By Kyle Brandt
IRVINGTON, Ala. (June 7, 2014) – It only happens once a year at Mobile International Speedway (MIS), but the annual demolition derby never disappoints- and the trend continued on Saturday night. With 14 cars entered into the survival of the fittest crash-fest, fans were treated to hard-hitting, fender smashing automobile carnage in the emptied infield of Alabama’s fastest half-mile.
From the start, it appeared that any one of the participants had a legitimate shot to win the winner-takes-all affair, but as more succumbed to blown engines and flat tires, the derby was reduced down to the veterans.
When the smoke cleared, and there was only one car left running, Jonathan Smith of Dog River prevailed and took home the $1500 check that came along with the win. For Smith, Saturday night’s win marks his second consecutive win in the MIS demolition derby.
Pro Late Models:
With Wayne Niedecken, Jr. nipping at his heels in the point standings, Josh Bragg was in need of a strong performance in Saturday night’s double feature at MIS. With the season reaching the midway point and opportunities becoming lesser with each passing race, Saturday night had huge potential for the two-time and defending PLM champ.
Starting from the pole in the first feature- a 20-lap dash to the checkered- Bragg quickly pulled away to a large lead despite a challenge from Niedecken.
With the race being halted just once, for the spinning Travis Nelson, Bragg easily cruised on to the win in the first feature- accruing the valuable championship points that he needed.
Along with the jubilation of winning, however; came the realization for Bragg that he would have to start at the rear of the field for the second race due to the starting order being the finishing order of the first- only inverted.
At the drop of the green flag for the second race, Rusty Sanford quickly took the lead in turn two, but by the time the first lap was over, Dustin Smith had assumed the top spot. Meanwhile, by the time the seventh lap was completed, Bragg had worked his way to the second position and had begun closing in on Smith.
Just four laps later, and after a masterful pass of Smith entering turn three, Bragg took over the lead and set sail just like he did in the first race.
Despite charging all the way to the second position, Niedecken was unable to catch Bragg and the Milton, Florida driver would have to settle for runner-up honors once again.
Sweeping both of the races on Saturday night, Bragg was able to extend his championship points lead to 19 over second-place Niedecken, and 21 over third-place Dustin Smith.
“We (have) a little work to do, but we got all four corners on (the car) and managed to pull out a few wins and start on the pole,” said Bragg after the race. “It’s cool when everyone comes to help us and I just want to thank them.”
The last time the modified division was in action at MIS, a race-long duel between Donald Crocker and Donnie Hamrac raged on and was eventually won by Crocker. Now, over a month later, it appeared that Crocker, a native of Citronelle (Alabama), had things well in hand as Hamrac was experiencing mechanical issues.
At the drop of the green flag, Crocker quickly took off with the race lead, but the by the time the caution flag waved on lap 17, Hamrac had moved all the way to the fourth position.
With the help of three more cautions in the closing eight laps of the race, Hamrac was able to quickly dispatch his competitors.
The second-to-last restart of the night proved beneficial to Hamrac, however; as he was able to pass Crocker on the outside as the two exited turn two, but a caution just a few moments later would allow for yet another duel- or so we thought.
Under the caution, Crocker took his No. 5 machine to the garage area and would stay there- basically handing the win to Hamrac, his championship rival.
With his biggest challenger sitting in the pit area, Hamrac was able to quickly pass Jeff Letson and cruise on to his second win of the season. Letson and Brandon Howell would round out the top-three.
“Yeah that was hard, but all of this goes to the crew,” explained Hamrac. “We had a rough weekend. In qualifying we broke a throttle linkage and we ran a couple laps in the heat race and it broke again.”
“We were able to get it fixed before the race, and here you go.”
Sitting first and second in the Sportsman division point standings entering Saturday night, Lee Reynolds and Brannon Fowler had their eyes on each other. Being separated by the slimmest of margins, both drivers were looking to take control at the midway point of the season.
When the green flag waved to start Saturday night’s 25-lap feature, it was Fowler’s No. 00 who started from the pole, but Reynolds, who started right next to him, quickly took the top spot on the outside as the two raced down the backstretch.
Reynolds, with nothing but a clear track ahead of him, was able to pull away from Fowler- at least until lapped traffic became a factor.
On lap 14, Fowler, of Molino, Florida, caught Reynolds, and the two would have race side-by-side for the top spot momentarily. One lap later though, it was Fowler who came out on top- and he would cruise on to the victory with Reynolds and Jason Smith rounding out the top-three.
“I missed a shift on the start, and Red Dog “Reynolds” got ahead of us,” said Fowler after the race. “I have to thank my Dad, my whole team, my sponsors. It’s been a great weekend. We lost a dear friend, Randy Brooks, at the end of last week and this win is for him and the whole Brooks family.”
Adding to an already thrilling night as it was at MIS, Saturday night’s 20-lap Bomber division feature had storylines aplenty.
After winning four consecutive features to start the season, a bounty was placed on Mobile’s BJ Leytham- but the added pressure appeared to make him even better though.
Winning two more times since, the final chapter of Leytham and his bounty would end on Saturday night. If Leytham could score his seventh consecutive win, the bounty money would be his. On the other hand, if he were to be beaten fair and square, the money would go to them instead.
Starting in the second position, Matt Jackson quickly dispatched Gene Denmark at the start of the race and quickly took off with a sizeable lead, but Leytham, who started third, was catching him.
A caution on lap seven for the spinning car of Gene Denmark would set up a duel between Jackson and Leytham on the ensuing restart. After getting loose in turn three, Leytham was able to take the lead- but a caution for Tommie Blocker would negate the pass as the running order was reverted to how the leaders crossed the line the lap before.
On the resulting restart, Leytham was able to take the lead once again and stay there as Jackson would get loose in turn three.
Surviving one more restart, Leytham was able to hold off Donnie Phillips to score his seventh consecutive win in the division and collect his own bounty money. Leytham’s teammate, Denmark would finish third.
“I’ll buy them (the team) whatever they want,” said Leytham after the race. “They put me in a good car all week and I couldn’t ask for a better group of people. Oh man- seven in a row.”
“(Jackson) had the car to beat, and I couldn’t do anything with him. I guess his tires got hot and he started wheel-hopping, but if we would have stayed green, I don’t think I could have got him.”
About Mobile International Speedway: Mobile International Speedway is the longest continuously operating sports facility in Mobile County. It was built in 1964 and has presented weekly motorsports events every year since then. As an indication of increasing community acceptance and enthusiasm, both the Mobile Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Mobile Sports Authority became MIS partners beginning in 2013.
Family attendance and participation have been the keys to the track’s continued success. Kids 5 and under are always admitted free to the grandstands. Family nights and family-oriented shows have always been staples of the annual MIS schedules. Over 30,000 people will attend the 14 scheduled MIS events in 2014.