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Sullivan lands back in victory lane at TMS Dirt Track
Photo is Courtesy of Rudy Garcia


 

By Bryan Wimberley
SUPR Dirt Late Model Series correspondent

FORT WORTH, Tex. (March 3) - After getting off to a difficult start to begin 2012, Jack Sullivan of Greenbrier, Ark., rebounded Saturday night in an all-too-familiar place, grabbing the win at Texas Motor Speedway Dirt Track. The $3,500 victory was Sullivan's second in three seasons at the 4/10-mile oval, located north of Fort Worth. Sullivan took over the lead from Will Vaught and drove away from John Anderson late, securing the four-second victory, in the 40-lap opener on the Southern United Professional Racing Series tour.                                                                                            

photo is ' Courtesy of Tom Pennington of Getty Images

Sullivan ultimately made the decision to travel to Texas Motor Speedway Dirt Track, a place where he won in 2010, instead of traveling to the MARS double-header in Clarksville, Tennessee. The decision paid dividends for the Arkansas native, who prevailed on a rough surface.

"It is in my past experiences, that when you find a hole, then you get in it! It was slick from the middle lane up to the top, you could use momentum around there. We took off and we rolled behind Will (Vaught) and (John) Anderson there. I felt like I could get around that bottom, I felt like I better get down there before those guys did!" exclaimed Sullivan.


"I wish I could say we were on the same stuff when we won here two years ago, but we wasn't -that was a completely different animal. The racetrack was kind of close to the same, it worked out for us. The GRT Race Car worked good, the Russell Baker Racing Engine worked well and Triple A Diesel Service got me here, so we done well!" said the 36-year old GRT House Car driver.

Photo is Courtesy of Rudy Garcia
Sullivan added, "The weather helped us decide to come here, instead of The Toilet Bowl Classic. I don't do snakes or tornadoes and there was a lot of tornadic activity over that way -I just don't do that stuff! I'll be honest with you, I didn't think the purse was as intriguing as we would have liked. We made an executive decision to come over here to race."

John Anderson of Omaha, Neb., would finish as the runner-up, holding off current SUPR Series champion Morgan Bagley of Longview, who ended up in third place. Last year's Texas World Dirt Track Championship winner, Will Vaught of Crane, Mo., led the first 13 laps, but would slip back to fourth place when all was said-and-done. Kevin Sitton completed an amazing 17th-to-fifth place run to round out the top 5 finishers.
Photo is Courtesy of Rudy Garcia
At the drop of the green flag, third-starting Anderson, got an excellent jump on polesitter Morgan Bagley, but it was Vaught who led lap one.

Trouble struck immediately afterwards, when Jeff Chanler of Minden, La., and Derek Perkins of Oakdale, La., made contact down the backstretch, sending Chanler backwards into a barrier, as the rear of the car came to a rest off the ground.

On the restart, Vaught pulled out over Anderson, with Bagley, Sullivan and Chris Brown of Spring, Tex., trailing. Anderson makes a lap 9 move on Vaught for the lead, but Vaught holds off the challenge. The second caution flew on the same lap, for a spinning Zach McMillan of Gladewater, Tex., in turn four.
Photo is Courtesy of Rudy Garcia
A three-way battle ensued on the restart, pitting Vaught, Anderson and Sullivan vying for the point. Vaught again held his ground by less than a length over Anderson, with Sullivan charging closely behind at the stripe.

Anderson got shuffled to third, when Sullivan picked him off for the position, then Sullivan dipped low out of turn two, forcing the issue with Vaught. A debris caution on lap 12 temporarily slowed the pace of the action, but Sullivan gained the top spot on lap 14 from Vaught, as the cars starting bouncing around.

Sullivan began to drive away, opening up a three-second advantage on a quickly fading Vaught.


A caution appeared at the halfway mark, when last year's SUPR finalist, Timothy Culp spun in turn four, nearly collecting Allen Tippen, who was able to stop before making contact and prevent a collision. It proved to be costly anyway, with Tippen restarting in the rear. Culp would retire early due to a power steering line problem.

The race hit a stand-still when a caution seem to bred other cautions. Once the pace picked back up, Anderson pressured Vault for second, but by the time Anderson had locked down the spot, Sullivan had checked out to a half straightaway lead.

