Forty-five Tates Hornets drivers, 2,000 fans and a pits packed full of people with good memories of the Master of Disaster Art Heath, strapped in for the Art Heath Memorial Hornet Enduro 200 at ASA-sanctioned Meridian Speedway.
Travis Pavlacky of Fruitland, Idaho, zoomed to the front when ultra-consistent Colton Nelson of Meridian, Idaho wiggled through Turns 1-2 with 25 laps left.
Pavlacky then stretched his lead to as many as three seconds as he and Nelson sliced through lapped traffic toward the tail-end of the 50-mile marathon.
Nelson won the first two segments, which covered 50 laps each.
Cory Lockwood of Nampa finished third in the final segment. The top three drivers all slapped the front-stretch wall after the trophy presentation in a tribute to Heath, who was known for hitting the front wall – win or lose – at the end of every main event.
The race was held in honor of a former Hornets division champion who died in a Dec. 21 car crash in Caldwell, Idaho. Heath was 42.
“To Art’s family, you can look around and see what he meant to us,” track announcer Brent Arte said, motioning to the packed grandstands before the first of three segments began.
In a supporting role, the Thunder Dogs opened the 2013 season in classic crunching fashion, but reigning champion Sledgehammer (David Jolley, Nampa, Idaho) rallied after being spun on the first lap to win the 20-lap feature.
Heath’s wife, Stacy of Nampa, Idaho, started the first 50-lap Hornets segment on the pole. Art’s cousin, Monica, was in the field as was the original Animal – Art Sr. – who drove a No. 84 Ford Escort painted identical to his son’s championship car.
Art Heath Jr. became a favorite with the fans and fellow racers nearly from the moment he strapped in for a 250-lap Enduro in 2009 at the insistence of friend Gary Kyle.
“After every race, he wanted to thank everybody in the pits, not even realizing what he did for the rest of us,” Arte said.
There were few incidents during the 50 miles of racing. Most of the red flags that were thrown were to stop the field and start a new configuration – turning right, for example.
Extending the tribute to the Master of the Disaster to the eight-cylinder class, the Thunder Dogs traded the lead and paint in a 20-lap main event.
Now a top-notch Thunder Dog, winning car Sledgehammer is a former Boise City Taxi with 430,000 miles logged.
“We just kind of call it the Energizer Bunny because it keeps going and going,” driver David Jolley said.
With the appearance of a car that has met a sledge hammer quite often, you could call it Timex, too.
Sledgehammer certainly took a licking Saturday night.
Living up the division’s reputation, the Thunder Dogs raced around the quarter-mile oval like a rolling demolition derby in motion.
With the cars – not the drivers – getting 50 points for every competitor that went for a spin off their front bumper, the mayhem started early. Everyone went after Sledgehammer right out of the gate.
Sledgehammer got the last laugh, though.
Jolley was able to rally for the win, even as Hot Pursuit (Paul Goldman, Meridian) tried to send Sledgehammer around on the wet track with one lap remaining.
Crowd favorite Catfish (John Pinkston, Meridian) – sporting a new body style and paint job – spun out two cars at once when he sent Ultra Touch Best Looking Car winner Bulldacious (James DeMello, Boise) and M&M toward the infield. More than likely Catfish was blowing off steam after getting spun (quite legally) on a caution lap by Bumble Bee (Paul Orlando, Meridian).
In the Hornets Enduro, Nelson found himself out front in each of the first two segments of the Art Heath Memorial Enduro 200 for Tates Hornets.
Nelson got to the front in the two 50-lap legs in very different ways.
In the first segment, he passed Nampa, Idaho’s Thomas Harrod with 16 laps to go and stayed out front until the red flag dropped to end the opener.
By virtue of his first-round victory, Nelson began Segment 2 on the pole, but by Lap 2, he fell behind as Neil Evans of Caldwell, Idaho surged ahead. The racers were running in the opposite direction that in Segment 1, meaning they were turning right instead of the customary left.
Evans didn’t stay there for long as Kuna, Idaho’s Casey Tillman moved up from fifth to the lead in seven laps, pushing ahead eight laps in.
Tillman led by as much as a half-lap during his 25-lap stay in the lead.
After only the second red flag in 105 laps of competition, Tillman lost the lead on a three-wide restart.
Nampa, Idaho’s Lynn Sharp shot to the lead and looked in good shape to win the segment before he spun and backed into the Turn 3 wall.
That opened the door for Nelson, who grabbed the checkered flag with Sharp in second.
Next Saturday, the Domino’s Pizza Legends division season opener comes on the second night of the Mtn. Dew winged Sprintcars season. The ASA Modifieds, TEAM Mazda Subaru Mini Stocks and College of Western Idaho Professional Truck Driving Streets Stocks also make their second appearances of the season.
For children, there is the first IDADIV Penny Gold Rush for Kids.
Gates open at 4 p.m. with racing at 6:30 p.m.
Tickets at the gate are $10 with a $2.50 discount for senior citizens and military personnel with ID, and a $4 discount for children ages 7-11. Children 5 and younger get in free. A family pass good for two adults and up to four children ages 7-11 is available for $30.
Visit www.meridianspeedway.com or “like” Meridian Speedway on Facebook to get up-to-date news on the track.
The racetrack can be reached by phone at (208) 888-2813.
Hornets Enduro 200
In memory of Art “The Animal” Heath
Saturday’s unofficial results
Art Heath Enduro champion – Travis Pavlacky, Fruitland, Idaho
Art Heath Enduro Segment 1 (50 laps) – 1. Colton Nelson, Meridian, Idaho; 2. Thomas Harrod, Nampa; 3. Art Heath Sr., Pocatello, Idaho; 4. Casey Tillman, Kuna, Idaho; 5. Travis Pavlacky, Fruitland, Idaho
Art Heath Enduro Segment 2 (50 laps) – 1. Nelson; 2. Lynn Sharp, Nampa; 3. Cory Lockwood, Nampa; 4. Pavlacky; 5. Neil Evans, Caldwell, Idaho
Art Heath Enduro Segment 3 (100 laps) – Pavlacky; 2. Nelson; 3. Lockwood; 4. Brenden Fries, Meridian, Idaho; 5.
Thunder Dogs winner (20 laps) – Sledgehammer (David Jolley, Nampa, Idaho)
Ultra Touch Best-looking Car
Thunder Dogs – Bulldacious (James DeMello, Boise)
(10 laps each)
No. 1 winner – Money Pit (Kennon Irons, Boise, Idaho)
No. 2 winner – Bulldacious