Lonnie Wheatley, WHEATLAND, Mo. (August 11, 2008) – Robert Ballou opened up the 2008 edition of the O'Reilly Sprint Bandits Tour 'N Topless Midwest Swing in the same way that he finished out the 2007 version; by standing in victory lane.
Ballou wrestled the lead away from Dave Darland on the 21st lap and went on to capture his fifth career TNT feature win in Monday night's 30-lap main event at Lucas Oil Speedway, cashing in on a $4,000 payday aboard Dallas Mulvaney's Don Ott-powered MPHG Promotions No 81 Maxim.
Darland chased Ballou to the stripe, with Casey Shuman, Levi Jones and Gary Taylor rounding out the top five.
"Even though we argue all the time, we've still got a great team," Ballou joked in victory lane referring to the relationship between himself and crew chief Jimmy Jones. "The car just kept getting better and better as the race went on."
It was a significant reversal of fortune at Lucas Oil Speedway for the 19-year-old Rocklin, CA, native, who endured a grinding crash during TNT action two years ago at "The Diamond of Dirt Tracks". Ballou explained that, "It destroyed everything on that car and made for a long day in the parking lot the next day. I'm liking this a lot better."
Ballou came from the fourth row outside to cool off the red-hot hand of Dave Darland, who was gunning for a fifth Sprint Car feature win over the past seven days.
And he did it without the benefit of a caution. After the initial start was waved off for a turn one scrum that ultimately sent Alex Schutte tumbling off the turn one embankment aboard one of three Cory Kruseman entries, the entire 30-lap distance ran off in non-stop fashion.
Past TNT Midwest Swing champion Jesse Hockett led the feature field to the green flag from the pole position after accumulating the most points through heat and qualifying race action, but it was front row outside starter Darland battling into the lead on the opening lap in front of Hockett and Casey Shuman, with Ballou up to fourth on the opening round.
Hockett tried to take the lead away from Darland in the early circuits, but Darland soon opened up a bit of breathing room, leaving Hockett, Shuman and Ballou to dice for position in his wake.
Ballou seemingly took command of second on the fifth round, but Shuman battled back two laps later to regain the spot. It wasn't until the race's midway point that Ballou finally recaptured second and set his sights on Darland.
With lapped traffic becoming a factor, Ballou reeled in Darland and raced by on the low side of turns one and two to take command on the 21st circuit. Darland tried to rally back to the front for several rounds before Ballou finally escaped over the final handful of laps to take the checkered flag with nearly a half straightaway advantage.
Darland settled for runner-up honors in Scott Benic's No. 2b entry, with Shuman holding on to the show position in Rex Foster's No. 32. Levi Jones climbed from ninth to finish fourth in Jack Yeley's No. 1, while Gary Taylor rebounded from an opening lap spin by charging from the tail of the field to round out the top five after originally starting the feature inside the second row.
Darren Hagen raced from 14th to sixth in one of the Trucker's entries, with Missouri teen Andrew Felker picking off a handful of positions to finish seventh in his first outing in a major non-wing 410-ci Sprint Car event.
Thomas Meseraull brought the second Trucker's car across the line in eighth, while Cody Cordell rebounded from a tumble in hot laps to finish ninth after starting 21st. Hockett slipped back to tenth in the final rundown.
Hockett, Darland and Ballou topped heat race action for the 27-car field, with Damion Gardner, Jones and Darland winning the qualifying races. Frank Brown won the 10-lap "B" Main.
Charles Davis, Jr., got upside down in turn one on the second lap of the opening heat race and then was forced to the infield on the opening lap of the "B" Main with front end woes after contact with another car.
The Fourth Annual O'Reilly Sprint Bandits Tour 'N Topless Midwest Swing moves on to Nebraska Raceway Park's I-80 Speedway on Tuesday night, with ensuing stops at Oklahoma City's State Fair Speedway (Wednesday), Creek County Speedway near Tulsa (Thursday) and then Kansas City's Lakeside Speedway (Friday and Saturday).