Reigning SUPR champ, Morgan Bagley, was able to grab third from Vaught soon after.
Photo is Courtesy of Rudy Garcia
Sullivan then converged on lap traffic with nine laps remaining in the feature. Time was running out for the 2007 TMSDT winner, Anderson, to reel in Sullivan. Anderson made a last ditch effort to close the gap, but was only able to chop off very little in the waning laps.

Anderson said after the race, "We used pretty much the same notes (as when we won in 2007), except for the gear and that's about it. This late model stuff changes quite a bit. We had some notes on the tire choice at this track, but other than that, you just have to keep digging. It was a pretty good run, it just got too rough where you had to run down near the holes to try to make your car work. Jack (Sullivan) was just a little bit better, we were good when it was pretty slick, but you have to just do all you can to get up there and stay there. We could have used a caution to make it interesting, but Jack was really good through them holes, so we will take our 2nd place and move on. It's a brand new car, so we are happy with it."

Nobody had an answer for Sullivan and his GRT on this night though, as he crossed under the checkered flags for a comfortable win and taking his second series victory in the process.

"Joe (Garrison) has gone to great lengths and GRT is a good race car. He has kind of lost some speed and technology has kind of evolved. His guys were centrally located on hard tires and the rest of the world has gotten bigger around him. He has made a lot of strides trying to get better in areas, the car we got now is more like an '06 model - an older car. I think we have come up with a front end that we are working on now, like the one tonight and it seems to turn pretty good," said Sullivan.

Sullivan declared, "Everybody has got to do what is best for them and in racing, people make a lot about car builders, but the bottom line is that the car is the cheapest part of this whole scenario. It is the biggest, cheapest thing you can change to make a difference and that is the truth of the matter. The motors and the going up-and-down the road is what costs the money, along with the everyday expenses. You can buy another car, change a whole program overnight and it's the cheapest thing to buy. That is why you see a lot of people flipping back-and-forth, cause once you run them, you can sell them. Racers see what other racers do and unfortunately this is a monkey-see, monkey-do business and there is not a lot of loyalty. I was raised to be loyal, so I am trying my best and we are going to figure all this out!"

Notes: Sullivan's GRT Race Car is powered by a Russell Baker Racing Engine and sponsored by Triple A Diesel Serivce, Bryant Motorsports, Central Arkansas Pest Services, DSI Motorsports, Sweet Mfg., JFR Graphics and Allstar Performance.

The Texas World Dirt Track Championship was Sullivan's 11th attended event this season, but only the second time in a feature -the other was a 13th-place in the World of Outlaws opener at Screven Motor Speedway in Sylvania (GA). Sullivan finished 9th in last year's TWDTC and wore the cowboy hat in victory lane in 2010.

The SUPR feature kicked off with driver intros at 10:15pm, had two leaders (Vaught and Sullivan) and was slowed by six cautions.

Advantage or not, 2011 series champ and rookie of the year, Morgan Bagley, came into TMS having raced (19) times already this season. Although Bagley never posed a threat for the lead, he equalled his best finish at the track, posting a third place result -the same as last year's TWDTC.

Bagley has veteran crew chief Randall Edwards in his pits, after Edwards split with former World of Outlaws champion, Darrell Lanigan last November. Edwards is not fully committed to Bagley's pits for the entire season and plans to split time with other drivers -mainly Austin Hubbard.

B.J. Robinson of Shreveport, La., just missed making the feature, losing by a half length to Dennie Gieber for the final transfer spot, in the first consolation race -Robinson was the only driver eligible and took a provisional start in the 40-lap feature.

Another dramatic consolation race, saw Derek Perkins of Oakdale, La., transferring to the feature with a second place finish, edging Jason Ingalls by a quarter length, in the second consolation race.

Drivers not making the feature included, Ricky Begnaud, Jim Bryant, Jon Driskill, Chad Ewell, Jason Ingalls, Keith Lawson, Tom Lorenz, Allen Murray, Eric Neal, Derek Rashall, Jeff Roth, Randy Roth, Jay Sale, Josh Sliney, Bryan Sugg, Larry White and Brock Williams.

