There is an actual literary practice called a “frame story.” It refers to a story that tells the end, then gets into detail about how we got to the end. This is one of those stories.
Call it a spoiler alert if you will, but this is what you’d find out if you read the whole thing. Mark Whitener of Middleburg, Florida, won the $5,000 UMP/EBRP Modified event at East Bay Raceway Park.
As always, though, there’s more to the story than just the winner. It reminds me of Paul Harvey and his famous “Rest of the Story” broadcasts. Google him if you are unfamiliar.
What culminated in Victory Lane on Saturday, January 27 actually took a few days to manifest itself. That’s where our story begins.
With more than 40 Modifieds in the pit area, joined by two dozen Street Stocks, the 42nd annual Winternationals began on a Wednesday night. The Modifieds qualified three at a time, shortening a drawn out but necessary process. When it was all said and done, KC Burdette of Parkersburg, West Virginia, took top honors.
When the $1,000-to-win opening night feature hit the track, drivers were clearly on a mission to set their respective weeks in the right direction. Adams proved to be the best of the bunch. Bernhardt had an early race spin, but used his knowledge of the track to carve his way back to second place. Florida drivers Mark Whitener started off with a third.
As it has throughout most of its now 42-year run, East Bay’s Winternationals draws cars from far and wide. Dennis Haven and Chad Williamson came from South Dakota. Timmy Near and Chad May were visiting from Michigan. In all, 14 states were represented.
Near perfect weather throughout the day kept spirits high as the crews went through tire prep and suspension adjustments, a little wiser with the Wednesday experience. There would be a new fast qualifier as Burdette’s Wednesday woes would signal an end to his Winternationals competition. Adams took up the gauntlet for the travelers, adding fast time.
The A-main would become a race that will long live in the annals of East Bay Raceway Park. With one of the oldest chassis in the pit area, local racer Shane Burrows crossed the finish line first in front of hard-charging contenders Adams and 2017 champion Jeff Mathews. Just one week before the win, Burrows lost his father, Jamie Burrows, who had been an integral part of his life and racing career. Combined with his fourth place finish the night before, Burrows found himself among the top racers in the points.
Adams would again set the pace in qualifying for the Modifieds on the third night of competition. In a heat race, Mike Potosky fought the challenges of Whitener, who eventually passed Potosky for the lead, only have the bolts break in the steering wheel to put him out of contention. Whitener did bounce back to win of the B mains.
There were 10 states represented in the 24-car field with 14 Florida drivers stacking the odds in their favor. It would be a new face in Victory Lane, though, as Kyle Strickler, “The High Side Tickler” of North Carolina brought home victory in his first start of the week. Strickler started 12th, but that paled compared to Whitener, who started 22nd and finished second, ahead of Lee.
“We weren’t coming for this week, but we saw how much fun these guys were having, so we said ‘why not’?”, said Strickler.” It’s so weird how you can run this track and feel like you have a complete hold and then on the next lap feel like you have four flats. This is a heck of a place to race on. All these guys put on a heck of a show.”
Whitener’s finish ensured a spot in the Top Six, meaning a guaranteed spot to start in the first three rows of the 75-lap finale. Driving car number five, he drew starting spot number five in a $5,000 to win race. Numerologists were having a field day.
The Saturday night finale was one last chance for 24 drivers to enhance their 2018 season. It would take the endurance of a 75-lap A main to test the mettle of what the programs had to offer.
Mathews and Burrows would lead the field to the green flag and Burrows shot out to a large lead with the remaining drivers side-by-side for position throughout the field. Adams moved from sixth to third in early stages, taking the high line. On lap 16, Adams slipped past Lee for second, leaving Lee to deal with the onslaught of Whitener. A lap 20 caution bunched the field with six drivers choosing to go to the top of the track when the green flag returned. Whitener slipped into second on lap 29 and grabbed the lead one lap later. He held the point when the yellow flew for the mandatory fuel stop on lap 40.
From this point, the challenge stiffened. Adams took the lead for a brief spell before Whitener rallied back. The leaders were encountering lapped traffic at the bottom but Adams could not take advantage of it as Bernhardt held second. It came down to the final few laps with Adams giving it one more go, moving to runnerup on lap 69. A brush with the backstretch wall on lap 72 essentially snuffed Adams’ hopes as Whitener picked up the win.
“This is a big start to the season,” said the victor. “I work for a living. We had to take time off to come racing. It’s great to race these guys. They race you clean. They drive like this all over the country. This is a really special win.”
Adams had one of the most consistent weeks in his annual visit to East Bay, but the disappointment was obvious. “I’d rather finish last than second. Second sucks,” he said in the post-race interview.
It was probably a sentiment shared by many.
In Street Stock competition. Tim Gay won three of the four main events with Zach Amundsen picking up a single main.
Modified Results – Top 10
Wednesday – Kevin Adams, Bryan Bernhardt, Mark Whitener, Shane Burrows, Lucas Lee, Devin Gilpin, Ivedent Lloyd Jr., Tyler Nicely, Kenny Wallace, Mavrick Varnadore
Thursday – Burrows, Jeff Mathews, Adams, Bernhardt, M. Varnadore, Phillip Cobb, Whitener, Roger Crouse, Lloyd Jr., Travis Varnadore
Friday – Kyle Strickler, Whitener, Lee, Crouse, Adams, Lloyd Jr., Bernhardt, Mathews, M. Varnadore, Potosky
Saturday – Whitener, Adams, Bernhardt, Strickler, M. Varnadore, Gilpin, Lloyd Jr., Wallace, Kyle Bronson, Lee
Street Stocks – Top 5
Wednesday – Tim Gay, Dennis Williams, Brian Morgan, Rich Livernois Jr., Tim Powers
Thursday – Zach Amundsen, Morgan, Thomas Pratt, Charles Christian, Justin Rodgers
Friday – Gay, Williams, Scotty Kay Jr., Trent Wilson, Rodgers
Saturday – Gay, Morgan, Williams, Richie Stephens, Kay Jr.