O’Reilly Sprint Bandits Tour ‘N Topless Lucas Oil Speedway Results:
First Heat (8 Laps): 1. 75-Jesse Hockett, 2. 5*-Gary Taylor, 3. 61a-Andrew Felker, 4. 99-Brady Bacon, 5. 14-Coleman Gulick, 6. 8-Jeff Wingate, 7. 9x-Larry Carter, 8. 76-Mike Leslie, 9. 21s-Charles Davis, Jr.
Second Heat (8 Laps): 1. 2b-Dave Darland, 2. 32-Casey Shuman, 3. 15-R.J. Johnson, 4. 71-Damion Gardner, 5. 10-Darren Hagen, 6. 97-Bret Mellenberndt, 7. 55-Tony Everhart, 8. 19s-Steven Cross. DNS: 5c-Cody Cordell.
Third Heat (8 Laps): 1. 81-Robert Ballou, 2. 10T-Thomas Meseraull, 3. 83-Tim Kaeding, 4. 21k-Cory Kruseman, 5. 1-Levi Jones, 6. 41k-Henry Clarke, 7. 5k-Alex Schutte, 8. 3-Dustin Adams, 9. 43-Frank Brown.
Qualifying Races – Top 16 in Combined Passing Points from Heats & Qualifiers to "A" Feature; Balance to "B" Main
First Qualifier (8 Laps): 1. 71-Damion Gardner, 2. 15-R.J. Johnson, 3. 75-Jesse Hockett, 4. 81-Robert Ballou, 5. 99-Brady Bacon, 6. 21s-Charles Davis, Jr., 7. 8-Jeff Wingate, 8.76-Mike Leslie, 9. 55-Tony Everhart.
Second Qualifier (8 Laps): 1. 1-Levi Jones, 2. 32-Casey Shuman, 3. 5*-Gary Taylor, 4. 61a-Andrew Felker, 5. 43-Frank Brown, 6. 97-Bret Mellenberndt, 7. 14-Coleman Gulick, 8. 19s-Steven Cross, 9. 9x-Larry Carter.
Third Qualifier (8 Laps): 1. 2b-Dave Darland, 2. 83-Tim Kaeding, 3. 21k-Cory Kruseman, 4. 10T-Thomas Meseraull, 5. 10-Darren Hagen, 6. 41k-Henry Clarke, 7. 5k-Alex Schutte, 8. 3-Dustin Adams. DNS: 5c-Cody Cordell.
"B" Main – Top 6 Advance to "A" Main
"B" Feature (10 Laps): 1. 43-Frank Brown, 2. 8-Jeff Wingate, 3. 5c-Cody Cordell, 4. 5k-Alex Schutte, 5. 41k-Henry Clarke, 6. 55-Tony Everhart, 7. 3-Dustin Adams, 8. 76-Mike Leslie, 9. 19s-Steven Cross, 10. 9x-Larry Carter, 11. 21s-Charles Davis, Jr.
O'Reilly Sprint Bandits TNT Lucas Oil Speedway "A" Main
“A” Main (30 Laps): 1. 81-Robert Ballou, 2. 2b-Dave Darland, 3. 32-Casey Shuman, 4. 1-Levi Jones, 5. 5*-Gary Taylor, 6. 10-Darren Hagen, 7. 61a-Andrew Felker, 8. 10T-Thomas Meseraull, 9. 5c-Cody Cordell, 10. 75-Jesse Hockett, 11. 14-Coleman Gulick, 12. 83-Tim Kaeding, 13. 15-R.J. Johnson, 14. 21k-Cory Kruseman, 15. 71-Damion Gardner, 16. 43-Frank Brown, 17. 41k-Henry Clarke, 18. 8-Jeff Wingate, 19. 97-Bret Mellenberndt, 20. 55-Tony Everhart, 21. 99-Brady Bacon, 22. 5k-Alex Schutte.
Lap Leaders: Dave Darland 1-20, Robert Ballou 21-30.
O'Reilly Sprint Bandits TNT Midwest Swing Points (Top 10): 1. Robert Ballou 150, 2. Dave Darland 146, 3. Casey Shuman 144, 4. Levi Jones 142, 5. Gary Taylor 140, 6. Darren Hagen 138, 7. Andrew Felker 136, 8. Thomas Meseraull 134, 9. Cody Cordell 132, 10. Jesse Hockett 130.