Steel Block Bandits
ARRINGTON MASTERS THE BRIDGE
NATURAL BRIDGE, Va. (05/20/23) - Warm days and cool nights are still the norm as spring and summer are still trying to decide who will take the wheel in the Shenandoah valleys of southwestern Virginia as teams gathered at the picturesque Natural Bridge Speedway for a huge weekend of racing. The celebration of a legendary Virginia driver’s life and legacy was the meaning behind the inaugural event who roots run deeper than the red clay that runs up and down the mountain sides of this small community. Months of preparation went into the Tommy Bare Memorial as businesses and individuals showed their patronage and support of Tommy and the Bare family.
Following a practice session on Friday night, the pits began to fill on Saturday as 47 drivers from 8 different states crammed their way into the snug confines of The Bridge setting the stage for an incredible evening of racing featuring the stars of the Steel Block Bandits Dirt Late Model Challenge.
As the drivers meeting ended the skies opened up as a 15 minute rain shower moved across the mountain surrounding the speedway. Track crews quickly returned to the surface after the rain stopped and after an all car slow roll in, the track returned to pristine condition.
Two groups of qualifying started the evening presented by HGR's Truck & Trailer Sales, Inc. Group A saw a good battle as several drivers took their shot at grabbing the top spot. Cody Overton had quick time until Brian Strickland came out and laid down a lap of 15.021 which was fastest for group A. In Group B Joe Leavell set down quick time only to be bested by Derick Quade’s lap of 15.029 just missing Strickland’s time. Strickland gets his first pole and the $200 from Bryan Sullivan in memory of Ricky Sullivan Jr.
Heat races were next as drivers started positioning themselves for the feature. Strickland and Shaun Wetzel brought the Dirt Freak Racewear Heat to full song and the two drag raced into turn one. Strickland would lead the first lap which was plaqued by several cautions including one that took out Justin Williams as the hometown driver made contact with the turn three wall, ending his night and his streak of wins with the series. Tyler Arrington muscled past both Strickland and Wetzel to capture the win in Heat one. Arrington, Strickland, Wetzel and Michael Alderman advance to the feature. Cody Overton and Robbie Emory were on the front row for the 8 lap Scott Service Company heat. Overton cruises to this win followed by Emory, Walker Arthur and Tyler Bare.
It was an all Maryland front row for the Mega Plumbing of the Carolinas heat with Derick Quade and Matt Glanden. Dan Breuer and Jeff Parsons had fans on their feet as they battled hard for the transfer spot. Breuer holds off Parsons to get the spot as Quade grabs the win over Jamie Lathroum and Glanden. Heat four presented by VP Racing Fuels saw Joe Leavell get the win over Samuel Bryant, Rusty Ballenger and Derrick Rankin.
The last chance qualifiers races were next as each one would take 3 drivers to the big show. In the first one, Justin Fulton grabbed the win over Kenny Moreland and Bobby Thompson. The second LCQ saw Dillon Brown secure the win over Jeff Parsons and Derek Rogers. With those 6 drivers in the field was completed by adding the two provisionals which went to Wayne Bryant and Jeff King.
The program was quickly moved forward as the curfew loomed large after the rain delay and a medical emergency that required a life flight helicopter to come to the facility. Arrington and Quade brought the star studded field to full power as they set sail in the 65 lap feature. The two battled door to door as Quade led the first two laps before Arrington powers by to get the lead. Pole sitter Strickland began to free fall as the laps mounted before retiring early from the event. An early caution saw Derek Rogers, Kenny Moreland and Wayne Bryant get together in turn four.
All eyes were on Tyler Bare as he and Walker Arthur began to chip away the spots. The two would March through the field but once they reached the top five their drive stalled out. Dillon Brown made an impressive run through the field along with Jeff Parsons as Parsons would grab the hard Charger award. Overton and Leavell drew a bead on Arrington on the long green flag runs but could never get along side. Robbie Emory suffers front end damage and had to go pit side but rallies to a 15th place finish.
A caution with 13 to go set the stage for a thriller as Arrington would have to hold off his two challengers. Once the green light came on the Honaker, Virginia resident checked out to score his first Bandit win in convincing fashion over Overton, Leavell, Quade and Bare. He also became the 12th different series winner in 27 races.
Arrington who comes to the track with just his wife, was very pleased in victory lane, “This is really cool, I never knew Tommy but I’ve raced with Tyler quite a bit, so to win the first one is really big.” He was aware of how close his challengers were, “I saw Cody a few times when he showed his nose but I knew once that last caution came out that I was going to be hard to pass because the car was so good in the black. I want to say that the track was incredible, they really had it almost perfect and very racey.” Overton was happy as well, “We were there a few times but man he was gone after the last restart and I had nothing left for him. We just put this deal together and I enjoyed it, you’ll see us again.” Leavell was also pleased with his podium, “That was a lot of fun racing with those two I hope the fans enjoyed it. I thought me and Cody had him once or twice but he was really good tonight and he deserved that one.”
A non qualifiers race was held at the end of the evening that saw Gerald Davis get the win over Lance Brasington and DJ Garrett. The win was worth $750 to Davis.
- Emory suffers some tough frustrating luck after being so fast on Friday night. He will lose points and probably a position after a 15th place finish but he did rally back.
- Good runs for the hometown boys, Rankin and Bryant who posted 7th and 9th place runs.
*Parsons comes from 20th to 8th to get the Hard Charger award and was the highest finishing rookie. If this team can get their qualifying package a tad better, they will see a podium soon.
- Disappointing night for Justin Williams who suffered heavy damage after contact with the inside wall in his heat that also brought an end to his winning streak at The Bridge.
June 2nd- Dixieland Speedway $5,000 to win
June 3rd - Virginia Motor Speedway $5,000 to win
EP / Bandit PR