It takes a certain type of brashness and bravery to hurl a 500-horsepower Sprint Car at high speed into a dirt embankment with over a dozen others swarming the track.
Just ask the drivers themselves.
“It’s a show,” Geoff Clark said. “It’s a rush!”
“It’s the ultimate adrenaline rush,” piped in Randy Barnes. “We’re all a bit crazy.”
Clark and Barnes were part of the show Saturday night and Sunday afternoon as a statewide field of drivers beat and banged in the fourth annual Alaska Dirt Track Shootout at Twin City Raceway.
The Sprint Car feature highlighted the show Saturday night, when 14 hungry drivers tackled the challenging dirt of the one-third-mile track, often billed as the “Fastest Dirt Track” in Alaska.
When the 25-lap Sprint feature kicked off — with a traditional three-wide “Salute to the Fans” pace lap as a prelude — the field of 14 rushed into Turn 1 and was seemingly never seen again as the dust kicked up and things got wild.
Through it all, Emma McDonald came through to claim the feature win, joining her family members in picking up individual victories Saturday. Emma’s brother, Logan, won a pair of heat races earlier in the night and father, John, won a heat as well.
John McDonald had the highlight of the night in the second heat when he lost control and flipped his No. 78 Sprint Car several times in a violent accident moments after the green flag flew. McDonald climbed from his machine and was back in the pit area with at least half a dozen family and friends feverishly working to make repairs.
“It was an old-age mistake,” McDonald admitted. “I got too aggressive, thought that I had room and didn’t, and got up on the (dirt) berm.”
McDonald had contact with another vehicle as the field raced into the first turn and was squeezed to the bottom, causing the rollover. McDonald said he had been through “probably a dozen” similar crashes like that in his 21-year racing career.
“It hurt a couple times when it hit,” he said. “But only just for a minute.”
The McDonald family out of Houston includes patriarch John, Emma, Logan and Liam. Together, the family helped John make repairs to the car, which he estimated would cost the team around $2,000 of repair work.
The family made the trip from the Valley, along with a multitude of other racing families, for the weekend to participate in the statewide event, which will also host an unofficial second leg of the Shootout in two weeks at Capitol Speedway in Willow, just up the Richardson Highway from Wasilla, a weekend billed as the Capitol Speedway Invitational.
The feature wasn’t a lap old when Logan McDonald and J.J. Sohl tangled in the first set of turns. McDonald lost control and spun while Sohl turned to avoid him and slid to a stop against his fellow racer while Geoff Clark, a veteran of the track, barely slid by.
“I saw two cars balled up there and I cranked it hard to the left, cranked it hard to the right and throttled out,” Clark recounted.
In the B-Stock division Saturday, Chuck Winters picked up the feature win to add to his second heat victory. Dustin Bass won the first heat of the night.
Winters added to his growing championship lead with the two wins, both of which he pulled away in to craft easy triumphs, and said the biggest challenge was keeping hold of a slick track that was continually watered down due to dry conditions.
“It was a one-groove racetrack in the first heat,” Winters said. “The track was soaking wet, you couldn’t pass.”
Winters said the Dirt Track Shootout is special due to the number of competitors that show up from around the state.
“There are so many cars that come out, guys from Capitol and Mitchell (Speedway in Fairbanks),” he said. “You’ve got to go run in this.”
Clark said the growing event started as a competition between the local Kenai and Soldotna racers at Twin City and the Fairbanks racers that compete at the Mitchell Speedway.
“We said we’re going to come up there and take your money,” he said. “And they said, ‘Well we’ll come down there and take yours!’”
In the A-Stock division, Jeremy Herr of Soldotna came through to grab the feature win in the No. 1/5 car after dominating all night. Herr, a second-year driver that is competing in his first full-time season, said the combination of the increased field sizes and great weather helped play a role in Saturday’s successful venture.
“It’s awesome to see that many cars out here,” Herr said. “It’s awesome to see the fans out.”
Herr added that once he wrapped up his feature victory, he was all eyes for the Sprint Car feature.
“I’m thinking, ‘Oh wow, this is going to be amazing,’” he said.
John Clemmons and Al Ulman dueled for victory in the Late Models class, with Clemmons taking both heat races and Ulman running away with the feature.
In the Legends class, it was all Bryan Barber in the No. 88 machine as the Soldotna native swept the three races. Barber extended his championship lead with the sweep.