Smith Claims Victory in Caution-Plagued Sidewinder 125 by Steven Neely
Not A Rattler-Type Finish, But Still Drama At South Alabama Speedway
Casey Smith won his first race since early 2006 by winning Saturday night's Viper race. (51 photos)
The excitement in the Sidewinder 125 at South Alabama Speedway picked up right where March’s running of The Rattler 250 left off. In that race, there was plenty of carnage, surprising twists and turns, and one of the best finishes in recent memory when winner Augie Grill and Hunter Robbins spun across the finish line racing for the win.
Fast-forward to Saturday night’s running of the Sidewinder 125, the first of five Viper Series Super Late Model Events, which provided more of the same, with the exception the crash at the finish-line part.
This time the final showdown was between Florida veteran Wayne Anderson and Texan Casey Smith. Anderson passed Smith to move into the lead on lap 84 and looked well on his way to victory, but a mechanical failure on the night’s final restart handed the win to Smith.
“I’m glad to finally win one out-of-state,” said Smith. “Last year we were really good in-state, and alright out of state but couldn’t win a race. To be able to come here and win is awesome, and to be able to battle with Wayne Anderson means a lot. He’s a hell of a driver.”
Smith had the dominant car for most of the night, qualifying on the pole with a time of 15.543 and leading until lap 84 when Anderson made a daring pass for the lead by shooting to the outside of his protégé, Ryan Sieg, and then threading the needle by turning low under Smith. After Anderson initially pulled away, Smith refused to give up and got back to Anderson’s rear bumper before a lap 113 spin by Donald Long brought out the night’s final caution.
“He got around us because on a few of the restarts we had a bleeder hanging and the car was just extremely loose,” said Smith. “Then we started catching him and were right on him. I thought he spun his tires but my guys said he broke. I thought we were going to have one heck of a race down to the end and I still think that we could have won it.”
As the leaders got the green flag, Anderson ducked low and coasted to the pits. Although his night was over, he still finished 11th due to the high attrition in the race.
“When they gave us one to go coming to the green, when I tried to clean the rear tires off, something snapped,” said Anderson. “I don’t know if it broke the rear end or broke an axle. It felt like it was only pulling on one wheel. So I pulled down and that was all she wrote. It was going to be a good race. I was hoping that he wasn’t going to give me a bump and run when he was on my bumper, because if he did we both weren’t going to finish. I’m happy. I’m happy for the 99 (Smith), and he raced me pretty clean.”
When Anderson went out with mechanical problems, it put Sieg back up to second, where he went on to finish behind Smith.
Davidson Hangs On For Podium Despite Problems
Chris Davidson, another Texan who made the trip to South Alabama for the event, was lucky to finish on the podium. He chronicled his laundry list of problems encountered during the race.
The race was plagued by cautions, including five-in-a-row between laps 59 to 72. At least one competitor thought the leader was at least partially to blame for the cautions.
“A couple of times they took off and then stopped, and then took off again,” said Alabama veteran Johnny Brazier. “It didn’t affect the top three or four, but about sixth, seventh, and eighth got stacked up. We all piled up. That wasn’t good.”
The South Alabama Speedway track officials warned Smith, the leader at the time, to restart only in the designated restart zone.
“The 16 (David Hodges) was a lapped car, and was wanting to get on the inside every time,” said Smith. “I was trying to get a gap on him and they said that I was trying to jump the starts. I didn’t think I was. They’re the ones calling the race, so I did what they wanted me to. I just backed it down a little bit and changed where I started a little bit.”
Anderson offered up another reason for the number of cautions, saying the lapped cars in the front and a slicker than normal track was the recipe for disaster.
“They put those lapped cars to the inside, and I think someone was loosing some oil,” said Anderson. “It was just so slick out there and they were all sliding around. I don’t know what the hell they were doing.”
“The bad thing about the cautions is they weren’t counting caution laps except for the first five per caution,” said Smith. “It felt like it was taking a long time. I bet we ran
close to 200 laps out there. I was ready for it to get over because we had a really good car, and I knew there were some people back in the back that got tires and I was afraid they were going to come up there.”
Smith hung on to finish three car-lengths ahead of second-place finisher Sieg and third-place Chris Davidson. It was his first victory since a USRA win in April of 2006.
“To be able to win this early in the year, after the first two races breaking stuff and the last race being able to run good and now win, it means a lot for my season,” said Smith. “I’m just glad that we finally got this new car figured out. We learned a lot in the test here yesterday and it gives us a lot of momentum for the rest of the year.”
