Talladega Short Track
Cook survives for second Ice Bowl victory at TST
By Joshua JoinerDirtonDirt.com staff writer
EASTABOGA, Ala. (Jan. 8) – After a less-than-stellar 2011 racing season, the possibility of going winless in 2012 was a thought that crossed Ray Cook’s mind a couple of times over the offseason.
He need not worry about that anymore.
Mastering a treacherous track surface that knocked out a number of would-be contenders, Cook of Brasstown, N.C., drove to his second Ice Bowl victory Sunday evening at Talladega Short Track, picking up a $6,000 payday in the unsanctioned season-opening event. | Video | Slideshow | Prelims
“I worry about going through a year without winning so now they can’t skunk us for 2012,” Cook said. “I’m not gonna lie, it’s somewhat of a relief to go ahead and get that out of the picture right off the bat.”
The fourth-starting Cook took the lead from polesitter Jason Wilson of Margaret, Ala., on lap eight of the 50-lapper and led the remaining distance in a race that had just six finishers. Joe Armistead Jr. of Senoia, Ga., was second with Stacy Holmes of Munford, Ala., third. Jason Heitt of Lincoln, Ala., and Chad Winkles of Falkville, Ala., rounded out the top five.
The race was one of attrition. An event that’s known for single-laned, uneventful racing around the bottom of Talladega’s third-mile oval was the exact opposite on Sunday. Some raced high, others raced low. But no matter where they ran on the track, they all bounced around like pin balls.
Cook bounced the least. While the rest of the field struggled to find the best lines through the corners, Cook stayed steady and ran with relative ease compared to the airborne struggles experienced by some of his competitors. The Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series regular ran around the high side in turns one and two and the bottom side on the other end.
“It was rough. I’d be kidding if I said it wasn’t,” Cook said. “The top of one and two, just like (during Saturday’s heat races), was the smoothest. I just tried to get up there and stay as long as I could. I never went through the bottom (of one and two) all night. Then I just tried to work the bottom of three and four. I could run the top of three and four if we needed to, but it wasn’t quite as fast.”
Even with his effective navigation of the tricky surface, Cook still worried late in the race that he too would succumb to some kind of mechanical failure.
“I was worried the whole last half of the race to tell the truth,” Cook said. “In fact when (Wilson broke), I could smell something burning. I guess he burnt up a rear end or something, but I thought it was my car. You never know when it’s that rough. I’m sure we’ve got a lot to go over on the car after that one.”
Multiple factors led to the unfavorable track conditions. New dirt was added to the track late last season, and the new material hasn’t quite meshed with the old the way it needs to. That was compounded by periods of rain through the night Saturday and Sunday morning, which pushed back the program by more than three hours, causing the race to be run at night.
It all led to multiple holes and ruts that tried the patients of track workers all weekend and tested the strength and durability of drivers and their machines. Not all survived. In fact, most didn’t.
Two of Cook’s closest challengers fell out while running second. Outside polesitter Vic Hill of Mosheim, Tenn., trailed cook in the second position for the majority of the race after taking the spot from Wilson on lap 13. He began to mount a late challenge for the lead around the lap-35 mark, but his run was cut short by major suspension issues on lap 37.
“I think I’m ready to run some off-road truck stuff now,” said Hill, who ended up 10th. “We’ve had a good car down here all weekend. It was a real good run for us, just disappointed that it ended with a broken part.”
After dropping as far back as fifth, Wilson, Talladega’s reigning track champion, moved by Heitt for second with nine laps remaining. Like Hill, Wilson also attempted to make a late run at Cook, but it too was cut short when rear end issues briefly caused flames under his race car.
Wilson, who just a few laps before his demise nearly went upside-down when he hit a hole in the middle of turns one and two, was seventh in the final rundown.
“I was lucky to even be running when I broke I guess, cause I about turned over before that," Wilson said. "I’m pretty sure I was just inches from turning over on my lid one time down there. I started just to pull off then. I wish I would have now.”
Armistead was the next to assume the second position and he survived long enough to secure the runner-up finish. But his car took a beating, as did the driver.
“That’s the first race I’ve ever come off a racetrack bruised up,” Armistead said after the race, as he lifted up both his arms. “It was something else out there. I think I’m even limping a little bit.
“The whole race I was just trying to find the smoothest spot,” Armistead said. “You’d find a good spot, but I guess other people was doing it too cause a few laps later it would be rough. Then you’d have to go find another one. Eventually you run out of spots.”
Notes: Cook's MasterSbilt Race Car has a Race Engine Design powerplant and sponsorship from Hicks & Ingle and A+ Moving and Storage. ... Cook's previous Ice Bowl victory came in 2009, the first year he entered the race. That was another atypical Ice Bowl with a multiple racing grooves. ... The race's most serious accident came on the first lap. Sixth-starting Benji Cole slowed on the back straightaway, causing a multicar pileup behind him. Tony Knowles of Tyrone, Ga., suffered the worst of the damage. ... Sunday's program was pushed back more than three hours by rain showers throughout the morning. ... The Super Late Model feature was slowed by nine cautions. ... Armistead picked up a $2,500 victory in the Limited Late Model feature. ... Jeff Smith of Dalton, Ga., won the $3,000-to-win Crate Late Model feature. ... The event drew a total of 327 race cars, including 66 Supers, 57 Crates and 46 Limiteds. ... Cook, who normally drives a red race car, debuted an orange car at Talladega. He changed colors because his driving suit had faded from its original red color and he wanted his suit and car to match, Cook said.
Ice Bowl XXI: (1) Ray Cook, (2) Joe Armistead Jr., (3) Stacy Holmes, (4) Jason Hiett, (5) Chad Winkles, (6) Jake Knowles, (7) Jason Wilson, (8) Tim Roszell, (9) David Brannon, (10) Vic Hill, (11) Ethan Hunter, (12) Jeff Smith, (13) Ross Martin, (14) Lamar Scoggins, (15) Terry Smith, (16) Brad Hall, (17) Jamie Dacus, (18) Mike Weeks, (19) Dillon Crim, (20) Lee Burdett, (21) Tony Knowles, (22) Tim Busha, (23) Benji Cole, (24) Jason Welshan, (25) Timothy Culp. Fast qualifier (among 66 cars): Holmes, 13.997 seconds. Heat race winners: Wilson, Hill, Cook, Winkles, Heitt, Cole. Consolation winners: J. Knowles, Dacus, Hall.
Correction: Fixes hometown for Crate Late Model feature winner Jeff Smith.