WINSTON, MO.—It may have been a cold night for the final race of the 2017 season at I-35 Speedway, but the racing on track hit the boiling point. Side-by-side finishes and three wide racing marked a common theme for the night. I-35 Speedway drivers battled it out for final point positions and momentum heading into the off-season, while national point contenders for the USRA classes made their way to Winston to try to better their positions as well.
Out first on the speedway would be the E-Modifieds. Billy Spillman, #63D, would use a front-row starting position to his advantage and take the early lead. Spillman would fend off challenges from Cade Richards, #1R, in the early going. Seventh starting Randy Smith Jr., #75X, made quick work of the field and after several cautions moved into second. Lap after lap Spillman would take the outside of the racetrack, while Smith ran right around the tires on the inside of the speedway. Smith showed his nose to Spillman several times, but in the end, Spillman hung on and took the checkered flag. Smith would finish second, followed by Manlee Lamar, #4M, Logan Headley, #221, and Derek Otte, #1.
The Midwest Outlaw Vintage Racers were next to run their feature and put on a show. Allen Guthrie, #21, jumped to the early lead. Although, Guthrie experienced very little comfort as Chris Heitman, #39, Andy Wiles, #53, and Jack Simmons, #J2 all had their go at the lead. Heitman, Wiles, and Simmons traded positions several times, all while Guthrie continued to set the pace out front. Eventually, Simmons worked the low side of the speedway and mounted a final charge on Guthrie with just a few laps remaining. Simmons would make the pass and take home the Vintage feature. Guthrie, Heitman, Wiles, and Jack Larson, #77, would make up the rest of the top five.
The Grand Nationals rolled off for their feature next. Nick Newton, #711, made quick work of the front row after starting third. Donnie Brown, #26, followed suit and quickly worked his way to second. Brown found some speed on the low side of the racetrack and took the lead away from Newton. Newton would not go away quietly and put the car right up against the cushion. After a lap or so, Newton worked the top groove in and mounted a charge on Brown. Off turn number four, Newton used the cushion and looked to the outside of Brown. Brown left just enough room for Newton, and Newton moved back out front. Brown tried several times to return the favor on the low side, but the checkered flag would go to Newton. Brown would finish second, with Chad Fuller, #R, John Brown, #36J, and Billie Hoover, #97 rounding out the top five.
The Pure Stocks would continue the intense racing at I-35 Speedway. CJ Turner, #91, made his way to the point at the start of the race and never looked back. Although he had to fend of several challenges from the likes of Ron Hill, #72, Cletus Murray, #21M, and Beau Wells, #555, Turner led every lap and found his way into McCarthy Auto Group Winner’s Circle. Wells, Murray, Kyle Rowland, #5, and Tim Hoselton, #22H, would make up the top five.
Fourteen Sport Compacts would roll onto I-35 Speedway for their feature and it would be pole-sitter Ashley Klick, #22K, taking the early lead. As Klick started to run away with the feature, the rest of the field battled hard for second on back. A mid race caution bunched everyone up for a restart and on that restart John Willard, #1/2CR, moved past Klick and took the lead. Unfazed, Klick would stay patient and eventually move back out front and take the Sport Compact feature. Willard finished second. Dakota Girard, #0, made his way back to third after being in an early race accident. David Miller III, #55, and Alvin Cooney, #69C, finished fourth and fifth respectively.
The first of three USRA classes, 20 USRA B-Modifieds took to the track to go to war. Bud Wilson, #22W, jumped to the early lead, but Nic Hanes, #17X, never let Wilson out of his sights. Meanwhile, Ryan Gilmore, the USRA B-Modified national point leader moved his way to third. Those three would separate themselves from the rest of the field and settle the caution free race among themselves. At about the halfway point, Wilson began working his way through lapped traffic, and that is when Hanes made his move. Hanes worked his way through traffic a little better and moved to the lead. Gilmore followed suit, pushing Wilson back to third. Still in lapped traffic, Hanes would choose the wrong lane as a lap car moved to the bottom and Gilmore blitzed the top side of the speedway and moved to the point. Hanes mounted one final charge and the two would drag race to the finish, Gilmore earning the checkered flag and gaining valuable points for the national championship chase. Hanes, Wilson, Cody Brill, #96, and Jake Richards, #17J, another top national point contender rounded out the top five.
The USRA Stock Cars followed the lead of the USRA B-Modifieds and put on another exciting show. Gary Donaldson, #28D, set the pace early. Dean Wray, #77 worked his way to second from a fourth place starting position, and began to chase down Donaldson. The cliché “it’s one thing to catch someone, but another thing to pass them” echoed true for Wray as lap after lap he tried to find a way around Donaldson. Wray tried the outside and inside lanes, but was unable to find enough momentum to work his way around Donaldson. Wray finally made the charge to the inside of Donaldson on the final lap, but the drag race to the line went to Donaldson, using high side momentum. The margin of victory ended up being just a few feet for Donaldson. Wray, Blake Peeler, #292, Aaron Sauter, #83A, and Donnie Brown, #28, made up the top five.
The final feature of the 2017 season for I-35 Speedway would see the USRA Modifieds battle side-by-side lap after lap. Unfortunately for the field, those battles were for second on back, as USRA national point contender Ryan Middaugh, #21, had the field covered and would lead every lap on his way to his 14th victory of the season. Derrick Hicks, #78, and Houston Johnson, #97, could not decide who wanted to finish second. Johnson, using the high side of the racetrack, and Hicks, using the low side were the ones battling side by side almost all race long. Hicks moved ahead of Johnson before a lap 12 caution, but Johnson worked his way back around Hicks on the restart. They continued to battle as Middaugh slipped away. When the checkered flag flew on the USRA Modifieds and the 2017 racing season, Johnson finished second and Hicks third. Lewis Jackson, #3J, and Dennis Elliot, #29, rounded out the top five.
At the end of the night, I-35 Speedway crowned each of their 2017 track champions. Randy Smith Jr., #75X won the E-Modified track championship, Donnie Brown, #26, won the Grand Nationals championship, Cletus Murray, #21M, won the Pure Stocks championship, Bud Wilson, #22W, won the USRA B-Modifieds championship, Dean Wray, #77, won the USRA Stock Cars championship, and Dennis Elliott, #29, won the USRA Modifieds championship. Congratulations to each on their title.