OXFORD – Now that the region’s biggest short track stock car event has come and gone, attention returns to the weekly divisional battles. While there may not have been big money on the line, Saturday night’s feature races never lacked for intensity.
Skip Tripp and Ricky Rolfe earned top honors in their respective divisons, prevailing in some of the most hotly-contested weekly features seen in 2007.
Tripp held off Tommy Tompkins to win the 30-lap Strictly Stock battle royale, while Rolfe edged Carey Martin by mere inches to secure a victory in the most exciting weekly race of the season for the Oxford Networks Late Models.
Tripp took the lead from Kim Tripp on lap nine and hung on for his win. Glen Henderson, the most consistent driver in this class for the last few weeks, ran among the leaders all night and came home third after battling side-by-side for several laps with Tripp. Chris Burgess completed the top five in a race slowed by just one caution. Twelve of the 19 starters finished on the lead lap, while Tripp’s margin of victory was just over a quarter of a second.
David Childs, Gregg Norton and Bill Irving were also feature winners on Time Warner Cable night at the 3/8-mile paved oval.
In the Late Model feature, Rolfe and Martin had the fans on their feet as they battled side-by-side for over 20 laps at the front. It came down to Oxford’s electronic timing and scoring system to determine a winner, as Rolfe’s margin of victory over margin was just one-thousandth of a second (.001). If anybody ever questions just how evenly matched these Late Models are, they need to review the video of that feature. Dale Verrill led the first 11 circuits before Rolfe took command, then he and Martin swapped the lead five times before the 2002 Late Model champion finally pulled it off. Verrill hung on for third, while Shawn Martin and Zach Emerson completed the top five.
“We definitely saved the best race for last tonight,” said Rolfe. “That was one great race with Carey. We’ve raced thousands of laps together coming up through the ranks. It’s really fun racing with him. It’s fun racing with all these guys because they give each other respect. There isn’t hardly a tire mark on either one of these cars, if that doesn’t reflect clean racing nothing does.”
In earlier feature action, Childs held off a hard-charging Jamie Heath to claim the first of two 20-lap contests for the Runnin’ Rebel division. The Oxford driver prevailed despite heavy traffic in the closing stages. Brady Romano, a former standout driver in Junior dragster competition, recorded a career-best third place finish, while second generation drivers Zack Audet and Logan Melcher completed the top five.
“I just bought this car recently,” said Childs. “It was a former Beech Ridge car. I’m still playing with it a little bit, but we’re making some progress. It looks like we’re headed in the right direction.”
Norton held off a determined Kyle Hewins to notch his fifth straight win in the second Runnin’ Rebel tilt. The Lewiston driver survived a green, white, checkered sprint to the finish in a race delayed by two cautions. With his second-place finish, Hewins locked up the 2007 Agren Appliance Grand Slam crown, a special series within a season for the Wednesday night division. Tyson Jordan drove to a solid third-place finish, while Matt Dufault of Turner and Oxford’s Scott Farrington completed the top five.
“That was by far the most intense race I’ve ever won,” said Norton. “I was nervous and kept looking in the mirror the whole time. That last caution was what helped me win. Farrington had me there once. I was fading back thanks to some really old tires. I need to start over. This car was going south on me at the end.”
Irving got the jump over Ashley Marshall on a lap-19 restart and hung on to capture a wild 30-lap feature for the Mini Stock division. Marshall had inherited the lead when early leader Shane Kaherl got together with defending champion Jim Childs going into Turn 3.
The two cars slammed into a dirt pile protecting a light pole, but neither driver was injured. Marshall hung on for second while Bob Guptill notched his third straight top-three finish. Dave Mooney and Bill Childs Sr. rounded out the top five.
“I was in the right place at the right time,” said Irving. “Whatever it takes to win one of these, I’m willing to do. I got by Ashley there without too much trouble and hung on the rest of the way. I only led the final nine laps, but that’s all it took tonight.”