LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Sammy Swindell left little doubt about the possibility of capturing a potential third STN crown by racing to a convincing victory in Thursday night’s 25-lap preliminary feature at I-30 Speedway’s 26th annual COMP Cams Short Track Nationals presented by Hoosier Tires.
After capitalizing on some fortuitous happenings in his heat and qualifying races to garner the pole for the main event, the Memphis area native fought off one challenge from Tyler Thomas in the early going before dominating the balance of the main event for his third career STN preliminary feature win and first since 2004.
“The track has changed some since we were here last year, so I’m really glad we raced last night,” Swindell said of Wednesday night’s Short Track Nationals Open. “We were able to learn a lot and it really paid off tonight.”
While Swindell locked himself into the STN championship finale for the 11th time, unheralded Tyler Thomas claimed runner-up honors in his first STN effort with ASCS Gulf South champion Ray Allen Kulhanek nipping California’s Randy Hannagan at the line to lock into his second career STN finale.
Swindell started the feature in the Big Game Tree Stands No. 1 from the pole position alongside another Gulf South shoe, Channin Tankersley, and gunned into the lead at the outset with fourth-starter Seth Bergman muscling into second before the caution flew after two laps for Terry McCarl, who spun to a stop before turn one.
Fifth-starter Thomas, a POWRi midget competitor with just a handful of winged sprint car starts to his credit, worked the middle of the track to pass both Tankersley and Bergman to move into second behind Swindell.
And after a lap six caution for Tankersley’s assisted turn four spin that sent Sean McClelland pitside, Thomas challenged Swindell for the point, edging into the lead at the line on the sixth lap.
Swindell proved too strong on the low side of the track though, racing back ahead and cruising the rest of the way with only a lap 13 caution for seventh-running Harli White, who clipped a tire and came to a stop in turn two.
While Swindell cruised to the stripe unabated, Thomas held down the runner-up position the rest of the way in a second Aaron Reutzel No. 87 machine.
Right behind Thomas, Kulhanek had his hands full with Randy Hannagan in the closing laps. With most of the field working the lower portion of the track, Hannagan began working the middle of the track with some success past the midway point and worked past Christopher Bell, Dalton Davis and Seth Bergman to climb from seventh to fourth by the 19th circuit.
Hannagan reeled in Kulhanek with the pair then dicing side-by-side over the final three rounds before Kulhanek captured the critical third position by just inches at the line.
Hannagan settled for fourth from his 11th starting position with Bergman rounding out the top five.
Bell, last year’s STN runner-up, raced from 16th to sixth with 15th-starter Jason Sides, 18th-starter Mike Goodman, 17th-starter Brian Brown and Derek Hagar completing the top 10.
Sammy Swindell, Tyler Thomas, Ray Allen Kulhanek, Randy Hannagan, Seth Bergman, Christopher Bell, Jason Sides, Mike Goodman, Brian Brown, Derek Hagar, Tim Shaffer, Matt Covington, Dalton Davis, Brandon Hanks, Channin Tankersley, Harli White, Zach Pringle, Terry McCarl, Sean McClelland, Cody Gardner.