EASTER BUNNY 150 PASS SOUTH LEFTOVERS By Mike Twist and Amy Hayes
Historic Hickory Race Leaves Behind a Lot of Tales
HOGAN AND MULKERN TANGLE, BUT WORK IT OUT
Earlier this season, at Nashville’s All-American 150, Jason Hogan and Scott Mulkern struck up a friendship. The Georgia youngster and the Maine veteran took a liking to each other instantly and that continued when Mulkern hosted a cookout for the entire pit area using Hogan’s grill on Friday night at Hickory.
That friendship was tested midway through the Easter Bunny when the two drivers were racing for the lead on the frontstretch. Hogan’s #92 might have blocked Mulkern and Mulkern’s #84 might have bumped Hogan. Either way, the result was Hogan’s car going hard into the wall and dropping out of the event. Mulkern continued on to finish fourth.
“I guess that I just wasn’t given enough room on the front straightaway,” said Hogan. “I got tagged from behind and hit the wall pretty hard over there.
“It was a little too early in the race to be racing that hard on the outside. You’ve got to give a little bit once in awhile. I’m not saying that I’m upset or that I give
Jason Hogan looks over his wrecked #92 ride. (51 Photo)
everything to everybody, because I’ve been in that situation before…but you try not to right-rear somebody because that has the potential to really hurt them.”
“I don’t know what happened,” said Mulkern. “I just feel horrible for Jason. I’ve got a lot of respect for him and I hate to be the one involved in a wreck with him. I met him in Nashville and he’s one hell of a nice guy. I know his reputation and he’s a clean racer. I was just rolling on the high side, gaining inch by inch and I rolled up on his corner. I thought that his spotter would tell him that I was there. He didn’t know I was there and he came over. I just couldn’t slow up enough. I had my right front into the wall. He came over and that turned him into the wall.”
The two drivers discussed the incident with each other after the race and eventually shook hands and called it one of those racing deals.
“That’s just part of racing,” said Hogan. “I hate it for the guys that we wrecked it, but we’ll get it fixed and come back. We’ve got another one at the shop if this is hurt too bad and we’ll be back to try and win one of these pretty soon.”
A LOT OF GOOD DRIVERS, A LOT OF RESPECT
The entry list for the Easter Bunny 150 was packed with good drivers from all parts of the country. All of the 33 drivers who signed into the pits were racers and competing against such a strong group was something that they all enjoyed.
Mike Rowe and Travis Kittleson set the stage when they raced wheel-to-wheel and banged fenders in the dash race that decided the first eight starting positions.
“Mike Rowe is a tough racer,” said Kittleson, who finished second in the dash race after making contact with Rowe. “I really look forward to racing with him
Freddie Query will look to continue his Southern Super Late Model dominance with the PASS Series.
again. He didn’t do anything that I wouldn’t have done. The thing that I like about him is that after that happened and after watching him, I know that I can race hard with him. I could do the same thing to him and he wouldn’t be pissed and overreact. As long as you don’t wreck anyone, it’s game on. He moved me and didn’t wreck me. That’s just hard racing.”
“To beat Jason Hogan, Travis Kittleson…I know that he had some bad luck, but he was fast...Freddie Query and guys like them. To be in the class of guys like that is awesome,” said dash and feature race winner Mike Rowe.
The respect and admiration continued for the heat race.
“It’s pretty cool to race against a bunch of guys who I’ve hardly raced against,” said Kittleson. “I think that I’ve
Chuck Barnes (#55), Scott Mulkern (#84), Mike Rowe (#24) and Clay Rogers (#2) race in a pack. (Norm Marx Photo)
only raced with JR [Norris] once or twice before. Chuck Barnes was really stout. That was a lot of fun.”
“There are so many quality racers here and I can’t say enough about them,” said Scott Mulkern. “JR Norris raced me super, the kid in the #31 [Ryan Lawler] was great. It was his first race in a Super Late Model and he ran the cleanest race out there. If you look at his car, there’s not a mark on it. I appreciate them giving me room. I love racing like that. If somebody comes up behind me and they are faster, I let them go. That’s the way that everyone I raced with tonight raced like, so I’m looking forward to coming back.”
