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Wednesday, June 25, 2003
It’s hard to believe the Mid-Season Championship is upon us already.  Looking back on the first half of the season, it’s been a year of surprises and great racing.  The drivers will tell you they don’t look at points until the season’s end, but you know they’re paying attention at the halfway mark.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Terry McCarl, who has taken home the 410 title the last four years, is leading again this year.  Despite a DNS a couple of weeks ago, he still leads Kerry Madsen by 125 points heading into this weekend.  Consistency is the key, as uncharacteristically, T-Mac has not visited victory lane at Knoxville as of yet, but steady qualifications, heat finishes and top five feature slots have garnered enough points to hold off the wolves.  In addition, he has dominated at Huset’s Speedway in South Dakota on Sundays, winning four out of five times there.  Look for him to jump in a 360 and compete for the Sprint Invaders group in the Tournament of Champions on August 10th.
Travis Cram is hot!  Two weeks in a row, he has battled Wayne Johnson to grab the trophy and the loot.  Last week, he was unaffected by a crumpled front wing in his winning run.  He started the year with a sixth place run against the World of Outlaws, but inconsistency has plagued him.  He didn’t even take to the track in the C main at the IRA show May 17, setting him back in the points race.  Lately, he has been surging, and is currently sitting third.
Oklahoma City’s Johnson also had a slow start, but has come on lately in Bob Vielhauer’s 12x.  The last two shows have included a second and a third place finish.  In addition, three weeks ago, he picked up the Bud Shootout victory at US36 in Osborn, using a six year old engine.  The 2000 360 Nationals winner is a 410 weekly rookie to Knoxville, but he certainly doesn’t drive like one.  The 2002 Gumout series regular is adapting quickly to the fast half-mile and has put himself into the top five in the season standings.
Madsen has exhibited his usual “Mad Man” behavior, much to the delight of the fans.  Madsen has been strong, and started the year with an eighth place run against the World of Outlaws on opening night.  The popular Aussie has yet to take a feature, but is always a threat and sits within striking distance of McCarl.
Last year’s runner-up Skip Jackson has struggled qualifying as of late.  He is running fourth in points on the strength of a May 3 duel he won over Blake Feese.  Several hard charges using the low side of the track have been entertaining to watch.  Jeff Mitrisin dominated the IRA event on May 17th.  Entering the season, he did not know if he would run for points, but he sits poised in sixth at the halfway point.
Calvin Landis has suffered from some bad luck as of late.  The Phoenix, AZ native was a DNF last week, dropping him from sixth to ninth in the points.  He started the year off strong, taking $3000 in a NMRA race at Oskaloosa.  Look for him to make a few more starts at Huset’s the rest of the year in addition to Knoxville. 
Brian Brown’s rookie 410 season is going strong.  The 2002 Knoxville 360 champ has already claimed his first 410 win (May 24) and is sitting seventh, 90 points behind fellow Knoxville rookie Wayne Johnson.  Brown has competed in several events, as the Lonnie Parsons owned Casey’s team hits the World of Outlaws schedule throughout the Midwest.
Justin Henderson sits in the same spot he did at the end of 2002, eighth.  He continues to impress with steady performances in the R19.  Don Droud Jr. has turned some early season bad luck upside down of late, and is back in the top ten.
One thing about Knoxville is you never know who will tow in on a Saturday night.  Pennsylvania’s Lance Dewease swooped in and snatched a win on May 31 in honor of his car owner’s induction into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame.  Brooke Tatnell, Shane Stewart and Feese have made more than one visit and are always factors.
Jesse Giannetto has tasted victory once (May 3), and has been a steady performer, leading the points in our 360 class.  Jesse has been spending a lot of Friday nights at US36 Speedway in Osborn, MO and has taken home the trophy a few times and was leading the 410 points there before taking time off for the 360 Nationals.  In the 360 Nationals, he had to run the B main.  He won that and went on a charge from 21st to 9th against the best 360 competitors in the country.  He’s going to be tough to knock off the top as he leads Joe Beaver by a strong 100 points.
David Hesmer took the 360 opener.  Since then, the all-time 360 feature winner has run steadily and sits third.  Young Billy Alley proved last week, that once out front he’s going to be hard to defeat.  The 2002 National 360 Rookie of the Year is calling Knoxville home on Saturday nights.  He blistered the field last week, and surged from seventh to fourth in the points standings.  Once he gets this place figured out, look out!
Mike Houseman was running second to Giannetto in the season standings until he suffered a disappointing night last Saturday as he dropped from second to sixth in the campaign.  Help from Brian Ridge has allowed Houseman to get back in the top six, after a seventh place finish a season ago.  In 2001, he ran a strong second to Randy Martin.  Look for him to bounce back, starting this week.
Joe Beaver picked up a win on May 17, and is running strong in second place.  Josh Higday out dueled Houseman for a win on May 24 and then took a preliminary race on June 13 of the 360 Nationals.  The defending Tournament of Champions winner has looked strong all year long.  A DNF last week dropped him from fourth to seventh in the standings, but he will be a factor before the year is over. 
Ed Ergenbright followed up a strong performance in the 360 Nationals, and came home sixth in last week’s feature, putting him fifth in the chase.  Stacey Alexander, Curtis Thorson and Matt Moro are also running strong in the top ten.  Moro is coming off a second place finish to Alley last week, and is looking for his first win of the year.  Doug Wilson who finished a strong fifth in last season’s race, has had nothing but tough luck this year.  He’s suffered from a broken driveline, spark plug problems, brake woes, power steering, a muffler falling off and nowhere to go on opening night with a new chassis.  He can’t go anywhere but up at this point.
Others to keep an eye on are Larry Ball Jr. who will be driving his 5J in the 360 class for the foreseeable future.  His weekly debut resulted in a strong third place charge a week ago.  John VanDenBerg parlayed a strong 360 Nationals run into a top ten last week as well.  As the season unwinds, plenty of surprises await in weekly action.  With twin features night and Sammy’s return on July 12, the Pella Nationals, the Tournament of Champions and the Knoxville Nationals coming up, it’s anyone’s guess as to what lies ahead.