KNOXVILLE, Iowa – It may be the sprint car capital of the world, but the Mecca of Iowa dirt racing proved to be a damn racy late model venue on Thursday night as the Knoxville Late Model Nationals commenced (Sept. 14).
Credit one Chris Ferguson for showing the field just how racy the black dirt could be this Thursday night. Ferguson, making his Knoxville debut, went on a jaw-dropping sixth-to-first run in the second heat race that proved a sneak preview of an opening Nationals feature that saw four different leaders in only 25 laps.
“It was exciting,” said Ferguson of his heat race triumph. “I managed to cut down the track and leave the corner so low, it’s like I was carrying 10 mph more than them down the straightaway.”
“I really like this place.”
An unusual race format played right into Ferguson’s hands for said heat race. With the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series opting to run 12-lap heat races, the preliminary race was sufficiently long enough for Ferguson to recover from a dicey opening lap. However, following up a lengthy 12-lap heat with a sprint-length, 25-lap feature proved to be a challenge for the No. 22 team.
“It definitely kind of hurt us tonight” said Ferguson of the race format.
“We were thinking soft tires would be fine, but the right front kind of gave up because the brown ring around the bottom of the track got really thin. As soon as it got really thin, I could barely stay down there and when I would miss it, I would lose one or two spots.”
“A 12-lap heat and a 25-lap feature gets you thinking different.”
One fortunate difference on the evening was the absence of tires as a storyline, a welcome change from Eldora’s World 100 last week.
“Everything worked out” said Ferguson of the tires following Thursday’s feature at Knoxville.
“When you have a tire rule like this, even with it being three tires, you’re going to see different combinations, and here the guy that won (Ricky Thornton Jr.) had something different than the guy in second (Daulton Wilson), that definitely makes it interesting.”
The end result of Ferguson’s opening night, coupling both a heat win and a top-10 finish, saw the North Carolina driver sitting unofficially second in event points.
With the Late Model Nationals basing Saturday’s feature lineup on a driver’s single-best result, Ferguson seems poised for a strong starting position in the $50,000-to-win finale this weekend. Still, that doesn’t change the approach for Friday.
“We’re going to keep trying stuff, figure out what sticks,” Ferguson told Frontstretch when asked about his strategy for the second prelim night.
“We found some stuff that was pretty good unloading, we tried some stuff in the feature tonight and didn’t really hate it, just didn’t love it.
“We’re going to do our best to win, that’s the thing when you come to these races, we don’t know when we’re going to get to come back here, so you’ve got to win when you get the chance.”
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