The Port-A-Cool Texas World Dirt Track Championship drew (190) cars in three different classes -(82) modifieds, (70) limited modifieds and (38) SUPR Dirt Late Models.
photo is ' Courtesy of Tom Pennington of Getty Images  
Late model racer, Chris Brown of Spring, Tex., passed Kelly Shryock of Fertile, IA., with less than two laps remaining in the modified feature and took the checkered flag. A post-race inspection disqualified Brown of the win, for being 11 lbs. light at the scale -Brown was in Shryock's backup car.

Shryock was later awarded the $3,000 win, claiming the modified division.

Another shake-up in the top 5 finishing order of the modified feature, had Corey Babbitt of Channelview, Tex., being disqualified after his fifth-place run -Babbitt was 1 lb. light at the scales.

Two other late model drivers raced in the modified feature, Steven Whiteaker Jr of Corpus Christi, Tex., finished 8th, while John Anderson took home a 9th-place finish.

In the $2,000-to-win limited modified feature, Dennie Gieber of Frankston, Tex., took the victory. Gieber also completed an impressive 19th-to-ninth result in the SUPR Late Model feature in a Randy Copeland-owned car.

There were also two other late model drivers racing in the limited modified feature, Jason Ingalls of Longview, Tex., grabbed 5th, while Steven Whiteaker Jr ended up in 21st position -Whiteaker Jr was the only driving that competed in all three feature events at TMS Dirt Track.

Much preparation always goes into an event held at Texas Motor Speedway Dirt Track, which only hosts two or so events in a calendar year. An efficient program is a given and this year, new dirt was added to the racing surface.

"We put 6 inches of fresh dirt on the track for this race weekend and that was a big concern for us, making sure that the dirt stays compacted and doesnít come apart and rut up. The Thursday night practice was a good test and we actually had a little too much water on it for that session, but the fact that it didnít come apart, rut up, is a very good thing. We use in the neighborhood of 200,000 gallons of water on the track during a race weekend. During the weeks leading up to the race, we try to put 20 loads a day on the track, which is 2,000 gallons. Thatís just to maintain the water table and as the weekend plays out, we add more," said Cameron Branch, General Manager of Texas Motor Speedway Dirt Track.
(Courtesy of TMS Media Relations)

The Southern United Professional Racing Series will be back in action in two weeks at Jones Motor Speedway in Chatham, Louisiana, on March 17th.

SUPR @ TMSDT: (1) Jack Sullivan, (2) John Anderson, (3) Morgan Bagley, (4) Will Vaught, (5) Kevin Sitton, (6) Rob Litton, (7) Jon Mitchell, (8) Robbie Starnes, (9) Dennie Gieber, (10) Chris Holley, (11) Derek Perkins, (12) Chris Brown, (13) Tommy Weder Jr, (14) Lee Davis, (15) Jay Brunson, (16) Steven Whiteaker Jr, (17) B.J. Robinson, (18) Allen Tippen, (19) Zach McMillan, (20) Timothy Culp, (21) Jeff Chanler.

Heat race winners (among 38 cars): Anderson, Vaught, Brunson, Bagley
Consolation race winners: Sitton, Whiteaker Jr
Provisional starter: Robinson


SUPR Dirt Late Model Series points
(Top 15 through March 3rd)

1. Jack Sullivan -128
2. John Anderson -125
3. Morgan Bagley -120
4. Will Vaught -115
5. Kevin Sitton -109
6. Rob Litton -104
7. Jon Mitchell -98
8. Robbie Starnes -94
9. Dennie Gieber -88
10. Chris Holley -83
11. Derek Perkins -78
12. Chris Brown -74
13. Tommy Weder Jr -66
14. Lee Davis -63
15. Jay Brunson -60

Nose damage sets back Vaught at TMS

Will Vaught of Crane, Mo., look to accomplish a repeat performance of last season, winning the Texas World Dirt Track Championship and at the outset, it appeared he was well on his way in doing just that. Vaught paced the field for the first 13 laps before giving way to Sullivan, then later slipping back to a very respectable 4th place among a talent array of drivers.

