WHEATLAND, Mo. – There were some familiar faces leading the way as Lucas Oil Speedway opened the season on Saturday night.
Reigning track champion Johnny Fennewald grabbed the lead midway through the headliner, fending off a couple of 2018 rivals, and captured the Warsaw Auto Marine & RV ULMA Late Model main event.
Other feature winners in the Big Adventure RV Weekly Racing Series season-opening program Presented by Benne Media were defending champ J.C. Morton (Ozark Golf Cars USRA B Mods), Jon Sheets (Pitts Homes USRA Modifieds) and Toby Ott (O’Reilly Auto Parts Street Stocks).
A total of 115 cars checked into the pits for opening night.
Fennewald finished ahead of runner-up Aaron Marrant after passing Kaeden Cornell on lap 12. Those three were 1-2-3 in the final point standings in 2018, separated by just seven points, and served notice that they’ll again be formidable.
“It’s a really good way to start,” Fennewald said after taking the $1,000 prize. “I’ve raced for a lot of years and brought out brand-new cars before, but I’ve never won the first night.”
Cornell and Fennewald started on the front row and Cornell got the jump after the green fell. The Willard High School senior led the first 11 laps as the duo broke away from the field, often battling side-by-side for the lead.
“I felt like I had a better car. I knew we’d be in lapped traffic pretty quick,” Fennewald said of his patient approach. “We have a pretty good hot rod here.”
Fennewald used lapped traffic to his advantage and wrestled the lead away from Cornell coming out of turn four to complete lap 12. While a lap-13 caution bunched the field, Fennewald wasn’t seriously challenged after the restart.
As for chasing a third straight track championship, Fennewald said he isn’t going to make it a priority.
“We’re just going to try and win as many races as we can,” Fennewald said of his 2019 goals. “If we win races and have good finishes, that’s what wins points races.”
It was all Fennewald after the restart as he beat Marrant and third-place Cole Henson. Jason Russell was fourth with Cornell fading late to fifth.
Morton opened defense of his Ozark Golf Cars USRA B-Mod track championship with a resounding opening-night victory.
Morton took the lead on lap seven and quickly opened a comfortable margin over runner-up Cole Campbell as the race remained caution-free the rest of the way.
Morton said he had some doubts about making the show Saturday morning, with some motor problems, but thanked Yeoman Race Engines for getting him fixed up.
Campbell started on the inside of row two and led the first seven laps before Morton got around him with an outside pass coming out of turn four to complete lap eight.
“There early, the track was still pretty greasy from where they (reworked it during intermission) but it seemed like it helped it,” Morton said. “Once I got up there and got to a clear track, I was cruising from there.”
Morton checked out from there and finished about a straightaway ahead of Campbell and third-place Robbe Ewing. Kenton Allen finished fourth with reigning USRA B-Mod National Champion Kris Jackson, who started 15th, rallying to fifth.
The race had two early cautions, including a seven-car pileup on lap two. Among those eliminated in that accident was former track champion Andy Bryant.
Sheets started on the pole and led all 20 laps, beating defending champ Darron Fuqua to take the Pitts Homes USRA Modified feature.
In a race with only one caution, which came on lap two, Sheets emerged from an early battle with Terry Schultz to open the lead. He weaved through lapped traffic over the final half of the event to hold off Fuqua.
“This is the third night we’ve run this year and we’ve had a pretty good car. I knew we would get one,” Sheets said.
Fuqua, the defending track and USRA Modified National champion, was second with Schultz finishing third and Tanner Mullens fourth.
Ott had a frustrating 2018 season, only winning two late-season features after dominating the O’Reilly Auto Parts Street Stocks the year before. He began the 2019 season in victory lane.
“Last year we found some things on the car that weren’t right. We had some fast nights, but we fought it all year long and never could get it consistent and where it needed to be,” Ott said. “I think we finally found what it needs to have and now it seems to be working pretty good.”
Ott, the hometown driver and 2017 champ, finished ahead of runner-up David Hendrix, the 2018 champion. But for a while, Johnny Coats of Joplin appeared to be in command.
Coats led the first 15 laps, but surrendered the lead to Ott in turn two on lap 16. One circuit later, Coats pulled off due to mechanical problems.
Bob Barnett was third and Marc Carter finishing fourth.