GRADING A NEW TOUR
For the most part, the post race comments by the drivers about the first ever PASS South race were very good. Almost everyone praised the officials as fair and the rules as good. There were a few constructive criticisms here and there, but no major controversies.
“It’s awesome coming down here,” said Maine’s Travis Benjamin. “I really have to thank [co-promoters] Bob [Dillner] and Tom [Mayberry] for doing this deal. We hope to run some more of these if we can.”
“We had a good crowd and a good race there,” said Rowe, the race winner. “We had a couple of little fender benders, but nothing too serious. I thought it was a good race all around.”
“I am really impressed with PASS,” said Chuck Barnes. “The restarts are definitely a handful because you have to race the lap down cars, but the tech is fair and all the
people are really nice, instead of yelling at you to do something, they will say “Will you please do this?” and I like that, and I think that will go real far for them.”
“I like The PASS Series,” said Tab Boyd. “The guys that run it all the time are great, the officials are fair, if something needs to be done they do it and everyone has been very nice and hospitable, I will run everyone of them I can.”
Not everything was perfect though.
“I think it was a good race, we had a lot of good competition,” said Clay Rogers. “There were a lot of interesting things that happened. I am not a fan of the double file restart. I don’t like it and I am not a fan of inverting people after qualifying, but everything else was just fine with me.
CASSIUS KNOCKED OUT EARLY WHILE LEADING
Cassius Clark set fast time for the Eater Bunny 150 and started fourth after the Dash race. That didn’t matter though when he rocketed to the lead early on. Just about as quick though was his exit due to mechanical problems.
“The car was flying. It was hooked up,” said Clark. “We got the lead there early and were just cruising around really. I don’t know. On the second or third restart, I started to feel a vibration. We didn’t know what it was. On the next restart, the left rear axle came apart and that killed our night.
“It pays to finish, not to run well. So I was hoping to finish better, but at least we were leading.”
Now Clark is looking forward to the PASS North opener at Oxford Plains Speedway (ME) on April 29th. He won a race at that track last season and is hoping for a repeat performance with his #8 ride.
“Oxford’s coming up in a couple of weeks there, so we’ll see how we size up,” said Clark. “We should have a pretty good car.”
NORRIS NOT HAPPY WITH LOSING A LAP
PASS races only count green flag laps towards the advertised distance. However, it is possible to lose laps during yellow laps if you sit on pit road or are stranded on the track. That is something that J.R. Norris missed in the driver’s meeting, but found out during the race. The Alabama driver was not very happy about it either.
“They say that I went a lap down,” said Norris, who finished 15th. “I lost it in the pits. I’ve never seen a race that was 150 green flag laps where caution laps didn’t count, but where you could lose a lap under caution. I’ve never seen that in my life. Maybe I misheard them in the driver’s meeting, but it’s the dumbest rule that I’ve ever heard of.
“It’s not that way any place else where you go. I can’t believe that rule, it’s the craziest rule that I’ve ever heard of. That’s all right, I won’t run anymore of these races.”
Had it not been for losing that lap, Norris thinks that a solid finish was in the cards for his Richie Wauters’ #5 team.
“These guys worked real hard and got it dialed in good,” said Norris. “I don’t think that we could have won the race, but we would have been pretty good.”
DRIVER OF THE YEAR GETS ‘EM AT HICKORY
For the 2005 season, the visitors of Speed51.com voted on who they thought the best short track driver of the year was. It was a close race, but in the end Rowe was the winner.
The fact that he beat the some of the best drivers in the country at Hickory shows one thing.
“I think that they made a good choice,” said Rowe.
SOUTHERNERS ADJUST TO NEW TIRES
The American Racer tires that are used by the PASS
series are an entirely new creature to the teams of the
South. That drew some mixed reviews after the race.
“These American Racers had so much more grip then I had really anticipated,” said Travis Kittleson. “It made this place feel a hell of a lot better than it has in the past. I came here and tested a Super Late Model here two years ago and it was hardly any fun. The car was totally out of control. I was pretty happy here though.”
