Ryan Smith is a riverboat gambler. Instead of starting third in Saturday’s $7,000 to win Dirt Classic Showcase Race at Lincoln Speedway, he went to the rear in hopes of doubling his earnings.
Smith didn’t pull off the miracle and drive the Rob Warko No. 94 410 Sprint Car from 24th to first to earn the $15,000 challenge. He finished 15th, but with bonus money added in received $2,050. His earnings were $50 more than he would have had if he not taken the Challenge and started third and finished second; or $250 more if he finished third, the spot he was supposed to start the race.
Good deal? Bad deal?
“Honestly it came about the same,” said Smith afterwards. “I ended up with over two grand and didn’t tear anything up. I’ll take it, it was fun, the car rolled back into the trailer.”
But what if . . . “I think I could have run third, I don’t think I had anything for the front two, but then we’ll never know. I had to go for it. I rolled the dice, just like my old man. That’s where it comes from.”
The four heat winners and the top two in time trials that qualified but didn’t win a heat went to the Dash which was lined up by an inversion pill picked. Fast qualifier Brandon Rahmer would have started on the pole in the dash, but he didn’t run in the top five in his heat and had to qualify from the B-main. That moved Greg Hodnett to the pole and he won the Dash.
After the Dash, the drivers in order of finish were offered the chance to go for the extra Challenger payout.
Hodnett declined feeling he had “pushed his luck pretty hard” to earn the pole and “didn’t want to risk it again”. He ended up with a $7,000 winner’s check afterwards.
Lucas Wolfe, who earned the second starting spot with a last lap pass of Ryan Smith in the Dash, also wanted to stay on the front row. “Starting last is to difficult to overcome,” said Wolfe. “I want to focus on winning.” He did almost win too, losing the lead to Hodnett in a controversial fourth turn last lap pass. Wolfe earned $2,000, $50 less than Smith.
Ryan Smith shocked many when he took the Challenge, gave up the third starting spot and went to the rear.
“I’m going to the back,” Smith told announcer Wayne Harper. “I’m going to make the best of it.”
Had Ryan not taken the Challenge, fourth place Dash finisher Adam Wilt said he would have declined, saying “we’re just not good enough right now to do it”. Gerard McIntyre, who would have been next also said he would have passed, noting, “if I was starting eighth or worst I would have, but not fifth”.
“The Edge”, Brian Montieth was sixth in the Dash. He said he and car owner Jerry Parish had talked about the Challenge in advance and would have definitely taken the offer.
“Jerry did the math,” said Montieth. “If I was going to start on the front row it would have been a little sketchy because we would have been giving up at least $2,000, but either way we were going to take it. It didn’t matter.”
Chances are, like Smith, Montieth would have struggled to pass. On Saturday, he started fifth and finished 10th.
“The track wasn’t ideal to run up from the back,” said Montieth, “but it’s hard to pass anywhere, Lincoln is no different.”
Montieth and his team have been searching for answers. So far this season, they’ve won two features at Lincoln.
“What we look at is lap times,” said Montieth. “Their have been a lot of nights that everyone, the entire field, is within a second or less the entire 25 laps. I don’t know if the competition is that close or the tires or track have gotten it all screwed up.”
Stevie Smith, in town to drive a second Fred Rahmer No. 51, finished fourth in the Dash. Stevie said had Ryan not taken up the offer, he would have. “We’ve been struggling to pass cars this year,’ said Smith, “but I would have taken it and done my best.”
Robbie Kendall, who won an exciting heat race over Billy Dietrich, finished eighth in the Dash. He would have been the last offered, but had it been passed to him he said, “I’d be stupid not too, where I’m starting!”
During the 30 lap feature, Smith picked off a few cars earlier, then his progress stalled when he tried to pass J.J. Grasso. He spent most of the race alongside of him, not getting the spot into the final laps.
“It was more fun back there,” said Smith. “I was racing all the time. The start was hairy with everyone in front of me. But once we got going I was throwing sliders and going back and forth.”
While Smith’s dream was to get the big money, he did become a part of the race for the win. Late in the race Smith was a part of a pack of cars that then-leader Lucas Wolfe approached and struggled to put a lap down. This allowed Hodnett, who was a straightaway behind, to close in and make the final turns slider for the win.
“The track was really tricky tonight,” said Smith. “They watered the top before the start and everyone was pounding it. There wasn’t anything I could get a hold of on the bottom. It was too dirty. It made passing limited.”
Saturday’s program was a prelude for the Dirt Classic that will be held at Lincoln on September 24. As part of Saturday’s winner rewards, Hodnett is now a guaranteed starter for this race which will pay $20,000 to win.