"We had a good car, the track had a little attitude to it I guess you could say. It had some ruts, but that is part of dirt racing. The race track was good, but hard on equipment and we know that is all part of it and we kept chugging along. I was pacing myself there, running the top at the first of the race and running a real smooth line out of the ruts. I started moving and it rolled my nose under, then it was a handful after that. I led it for a little bit and then Jack got by me, I just couldn't steer after that because the nose was in the ground too much. Every dirt racer has an excuse, but that is all part of it," said Vaught.

The prestige of Texas Motor Speedway lured Vaught and surely others, to attend an event that has constantly seen car counts as high as the low 60's in past years. In a weekend that saw the Bama Bash, MARS Dirt Car doubleheader and others on the docket, many drivers had decisions to make in and radar watching as their top priority.

"There was more money to be made in Tennessee this weekend, but we debated it and decided to come here. I love this place, I mean it is Texas Motor Speedway and it's unique! The family really liked it and it was their first chance to ever come down here. It's worth another $5,000 just to come down here to have a paved pits and stuff. We have a good time, we only get to race with the SUPR (Series) cars only once a year pretty much. All the guys are nice, respectful and I think it is a real organized series," Vaught said.

Vaught now takes on a different challenge after splitting with car owner Paul McKenna, balancing racing with fatherhood (son, Maddox and daughter, Mallory) and now being a family-owned team.

"We have big goals for the year, last year we had some real good runs at some big races, even though we didn't get the victories, but that is how it happens when you run with the best in the country, instead of when you run locally. We did have a good car and I did split with my ex-car owner, so that took about a month away from our season last year. I am a dad and I kind of want to make my own schedule, so we are back to the family own deal. We are still in Warrior Race Cars and with some good sponsors behind me in, Port City Racing, GW Performance and Circle M Auto Sales in Joplin. I am fortunate to have what I got and to be able to own everything, along with making my own schedule. If I want to take a weekend off and go to the lake with my family, then I am going too. It is just one of those deals that is better for the family and better for me, as being a real good dad. We are going to do what we want to do, it is more fun that way," explained Vaught.

"I still want to run the ARCA cars, it is one of those things that doesn't take as much time out of your family life, but it takes a lot more money. Our family don't have the money, but I was fortunate enough to do those few races. We raced with Venturini through the dirt races last year and had a sponsor deal working this year, but it fell through. We had a deal that was going to go the whole season, but it didn't materialize. It takes a lot of sponsors and the economy is bad right now. We are fortunate to race dirt cars, let alone be in Daytona -I would have loved to have been there last weekend, but that is beside the point."

The 25-year old Vaught posted (2) top 5's in the ARCA Racing Series last season -both in Illinois and a solid 9th at the 2.66-mile superspeedway at Talladega.

He also picked up (2) MARS Dirtcar Series wins last year and a 4th-place at The Dream at Eldora Speedway.

Sitton continues strong outings at TMS

Kevin Sitton of Baytown, Tex., has had good success at the 4/10-mile oval track at Texas Motor Speedway, but it hasn't quite equalled to making a visit to victory lane. Sitton was the hard charger of Saturday's Port-A-Cool Texas World Dirt Track Championship feature, going from 17th-to-fifth. Last September, he finished only behind Ray Moore, who has been a force at the fall event at Texas for the last two years -winning both.

"I think the car was faster than the 17th-to-fifth that we ran. I got hung up behind the 27M car, once we got by him, I could get up there and air it out. Pretty much the whole time, we were riding behind somebody, running half throttle and losing our momentum through the center and wasn't driving off good. I know 17th-to-fifth sounds pretty good, but I think we were a lot better than what the car showed -getting hung up really cost us," said Sitton.

Sitton added, "We drew a 139 out of a 150, so that put us dead last in a heat race and then we get the first heat race. It was slimy on the bottom and slimy on the top, being kind of a one-groove deal. We passed a couple cars in the heat race, but it wasn't enough and we had to run the consolation. We started 3rd in that race and won it to make the feature -it was just a bad draw for us. That use to be my old race car number (139), so I thought it was going to be lucky for us, it just didn't turn out that way."

Even though the wins are not on his resume at TMSDT, it is hard to argue that the break-through could be right around the corner for the No. 20 Barry Wright Race Car. Since his rookie campaign in 2008, Sitton has (4) 2nd places and (2) 7th places at the track outside of Fort Worth -time is on his side.

