By Brett Bowman
Since the King of Indiana Sprint Series (KISS) debuted in 2001, no driver has ever claimed more than one win at the Kokomo Speedway. Sunday night at the local oval in the season-opener, California driver Robert Ballou kept that trend alive with the 30-lap feature win.
Starting inside the third row for the feature event, Ballou took the lead on the 19th lap, then used the bottom of the track to perfection and never relinquished the top spot the remaining 11 circuits aboard the NAPA/Fox Paving No. 5, owned by Ken and Margo Baldwin.
“[The Baldwins] were telling me the last couple of weeks that they were going to have to get somebody to work on this car,”said Ballou following the win. “The said that they couldn’t help me make it work on a slick track. This might make them think otherwise now.”
After driving primarily for Dallas Mulvaney since arriving in the Hoosier State four years ago, Ballou put together his own car for a majority of 2012 so he could race more frequently.
“Dallas didn’t really have the money to race as much as I would have liked so last year I spent every dime I had putting together my own car so I could race more often,” he said. “I think that really helped out since I, to be honest, sucked on short tracks. Then late last year I kinda hit on some things and that seemed to help out here [Sunday].”
In the opening laps, it appeared that Kokomo’s Shane Cottle was well on his way to scoring yet another feature win at his home track. With just a handful of laps completed, Cottle had powered his Tony Epperson Painting/Leer Racing No. 2E to a full straightaway advantage over second place Levi Jones.
By the 10th lap, Jones had reeled in Cottle, searching all over the racing surface trying to find the quickest way around. Finally, on the 12th lap, Jones got under a rim-riding Cottle and powered Jeff Walker’s Don Walker Special No. 39 into the lead. The next seven laps saw Jones, Kevin Thomas Jr., Ballou, Cottle and Jerry Coons Jr. slice and dice for position until Ballou made the pass that turned out to be the race winner on the 19th lap.
“I never got the memo to get off the top,” Cottle said with a chuckle. “I needed to get down to the bottom sooner, but by the time I realized the top was going away, everyone else was already down on the bottom.”
Jones ended up second while Lincoln’s Dave Darland worked his way to a third-place showing. Thomas and Brady Short completed the top five. Defending track champion Scotty Weir overcame mechanical gremlins earlier in the night to finish sixth. Cottle, Gary Taylor, Chad Boespflug and Casey Shuman completed the top-10. From the area, Josh Spencer was 14th, Coons, piloting the Edison Motorsports No. 10E took 18th after contact with Darland collapsed his left front while running in the top five and Logan Jarrett was 19th after encountering problems that forced him to the pits.
Over the last two years, the local bullring has played host to some of the most entertaining Street Stock feature events and Sunday night was no exception as 10-time track champion Glen Gamblin cemented his spot in the track’s lore by holding off a late-race charge by Brandon Roundtree to win by a hair in a finish that was almost too close to call.
Craig Walker paced the field the opening eight laps, but Gamblin was nipping at his heels the whole way before claiming the point on the ninth lap. After Roundtree cleared Walker, he began to close the gap each lap until the white flag lap when the two were literally nose to tail. Coming to the checkered flag, Gamblin opened the door on the bottom and Roundtree snuck his No. 2R entry alongside Gamblin’s 9G in a drag race to the flagstand.
“That was a lot of fun,” said Gamblin. “I really like racing with Brandon. He runs you clean but man, he’s getting faster and faster it seems every time out. It looks like I’m going to have to step up my program a bit if I want to stay in front of him.”
Compared to seasons past, Gamblin was thrilled with the win.
“For whatever reason it seems like something crazy always happens to me on opening night,” he stated. “I always dread the first night of the season because of that. In the past I’ve always had the worst luck on my first time out.”
Walker followed the pair to the checkered flag to take third while Scott Hufford and Jason Trimmer rounded out the top five.
Jerald Owens led from green to checkered to score the Thunder Car feature win over Paul Minter. Kokomo High School football player Kory Glassburn turned in an impressive run to claim third with Dennis Freeland and D.J. Anton following him to complete the top five.
The track returns to action Sunday night, hosting the Mother’s Day Mudslinger, featuring the weekly program on sprints, Street Stock and Thunder Cars. Pit gates open at 3 p.m. while the main grandstands open at 4 o’clock. Hot laps should begin around 5:30 with racing to follow.