HUMBOLDT, Kan. – With arguably the best field of dirt modified racers ever assembled, Ryan Gustin stood out Thursday night in first-round qualifying at the King of America IX Modified Nationals powered by Summit Racing Equipment.
A two-time past winner of the event, Gustin emerged as the only racer to capture both of his qualifying heat races. Gustin will roll into Friday’s qualifying session atop the points standings with two more heats on tap for each of the 72 entries at the Humboldt Speedway.
Fellow two-time USMTS national champion Rodney Sanders and 2016 USMTS Grant Junghans Rookie of the Year Ricky Thornton Jr. are tied for second in points. Each had a heat race win Thursday, coupled with a near-miss runner-up in the other.
After two nights of qualifying, the top 12 will be locked into Saturday’s $12,000-to-win finale. Currently, those drivers are Jake O’Neil, fourth, and Zack VanderBeek rides in fifth. Hunter Marriott, Dereck Ramirez and Kyle Strickler are tied for sixth. Brady Gerdes, Jason Hughes and defending champ Lucas Schott are tied for ninth, and King of America first-timer Tanner Black is in the 12th spot.
Thursday was also the first points race in the USMTS Central Series and Casey’s General Stores USMTS National Championship powered by Summit. All licensed drivers will earn 75 show-up points Thursday and Friday, with a full points show Saturday.
USMTS competitors will be seeking a $12,000 top prize while the B-Mods will battle for $8,500 to win Saturday’s main event.
Drivers in both classes will race in two heat races Thursday and two more on Friday from four different starting positions with 10 to 14 cars in each. Each driver’s best three efforts will count toward Saturday’s feature lineups with any tie-breakers, if needed, being determined by the fourth heat race.
The top 12 in heat race passing points from the first two nights will be locked into the Saturday finale with the remainder of the field coming from Saturday’s “B” Mains.
B-Mods will award three provisionals (one each from IMCA, USRA and Wissota national points) from the pool of drivers that fail to qualify for the A Main on Saturday. A past champion provisional will be available for USMTS competitors.