PARK CITY, Kan. — The Casey’s Hunt for the USMTS National Championship blasted off Thursday night at the 81 Speedway with another instant classic produced by C. Ray Hall’s three-eighths-mile dirt oval outside of Wichita.
After following six spectacular qualifying events, the 40-lap feature race was fierce and fast from the waving of the green flag until the checkered flag waved for Terry Phillips, but just barely.
With Dereck Ramirez breathing down his neck for the last half of the race, Phillips nearly saw it slip away in the final turn when Ramirez made a bold move to pass the leader with one left-hand turn to go.
But the 53-year-old veteran from Springfield, Mo., crossed back under Ramirez and the pair drag-raced to the finish line with Phillips taking the win by a mere two-one-thousandths of a second over Ramirez.
“That surprised me there,” Phillips said. “I slowed down a little bit because I had a couple lapped cars in front of me and didn’t want to run over them, so I was just being cautious, but, hey, that’s what this bunch brings you. They’re all good racers and Dereck always races me clean and we’re good friends.
“As he slid me, I’m like ‘Man, that’s a damn good move.’ I’m congratulating him and then I thought ‘Well, I better get going here.’ I made a cut and fortunately there was a little traction in the middle of the track so got in it and barely beat him.”
Ramirez had been stalking Phillips for the final 10 laps or so, testing out the high side of turn 2 while Phillips was entering the firs turn down low. He got his chance on the final lap and pulled event with Phillips down the backstretch as flagman Ryne Staley was reaching for the checkered flag.
“I was catching him down here in (turn) two, and figured if I get close enough I’ll pull a slider,” Ramirez said after the race. “I don’t like to dirty people up so I wanted to make sure it was clean.
“He got behind them lapped cars going down the back straight-away and kind of slowed down off of (turn) two and I had a big run and thought ‘You know what, I’m gonna try it.’ I just didn’t get in there far enough to hit the cushion and have the traction off. I showed him too early probably.”
For Phillips, the $2,500 triumph was the 28th of his USMTS career but first at 81 Speedway. Meanwhile, Rodney Sanders, who has a series-best four victories here, followed Ramirez across the stripe in third while Hunter Marriott roared from 16th on the gird to finish fourth.
Polesitter Dan Powers registered a solid fifth-place finish.
Terry Phillips, Dereck Ramirez, Rodney Sanders, Hunter Marriott, Dan Powers, R.C. Whitwell, Zack VanderBeek, Cody Schniepp, Darron Fuqua, Mike Striegel, John Allen, Tyler Davis, Brandon Givens, Brian Franz, Tad Davis, Travis Saurer, Bryce Schniepp, Kenny Sweet, Joe Duvall, Austin Siebert, Adam Kates, Dustin Hodges, Jake O’Neil, Tanner Mullens, Lance Mari.