 100 victory came in 2010. … Owens, whose primary car suffered mechanical issues during qualifying, wasn’t ready in time to start from the third position in the first heat race, but he was allowed to later start from the tail of the fourth and final heat. … Defending race winner Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga., was scheduled to drive a second BWRC house car, but had to head back home Friday due to the impending birth of his first child. … Weaver scored a $7,000 victory at EAMS in Oct. 14's Alabama State Championship event.
Heat race results
First heat: Steve Francis, Scott Bloomquist, Dennis Erb Jr., William Thomas, Chase Edge, Lavon Sparks, Marvin Cook Did not start: Jimmy Owens.
Second heat: Shane Clanton, Tyler Ivey, Dale McDowell, Randy Weaver, Dana Eiland, Bubba Russell, Gar Dickson, Duane Treadwell.
Third heat: Ray Cook, Vic Hill, Clint Smith, Hunter Peacock, Jerry Lierly, Joseph Joiner, Joe Armistead Jr., Dakota Cheek.
Fourth heat: Jimmy Owens, Jason Hiett, Brian Reese, Tyler Millwood, Jake Knowles, Jack Sullivan, Ricky Culpepper, Patrick Michel, Gary Gourley.
National 100 feature lineup
Row 1: Steve Francis, Shane Clanton
Row 2: Ray Cook, Jimmy Owens
Row 3: Scott Bloomquist, Tyler Ivey
Row 4: Vic Hill, Jason Hiett
Row 5: Dennis Erb Jr., Dale McDowell
Row 6: Clint Smith, Brian Reese
Row 7: William Thomas, Randy Weaver
Row 8: Hunter Peacock, Tyler Millwood
Row 9: Chase Edge, Dana Eiland
Row 10: Jerry Lierly, Jake Knowles
Row 11: Consolation race transfers
Row 12: Consolation race transfers
Consolation race lineup
Top four transfer to main event
Row 1: Lavon Sparks, Bubba Russell
Row 2: Joseph Joiner, Jack Sullivan
Row 3: Marvin Cook, Gar Dickson
Row 4: Joe Armistead Jr., Ricky Culpepper
Row 5: Dakota Cheek, Duane Treadwell
Row 6: Patrick Michel, Gary Gourley
Row 7: Mike Marlar, Chris Madden
Row 8: Eric Jacobsen