As I walked across the pit area of the Volunteer Speedway on Friday afternoon toward the hauler carrying Jimmy Owens’ race car, crew chief Chris Fox declared, “We’re ready to unleash this new beast.”
Indeed, that is exactly what happened as Owens scored a win in his first outing in one of his own Club 29 Race Cars on the opening night of the 2014 Spring Nationals at the Volunteer Speedway in Bulls Gap, Tenn. The Mike Reece-owned team had recently acquired one of the new Darrell Lanigan and Ronnie Stuckey designed and built dirt late models and decided to put it to the test this weekend.
Owens had driven one of Lanigan’s personal Club 29 cars during the recent Georgia/Florida SpeedWeeks, but this was his first effort in one the cars that had been prepared out of his Newport, Tenn. shop.
In all, 34 Super Late Models signed in for competition in the Ray Cook promoted Spring Nationals race on the high-banked clay oval. In qualifying, it was the red hot Chris Madden who laid down the fastest lap when he toured the third-mile facility in a time of 13.290 seconds. The top-8 qualifiers were locked into the feature so joining Madden with a guaranteed place in the main event were Owens, Eric Wells, Scott Bloomquist, Mike Marlar, Chad Ogle, Casey Roberts and Michael Chilton.
David Payne, Billy Ogle, Jr. and Vic Hill each won their respective heat races to fill out the starting lineup for the 40-lap feature.
At the start of the event, Madden and Owens raced side-by-side through turns 1&2 of the speedway with Owens squeezing just between Madden and the outside wall to take the early lead. Bloomquist bolted into the 3rd spot and immediately began to pressure Madden for the runner-up position.
During the early laps of the race Owens pulled away from his nearest competitors. However, slower traffic became an issue as the lead machine tracked down the tail of the field. It was at that point in which it became obvious that Owens was comfortable with his new ride. The #20 car knifed its way through the lapped cars, sometimes going three wide between two other racers.
A lap 16 caution for troubles with defending Spring Nationals champion Steve Casebolt’s car bunched the field once again and gave the leaders a brief reprieve from slower traffic. Again, Owens darted away after the green flag waved, leaving Madden and Bloomquist to resume their battle for 2nd.
At the same time, Marlar made a move to get around Wells for 4th and set off after the duo in front of him.
Owens again began to carve through traffic while maintaining a relatively comfortable advantage over his pursuers until the race’s second and final caution would wave with just three laps remaining. The final sprint to the finish saw the leaders hold station as they raced toward the checkered flag.
Jimmy Owens was the winner and collected $4,000 for his efforts ahead of Chris Madden, Scott Bloomquist, Mike Marlar, Eric Wells, Chad Ogle, Casey Roberts, Vic Hill and Michael Chilton.
“The car was pretty good,” Owens said after the race. “We had some issues when we hot lapped and qualified but we got it all together. I think I could have made it turn a little better in qualifying but I just wasn’t comfortable yet. We had changed the power steering pump on the car and we had some power steering issues so I didn’t really get a good feel in hot laps.
“The car was really, really responsive,” Owens added of his moves in traffic. “When you’ve got a good car you can do stuff like that, I guess,”
Owens said that he wasn’t concerned about squeezing himself between Madden and the wall on the first lap. “Madden and I have raced together for a lot of years. It’s just trusting a guy you’ve raced with and knowing that he’s not going to cause anything. We race each other with a lot of respect. We’ve had issues, but if you race hard with each other you’re normally going to. But it’s a good deal. It’s fun racing with Chris and it just makes for a fun race.”