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Hewitt relishes first sprint car victory

VICTORY HUG: First-time sprint feature winner Tyler Hewitt (right) of Marion gets a hug from Thomas Meseraull following Friday’s race at Gas City/I-69 Speedway.

By CHUCK LANDIS - clandis@chronicle-tribune.com

Tyler Hewitt's first sprint car feature victory was 12 years in the making, and that alone makes it unforgettable.

To accomplish it at his home track, Gas City/I-69 Speedway, and in front of family and friends and against a competitive field of race drivers, is something he will always cherish.

Hewitt held off Thomas Meseraull, who is having a historic season at the track, and one of Ohio's best, Matt Westfall, to claim the 25-lap "Beach Night Bash" sprint feature in a near dead heat. The top three finishers were separated by .3 seconds.

"We had a lot of fast times, had a lot of heat wins and fast time awards," Hewitt said Thursday afternoon, "but this is the first time I've got it done for the whole night and won the feature. It was a pretty big deal."

Gas City continues on the home stretch of its 2019 season this evening with a "Hot August Night" program featuring non-wing sprints, USAC SpeeD2 Midgets, UMP Modifieds, street stocks, and hornets. The quarter-mile oval track then takes off the following week and will have six shows remaining, including the September 26 "James Dean Classic" USAC national sprints.

Holding off Meseraull, who has six feature wins at Gas City this season, gave the 31-year-old Marion driver a real sense of accomplishment. The race brought together the Ohio-based BOSS against top local drivers, and points leader Westfall has won at Gas City.

"We were fast," Hewitt said. "We had quick time for the night and we were second in our heat. I felt going into the feature that we would have a pretty good night. We had to beat Meseraull to do it and Meseraull's been the guy at Gas City all year, but we were able to pass him early and hold him off most of the time.

"There's been a lot of good cars at Gas City this year and they haven't been able to beat (Meseraull)," he added. "So it was good to know you were right on with your equipment and stuff and you've got some speed."

Entering this evening, Meseraull holds a 94-point lead over reigning track champion Clinton Boyles and Hewitt is 115 points back in third. Hewitt placed third in the 2018 season standings.

Hewitt started racing at age 18 driving USAC Ford Focus Midgets with the past seven years in non-winged sprints. After campaigning his own car on a limited budget, Hewitt joined forces with John Long, Muncie, four years ago his fortunes have steadily improved.

The 82-year-old Long is an entrepreneur and former preacher who came to Benic Enterprises where Hewitt is employed and wanted to acquire a sprint car. Hewitt helped with the initial preparation of the car and before long he became its driver.

"When he put this deal together he was kinda new to this sprint car thing," Hewitt said of Long. "We put it together and got everything from Benics and it was a process for both of us. He was learning to be a car owner and I'd never had equipment that good before, and it was a learning curve for both of us.

"We were close to wins before and could never cap it off," Hewitt continued. "It was very exciting for him to win, and it's cool to work with somebody that long and keep the chemistry. We are really close and it's been a lot of fun over the years."

Hewitt said his wife Abby is another strong influence in his racing career, and she also has a racing background.

"My wife used to race herself and that's how we met, in a race 10 years ago in Tulsa, Oklahoma so she gets it," Hewitt said. "She has a passion for it and is one of my biggest fans and critics, If I had done something wrong on the race, or something I haven't seen before she's there put me in the right direction and it's awesome having her in my corner."

The "Beach Night Bash" was just the start of a big weekend at Gas City Speedway. The following evening, promoter Jerry Gappens Jr. staged a "Night of Destruction, Thrills and Chills" that became his most successful show in his nearly two seasons running the track.

"We had standing room only and put people in the pits and the grandstands," Gappens said of the program that featured Monster Trucks and school bus races. "The (Gas City) police department and couple other people told me it was the largest crowd in the speedway's history.

"I noticed a lot of families," he continued. "The appeal for kids and even some adults are the Monster Trucks and school bus races, the smash 'em up type thing. Monster Trucks are big and loud and the school buses are big and colorful, and there is the demo derby. It was a pretty unique entertainment package and appealed to a larger audience."

Gappens put on a school bus race last year during an intermission and expanded on the program to include the other events.

"There will be a 'Night of Destruction II', I promise you that," Gappens said. "It was an entertaining package, God blessed us with super nice weather, and we had a great crowd. It was by far the biggest thing I've done here."