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News from O’Reilly Raceway Park

By: Mark W. Theisen

CLERMONT, INDIANA August 24, 2008: The United States Auto Club opened the three day 2008 Kroger Speed Fest at O’Reilly Raceway Park tonight with Bobby East and Chuck Gurney Jr.capturing their respective features in the K & N Silver Crown Series and the Mopar National Midget Series.

East, from nearby Brownsburg, entered both events tonight as the favorite not only because he was the series point leader in the Midget series but also because of his familiarity with the tight 5/8 mile oval at O’Reilly and the fact that he has won the last two time he competed here and six overall.

In Silver Crown qualifying he finished second to Shane Hmeil with NASCAR driver and 2008 Daytona 500 winner Ryan Newman making a rare open wheel start as a teammate to Dave Darland taking third.

Toyota Challenge Midget heat races followed with East winning the first race with Gurney Jr., Levi Jones and Tracy Jones winning these preliminaries, with both Jones and Hines in Cars owned by NASCAR star Tony Stewart. Kody Swanson and Billy Wease were victorious in the two semi-features that filled the 24 car field for the 30 lap midget feature.

The feature was not what East had hoped for as his Klatt Enterprise Ford powered midget began sputtering on warm up laps, three pits stops prior to the start of the event did not help and he was not able to complete a lap in the race finishing last.

With East sidelined it was Gurney opening up a lead over Darren Hagen at the start and then waiting through 4 caution periods before recording his milestone first national series win of any kind finishing ahead of NASCAR standout Kasey Kahne, who was driving his own car as part of a three car USAC team that he fields.

Bobby Santos III came on strong at the end to finish third. Jones and Wease rounded out the top five. Hagen, who was second to Gurney all race long, suffered engine woes on the final lap to drop to 18th at the end.

“This is a dream come true,” said an elated Gurney after the midget feature. “To win anywhere is great to win here at ORP on this famous track is just great, I can’t tell you how happy I am right now. This is awesome.”

East reasserted his prowess at ORP in the Silver Crown J.D. Byrider 100 taking the lead over Hmeil going into the third turn of the first lap and never looked back despite the race being showed by two caution flags during the l00 affair that brought the field back to him each time.
Newman took second from Hmeil at the end of the third lap and spent the rest of the race in pursuit of East, only closing because of the caution flags.

Hmeil continued to fade as the race wore on with Chet Fillip, Darland and Jerry Coon’s rounding out the top five.

“It is strange how things work out,” said East in victory lane following the Silver Crown race. “I expected the midget to be flawless tonight and to have trouble with the Silver Crown car based on practice and qualifying and it was entirely different. The midge was so fast and smooth during qualifying and the heat and died before the feature and after bobbling and sputtering early the Silver Crown car was so good and I had no idea that it was to be that way.”

East was tabbed by NASCAR Craftsman truck series owner, Jack Roush to drive one of the Roush-Fenway Racing trucks in the event here tomorrow based on his success at the track and was on hand to watch his driver perform tonight. As Roush walked down the center aisle in back of the grandstand it was interesting to see that different race crowds react or know their competitors and owners differently. Had this been a NASCAR sanctioned race Roush would have been mobbed by autograph seekers while the USAC crowd just left him alone, perhaps, even unrecognized.

During intermission two-time NASCAR Tony Stewart was on hand to present a $28,000 donation via the Tony Stewart foundation to the police departments of Indiana, Ohio and adjoining states for their K-9 units to purchase to bullet and puncture vests for their dogs. Donations were being solicited for this purpose among many Humane Societies in the area but Stewart and his foundation recognized the need and came forward with the donation.

To show their appreciation 10 police dogs and their handlers were brought onto the track in their patrol cars to accept the donation and show off how the jackets are needed to protect what has become a very valuable tool in law enforcement these days.

Kroger Speed Fest at ORP continues tomorrow night with the NASCAR Craftsman track series race.