Green Flag Waves on 2012 Season at
On a perfect spring night in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley, the sound of stock car engines roared back to life this past Saturday night at Natural Bridge Speedway. Race fans and drivers alike eagerly anticipated the drop of the green flag on the 2012 season. A huge crowd flocked to the speedway on opening night and nearly 50 drivers signed in to do battle on the 3/8ths mile clay oval. Natural Bridge Speedway kicked off the new season with five divisions of racing.
The first order of business on the night was hot lap qualifying for the late model drivers. Fourteen late models were on hand opening night and at the end of qualifying Justin Williams, the defending late model track champion, had the fastest lap. Williams ripped off a lap of 17.077, an average speed of just over 80 mph to claim the top spot. Williams then drew a number three for the inversion. The inversion put David Bennett and Ricky Wells on the front row for the feature event.
At the drop of the green flag, Bennett used his number one starting spot to his advantage and jumped to the lead over Wells. The late model drivers were on their best behavior and cautiously settled into position. The field strung out and Bennett clicked off lap and lap at the front of the field. A caution on lap sixteen for a spin by the fifth place driver of JR Overstreet bunched the field up for the second half of the race. On the restart Bennett once again opened up a comfortable lead over Ricky Wells. Bennett seemed poised to pick up the opening night win until things fell apart for him with just seven laps to go. As Bennett’s machine entered turn number one the left rear wheel came loose and Bennett rolled to a stop in turn number two. Ricky Wells inherited the lead and held off Justin Williams for the apparent win. However, the machine of Wells failed a post race inspection and Wells was disqualified. Justin Williams was declared the winner. Rounding out the top five were Philip Woods, Tim Stalnaker, Chris Barger, and JR Overstreet.
Before the sportsman field could reach the green flag three cars had crashed hard on the front stretch putting the field under the red flag. After contact with Ken Nelson, Eddie Gibson spun collecting Todd Campbell and Randy Gardner. Gardner and Campbell suffered heavy damage and were forced to the infield pit area. Gibson was able to continue and rejoined the field. The second start was much better as Eric Groah jumped from third to first as the field entered turn number one on the second lap of the race. The other car on the move was Michael Taylor who started last. Taylor patiently worked his way towards the front of the field and found himself in the runner-up position by lap four. Groah seemed to be the class of the field through the middle stages of the race. He was able to keep Taylor four to five car lengths behind. A caution on lap eighteen bunched the field up for the final seven laps. Taylor turned up the fuel the last five laps and closed to the back bumper of Groah. Taylor made one final run at Groah coming off turn four on the final lap but Groah was able to hold on for the apparent win. However, Groah came up light at the scales and was disqualified. Taylor was declared the winner. The top five were Taylor, Shad Cooper, Ken Nelson, Eddie Gibson, and Ronnie Martin, Jr.
Rookie RW Armstrong grabbed the lead of the street stock feature from his outside front row starting position. Armstrong, who competed in a handful of features last season, was as smooth as the veteran drivers and opened up a comfortable lead over Charles Wyatt. Wyatt stalked Armstrong throughout the twenty-five lap feature event. In the closing laps Wyatt closed to the back bumper of Armstrong. As the two took the white flag and entered turn one, Wyatt executed a textbook bump and run. Wyatt charged to the lead off of turn two on the final lap and picked up his first victory in nearly two years. Armstrong crossed the stripe in the runner-up position but was also too light at the scales and was disqualified. Keith Nelson was awarded the second spot, followed by Tom Guthrie, David Brogan, and Ted Miller.
A familiar face found victory lane in the pure stock division. Howard Hall led flag to flag to pick up his first victory of the season. Lee Brooks started deep in the field and worked his way to the runner-up spot early in the feature. Brooks was faster than Hall at times during the feature but could not find the power to make a move on Hall. A lap twenty three caution set up a green, white, checker finish and gave Brooks one more shot at Hall. Once again Hall hit all of his marks and crossed the stripe 0.275 seconds ahead of Brooks. Todd Garrett, Daniel Shuey, and Brandon Ramsey rounded out the top five.
Youngster Corey Almond served notice he would be a factor in the All-American championship this season. Almond started on the outside pole and jumped to the lead at the drop of the green flag. Rich Zowaski chased Almond the entire twenty laps but Almond was flawless on this night. Almond won by nearly three seconds over Zowaski. Nick Magliochetti was third, Brandon Link was fourth, and Mike Lawhorne was fifth.
Natural Bridge Speedway will host a regular show for all divisions this coming Saturday night, April 21. Gates will open at 4:00 p.m. with the driver’s meeting scheduled for 6:00 p.m., and on-track activities beginning at 6:30 p.m.