JEFF COOKE RETURNS TO THE WINNER’S CIRCLE

March 2010                                                                          Dale Wilkerson

Opening day at Cherokee Speedway was filled with great racing action in all classes, but nothing topped seeing Jeff Cooke win his first start of 2010.

                For Cooke, this was not just the first race of another season, but the completion of his recovery from the serious injuries he received when he was struck by debris while competing in a heat race at the Dirt Track at the Charlotte Motor Speedway last fall.

                “I was crying when I pulled across the scales. Lying in that hospital I wasn’t sure this day would come, but prayers were answered. I thank God for my recovery and for being able to continue my career. My family stood by through this entire ordeal. I just want to say thanks to them, my crew, and all the race fans who prayed for me to get us back here today,” said an emotional Jeff Cooke after taking the flag to flag victory.

                Cooke set fast time in qualifying and was able to break away, from eventual runner up Johnny Pursley on each restart, pulling out to almost a full straight-a-way lead at the finish.

                The feature events began with the Pure Stock division, as Johnny Bell held off Mitch Sill to pick up the win. Bell won his heat race, and was able to regain the lead after losing it briefly in the opening laps of the feature.

                Brandon Lambert, driving a freshly painted Stock-4 car, held off strong challenges from Blake Bentley and Tim Bristol to grab the win. “Blake and Tim had good cars and I had to drive hard to hold them off,” Lambert said after the race.

                Anthony Sanders jumped to the early lead in the Crate Late Model feature. Dennis Franklin worked his way up to second, but could not close the gap on Sanders. The Renegade feature started while Sanders was climbing from his car in the Winner’s Circle. After a hand full of laps, a gasp rose from the grandstands that had everyone looking toward the first turn.

                David Stone was competing in his first race of the season, in a car he purchased from Treadwell’s Racing Stuff. Stone broke loose, and the car began a violent series of at least seven barrel rolls ending up landing upside down and over the turn one wall. Rescue personal rushed to the scene and helped Stone get out of predicament.

                “I have never been upside down before and wasn’t sure about how to get. One of the rescue guys told me to keep my helmet on until I got out of the seat. I’m okay, I feel fine but I’m sure I will be sore in the morning,” Stone said just minutes after. Travis Burdette grabbed the lead following the red flag for Stone’s crash and drove to the win.  

In the foreground Dale interviews David Stone  for the Public Address system, as the Cherokee Raceway staff works to upright Stone's #78

                The largest class of the day was the Front Wheel Drive division or the Extreme Four as some folks call them. This class is a real throw back. Drivers take older front wheel drive cars, powered with a factory four cylinder engine, the windows are removed along with the seats except for driver’s seat, and they put on quite a show. Wayne Cowart drove his Saturn to the victory, holding off a field of 15 cars.

                Mike Messmer scored the victory in Limited Sportsman, leading every lap of the heat and the main event.

                And on this emotion filled day in Gaffney, there was also the joy of a first time winner in the Young Guns Class. Justin Timmons drove through a last lap, last turn crash to score his first win. Timmons said he was reminded to never give up with the events that lead to his wreck.

                “I broke the studs off on one of my hubs and after my crew went to the parts store, we realized that we were given the wrong parts, after the second trip, we had the right parts and with some help from some folks in the pits I was able to get on track. The first and second place cars and pulled away from me, but I kept digging. They had problems and we were able to take advantage of it,” said Timmons just moments after getting drug through the mud, a fate that awaits all first time winners at Cherokee.

                This weekend, the Lucas Oil Series comes to town, with a $10,000 prize awaiting the winner of the 50-lap race for the Super Late Models known as March Madness. Jonathan Davenport is the defending winner, and he will be among the large field of drivers looking for the prize Sunday afternoon.

                Heat races for the support classes will take place Saturday afternoon along with the main events for the Young Guns and Extreme Four divisions. The gates will open at 11:00am on Saturday and then at 10:00am on Sunday.