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Irwin wins sprint race when leaders crash

By CHUCK LANDIS - clandis@chronicle-tribune.com

GAS CITY — In back-to-back weeks, Gas City/I-69 Speedway has seen two of the closest and wildest non-wing sprint feature races in the quarter-mile track’s some 30-year history.

Michigan driver Steve Irwin was the beneficiary Friday night after a late incident between leaders Shane Cottle and Clinton Boyles and captured his first ever win at Gas City before the largest crowd of the year. Tempers flared near the end of the 25-lap feature when Cottle threw his steering wheel at Boyles’ car as he drove past under caution.

With Cottle leading on lap 21, Boyles clipped his car and caused a spin out while trying a pass. It may have been retribution after Boyles was clipped by Cottle on lap 2 and spun out, only he was able to correct it and remain in the race.

Track officials sent Boyles to the back of the pack for causing Cottle’s accident and he would finish in 10th place instead of winning his fourth race of the season. Cottle, Gas City’s all-time feature wins leader, ended up in 14th place and lost ground to Boyles in the season-long points chase.

“We had to put Clinton to the back because you don’t take somebody out and he kind of took (Cottle) out,” track promoter Jerry Gappens Jr. said. “We had three people on the call and we all decided that was a little excessive.”

Irwin, Fenton, Michigan, was a few car lengths behind when Cottle and Boyles had their shunt and inherited the lead, then held off Adam Byrkett, Burnettsville to the checkered flag for a most improbable win for the occasional Gas City driver. He finished sixth in the June 16 feature but prior to that last raced at the track in 2013.

“To be honest, I’d been happy running third,” Irwin said. “I don’t come down here all the time. We live four hours away and this is the cream of the crop in non-wing. We have a non-wing deal of our own back in Michigan that we dominate and it’s just awesome to come down here and win.

“I’d have been fine running third. I mean, running behind (car owners) Paul (Hazen’s) car and Steve Phillips’ car with those two great drivers, I’d have been happy with that. But they got together trying for the bottom and I capitalized on it.”

Teen-aged drivers Kayeleb Bolton, Kokomo, and Braydan Willmington, New South Wales, Australia, finished third and fifth, with Travis Hery, Piqua, Ohio, sandwiched between them. Willmington not only was making his first ever Gas City appearance, it was his first race in the United States.

Boyles had a 29-point lead over Cottle in the point standings and was able to add to his advantage despite the penalty. Cottle had little to show for dominating the race after taking the lead following Boyles’ spin out.

In addition to Friday’s incidents, the two drivers previously made contact in the June 8 feature where Cottle flipped on the backstretch and Boyles went on to win. As far as Cottle was concerned it was too similar to the previous incident.

“I really feel those two have developed a true rivalry,” Gappens Jr. said of Cottle and Boyles. “They are 1-2 in points and race hard every week here. That was pure aggressive racing and the fans loved it.

“They were going for the lead and hat’s off to both of them,” he added. “I understand why Cottle is upset, but on a dirt track it gets a little rough. The crowd loved it and it’s good as long as it’s under control. When it gets out of control that’s a problem, and we wanted to make sure it didn’t escalate past throwing things.”

Tension was high in the pits immediately following the race and a crowd was milling around both Boyles and Cottle’s work stations, which were at opposite ends. Track personnel made sure to keep both drivers separated and there was no further incident.

Gappens Jr. said his biggest concern was Cottle getting out of his car and walking on the track toward Boyles’ car, creating a dangerous situation for himself.

“Shane getting out of the car when there’s cars moving on the track, there’s been history the last few years with people doing that and it’s not a safe situation,” Gappens Jr. said. “Emotions boil over and that’s why we had (track officials) contain him and it was hard to do. There’s no place for anybody to get out of their car and on the track.”

Irwin, 40, has won seven championships on dirt and pavement in his native Michigan, including SOD, and he became the 66th different driver to win a sprint feature since Gas City reopened in 1996. Following the race he paid tribute to fellow Michigander Brian Tyler, a four-time USAC champion and Anderson Little 500 winner.

“I’m happy,” Irwin said. “There’s only been one guy who’s run good on the dirt from Michigan and that was Brian Tyler and he was one of my heroes. It’s good to represent Michigan in non wing.

“I’d love to come down here and run,” he added. “I’m an older guy but in retrospect I’ve only raced about 20 to 25 races a year my whole career. There are guys who race three nights a week and 15 years younger than me that has run more races than I have. I’m old in age but I still think I can get better as a driver and win more and do better things.”

C.J. Leary had won the previous sprint feature June 30 by mere inches over Cottle at the finish line.

Winners also were decided in four other divisions: Landon Simon, Brownsburg, in midgets; Todd Kirkman, Kokomo, in 600cc winged micro sprints; Jim Mallery, Mooresville, a first-time Gas City UMP Modified winner, and Jami Cale, Huntington, in super streets.

The thunder car feature followed a similar script to the sprints, with another controversial incident between Randy Lines and Terry Sroufe. Lines had led most of the race and was attempting to regain the lead from Sroufe.

 An estimated 2,500 fans attended the program and 99 cars were entered in the five divisions. The Mid-Season Showdown is Friday and includes a $6,000 thunder car race.