BULLS GAP, Tenn. — John Blankenship grew up in Williamson, W.Va., but has called Knoxville, Tenn., his home for the past eight years.
The 31-year-old turned in a dominant performance Saturday night in winning the Ray Cook-promoted Spring Nationals Series 12th annual Spring Thaw at Volunteer Speedway, pocketing $10,000 for the victory.
Blankenship toured the high banks at 13.413 seconds to set fast-time during qualifying over the 31 entrants.
With the huge crowd in attendance standing on their feet for start of the 60-lap main event, they were cheering wildly on the opening lap when Madden dove to the inside of Blankenship and Scott Bloomquist making it a three-wide scramble for the lead between turns one and two. The trio raced down the backstretch battling for real estate before Bloomquist moved to the point between turns three and four, with Blankenship and Chris Madden in pursuit followed by Travis Jacobsen and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series competitor Ty Dillon.
Billy Ogle Jr. got around Dillon for fifth racing off the fourth turn just two laps into race. Steve Casebolt was working his way forward from his eighth starting position, passing Dillon for sixth on lap eight.
But out front Bloomquist had the hard-charging Blankenship breathing down his neck during the opening 10 laps. Finally, on lap 13 between turns three and four with Bloomquist working lapped traffic and in the high groove, Blankenship powered his Coal World’s Energy/Coal Save The Country/Bear Cove Village in Pigeon Forge/Todd Case Trucking/Integra Racing Shocks/Schaeffer Racing Oil/VP Race Fuels/Hoosier Racing Tires/Cornett Racing Engines/No. 23 Rocket Chassis, past Bloomquist to assume a lead he would never relinquish.
Blankenship immediately began pulling away from Bloomquist, who began feeling pressure from Madden for the runner-up position. Madden got around Bloomquist for the spot on lap 24 racing off turn two, and just behind them Casebolt was overtaking Ogle for fourth place. Casebolt kept mashing the loud pedal to get around Bloomquist for third in the running order on lap 26 as they raced between turns three and four.
With the race reaching halfway at lap 30, Blankenship was in command and had checked out on his closest challengers as he held a little over a full-straightaway advantage over Madden, Casebolt, Bloomquist and Ogle.
Ogle got around Bloomquist for fourth on lap 40 racing off the fourth corner. For the second consecutive night Casebolt and Madden were battling for position by throwing slide-jobs at each other. Casebolt finally cleared Madden and moved into second with a pass between turns three and four on lap 45. With 15 laps remaining to the checkers, Casebolt set his sights ahead and hoped to be able track down race leader Blankenship.
But there would be no denying Blankenship a trip to victory lane as he easily cruised to the $10,000 win over Casebolt, Madden, Ogle and Bloomquist.
“I’ve won on the national tour with the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series and those wins are special,” said Blankenship. “But I’ll have to say that finally being able to win a big race here at Volunteer Speedway like this and over such as strong field of competitors, this victory ranks right at the top for me in my career. You take guys like Scott (Bloomquist) and Jimmy (Owens), this track is their home turf where they’ve each won many races over the years. Also, (Chris) Madden and Dale (McDowell) have each won big races here, too.”
Jensen Ford won the pro late model feature.
John Blankenship, Steve Casebolt, Chris Madden, Billy Ogle Jr., Scott Bloomquist, Jimmy Owens, Ty Dillon, Eric Jacobsen, Dale McDowell, Mark Vineyard, Tommy Kerr, Steve Francis, Eric Wells, Michael Chilton, David Payne, Tyler Millwood, Jared Landers, Josh Collins, Vic Hill, Casey Roberts, Skip Arp, Mark Douglas, Stacy Boles.