POINTS CHASE HEATS UP WITH BEAULIEU VICTORY
LETHBRIDGE, AB – Race fans at Bridge County Raceway anticipated a heated battle on the track Saturday night. What they got from drivers of the Northern Provincial Pipelines Late Model Series was one of the wildest races of the season. Campbell River British Columbia’s Jason Beaulieu would win the Feature in his #46 All Weather Windows Dodge.
Stony Plain Alberta’s Mike Tom was second in his #55 Hinton Oilfield Chevrolet. Whitecourt Alberta’s Paul Grundberg placed third in his #12 Carlan Oilfied Services Pontiac. Just getting to victory lane though was a hard fought battle. Bruce Broughton and Curtis Moore won their qualifying Heat races which automatically transferred them to the ‘A’ Dash event. There was some drama after the second qualifying heat. Shawn Kennedy was awarded the victory after Mike Tom, who originally took the checkered flag, was penalized four positions for jumping the start.
Tom, who sits fifth in the NPP point’s chase, would run his first ‘B’ Dash of the season. In fact, five out of the six cars that ran the ‘B’ Dash Saturday night were in the top 10 in points. Brian McCaughan, second in NPP points, had a tire go down in qualifying Heat race #2. Kevin Wheeler was hoping to run his 8th ‘A’ Dash event of the season but defending NPP Late Model Series Champion Jason Beaulieu would grab the fourth and final transfer spot near the end of qualifying Heat #3. Current NPP Series point leader Dwight Kennedy would be forced to run the ‘B’ Dash for the fourth time this season and third race night in a row. “Cracking into the top 4 of these qualifying heats is not as easy as it sounds,” says the driver of the #81 Lucas Oil Dodge, “its tough work out there. I just couldn’t get past the number ten (Travis Day).” Day entered race action Saturday night 13th in the NPP point chase. After taking over the point lead on June 7th, Kennedy has watched his 119 point cushion dwindle to 89 points. “We could use some of those bonus dash points right about now.” Kevin Wheeler would win the ‘B’ Dash with Mike Tom finishing second. The 12 car, ‘A’ Dash saw some hard racing for position. This ‘mini’ feature also saw two hard crashes in the closing laps. Bruce Broughton’s night would come to an end after getting out of shape down the back straight. Ricocheting off cars sent Broughton into the wall. The Spruce Grove Alberta drivers #61 LJB Auto Chevrolet could not be repaired in time for the Feature. The second crash saw race leader Ken Clark and second place Kevin Clark get together. “I talked to Kenny about it,” says Kevin Clark, “I feel bad about the crash cause he was running so good. I maybe could have lifted a little bit.”
“There was a little crowding going on,” agrees Ken Clark, “I came down just a little bit as Kevin got into the side of me.” Both cars looked to be welded together as they drove into the turn four wall. Kevin Clark was able to drive his car away from the incident. Ken Clark’s race car required a tow. Jason Beaulieu would inherit the race lead and would drive on to victory guaranteeing him pole position for the Feature. Paul Grundberg would fight his way from the back of the pack in the ‘A’ Dash and finish second and collected some extra passing points as well. The 25 lap Feature saw seventeen race cars take the green flag. The big race of the night would be caution free until the halfway point. The last half of the Feature saw several yellow flags for single vehicle spins and accidents. Sparks flew as Shawn Kennedy struck the front straight wall in a single vehicle incident. The Edson Alberta driver would be done for the night and would be credited with 17th. The biggest incident of the race and the entire season so far took place on Lap 19.
A total of 6 cars were facing the wrong direction on the track. Kevin Wheeler, running 7th, struck a spinning Travis Day (running 5th) head on. Dwight Kennedy (running 6th) also got collected up in the melee. Pat Fines, Wayne Gideon and Ashley Broughton, who were all running just out of the top 10, spun and managed to escape the carnage with no serious damage. Wheeler would finish the night in 15th. Day managed to stay on the track and salvage a 10th place finish. Kennedy would wrap up the night in 8th. The final 5 laps were caution free. Jason Beaulieu was challenged a few times for the lead by Mike Tom but would hang on for the win. “It was so slick at the end,” says Beaulieu, “I tried to play it safe. I knew Mike Tom was right behind me but we got it done.” Beaulieu’s Lethbridge win and the victory in Edmonton July 12th has moved him to within 26 points of Dwight Kennedy for the NPP Series lead. “It could be my son that grabs the point lead in Rimbey,” smiles Beaulieu, “I am shaking down my dirt modified in Elma Washington (next) Saturday night in preparation for the Nationals in August so Chris will be filling in.” Ironically, Chris Beaulieu was filling in for Darrell Midgley who normally campaigns the #14 Lucas Oil Dodge. The younger Beaulieu finished the Lethbridge race in fourth. Stony Plain Alberta’s Mike Tom finished second. “We lost a motor here the end of May so it feels pretty good to finish second here tonight.” Including a Feature win in Edmonton on June 28th, Tom has finished fourth or better the last four NPP race events. “I like running in Lethbridge. It’s a fast track. Made all my moves on the bottom of the track tonight. We debated back and forth (with my crew) about the set up whether or not the track would stay tacky. Luckily we made the correct set up adjustments.” Tom is fifth in the points chase just 100 points behind current Series leader Dwight Kennedy.
After back to back DNF’s Paul Grunberg found his way back to the podium for the first time since the May long weekend where he picked up a Feature win and a second. “The track went dry slick really fast,” says the Whitecourt Alberta driver, “it was kinda hard to get around. We were on the verge of spinning all the time. We had to let Mike (Tom) go by us. He was faster so that’s what you have to do.” Grundberg’s strong showing in Lethbridge allowed him to move from 8th to 6th in the NPP Series point standings just 62 points out of a top 5 spot.
Race teams of the Northern Provincial Pipelines Late Model Series now prepare for the track some call too tough to tame. The Series makes its one and only visit to Central Alberta Raceways on Saturday, July 26th.