DUQUOIN, Ill. — Tyler Thomas won his first race of the season in the POWRi Lucas Oil National Midget Series and Andrew Felker drove to his fourth in the POWRi Speedway Motors 600cc Outlaw Micro Series in Dean King Memorial features Friday at the Southern Illinois Center’s one-sixth Mini-Magic Mile indoor track.
It was a long-awaited second victory for Thomas, who at 15 became the youngest winner at of a POWRi Midget feature last season at West Plains (Mo.) Motor Speedway. The 16-year-old did it in his debut race in POWRi and had gone winless for 29 straight events. He opened the 2012 season impressively with a second place at Cowtown Speedway in Kennedale, Texas, in the second race and a third at Valley Speedway in Grain ‘Valley, Mo., in the fourth, but went through 16 straight races without another top-five.
Thomas had often showed the speed to run up front — he’d led multiple laps in four features — but frequently fell out with mechanical problems.
“It’s about time,” Thomas said. “It’s definitely a big relief the way the year has run. We’ve had a lot of bad stuff happen to the car and we’ve worked really hard on the car the last couple of weeks to get it back under us. My dad (crew chief Brian Thomas) thrashed this last week, went through the whole car, and found a few things.”
Thomas’ XXX-Esslinger finished less than a car length in front of veteran Brett Anderson’s XXX-Toyota in the 30-lap race.
Thomas started on pole and led the opening four laps. On the fifth, the third-starting Anderson passed Thomas on the outside in turn four.
They ran into heavy traffic on the tight track a few laps later and Thomas regained the lead on the 14th lap by diving inside Anderson entering turn one and taking the lead exiting turn two.
The race stayed green for the initial 23 laps and had only one caution. Anderson briefly took the lead in turns three and four with just over three laps remaining, but Thomas’ crossover maneuver on the inside exiting turn four put him into the lead to the checkered flag.
“The lapped traffic got us,” the 2008 POWRi Midget champion said. “Our car was pretty good and we were able to go up on the cushion.
“Tyler is an awesome talent. He’s been there a bunch of times this season and the more laps he runs and gets more experience, he’s going to be tough every night.”
Thomas bounced back from a mistake to take advantage of the traffic.
“I made a mistake when he (Anderson) passed me and I was still sticking to the bottom because that’s where everybody had been running,” Thomas said. “I didn’t expect the cushion to come in but it did. I want to the top about halfway through and when we got into lapped traffic, I got underneath him entering turn one and get the lead exiting two.
“I want to dedicate this win to Donnie Ray Crawford. They’re having a memorial race for him this weekend back home at Port City Raceway (in Tulsa, Okla.) He was a really great guy and it’s sad he’s gone.”
Crawford, an open-wheel driver, was shot to death in January.
Bryan Clauson finished third. He’d lined up on the outside of the front row, but fell back at the start.
“Bad start,” Clauson said. “I was fifth at the start. I was surprised it stuck.”
Felker started on pole and led all 30 laps. There were 11 cautions, but Felker went unchallenged on any of the restarts.
“It wore me out,” Felker said. “We had restart after restart, but I never saw a nose. We had a pretty fast car.”
Felker had three victories in the opening five races, but his only top-10s in his next seven events were a pair of fifths. He primarily struggled with engine problems.
“It felt good to win and hopefully, we’ll be back now,” Felker said.
Felker’s victory was his 13th in POWRi Micros, passing Kevin Bayer for second on the all-time list.
Aaron Andruskevitch finished second and Jacob Patton was third.
It was Patton’s best finish of the season.
“We’ve had the worst luck, really bad, this season and maybe this will get the guerilla off our back,” Patton said. “I sure didn’t think it would happen here. We’ve been running here since 2005 and we haven’t made a feature since 2006.”
Tyler Thomas, Brett Anderson Bryan Clauson, Nick Knepper, Tony Roney, Andrew Felker, Dillon Welch Daniel Robinson, Tim Siner, Dereck King, Austin Brown, Colten Cottle, Rich Camfield, Cameron Hagin, Jake Blackhurst, Cameron King, Kara Hudson, Daniel Adler, Joe B. Miller, Dereck Holmwood.