“I think we need to do a better job with the tires, because our stagger just kept going insane,” said Clay Rogers. “These guys from up north run on these tires all of the time and they know what to do to them. We run a ratchet rear end down here and pretty much everywhere we go, and that limits us to a certain amount of stagger.“
ANOTHER NEW SERIES FOR MIDDLETON
Jay Middleton likes new things. Whether it is playing his new Microsoft X-box or competing in a brand new racing series. He’s done the latter twice already this year. In fact, he claimed his first win of the season in the inaugural ASA Late Model South race at Bronson just a month ago. So heading into Saturday’s first PASS South race, the Easter Bunny 150, he was pretty optimistic.
It was a weekend of firsts for Middleton. Friday’s practice was the first time he had seen Hickory Motor Speedway. Secondly, it was his first time he raced against many of the guys who traveled from as far away as Maine to compete at the historic Hickory Motor Speedway in North Carolina.
“It was a good race and we had a good car,” said Middleton. “We were just steadily moving up; it was probably lap 57 and we got to seventh. On a restart I went down into the first corner and figured out that I had a right-front flat. It was my experience every time you changed one of the front tires you were loose and if you changed the rear, you were tight. So after the flat, the car was really loose.
“We worked our way back up; I was just trying to hang on there and I was in 10th. Earlier in the race, I had gotten together with another driver. I turned him and later in the race, with about 40 laps to go, I guess he wanted to get me back. Honestly, I didn’t do it on purpose the first time; it was just a racing deal. The second time he just ran in too deep and over his head and turned me. It was probably one of the hardest hits I have had in a long time. I’m okay, but the car is hurt pretty badly; hopefully it will be okay.”
After the on-track incident, the car had too much damage to continue and Middleton was credited with an 18th-place finish.
“If it weren’t for that right-front flat tire, I thought we had a pretty good chance of winning the race,” added Middleton. “We moved up really fast and it was looking good up ‘til then. It was just a rough night for us. It was a good night for a lot of people and as a racer you have to
realize that there are a lot of ups and downs. You get bad
ones (races) and you get good ones; hopefully next time we will get a good one.”
DRIVER X REUNION
Three racers who were a part of last year’s “Driver X” program to find an up and coming driver for Roush Racing were at Hickory. Travis Kittleson, Chuck Barnes and Jason Hogan weren’t picked to driver a Truck Series entry for Roush, but were happy to see each other again.
“We’ve sat down and talked a little bit about the show, shared what we are doing this year and basically just hung out,” said Kittleson. “It’s pretty cool to race against those guys.”
“I got to hang out with Travis a lot at the Gong Show,” said Barnes. “He’s got a positive attitude and he’s always cracking jokes, so he’s fun to be around.”
“It’s always cool to see those guys, we had a lot of fun,” said Hogan. “Both those guys are a lot of fun and great racecar drivers, so it’s fun to race against them.”
“We’ve talked about it, made fun of it and made fun of each other,” said Barnes. “Since none of us won, we’ll make light of it. There’s a certain bond there. It was a tough deal to go through and we almost had a shot of a lifetime, so we all know what it was like.”
Interestingly, the three drivers hadn’t competed on the same track with each other very often in the past.
“I’ve only raced with Kittleson once and Chuck, maybe three or four times,” said Hogan. “Luckily, we haven’t had any run-ins yet. Those guys are awesome racers and top notch racers. To be selected by Roush is a big deal and to have three drivers selected by Roush right here, shows you how good of a field that this is.”
WINNING ISN’T EASY, BUT IT IS SURE WORTH IT
Getting a winning car under Mike Rowe didn’t come without any work for the SP2 Motorsports team. Throughout the two days of practice leading up to the Easter Bunny 150, they tried many different things being making the #24 car a rocketship.
“Everyone had to work on their set-ups,” said Rowe. “We went through about 20 springs and shocks on the car and finally got it good.”
MUSGRAVES WORK HARD FOR TOP 10 FINISH
You might think that the son of a NASCAR champion would have it easy when he shows up at a short track. Free parts, an endless budget and the biggest hauler in the pit area maybe?
Ted Musgrave, Jr. works hard on his own equipment and pays to race out of his own pocket. During Friday’s practice session, he only had one other crew member with him at the track.