Mitchell satisfied with new MasterSbilt, teammate
 Photo Courtesy of ADT Photography
Jon Mitchell of Texarkana, Tex., contemplated last season about switching race car brands, but it wasn't until after the racing season, that his plans to a giant leap in that directions. Not only did the soon-to-be 32-year old Mitchell switch from GRT to MasterSbilt, he also acquired a teammate in the process.

"We are trying to get the bugs worked out of this new MasterSbilt, I really can't complain about where we ended up. We didn't run quite as good as I was wanting to right out of the box, but we had a solid finish. We stayed around the top 5 most of the race and kind of faded back towards the end, sort of like my tires gave up on me a bit. Once we get the bugs worked out of this car though, we will be good-to-go!" said Mitchell.

Mitchell explained, "There is so many things I'm wanting to try on this car, maybe some changes I'm wanting to tweak. I have all kinds of ideas in my head, but it is hard to play with that right off the bat until you get into a certain type of situation. You really have to get into a certain track condition where you know how you need to adjust to it. I am so use to running a GRT Race Car, so going into this new MasterSbilt deal, it is going to throw me a little learning curve at the start -I think we will be fine though. We threw a few things at it for the feature, but the heat race was a bit wide open for us. This is one of my better finishes at this racetrack, so all-in-all we had a decent run at the gate."

Mitchell had been competitive in the GRT, finishing with back-to-back 3rd places in the Comp Cams Super Dirt Series points in 2010 and 2011. Mitchell also broke through with his first win in nearly nine years on the SUPR Series tour, winning at Lonestar Speedway in Kilgore, Tex., last May. Despite that, Mitchell could not pinpoint the problem of getting to the next level of winning a championship or big money events.

"We wanted to get back to a baseline, I have been with Joe (Garrison) my whole life pretty much. I really hated to do anything else, but we have struggled the last few years and he has had some drivers do the same. It is one of those deals where you are beating your head against the wall, getting frustrated to even go to the racetrack and once it gets that way, then you have to try something else. Trying a new baseline, it is easier to see if the problem was the car, the driver, the combination or something else in between and helps you know where you stand. Joe (Garrison) makes a hell of a product, it's a nice, quality car, but for now we are testing different waters for the time being," Mitchell said.

One thing is for sure, the new adventure that Mitchell embarks on will not be by himself, as Tommy Surrett of Little Rock, Ark., joins Team 5 Enterprises for 2012. Surrett has been out of racing for a handful of years, but the pair find themselves in a seemingly perfect situation in various ways.

"We are going to kick Tommy (Surrett) off next week at The Pelican, he approached me at the end of last year about putting a new MasterSbilt together. It really pushed me into the issue about getting ours going, so we talked in the off-season and thought it may save a little money marching up-and-down the road with diesel prices, along with having some help. We put him a real good maintenance program together and that guy there has been known to win some races, hopefully this will get him back going again," says Mitchell.


Surrett popped off (5) SUPR wins in a season, ten years ago, with his last series victory coming on August 17th, 2002 at Baton Rouge Raceway.

Mitchell concluded, "With Tommy being based out of Arkansas and both cars being housed in Texas at my shop, I wasn't going to tie myself down, but it makes sense running the Comp Cams mainly and then fill in as many SUPR shows that we can. Between the two, it fills our schedule up pretty tight, along with running a USMTS modified too. We plan on running that (modified) at eight to ten shows throughtout the year as well."

Not only has the changes at Team 5 Enterprises been a rebirth for Surrett, but it has been a revivial for Mitchell as well.

*****
Corporate sponsors of the SUPR Dirt Late Model Series include: AFCO, Bert Transmission, Brodix, Dirt on Dirt, Dominator, Dura-Lite Racing Wheels, GRT Race Cars, Hinchman Uniforms, Hoosier Tire Southwest, Larry Shaw Race Cars, Master Vac, O'Reilly Auto Parts, PBM Performance Products, Trak-Star Racecars, Trick Wild, Triple A Diesel Service, Wall 2 Wall Performance, X-Treme Graphics
 

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