JENNINGS, Okla. – Prime weather conditions on Saturday greeted a record number of racers at the opening day of the SCCA U.S. Majors Tour Mid-States Conference doubleheader weekend at Hallett Motor Racing Circuit.
Sunny skies and good air allowed each of the 142 registered entrants to get the most horsepower out of their machines. That was evidenced by the four track records that were set around the 11-turn, 1.8-mile circuit.
Cliff Johnson, of Stilwell, Kan., was not the fastest qualifier of Group One, but he certainly made up for that during the race. Driving his No. 4 Alpine Litho-Graphics/Farley Engines Swift DB-1, Johnson took the overall lead from Formula F polesitter David Loken and never looked back. In his first race of the season, Johnson crossed the line first in front of Tim Webb.
Timothy Friest, of Leavenworth, Kan., and Charles Hearn, of Houston, Texas, enjoyed dominating wins in Formula 500 and Formula Vee, respectively. Both drivers had one lap in hand over their closest class competitors.
Group Two featured the production classes where the battle in F Production was the most captivating of the four classes. Local driver Nigel Saurino, of Tulsa, Okla., scored the F Production win after qualifying third, in class. Driving the No. 57 The Race Shop/Kelley Engines/Hoosier Tire MG Midget, Saurino got caught up in mid-field traffic during the opening laps of the race. But Saurino was able to find his way through to take the lead from Eric Prill by the race’s halfway point.
However, that wasn’t the end of the on-track battle. During lap 13, Prill took a huge bite out of Saurino’s lead, closing the gap to less than one second. In the end, Saurino’s speed proved to be too much, as he was able to increase his lead and cruise to the win.
Jesse Prather, of Topeka, Kan., scored the E Production win in his No. 34 Jesse Prather Motorsports/MAZDASPEED Mazda MX-5. However, Matt Reynolds, of Fair Oaks, Texas, set a new class lap record of 1:22.442.
Group Three, Spec Miata, featured a red-hot battle at the front of the pack in the waning laps of the 25-minute sprint race. The eventual winner Jim Drago, of Memphis, Tenn., took the lead from the start. Reynolds, who qualified second, was able to parlay some of his record-setting pace into his Spec Miata race passing Drago for the lead on lap eight. By lap 12, Drago had regained the lead only to have Reynolds retake the lead four laps later. On the penultimate lap, Drago made his move to retake the lead and close out the race in front behind the wheel of his No. 2 East Street Racing Mazda Miata.
The battle between Formula Mazda class winner Alan McCallum, of Houston, Texas, and second-place-finisher Moses Smith took center stage in Group Four. While Smith out-qualified McCallum, the later worked his way into the lead around Smith on lap five. The next seven laps played out like a high-speed game of chess as McCallum, in his No. 9 Alan McCallum Racing Formula Mazda, patiently waited to make his move. On lap 12, McCallum saw his opportunity to pounce and made his pass count then pushed hard to build a gap to Smith.
In Group Five, 17 laps of hard racing came down to a matter of inches at the finish line. David Fershtand, of Fort Worth, Texas, won the GT-1 drag race to the wire by 0.011-second over Tom Smith. Driving his No. 05 Fershtand Race Prepared Chevrolet Corvette, Fershtand started second but was in the lead after completing lap two. Only two laps later, it looked like Fershtand may drive away from the rest of the field.
Clearly, Smith had other thoughts as he challenged Fershtand for the lead heading into Turn One on lap seven. Smith was unable to make his attempted pass stick, but it was foreshadowing what was to come. Smith was able to complete his move around Fershtand just before a four-lap full-course caution was issued before the completion of lap seven. Following the restart, Fershtand stalked his prey and made the winning move in the last corner of the race.
Super Touring Lite was the main attraction in the Touring Class, Group Six. Jim Drago looked poised to take another win, but Brian Laughlin, of Tulsa, Okla., broke up Drago’s attempt at the Hallett double. Driving his No. 25 Tulsa Radiology Associates/Mazda/Hoosier Tire Mazda Miata, Laughlin spent 15 laps staying just off the rear deck lid of Drago. After taking the lead, Laughlin held the lead for the remaining three of 18 laps.
Spec Racer Ford was the last group to hit the track. Driving the No. 69 Apex Driving Academy Spec Racer Ford, Keith Verges, of Dallas, Texas, led the 18-lap affair from start to finish. What made the win even more impressive was that he spent 16 of those laps fending off two quick drivers in the form of Richard Stephens and Grayson Strathman who finished second and third, respectively.