Fortunately, that other crew member was his father, defending NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion Ted Musgrave.
“My dad does a great job,” said Musgrave, Jr. “It was just us two up here yesterday, we just practiced and tried some stuff. I don’t understand what went wrong, the more I practice the worse I seem to get. I went to Birmingham ran five laps of practice and finished second, We almost lapped the field there. Here I practiced my butt off and had to hustle my car around here.”
Musgrave eventually finished sixth, but had to work hard to get there.
“To be honest, it kicked my butt tonight,” said Musgrave. “It was hot, I didn’t have a blower or water bottle or anything in the car and I had to do it the hard ass way, and I guess I have to quit doing that because it about kicked my butt tonight. But sixth place is good for what we had.”
INTRODUCING RYAN LAWLER
Before the Easter Bunny 150, not many people in the
Super Late Model community knew about Ryan Lawler. The former Bandolero and Legends Car driver turned 19 less than a week before the race and was making his debut in a Super Late Model at Hickory.
After the race, it was obvious that there is a star in the making. Lawler stayed out of trouble all race long and brought the #31 car home in fifth place.
“This is my first ever race in a Super Late Model,” said Lawler. “We were just trying to finish and it worked out a little better than we planned. We just took our time and missed all the wrecks. We were there at the end. I’m pumped. That was awesome.”
The race wasn’t without incident though for the Texas driver.
“We smacked the wall twice on the backstretch. The right side of the car is caved in.”
This might have been Lawler’s first PASS South race, but it won’t be his last one.
“I’m going to run the whole PASS Series, maybe some ASA Late Model stuff and some GAS races. We’ll be running a whole bunch of races this year.”
KITTLESON FAST EARLY, BUT DROPS OUT
Travis Kittleson put a lot of preparation into the race at Hickory. He tested, practiced and then practiced some more leading up to the feature event and it paid off with a fast racecar.
“We had a good car,” said Kittleson. “We tested here a while
ago and it was good then. We went out and made a lot of runs today. We made a few changes and I really thought that we had the car to beat on long runs. There were some cars that could lay down some numbers one lap at a time, but they would fall off. I think that we had a podium finishing car.”
Unfortunately, Kittleson would never know for sure. He pulled his #88 into the pits while leading with no oil pressure and finished 25th.
“it’s really disappointing especially because we were leading,” said Kittleson. “The first couple of laps, the car was stout. After that, it was just mediocre, but I think that it would have gotten better and better with everyone else’s tires wearing.”
Kittleson isn’t sure what might come next for his limited-budget race team.
“We’ve got another motor, the one that grenaded at Speedweeks, and that’s going to done in a week or so,” said Kittleson. “I think that this one might be sitting on the floor for awhile. We definitely can’t afford to rebuild another motor. We’ll just keep scraping by and getting out there as much as we can.”
BOYD ENJOYS AN OFF WEEKEND FOR CUP
Tab Boyd is at the racetrack a lot, even though he isn’t always the one in the driver’s seat. Boyd is the spotter for Casey Mears’ #42 NASCAR Nextel Cup team and when he gets a chance, he wheels his own Super Late Model. He pulled it out at Hickory and finished 16th in the Easter Bunny 150.
“The race was very fun, I just don’t get to do this enough to be good at it,” said Boyd. “I come out and do it for fun, I learned a lot.”
Boyd got lapped early in the race and was a little uncomfortable being smack in the middle of the lead lap cars on the restarts.
“In my situation I was a lap down and I know I was in some of the guys’ way, if they could figure out a way to do it without the lapped down cars, if you are on the lead lap racing that is cool, but I was kind of in the way of the lead cars. I tried to get out of the way and be courteous but there are it’s pros and cons, it bunches up the field better and all in all it’s pretty good.”
JASON HOGAN LOOKS AT WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN
As we mentioned earlier, Jason Hogan had a fast racecar before getting caught up with Scott Mulkern and wrecking. Hogan had been leading at the time.
