Feature Article, Stock Cars, Washington — July 24, 2004 at 4:47 pm

Late Model Challenge Series (issue 60)

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By Craig Murphy

When the Late Model Challenge Series started in 2000, the original hope was for the series to run at Spanaway Speedway and South Sound Speedway near Tenino.

Fast forward to 2004: Spanaway has closed, while the LMCS made its first visit to SSS on May 15.

The LMCS has grown into a 13-race schedule with dates at 10 different tracks, plus an open competition race at the Pacific Raceways road course.

Racing at SSS was a long time coming for LMCS director Jerry Losch. “We tried for several seasons to secure dates at South Sound,” he said. “It’s nice to have two dates this year. I’m happy that we were able to come to terms to bring LMCS to a track that is the most local to a majority of our racers.

“At this current time, we have a lot of momentum in this series,” Losch added. “It gives a lot of opportunity for teams to try different high-quality tracks such as South Sound Speedway. It is a premier facility.”

SSS owner/promoter Butch Behn noted differences kept coming up. “We could never agree,” he said. “It’s one of them things. They wanted to do things one way, I wanted to do them another way.”

As part of running at SSS, competitors had to race on the track’s spec tire as opposed to the rubber used elsewhere.

Would the series regulars be slowed by an unfamiliar tire on an unfamiliar track?

“You’re looking at a lot of guys who race at a lot of tracks,” said Tim Gosch, a regular Late Model competitor at SSS who would like to run more LMCS events. “I don’t think it will take them long to get dialed in. Whatever advantage we’ve got, we will have to take advantage of it right away.”

Ron Wolf, the inaugural series champion in 2000, noted series regulars would initially be disadvantaged. “The guys who race here have an advantage because we’re on their tires, and they know the track better,” Wolf said. “But with all the tracks we go to, it’s easier for us to adjust to the track.

“We used to race just Spanaway,” Wolf added. “When we started to go to other tracks, at first it was difficult to adjust to those tracks, because we would get used to one thing. Each track takes something different.”

Defending series champion Jason Hedrick hadn’t competed in a Late Model race at SSS before. “We have to run their tire, so the car will probably act different,” he said. “Hopefully by the end of the first hot lap session (we’ll have it figured out).”

Dave Cline started racing at SSS in 1982, and considers it his home track. He’s disappointed the LMCS didn’t come to the track until this year.

“It goes back to the tires,” he said. “It goes back to the promoter and the rules. You tend to have rules so that you have to make the car conform to the track. You’ve got to conform to track rules.”

Gosch was glad LMCS teams finally visited. “It’s nice they’re going to experience this place,” he said. “The Behn family has done a great job. Every time you come, something new is added. You can’t beat what they’re offering.”

Wolf, who used to race more at SSS, considers it his home track with the closing of Spanaway. “What I like is you get more friends and family here,” he said. “They might not be able to drive over the mountains to watch you, but they’ll drive an hour. When you really notice it is during driver introductions.”

Jay Sauls also likes that factor. “It’s cool to come down here, and have all your fans come down,” said the son of 2001 series champion Mike Sauls. “Spanaway was my home, now this is my second home. This is my first time here with a big car.”

Once the 100-lap main event started, Steve Thompson led the 24-car field from the pole. Gosch took the lead on lap 14, with Sauls following as Kelly Mann and Kevin Carver also moved up.

Sheetmetal damage sent Sauls to the pits on lap 30 during a caution. Shortly after the restart, Mann took the lead from Gosch on the high side. Carver took second a few laps later, and tried numerous times to wrestle the lead away from Mann.

Mann held on over Carver, Mike Obrist, points leader Ron Wolf and Gosch.

“Kevin ran me clean,” Mann said afterwards. “The taps from him were perfectly clean. I hardly ever looked in the mirror. I just kept it on the bottom. It was just fun short track racing.”

For Wolf, fourth was a good end to a long night. “We took a 9th place car, and took it to the front,” he said. “I think it was one of the best races I’ve been in in a long time. It was a good competitive race. There was no runaway winner. I think a lot of it was due to most of these guys on these tires the first time.”

The night wasn’t as good for others. Cline came home 10th, while Hedrick pulled off early and returned to finish 18th.

Sauls had perhaps the busiest night. After getting his damage fixed, Sauls marched through the field. He was looking high on Gosch for fifth with 12 laps to go when contact between Obrist and Wolf led to a chain reaction that sent Sauls hard into the wall. Sauls was uninjured, but finished 19th.

“I’m disappointed but alright,” he said while surveying his crumpled car. “Everyone checked up, and I was out there. Getting caught up in that after coming back was tough. But it was a fun night. It’s a lot harder to pass in a big car.”

Behn was impressed with the show. “It was a great race,” he said. “It was also pretty clean, with only one severe wreck. Sometimes with these deals you see half the field taken out.”

Losch also was happy. “I believe the race went very well,” he said. “I hope it creates a win-win deal for the series and South Sound Speedway so we can continue to race down there for several seasons to come. Overall we had a very competitive field. We had good looking cars, and a very competitive program.”

“It was a great opportunity to run at one of the Northwest’s finest racing venues,” Losch added. “The facility has a premium racing surface, and excellent amenities for fans and race teams. We look forward to our scheduled return August 14. Securing several race dates at South Sound Speedway helps strengthen our position as the Northwest’s top late model touring series.”

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