Unpredictability is Certain in This Weekend's Pella Corp Classic

Friday, August 1, 2003
One thing is certain about the 1200 pound nationals, turned 1200 pound Pella Corporation Nationals, to this year’s Pella Corporation Classic.  It’s going to be thrilling and unpredictable.  The event is only in its third year, but surprises, controversy and just plain good racing have been the norm in this event.  Because of the number of entries jammed into the two-day event, time trials are scrapped and you start in your heat where you draw.  This makes for some stacked heat races and charges reminiscent of the event in the middle of August.  Passing points are at a premium for those in the back. 

The inaugural event in 2001, brought the organizations (Knoxville, All Stars, IRA and NCRA) who had adopted the 1200 pound (without driver) weight rule together for their own event.  Don Droud Jr. and Kasey Kahne took the preliminary night’s events in entertaining fashion.  Saturday is when the fireworks occurred.  The feature event that year was an energy-filled, emotional, controversial, and entertaining mess that some officials and drivers would like to bury about 100 feet deep in the nearest cornfield.  The first lap saw flips by Droud, Terry McCarl and Manny Rockhold.  All had time to make repairs and restart by the time the track was deemed safe to continue (a few from out of town thought they were given too much time).  Once the race got started, an usual number of cautions followed.  To make a very long story short, all the leaders of the race but Ed Lynch Jr. had run out of fuel at some point.  Kenny Jacobs took the lead from Lynch on lap two and was passed by Kerry Madsen on lap 12 before the latter was sputtering by the 25th circuit.  Jacobs assumed the lead, but was passed a lap later by Dennis Moore Jr. who also emptied the tank on lap 28 of 30.  After Jacobs crossed in first place he sputtered on the backstretch.  Once pushed around and interviewed, he came across the scales too light.  The victory was claimed by Droud who had come from the tail.  Danny Smith crossed second, while McCarl also made the podium after recovering from both his first lap flip and a lap 13 stoppage, which sent him to the tail again.  Others who ran out of fuel included Kahne, Calvin Landis, and Brian Ellenberger.  Scotty Neitzel and Skip Jackson surrendered spots in the top five when they hit empty.  Officials insisted they were well within the fuel window for the race, while drivers insisted they topped off.  At any rate, it was unusual.
Last year’s event was less heated with locals Landis and Jeff Mitrisin claiming the preliminary events.  Jeff Shepard led all thirty laps in the Ashworth 92, to win over fellow All Star Dean Jacobs and Madsen.  A healthy invert did not help the high point getters on Saturday as the track saw minimal passing opportunities. 

Again the All Stars, IRA and NCRA will join the Knoxville regulars to do battle.  This year, the South Dakota based NMRA sanction is coming on board as well as the California based Golden State Challenge (GSC) series.  We will have to see how many cars either of these series brings with them, but we know Dennis Moore Jr. from Grinnell will be in attendance.  “The Beaver” finished second in this year’s GSC season race and will be stoked to be back at Knoxville where he claimed June’s 360 Nationals. 
Almost as much of a mystery as what will happen in the race, is who will show up this weekend.  Some name pre-entries (only 66 were pre-entered at press time) are in outside of the expected sanctioned organizations, such as Randy Hannagan, Ed Lynch Jr.,  and Shane Stewart.  But many more are expected to tow in to the hallowed grounds as World of Outlaws competitors are not scheduled to race this weekend and are outside of their “penalty window” for racing.  This means they are free to compete at Knoxville without losing WoO points (if they care).  Some who are rumored but not on the pre-entry list include Danny Lasoski, Tim Shaffer and Jason Meyers.  Johnny Herrera has confirmed that he will be running Guy Forbrook’s sprinter as well.  I expect several more top name drivers in as well, giving us a big fat preview of the upcoming Nationals and giving us a record number of entries for this event. 

Leading the IRA contingent is current points leader Kim Mock who will bring teammate and National 410 rookie of the year candidate Mike Kertscher with him.  Joining Mock and Kertscher will be the rest of the top ten in IRA standings including Joe Roe, Neitzel, John Haeni, Todd Hepfner, Bill Warren, Travis Whitney, Brian Kristan and Kurt Davis.  The IRA already has 23 cars pre-entered and we can expect a couple more. 
The All Stars are led by 2002 champ and current points leader, Chad Kemenah.  Joining Kemenah will be “The Racin’ Cajun” Jason Johnson (not to be confused with fellow entry Jason Johnson of Wisconsin), Dean Jacobs, Greg Wilson, Ryan Coniam, Bill Rose, Shepard, Kelly Kinser and Kenny Jacobs who will be entered in Pete Grove’s 70 car.  Brooke Tatnell leads Dean Jacobs in NCRA points and was the 2002 champ in that series.  Others flying in under the NCRA banner include Daron Clayton and Jan Howard. 
History shows us that our regulars are hard to beat at home in this event, with Kahne and Shepard the only ones to dethrone the locals in six A main events.  Look for McCarl, Madsen, Ricky Logan, Jackson, Wayne Johnson, Droud and red hot Travis Cram to be towards the front.  It should be interesting to see who will show and how they will adapt to the format of the event.  One thing is for sure, we’re all in for a treat!