“I had an awesome racecar tonight,” said Hogan. “We definitely had a car that could have won the race. We went from 10th to third in 40 laps. We had the car to beat here tonight. We were good when we unloaded for practice. As the day got hotter and the track got slicker in practice, it was never as good as I thought it would be. So we went back to the hotel and thought it over and we left it like it was when we started. That worked. We had a good racecar. I was riding and trying not to burn the tires up. You have to go 160 laps on the tires with the heat races.”
BENJAMIN MAKES IT TO TOP FIVE, BUT BREAKS
Travis Benjamin had no idea what was in store for him and his #17 team when they loaded up and went to Hickory. The Downeast Maine driver works on a tight budget, has a small, but extremely dedicated crew and wondered where he would stack up against some of the best teams in country.
Benjamin never really did get to find out where he could finish against those teams, but he stacked up very well against them for most of the weekend. He was quick in practice, overcome trouble in qualifying and made it into the top five late in the race before dropping out with a chassis problem.
“We didn’t know what to expect coming down here to run with these guys,” said Benjamin. “They are the best in the country and yesterday in practice, we were second. Today, we were tied for third. We’re a small
team from Maine. 90% of my guys are about 18 years old and want to get experience and come down here and work for these Cup teams. Anything that I ask them, they will do. They’re awesome.”
They might be awesome, but they are also luckless.
“We just can’t seem to catch a break,” said Benjamin. “In time trials, we were faster on our first lap than Cassius and on the second lap, our ignition box went. It was brand new. We just put it in this week. In the race, we were riding and biding our time. We knew that people would wreck and some of the good cars would get taken out. That would put us right where we wanted to be. But our sway bar broke. The right side mount broke. I’ve seen that happen to other people, but it’s never happened to me. We lost that and it was basically because of a ten cent piece.”
PROBST WRECKS HARD, WALKS AWAY
The hardest hit of the weekend came in the last chance race when Danny Probst got sent into the turn one wall with his #00 ride. Probst walked away, but his #00 needed a tow. It was also a few feet shorter after the incident.
“We’re all right, it just tore the car up pretty good,” said Probst. “It’s just one of those deals. We needed to have the clip updated anyhow. It’s a new car, but they came out with an updated clip. That’s a heck of a way to get it, but I guess now’s the right time.”
MULKERN BAGS A TOP FIVE FINISH
Scott Mulkern finished fourth with his #84 car. Getting there was a long road.
“I buzzed the tires on one of the restarts where I was second and racing with Chuck. Once the tires get warm, you need to back off and let the tires cool down,” said Mulkern. “After that happened, I told my guys that I was loose. I knew better, but in the heat of the moment, we came in and took a spring rubber out. That tightened me up and I think that I could have possibly gotten to third if we left it alone. But I was happy finishing fourth.”
ROLLIE MacDONALD DROPS BY
Canadian Racing legend Rollie MacDonald, who set the incredible mark of completing all of his 1,650 racing laps last season without a single DNF or lap lost, was on hand at Hickory. He wasn’t racing though, just watching.
“It’s about 24 hours from home to here,” said MacDonald. “We came down to pick up a trailer and made a weekend out of it. We plan to do some racing here this year, so we’re checking out the competition. I’m looking at that November race [the PASS South season finale at South Boston]. That looks good if we have a good season back home.”
MacDonald actually has plans to race in a few American events this season.
“I’m going back to that race in Maine [September’s 300-lap event at Beech Ridge],” said MacDonald. “We’re
going to Oxford in a few weeks [for the PASS opener on
April 29th]. I haven’t had a whole lot of luck at Oxford before, so we’ll see how it goes there.”
The teams for Travis Kittleson and Mike Rowe talk before the race. There was a lot of respect between North and South. (51 Photo)
Travis Benjamin (Norm Marx Photo)
Cassius Clark (#8) and Travis Kittleson (#88) lead the field. Neither would finish. (Norm Marx Photo)
JR Norris' #5 ride. (51 Photo)
Travis Kittleson. (Norm Marx Photo)
51's Bob Dillner (L) talks with Jay Middleton (R) during practice. (51 Photo)
Middleton's #74 ends up against the wall as Dennis Schoenfeld trucks on by. (Norm Marx Photo)