A midsummer sun greeted over 500 racing fans Saturday night at Twin Cities Raceway in Kenai, but as epic as the racing was, the bigger story belonged to the red No. 43 sprint car.
The entire night of racing was dedicated to the memory of Collin “Cowboy” MacCarty Jr., who died from a heart attack while at the track on July 4, 2011. In honor of him, driver and longtime friend Mike Bailey raced the No. 43 in the sprint car heats, which was MacCarty’s number on the late model he drove.
“‘Cowboy’ was in the seat with me, I mean, I can’t believe there’s room in there,” Bailey said after Saturday’s races. “That last race, I know he was.”
Sixty-eight years old when he died, “Cowboy” was given such a nickname due to his constant sketches of a cowboy figure that went alongside his signature or autographs he gave out at the racetrack. Coupled with the type of rugged personality that MacCarty Jr. had, the nickname naturally stuck.
MacCarty Jr. was a history teacher at a few of the area high schools, and was particularly enamored with Western history, which his friends say also led to his nickname.
Bailey — a native of Rockford, Illinois — finished third in the feature race Saturday night, which was all the more impressive considering it was the first time he has ever driven a sprint car in competition. Bailey usually drives in the late model races, but Saturday’s ride was to honor his friend.
“I came across this, and we got a good deal and I teamed up with Butch,” Bailey said, adding that local racer Pete Ischi was the previous owner of the sprint car.
Good friend and part-owner Butch Essex, who was running the truck to push start the sprint cars, said he was thrilled to see Twin Cities Raceway honor MacCarty’s memory.
“It’s really exciting, and I’m glad they let us have the memorial for ‘Cowboy,’” Essex said. “That was awesome.”
MacCarty, who lived in Homer and could be seen most weekends at either Twin Cities Raceway or at Homer’s Beluga Lake in the winter for the ice races, usually drove the powerful sprint machines, while Bailey took the reigns for the late models.
“Before he bought the late model, he bought the sprint car, and I said you’re gonna have to get someone else to drive it, I don’t drive sprint cars,” Bailey said. “So he got me a late model, and we won the track championship two years in a row here. Then he took over.”
Saturday night, Cameron McGahan swept all three sprint car races, ending the night with a dominant feature win. McGahan was able to find more speed than the others by arcing his No. 33 Tesoro-sponsored race car into the corners, which helped to avoid the bumps in turn one.
“It was a good night, no doubt,” McGahan said. “Pretty wild too.”
The evening featured two scary rollovers that involved the No. 5 legends car of 73-year-old veteran Mike Thomas and the No. 23 sprint car of Randy Barnes of Kenai.
In the second heat race in the legends division, Thomas spent almost all eight laps racing the No. 88 of Bryan Barber for the lead, but Barber ultimately ended up grabbing the victory by little more than a car length.
However, moments after crossing the finish line, Barber’s car swerved left into the right side of Thomas, which sent Thomas spinning sideways. From there, Thomas’ left front tire dug into the dirt in Turn 1 and barrell-rolled through the air, eventually landing on its wheels, sheet metal scattered around it.
“It was so quick, and all I saw was his car,” Thomas said in the pit area after the crash. “It seemed like it went over about three times, but I was just upset to have the car torn up.”
Barber immediately jumped out and checked on Thomas to make sure he was OK.
“The wheel just felt like it was yanked out of my hands,” Barber described. “I tried to turn right, but I couldn’t correct it and hit (Thomas).
“My first thought was to get out and make sure he was all right. I was more worried about him than myself.”
Barber said after checking his car for potential problems that might have led to the accident, he found none.
“I can’t find anything wrong with it, but some people behind said I hit a pothole or something,” Barber said. “I’m not really sure what happened.”
Thomas said his initial estimate of the cost will be around $10,000 worth of damage, which will likely leave him out of next weekend’s Fourth of July races, but he’ll be back before the end of the summer.
The second rollover accident of the night came in the final feature event with the sprint cars. Only five laps into the 20-lap race, Barnes ran wide racing off Turn 4 and clipped the outside wall, catapulting his machine into a series of violent flips down the front stretch.
Barnes said he overdrove the corner and could not get his car back down to the racing groove.
“I remember hitting the wall and it rang my bell,” Barnes said. “It was like someone smacked me in the back of my head real hard, but not enough to knock me out.
“Evidently, when I hit the wall, it jammed my throttle and caused it to stick. I wasn’t looking because I was afraid I was still crashing.”
Once Barnes’ car managed to land back on its wheels, it continued to drive down the track and into the grassy infield, where it plowed right through a wall of sponsor signs and came to rest in a mud puddle.
Barnes — lovably nicknamed “Ewok” by his close friends — is 65 years old and has been racing since 1974, and said Saturday’s crash was not the first time he has been upside down in a race, but it certainly was one of the wildest.
In the B-Stock division, John Clemmons drove his No. 77 car to the victory in all three races to collect the sweep.
Races continue into the July 4th holiday with action Friday and Saturday nights, starting at 6 p.m., with qualifying at 4 p.m.
Heat 1 С 1. Keith Jones; 2. Dean DeVaney; 3. Jake Savely; 4. Dean Scroggins; 5. Jeff Bettis; 6. Jimmie Hale; 7. Brooke DeVaney; 8. Tainna Jones; 9. Ira Beck.
Heat 2 С 1. Brooke DeVaney; 2. Jimmie Hale; 3. Dean DeVaney; 4. Jeff Bettis; 5. Dean Scroggins; 6. Tainna Jones; 7. Keith Jones; 8. Jake Savely; 9. Ira Beck.
Feature С 1. Keith Jones; 2. Jimmie Hale; 3. Dean DeVaney; 4. Brooke DeVaney; 5. Jeff Bettis; 6. Tainna Jones; 7. Jake Savely; 8. Dean Scroggins; 9. Ira Beck.
Heat 1 С 1. John Clemmons; 2. Dustin Bass; 3. Chuck Winters.
Heat 2 С 1. John Clemmons; 2. Chuck Winters; 3. Dustin Bass.
Feature С 1. John Clemmons; 2. Chuck Winters; 3. Dustin Bass.
Heat 1 С 1. Mike Braddock; 2. Jason Magers; 3. Jim Adams; 4. Goeff Clark; 5. Shawn Hutchings.
Heat 2 С 1. Jim Adams; 2. Goeff Clark; 3. Mike Braddock.
Feature С 1. Mike Braddock; 2. Goeff Clark; 3. Jim Adams.
Heat 1 С 1. David Kusmider; 2. Mike Thomas; 3. Ty Torkelson; 4. Bryan Barber.
Heat 2 С 1. Bryan Barber; 2. Mike Thomas; 3. David Kusmider; 4. Ty Torkelson.
Feature С 1. David Kusmider; 2. Bryan Barber; 3. Ty Torkelson.
Heat 1 С 1. Cameron McGahan; 2. Cody McGahan; 3. Randy Barnes; 4. Jamie Chilton; 5. Mike Bailey.
Heat 2 С 1. Cameron McGahan; 2. Jamie Chilton; 3. Mike Bailey; 4. Cody McGahan; 5. Randy Barnes.
Feature С 1. Cameron McGahan; 2. Cody McGahan; 3. Mike Bailey; 4. Jamie Chilton; 5. Randy Barnes.