LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The Lone Star State stood strong in Little Rock on Friday night as Texas natives Aaron Reutzel and Sam Hafertepe Jr. raced to victory lane in the 35th annual COMP Cams Short Track Nationals presented by Hoosier Tires preliminary “Twin 20s” at I-30 Speedway.
Both drivers secured starting positions among the first three rows of Saturday night’s $15,041-to-win Short Track Nationals championship feature along with runner-up finishers Jason Martin and Seth Bergman.
Another two drivers that accumulate the most points from Friday’s prelim action along with Saturday’s heat races will join those four in the Pack Dash for Cash that sets the front three rows of the 41-lap finale.
Eighty-four drivers, the most since the 2013 edition of the STN, took part in Friday’s Lucas Oil ASCS National Tour preliminary card that was split into Programs A and B based upon pill draw.
After a convincing victory in Thursday night’s 15th Annual Ralph Henson Memorial that was worth $5,646, it was more of the same in the first of Friday’s “Twin 20’s” with Aaron Reutzel racing to another dominating win.
The Clute, Texas, native now residing in Knoxville, Iowa, gridded the feature outside the second row and made the move of the race on the opening circuit when he took the Ridge & Sons Racing Mobil 1/Folkens Brothers Trucking No. 8 Sprint Car to the topside of turns one and two to pull alongside front row starters Jason Martin and Mark Smith.
The trio raced down the backstretch in tight, three-wide-fashion with Reutzel riding the top line through three and four to take command.
He never looked back as he raced to first career STN prelim win and locked himself into his fifth career STN championship finale.
“My guys give me such a good car, I just hope we can do it one more time tomorrow night,” Reutzel commented in victory lane after his 16th overall feature win of the season.
A pair of cautions in the opening eight rounds, including one for third-running Mark Smith when he slowed to a stop, kept Reutzel clear of traffic until the final handful of laps.
Reutzel had little trouble working through a trio of battling cars and cruised on to victory lane unabated.
Railing the high side much of the way, Reutzel occasionally tested the waters on the low side as well.
“I felt like we had a comfortable enough lead that I could search around some and hopefully learn something that will make us better for tomorrow night,” Reutzel explained.
Jason Martin tried to keep pace with Reutzel but to no avail and was under pressure from Justin Sanders and Colton Hardy as he encountered the same trio of lapped cars in the closing laps.
Martin was up to the task as he held on to the runner-up slot to lock into his second career STN finale.
After starting eighth, Sanders worked his way into fifth in the opening pair of circuits and ultimately took third away from Hardy on the ninth round.
Fending off Hardy the rest of the way, Sanders set his sights on Martin only to fall short as Hardy crossed the stripe in fourth. Canada’s Dylan Westbrook rounded out the top five with Dylan Postier, two-time STN winner Tony Bruce, Jr., Jeremy Middleton, 19th-starter Garet Williamson and 17th-starter Matt Covington completed the top ten.
Hafertepe Wins The Nightcap
Hafertepe, Jr., established that he is once again a top contender for Saturday night’s lucrative payday by picking up his fifth career STN preliminary feature win in Friday’s second “Twin 20” main event.
The 2020 STN champion gunned into the lead from the front row outside and kept Seth Bergman and Ryan Timms at bay throughout the frantic, non-stop affair to secure the win aboard the Hills Racing Cigar Port/Truenorth.bet No. 15h, locking into his tenth career STN finale.
“We finished second last night, which was decent,” Hafertepe, Jr., commented. “We made a lot of changes for tonight and the car was a lot better.”
With Hafertepe racing to the green flag from the front row outside, Snohomish, Washington native Bergman tried to repeat Reutzel’s move around the extreme topside of the track in turns one and two. But when pole starter Timms slid to the cushion in front of him, Bergman’s momentum was slowed to allow Hafertepe into the lead.
Bergman made his way into second in the next pair of corners as Timms slipped back another spot before finding the top line and reclaiming third by the fifth round.
Hafertepe was pressured by Bergman throughout with Timms reeling in the lead duo to make a three-way chase for the point as traffic came into play on the ninth round.
Bergman made his big bid for the lead with a slider in turn four on the 15th round, only to bang off the cushion with Hafertepe countering back into the lead. Timms pounced on the slight Bergman miscue a half-lap later only to do a 360-degree loop in turn two.
With the lead trio a full straightaway ahead of the rest of the pack, Timms retained the third position but lost significant ground to the lead pair.
Hafertepe held steady over the final rounds and took his sixth win of the year ahead of Bergman, who secured a position in his eighth career STN finale.
Timms settled for the show position with Tim Crawley crossing the stripe fourth in his final weekend of I-30 Speedway competition.
First Feature (20 Laps – Starting position in parentheses): 1. 8r-Aaron Reutzel (1), 2. 36-Jason Martin (1), 3. 39-Justin Sanders (8), 4. 41-Colton Hardy (5), 5. 47x-Dylan Westbrook (7), 6. 10p-Dylan Postier (10), 7. 12h-Tony Bruce, Jr. (9), 8. 15J-Jeremy Middleton (6), 9. 24w-Garet Williamson (19), 10. 95-Matt Covington (17), 11. 21x-Carson Short (15), 12. 17-Alex Sewell (3), 13. 22s-Slater Helt (20), 14. 2-Chase Porter (18), 15. 4x-Brad Bowden (13), 16. 13-Chase Howard (16), 17. 99L-Lewis Jenkins, Jr. (14), 18. 85-Josh McCord (12), 19. 43m-Mark Smith (2), 20. 91a-Ernie Ainsworth (11).
Second Feature (20 Laps – Starting position in parentheses): 1. 15h-Sam Hafertepe, Jr. (2), 2. 23-Seth Bergman (4), 3. 5T-Ryan Timms (1), 4. 87-Tim Crawley (6), 5. 52-Blake Hahn (8), 6. 2c-Wayne Johnson (7), 7. 9jr-Derek Hagar (13), 8. 3-Howard Moore (3), 9. 51b-Joe B. Miller (11), 10. 1jr-Steven Russell (5), 11. 47-Dale Howard (9), 12. 14-Jordon Mallett (17), 13. 45x-Kyler Johnson (10), 14. 22-Riley Goodno (12), 15. 77-Jack Wagner (14), 16. 10-Landon Britt (18), 17. 187-Landon Crawley (15), 18. 71-Bradyn Baker (16), 19. 8m-Kade Morton (19), 20. G6-Cody Gardner (DNS).