Longevity – it’s the thing that promoters dream of creating for their signature events. While the goal is always the same, rarely is there a single, winning recipe that can be applied from one mega event to another. Perseverance, hard work, and trial and error all factor into the equation.
For the Clay family, they’ve spent more than 30 years crafting their signature event, the COMP Cams Short Track Nationals, into the true happening that is today. In fact, the 32nd edition of the 360ci Sprint Car Extravaganza was recently held on October 4-5, 2019, at I-30 Speedway.
The weekend was highlighted by great car counts, great racing, and spectacular times. From the promoter’s side of things, it didn’t hurt that a massive fan count was on-hand throughout the weekend.
The wildly-popular extravaganza at the Little Rock, Arkansas, oval spurred several storylines, so let’s dive into some of the most notable happenings.
What’s In A Number
Throughout its history, the COMP Cams Short Track Nationals has drawn a wide variety and number of entries. For its first five years — from 1988 to 1992 — the race was held as a 410ci Sprint Car event. Names like Sammy Swindell and Steve Kinser were the perennial favorites in those early years.
However, as 360ci Sprint Cars gained traction throughout the area, the race transitioned to the new engine option in 1993. Nebraska’s John Gerloff took the win that season. I guess you could say the rest is history because the race has been a 360ci Sprint Car event ever since.
Throughout its history, the race has drawn as many as 127 entries at its peak. Over the past few years, the average number of entries has settled into the 60 to 70 range. For 2019, there were 70 entries from 15 states and three countries.
Sapulpa, Oklahoma’s Blake Hahn, scored his most coveted Sprint Car win in 2018 when he claimed his first COMP Cams Short Track Nationals title. In 2019 he returned, hoping to join some elite company by becoming only the fifth driver to take the top prize in consecutive years.
When the checkered flag dropped on Saturday night’s $10,041-to-win finale, it was mission accomplished for Hahn. He snared the victory to join Sammy Swindell (2016-2017), Tony Bruce Jr. (2008-2009), Gary Wright (2003-2004), and Steve Kinser (1988-1989) as the only drivers to claim back-to-back triumphs in the event.
“This is amazing,” Hahn said upon climbing out of the DriveWFX/Smiley’s No. 52 in Victory Lane. “We’ve been running well lately, and to win this race twice in a row is incredible. To join that shortlist of drivers who have won this race in back-to-back years makes it even more special.”
With Hahn repeating as the victor, the number of different Short Track Nationals champions, sits at 18 for another year.
The Night Before
The weekend opened on Friday night with a $2,500-to-win program. Home-state driver Derek Hagar from Marion, Arkansas, picked up his ninth win of the year in the 25-lap affair.
“I was running as hard as I needed, to keep the lead, but was still trying to save the tires,” Hagar commented after besting last year’s previous-best, runner-up preliminary feature finish. “I love this place and this event, and it’s something special to stand here in Victory Lane.
Saturday night found Hagar starting Eighth in the 41-lap feature before crossing the finish line in the Sixth position.
A Pair Of Podiums
The 2019 season has been a breakout year of sorts for El Paso, Texas-racer John Carney II. He’s enjoyed national success on the road with the Lucas Oil American Sprint Car Series (ASCS) and has also enjoyed regional prosperity.
His COMP Cams Short Track Nationals weekend was his best to date. He finished second in Friday’s program. Carney II backed it up on Saturday evening by leading laps 2 through 20 of the 41-lapper, before settling into a podium finish behind Hahn and Seth Bergman.
“We came here to win this weekend, but I couldn’t be more proud of our team and how well we performed,” Carney II said following Saturday night’s finale. “Against a great field of cars, we claimed a pair of podium finishes. We’ll take this momentum and head into the final races of the season looking for more wins.”
Long Way To Race
With 15 different states represented, there was no shortage of drivers who made a long tow to be at I-30 Speedway. Ontario, Canada boasted entries from Alex Hill and Dylan Westbrook. South Australia had Scott Bogucki carrying its flag into battle.
However, perhaps the driver who caught the most attention for his long voyage to be at the event was Clay Dow. The Barnstead, New Hampshire driver, made the last-minute decision to make the 27-hour tow to central Arkansas to compete in his first COMP Cams Short Track Nationals. It marked the first time in 32 years that a driver from New Hampshire had entered the race.
While he fell short of qualifying for either feature, he and his family had a great time.
“We’ve been looking at venturing out of our home area to enter new events, and this was one on the bucket list,” Dow said. “My wife [Karen] and I have never taken a honeymoon in the seven years we’ve been married, so we thought we’d make this an all-in-one trip. We brought our son with us, and this has been a memorable weekend. The competition here is just unbelievable. We plan to come back next year and bring one-or-two more Northeastern racers with us. This has been a spectacular experience.”
A Tale Of Two Tracks
If you are a fan of slick and dry tracks, then Friday night was for you. If you are a proponent of wicked-fast tracks with lots of traction and a big cushion, then Saturday was tailor-made to meet your fancy.
For track-preparation-guru Joe Clay Jr., he prefers the latter and was less than enthused after Friday night’s prelim feature saw the quarter-mile oval take rubber.
“I don’t like dust, and I definitely don’t like the track getting one-laned as it did in the feature Friday night, so me and my crew went to work on the track as soon as the races were over,” Clay Jr. shared. “We disced and watered the track before we left, and then we got back here first thing Saturday morning to do more of the same. I knew we’d have a much better track Saturday night, but I had no idea it would turn out that well. That was a badass show by these drivers.”
Saturday night’s program saw a big cushion on both ends with slide jobs galore. The result left fans and racers buzzing at the end of the night.
Welcome To The Family
There were a host of first-timers in action at this year’s COMP Cams Short Track Nationals. The 2019 rookie class included Mike Vaculik, Chris Banja, Avery Goodman, Justin Jacobsma, Jase Randolph, Justin Peck, Paxton Gregory, Riley Goodno, Hunter Poe, Casey Carter, Monty Ferriera, Cody Stacy, Cody Hays, Hayden Martin, and Clay Dow.
While none of the rookies qualified for Saturday night’s finale, Friday night’s preliminary feature found Indiana’s Justin Peck in the field. He registered a Seventh-place finish.
Until Next Time
On Saturday night, track officials announced the 33rd Annual COMP Cams Short Track Nationals would be held on Thursday through Saturday, October 1-3, 2020. The weekend will include an open practice session on Thursday night before hosting a $2,500-to-win program on Friday night and a $10,041-to-win event on Saturday night.