Sidewinder 125 Notes:
Consistent Run Nets Sieg Runner-Up Spot
While a lot of drivers had problems during the Sidewinder 125, one driver who ran up near the front and stayed out of trouble the entire race was Ryan Sieg. After starting second, he paced himself behind Casey Smith for most of the race and used the time to learn about the recently-repaved South Alabama Speedway.
“The car was good, it was real good,” said Sieg. “The track’s just a little slick. After the restarts, it’s pretty slick. Fortunately, I was up front for the cautions. There weren’t any problems there. This track’s a little different, it’s slick all during the day and then in the beginning of the race it’s got grip but the longer you run it starts getting slick and greasy again.”
Sieg also got a crash-course on restarts from his mentor and teammate, Wayne Anderson, who passed him for second-place in the latter stages of the race.
“Racing Wayne is fun,” said Sieg. “I didn’t even know he was behind me, since I keep my rear-view mirror up. I saw him come up beside me on the outside. He’s been racing for so long, hey what else can you do? I learned how to restart and just watching them lay back a little bit so I’d lay back too. I’m definitely learning.”
Smith (#99) and Wayne Anderson (#84) were the two main drivers on fighting for the win Saturday night.
“We had power steering trouble early, and I got together with Augie and went to the back,” said Davidson. “I started to come back through there again, had to dodge some wrecks. There were plenty of laps and plenty of yellows that helped so I could move up though. We also lost a cylinder at the end.”
As many problems as Davidson had, he’s still confident that he learned enough from practice and the race that he and his team can work through the problems in time for the next race at South Alabama in July.
“We were actually horrible in practice, but we found something for qualifying and went a little more for the race but it wasn’t quite enough,” said Davidson. “We’re just a little tight, and we just need some more laps here, and we’ll come back next time. I think we’ll be pretty good.”
Robbins Takes Heavily-Damaged Car to Seventh
Fans that didn’t attend the Sidewinder 125 might have looked at Hunter Robbins’ car and thought that they looked at a car that didn’t finish the race. The heavily-damaged car didn’t have any front-end bodywork at all, in fact. However, Robbins not only finished the race with the car; he finished on the lead lap in seventh place.
“We still had a fast racecar, and I was surprised with it looking the way it was,” said Robbins. “Losing the whole front-end, I guess it lost some front downforce and it just made it so tight in the center and I just couldn’t get off the corners. To still come home where we did, that’s pretty good.”
“I just wanted to thank all my crew,” said Robbins. “They did a good job to getting the car to where it was raceable with all the work they had to do in the pits. It was pretty spectacular.”
Brazier’s Endures Wild Night
Lickskillet, Alabama’s Johnny Brazier is usually a threat to win wherever he goes. After a number of problems to start out this year, he had hoped to turn his luck around at a track he’s had success on before. Unfortunately, he battled handling problems early, before being caught up in the lap 71 restart melee.
Hunter Robbins' damaged #18
The damage came from two separate incidents. The first occurred as Andy Pugh’s car spun ahead of the group Robbins was running in, while the second happened on the night’s biggest crash, a multi-car chain reaction crash on a restart on lap 71.
“We first got messed up early, when two cars ahead of us got together, and they all checked up and we just ran up in the back of (Jason) Hogan,” said Robbins. “We straightened that out a little bit and then on one of the restarts, I don’t know if it started way up front or what, but everybody stopped and everybody just started piling in. There was about 5 of us all piled into each other. We got hit in the back so hard that it broke the fuel cell pickup.”
Robbins spent a number of laps in the pits while his team scrambled to repair the car after each of the incidents, but because South Alabama rules say that drivers pitting cannot lose a lap while pitting under yellow, he was able to maintain his position on the lead lap.
“It wasn’t too good because it was pretty tight at the start of the race, just pushing and shoving the front end,” said Brazier. “We made adjustments and made the car better. It was a wild night. Everybody was a little on the hot side it looked like. I don’t know what happened on that restart. Everyone got stacked up and the car wasn’t right after that, and we lost the clutch and it was pretty rough restarting without a clutch. We just had to survive.”
As banged up as his car was, the glass-half-full Brazier was still able to truthfully maintain one statement. “There’s a lot of them in worse shape than we are.”
Brazier hung on to a sixth-place finish.
South Alabama Speedway
1. Casey Smith (by 3 car lengths)
2. Ryan Sieg
3. Chris Davidson
4. Steven Davis
5. Grant Enfinger
6. Johnny Brazier
7. Hunter Robbins
8. Heath Hindman
9. Gregory Tallent
10. Donald Long
11. Wayne Anderson
12. Augie Grill
13. Dale Little
14. DuWayne Middlebrooks
15. David Hodges
16. Donnie Wilson
17. Stanley Smith
18. Sam "Shanky" Smith
19. Jason Hogan
20. Bubba Pollard
21. Andy Pugh