Brock, Pruitt, McNeely, and Bates the Top 4 at Four Cylinder Nationals

             November 2009                                               Dale Wilkerson

This past weekend was marked on the calendars of about 140 racers for almost a year.

                Hours had been spent getting their cars dialed in to be running at their best on the one night of the year when the spotlight would be shining on them.

                The World Crown Four Cylinder Nationals event held at the Cherokee Speedway has become a fan favorite over the years, and the 2009 version did not disappoint them.

                Teams began to roll into the speedway Friday night for inspections and practice sessions. Qualifying laps were posted Saturday afternoon with heat races for all classes.

                Sunday afternoon began with four hotly contested last-chance races for the Street Stock and Super Stock Four divisions, with the top three finishers earning one of the coveted 26 starting spots for the main events.

                The Front Wheel Drive class was the first of the four cylinder races. This event featured some great racing with drivers running lap after lap side-by-side for position. In the end, Charlie Bates, from Johnson City TN, held off Wayne Cowart to pick up his first win at Gaffney.

                “My crew did a great job on the car. I normally compete in other divisions but this class is affordable and fun to race in. Those guys drove me hard, but drove me clean. I can’t believe I have won at Cherokee Speedway on my first trip here,” said Bates.

                Zack McNeely, from Cherryville NC, fought hard to hold off Bradley Weaver during the Young Guns feature. Weaver worked him hard for several laps and pulled ahead coming off turn two, only to be denied by one of many caution flags. After the restart, Weaver’s car hooked hard right; he fought for control and slammed the turn two wall ending his night. McNeely jumped on the gas on the final restart and pulled away from Jacob Carver and Brandon Harrelson for the win.

                “My family has been so supportive of me this year and the Lord has blessed me with a great year,” said McNeely shortly after jumping from his door with his arms raised in victory.  

                In Street Stock Four, the fans were entertained by the action equal to that of a three ring circus. Up front, Blake Bentley and Jerry Oliver battled door to door for several laps, with Bentley pulling ahead and building a sizable lead before seeing it erased by several cautions.

                The other two rings of this circus featured Tim Bristol and Brayden Pruitt. Bristol, who had won the past five Street Stock Four events at Cherokee, had problems in his heat race and he had to start in mid-pack. Bristol spun early on, and he had to go to the rear, where he quickly began to work his way back into the top five.

                Pruitt also had problems Saturday and she found herself in one of the last chance races. She weaved her way through race traffic and won her event. Then in the feature race, Pruitt, who is just 15-years old, showed the patience of a veteran driver three times her age, as she worked race traffic and ran down Bentley.

                Another caution waved when Bristol’s car slowed with a problem. Bristol, who had been suffering flu-like symptoms, was involved in two spins then had to park due to mechanical failure.  “With all of those caution flags, the length of the race was beginning to wear me out. My car was strong until the tail pipe broke loose,” said Bristol.

                Pruitt, from Boiling Springs NC, was able to hold off all challengers on every restart after taking the lead, and picked up her first win in the World Crown Four Cylinder Nationals. “We had a rough day Saturday, my crew worked on the car last night and it was great today. I just focused on getting up front in the consolation, and then in the main we were able to dodge the problems on the track. The car handled great in traffic and when we got to the lead. My family has been so supportive, my crew has worked hard all year, and my sponsors are the best. I prayed for strength during the race and I want to thank God for blessing me,” said Brayden Pruitt.

                In the Super Stock Four race, Campobello’s Stacy Brock had lost this race in as many different ways as the late Dale Earnhardt had lost the Daytona 500. But Sunday night, Brock was able to maintain the lead, as he fended off the challenges of Andy Mattison, Trent Ivey, Tony Adair, and Brandon Lambert to capture the checkered flag. 

                This race was also slowed by several cautions including a grinding crash involving Trent Ivey and Tony Adair. Ivey had taken a look under Brock but fell back a couple of car lengths. Adair was able to get by him only to see Ivey challenging again on the low side in turn one. Ivey’s car broke loose and made contact with Adair sending both cars into the outside wall. The impact, most of which was absorbed by Adair’s car, lifted the #99 off the track and it came to rest on the car of Ivey. The race was red-flagged as wreckers picked up Adair’s machine to roll Ivey’s car out from underneath. Ivey’s crew, lead by his Hall of Fame father Petey Ivey, thrashed over the car to make enough repairs to get Trent back out on the track. Ivey clawed his way back to fifth place.

                Over the final laps, Lambert hounded Brock at every turn, but Brock was able to get off the corners strong lap after lap to capture his most elusive win.

                “This has been a hard one to finish. We have cut tires, hit walls, broke parts, spun out and have left scratching our heads several times, but this year it seems like we got the bad luck out of our system earlier this month. This little Mustang was on a rail tonight and it feels great to have won here at the Nationals,” said Brock.

                In the preliminary events, Shane Gentry held off James Abernathy to win in Pure Stock. For Gentry, a last minute call put him in the race. “These guys called me because the regular driver couldn’t make it. This car was strong and this is a nice way to cap off a year, by winning at Gaffney,” said Gentry. 

                The Renegades Division was won by Wellford’s Tim Treadwell. For Treadwell, not only was this a nice way to end his season, but it also added a little icing to his birthday cake, as this win came on his 47th birthday. “The car was great in the heat race yesterday and it was real fast tonight. I wish we would have tightened it up a little but it was strong enough down the straight-a-ways to get the job done. This is a birthday I will never forget! What a great present, a win at Cherokee!!” said an excited Treadwell. 

                Normally the Four Cylinder classes are called the support classes, but this was their night. The races had the action of the Bristol Motor Speedway on a hot August night, Talladega on a late race restart, and more dented fenders and warped hoods than a demolition derby. For the drivers that survived the battles to score their wins, these races were perhaps the hardest earned victories in their careers and the globe-shaped trophies will become the centerpiece of their mantels.

                For the drivers that found trouble, whether it was mechanical or from contact, work will begin this week for the 2010 season where once again, the four cylinder drivers will begin the season dreaming of the last weekend in November, and their next chance to be the headliner at the Cherokee Speedway.