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I-37 Raceway Opens with Large Crowd, Lots of Action


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Pleasanton – I-37 Raceway opened the 2011 season with a near-capacity crowd and 84 cars packing the pits, the largest "car count" for opening night since the track reopened in 2008. The drivers did not disappoint the more than 500 fans who came out on a beautiful, though cool, Saturday night.

Greg Dinsmore of Kerrville borrowed Gary "Taz" Hunter's Limited Late Model for the "Thousand Buck Shootout" last October and raced to the win, then spent all winter making changes to the car to make it faster. Saturday night he drove it to another convincing win in the LLM class, but not until after a battle with Trey Votion as Dinsmore had to work his way up from the rear. Also in the mix was 2010 LLM class champion Richard Bartosh of Pleasanton, who held off the rest of the field to finish third behind Dinsmore and Votion.

In Dinsmore's usual class, the IMCA Modifieds, he has been all but dominant, though this week he had a few people on hand to give him an argument, including 2010 I-37 Raceway Modified champ Bill Pittaway and Jamie Campbell. Ironically, Dinsmore was using a motor he borrowed from Pittaway in Abilene a couple of weeks ago when he had engine problems. He also had all the pressure from behind, as Dinsmore led from wire to wire to finish ahead of Pittaway and Campbell, with Dennis Taylor and Rick Green fourth and fifth.

The IMCA Southern Sportmods put on a heck of a show as 18 cars took the green flag, caused two early cautions (losing Barry Codling in the first one) plus a couple of mid race yellows, but ultimately seeing most of the field still in it at the finish.

There were some epic battles, among and between defending track champion Johnny Torres of Lakehills, Moe VanKirk of Kerrville, J. J. Jennings and Michael Walker, who would eventually take the checkers in the lead for his first win at I-37. Both Torres and VanKirk had to work their way up from the rear, helped only a little by caution flags, where they would finish second (Torres) and fourth (VanKirk). But they were all close, and had the race been five laps longer, it might have had a different outcome.

Track Director Jim Knudtson was laughing after the race, noting that two drivers in the Sportmod race each approached him to complain about the other's rough driving. Sounds like it must have been a fair fight.

Dennis Hilla didn't get his ex-Chico Cox Monte Carlo on the track until late last season but promptly took his place among the three or four drivers battling at the front of the Street Stock field. The front pack usually included Wade Jones, A. J. Wernette, Mike Lyon and Hilla, and they were the ones fighting for it Saturday, with Tommy Casey of San Antonio joining the battle until he spun about halfway through the race. That left Jones to take another win with Hilla second and Wernette holding off another A. J., A. J. Dancer, for third place. With at least six cars capable of contending in Street Stock, it looks like a fun race for the title in that class.

With defending Pure Stock champion Marc Roy out of the picture for the moment (he's mulling over running a Sports Mod), the Pure Stocks are about the same as last year, with 17 cars (out of 19 on hand) taking the green flag. Due to the draw, Janel Hilla started her now pink and white car on the pole and held it for the first half of the race. With Brandy Ramzinski also running up front, the girls looked good for another one-two girl finish, but Ramzinski spun and Hilla was eventually caught by Frank Okruhlik, last year's Rookie of the Year.

This battle will likely go down to the wire for the championship, as it has for the past few years (Hilla has been second three times in a row and has one title, in 2007). But Cody Leonard, among others, also ran well, well enough to split Hilla and Ramzinski (fourth) to take third with Devin Adler fifth.

Nick Hencey is the defending champion in Front Runners, but when the dust cleared Saturday night Jesse Sandoval and Roy Easler, Jr. were first and second with Hencey in third. Easler always seems to end up back in the pack at the beginning but runs to the front by the end of the race. Saturday night he was well behind Sandoval, but his screaming Geo Metro was taking chunks of space out of Sandoval's lead all the way to the end. As in the Sports Mod race, another five laps would have been very interesting.

Among the changes I-37 Raceway has made this season are an earlier start time (7:00 pm) and the use of radios (one way radios) to help line up the cars after caution flags, both meant to get both drivers and fans home earlier. The combination meant the races were over at 11:15 pm, and that should improve with time. The track opens the season with a three-week run, racing again the next two Saturday nights, March 19 and 26. Remember, the action starts at 7:00 pm. The spectator gates open at 5:00 pm.


T. Q. Jones, Media Director, P. O. Box 341706, Austin, TX 78734

PH: (512) 261-5236 Email: tqjones13@earthlink. net

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