For one, there was no rain for a change, two, the King of Indiana Sprint Series was kicking the year off at the Putnamville oval after Friday's Bloomington card was canceled due to Thursday's downpour. And finally, the pits were overflowing with talented drivers from across the Midwest as well as some national talent on hand to compete for the $2,500 payday for sprint action.
Forty-eight sprint cars unloaded for a shot at the KISS win and fans were treated to some big names as USAC veterans Jay Drake, Bud Kaeding, Dave Darland, Mat Neely and Levi Jones along with a wealth of dangerous challengers.
The evening got started with five sprint heats and Kokomo's Shane Cottle served notice he was going to be a contender by taking the top spot in the opening heat, besting a tough crowd containing Jon Siscoe, Kent Christian. Milan's Bryan Clauson fell just short of the automatic transfer spot with his fourth place finish. It would unfortunately be a recurring theme for Clauson on Saturday night.
Robinson, IL driver Mat Neely cruised to the second heat win with A.J. Anderson and Jared Fox transferring along with Jones, Kaeding and Kyle Wissmiller in heat three. Bart Grider, Matt Westfall and Mitch Willsmiller moved out of heat four and in heat five, Darland dominated the field with Marc Arnold and John Wolfe moving on. The final heat race also provided some big time hitters for the B-Main last chance qualifiers as Stanbrough, Dickie Gaines and Justin Marvel were all sent to the B-Main in their final attempt to make the show.
In the first semifeature, Gaines ran off to the victory ahead of Justin Marvel and Kenny Carmichael Sr. who each advanced to the A Main that left Clauson once more just one spot short as he finished fourth. Drake and Casey Shuman were also left to pack up after not making the A feature.
In semi No. 2, Scotty Weir held off Stanbrough and Terre Haute's Shawn Krockenberger to advance with LPS feature winner Jimmy Laser missing out on the transfer spot.
Twenty-one cars took the green flag for the 30 lap KISS feature with Neely on the pole, joined by Darland on the front row.
Neely would take the point at the green flag and hold the spot before a quick yellow for a spin by Gaines slowed action on lap four.
On the restart, Neely retained the advantage for a couple of laps before Darland took over and flexed his muscle. The Jam It In Storage/Jet Star/Weld Wheel and Hoosier Tire machine rocketed away from the field as Neely slid back to fourth and Levi Jones moved up into the runnerup spot.
Jones had found a fast line around the 3/8th mile oval and had set his sights on Darland who had built a straightaway advantage. Darland had gotten into lapped traffic and Jones slowly began to reel him in before a late spin by Grider reset the field.
With just a handful of laps remaining, Jones had one last chance to get past Darland but wasn't quite able to get the job done. Darland took the checkered and the opening victory in the KISS series.
"I knew that if I could just get through that first lap (after the restart) that I'd be okay," commented Darland who was certainly one of the fan favorites. "It's been a couple of years since I've won here," he noted while signing autographs for a group of young fans. For Darland, who is one of just four drivers to win championships in all three USAC National divisions, the LPS win is his third of the year. Darland currently holds second place in the USAC Sprint point standings.
Jones was second with AJ Anderson, Neely and Kaeding rounding out the top five in the feature.
In UMP Modified action, Bloomington drivers set the pace in heat race action with Bloomington regulars Shelby Miles, Ray Humphrey and John DeMoss all winning along with Coatsville's Jimmy Hayden. Greencastle's Paul Bumgardner took the top spot in the B-Main to advance to the feature, but had to start in the rear of the field.
Miles and Jeff Wellum held the top spots at the green flag with Brad Thrasher in the mix as an early yellow waved as Brad Robinson and Gary Ricketts tangled on the front stretch ending Ricketts evening.
On the restart, Miles and Thrasher were joined by Jimmy Hayden and John DeMoss with Humphrey moving quickly to the front.
Humphrey would eventually overtake Miles at the front and edge out to a solid lead heading into lapped traffic.
Humphrey was locked in and wasn't fazed by the lapped cars while maintaining a comfortable cushion between himself and Miles. With just one lap remaining, Miles made up a significant amount of distance over turns three and four, but Humphrey was able to hold on to take the checkered flag.
Afterwards, it was obvious that Humphrey was a bit lucky to get the win over Miles as he arrived in victory lane on a golf cart as his car rode into the pits via a tow truck's hook. "On the last lap I felt the car going away and then felt it break in the right rear."
Humphrey broke an axle on the final half lap and more or less coasted across the finish line. "I just want to thank Bob Franklin for building an extremely fast race car and Hoosier Disposal and Reeve's Logging," said Humphrey.
Wellum, of West Terre Haute, was third followed by Centerpoint's Phil VanSant and John DeMoss
In the Super Stock feature, Fillmore's David Bumgardner started on the pole after finishing second in his heat race and Kris Starks of Greencastle was on the outside of the front row.
Doug McCullough started third but jumped to the front of the field on the green flag followed by Starks running on the low groove in turns one and two. McCullough had been quick all night, winning his heat ahead of Kenny Carmichael Sr.
Anthony Walker was the first heat winner with Starks taking the final heat race for the Super Stocks. Harry Shepard won the B-Main to get a spot in the feature but would have a long road to the front as he started in the rear of the field.
Starks would chase McCullough for the length of the feature as Kenny Carmichael Sr. staging an exciting challenge for the second spot. Starks was holding fast to the low line with Carmichael up on top seeking enough bite to pull ahead off turn two. But Starks continued to hold him off as the two battled side-by-side with McCullough tantalizingly close.
In the end however, McCullough was able to hold the pair off and Starks just nudged out Carmichael off turn four to get the second spot. Baumgartner was fourth followed by Shepard and Fillmore's Curt Leonard, Derek Groomer, Aaron Zellers, Walker and Josh Burton.
The evening's finale provided some thrills and certainly some spills as Terre Haute's Josh Fagg started from the pole in the Bomber feature. Greg Riser made his season debut in style, winning his heat and starting on the outside front row. Shepard was also a winner in his heat but would start from the back in accordance with track rules after winning the last feature.
As the green flag flew, Ritchie Hawkins jumped out to the lead and showed he was going to be a tough competitor to deal with.
The feature's first yellow came out as Marlin Burns made contact with the front stretch wall and would lose the entire back axle, complete with attached wheels and a pair of springs. The accident sent him to the pits.
Hawkins would continue to lead on the restart followed by Lloyd Walls, Kenny Carmichael Jr. and Riser when the evening's most frightening moment occurred.
Dustin Colvin rolled his bomber between turns one and two and as the car settled back onto its wheels, the engine caught fire. Colvin quickly extricated himself from the car as safety members extinguished the flames. Colvin escaped injury in the incident.
Back under green, Shepard moved into contention with Walls for the second spot and put together a battle over the final laps as Hawkins held on for the victory. The Terre Haute driver acknowledged B&R Auto Sales and his daughter Jordan in victory lane.
Next week's action at LPS, a regular card of sprints, modifieds, super stocks and bombers.