CEDAR RAPIDS – Joey Gase didn’t expect attending opening night at Hawkeye Downs Speedway.
The 19-year-old race car driver anticipated being in Talladega, Ala., after signing a deal to run a full NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule with Go Green Racing in January. After racing the first five Nationwide Series races, sponsorship issues have kept Gase from running the last two contests and Saturday’s Aaron 312.
Gase returned to where his career started, competing in the late model division Friday night for the asphalt track’s first weekly points races of the 2012 season.
In the cut throat business of racing, if you can find the cash then you can get a ride. A deal with a sponsor didn’t work out and Gase was without an opportunity after posting a season-best 23rd-place finish March 24 in the Royal Purple 300 at Auto Club Speedway where he completed 148 of 150 laps.
“We still have a really good relationship with them,” Gase said of Go Green Racing. “We need sponsor help right now. A bunch of people do. It;s kind of sad how many guys were doing the whole season on Nationwide and then their sponsor fell through.”
Gase finished 29th or higher in three races, avoiding trouble that hampered him in his other two starts. He said his team at GGR was happy with his performances. He admits it can be a little frustrating taking a step back after being in one of the nation’s top series.
”You just have to deal with it,” said Gase, noting Nationwide driver Blake Koch is experiencing the same thing and Timmy Hill dropped from NASCAR Sprint Cup to Nationwide Series competition due to sponsorship. “You see how many guys it happens to and I know I still have a lot of time.”
The Nationwide Series visits Iowa Speedway in Newton for the Pioneer Hi-Bred 250 on May 20. Gase said they have been pursuing possible sponsors for that race, getting back with GGR or another team. The prospects look good and his team is optimistic about making a sixth Nationwide start in Iowa.
“We’re hoping,” Gase said. “We’re working on it. We hope to post a deal pretty soon.”
Gase chased the leaders in the late model feature, and it was a different 19-year-old being chased. Thor Anderson, of Bondurant, led the last 21 laps, surviving five restarts to earn the checkered flag in the late model feature. Griffin McGrath was second with Gase finishing third and 2011 points champion Brad Osborn fourth.
Anderson made a move nine laps into the race to overtake Zach Less, a state finalist in wrestling who is finishing his sophomore year at West Delaware High School, and never surrendered the lead. The race hit the midway point before its first yellow flag but saw five total cautions before Lap 24. The last six were green and Anderson made his trip to victory lane.
“It’s great. It really shows how the work paid off,” Anderson said. “My dad, the crew, we all worked really hard this winter to get this car to be really fast.”
Anderson had his doubts as the night started, but made the adjustments to be good enough when it mattered most.
“We got a lot faster in the heat,” Anderson said after having doubts in practice. “I knew we had a chance, but wasn’t totally confident.”
Brad Chandler, who won the hornet division last year with nine feature wins, was named the race immediately after the feature. After post-race inspection a technical flaw forced official to disqualify Chandler, bumping him from first to last in the results. Last year’s season points champion Matt Petrzelka was second, but moved up to receive the feature win.
Veteran Dave McCalla returned to the sportsman division after a year away, and led the entire race for his first sportsman feature win since 2010. McCalla dominated, pulling away from field for an easy victory.
McCalla spent last season racing on dirt, but came back to Hawkeye Downs because it was less travel. he also feels the pinch from less sponsorship. He placed ahead of 2011 champion Cory Houdek and Bob Ahrendsen.
“This thing was sitting in the garage,” said McCalla, who won the 2008 sportsman season championship at the track with his No. 3 car. “I hated seeing such a good car sitting in the garage. I said let’s put it together and see if it can compete.”
McCalla wasn’t the only veteran to return to the track. Former track champion Kevin Korsmo went from the broadcast booth to a legends car seat. He was successful, winning the legends feature. He started on the front row and immediately pulled away, lapping a number of cars without loosing control. Korsmo had some special fans in the stands.
“It’s great to have my family here,” Korsmo said. “You never know when you’re going to get a win.”
Brian Gibson match his feature win total from a year ago, earning the modified feature win. He held a comfortable lead in the 20-lap feature when Ed O’Brien spun out between the third and fourth turns, forcing a caution and restart with five laps remaining. It didn’t faze Gibson, who finished ahead of 13-year-old Jake Griffin, of Quincy, Ill.., and 2011 champion Ryan Luedtke.
Griffin is receiving tutelage from track legend Johnny Spaw and multi-year champion Tim Plummer. Griffin, who is driving Plummer’s old modified car, was impressive.
“He’s doing a great job,” Gibson said of Griffin. “It was fun to race with him.”
Kurt Bohnsack persevered a hornets race that was also plagued by wrecks and cautions. Even he was spun out in the midst of a restart with 14 laps remaining, but rebounded to win the feature.
HAWKEYE DOWNS SPEEDWAY
At Cedar Rapids
Heat winners – 1st: Brad Osborn; 2nd: Griffin McGrath
Feature – 1. Thor Anderson, 2. McGrath, 3. Joey Gase, 4.Osborn , 5. Jay Jaspers
Heat winners – 1st: Dave McCalla; 2nd: Craig Stepanek
Feature – 1. McCalla, 2. Cory Houdek, 3. Bob Ahrendsen, 4. Stepanek, 5. Dave Ballstaedt
Heat winners – 1st: Vince Bartolotta; 2nd: Matt Blake
Feature – 1. Kevin Korsmo, 2. Bartolotta, 3. Blake, 4. Dennis Diercks
Heat winner – Jake Griffin
Feature – 1. Brian Gibson, 2. Griffin, 3. Ryan Luedtke, 4. Craig Bender, 5. Jason Beauregard
Heat winner – Matt Petrzelka
Feature – 1. Brad Chandler, 2. Petrzelka, 3.Roland Bohnsack , 4. Derek Parrott, 5. Alex George
Heat winners – 1st: Ian Pate; 2nd: John Ness; 3rd: Shane Hansen
Feature – 1. Kurt Bohnsack, 2. Pate, 3. Dallas Chandler, 4. Shane Hansen, 5. Ness