Stories

NICK SCHWIEN • Hays Daily News Luke Cranston watches his wing as he makes adjustments to it while crew chief Kirk Reinert looks of the car prior to NCRA 360 sprint car racing action in late May at RPM Speedway in Hays.

NICK SCHWIEN â ¢ Hays Daily News Luke Cranston watches his wing as he makes adjustments to it while crew chief Kirk Reinert looks of the car prior to NCRA 360 sprint car racing action in late May at RPM Speedway in Hays.

Cranston ready for his chance in Hutch

By NICK SCHWIEN

nschwien@dailynews.net

Every son hears stories about the glory days.

Luke Cranston is no different. His father, Steve, knows all too well what the Hutchinson Grand Nationals means to every racer who has taken a part in the event's storied history.

From the good ol' days to the present, it's something Cranston has been reminding his son about. Now, he'll have a chance to win the annual event in his NCRA 360 sprint car Saturday night at the Kansas State Fairgrounds in Hutch.

"That's something that's been on my dad's wish list since he's been racing since early in the '70s," said Cranston, who grew up in Ness City and now lives in Plains. "It would be a huge deal to us. We had a really good run last year, and that was big. We've had times where we've come up from the back and ran really decent. I know that's part of it, too, knowing we have the ability to do it. We're excited about it."

Cranston nearly added his name to the prestigious list of drivers who have won the 360 feature and the large payout.

Last year, the Cranston Racing Team took a gamble on setup before the A-main. It resulted in one of his best runs in the event's history.

Cranston started 14th and made his way through the field, eventually moving into the front pack. But a caution put him back to third, behind leader Jeremy Campbell and Danny Jennings. He tried to get by Jennings on the late restart, but to no avail, and he finished third.

"That track has been different the last few years," Cranston said. "It used to be the same every single year. Three or four years ago, they did some different things to the dirt, and now it's a little unpredictable. Last year, we kind of took a gamble and came out and ran the top, and it really paid off. I think if there wouldn't have been a yellow flag, we probably would have won it. That's kind of in the back of our minds, too. Hopefully we can have a good run like that."

As grand as the Hutch Nationals are, so is the track. The large half-mile dirt oval can be demanding and take different forms depending on the weather. Most races the NCRA sprints compete on are 3/8-mile in distance.

"It takes a couple laps to get used to it,"  Cranston said. "Once you get used to the speed ... it's the type of track where you have to get off the gas a little bit more. The straightaways are so stinking long, and then the corners are kind of tight. Getting used to that on the throttle and being able to control that takes awhile. But once you get used to that, it's just like any other race track."

Cranston is sixth in the NCRA sprint standings. Mike Peters leads the series by 25 points ahead of Campbell. Danny Wood is third, followed by Quinter's C.J. Johnson and Jeff Stasa.

Since 2004, the Hutch Nationals has seen nine drivers win the 360 sprint car feature. Johnson was the last driver to repeat as champion in 2003 and 2002. He also won the title in 2000.

The only other driver to win back-to-back titles was Garry Lee Maier from 1990 to 1992. He's the only driver to win three straight crowns and retired prior to last season.

The Hutch Nationals is celebrating its 57th year overall and has featured some of the nation's best drivers through the decades, including area legends Jim Harkness, Jon Johnson, Fred Hembree and Terry Uehling in the former super modified class.

The nationals also are remembered for a devastating fire in 1974 that resulted from a large pile-up on the front stretch. That was the only year the event didn't' have a winner as officials called off the rest of the race.

It's been billed as the most prestigious sprint car event in Midwest through the years. This year's top driver will take home $3,000, too.

"It has been a really big deal in the past," Cranston said. "I can't do it any justice, but my dad tells me way back when when they used to run there they'd get drivers from all over the United States and have 60- or 70-some cars. It has a lot of nostalgia to it, and I know it's something he's really excited about."

The nationals kick off Friday night with NCRA 305 sprints, modifieds, street stocks, thumpers and a demolition derby.

On Saturday, the 360 sprint cars take center stage with the large payout. Also competing that night will be the modifieds, sport mods, street stocks and thumpers.

Races are set for 7 p.m. both nights.

Past NCRA 360 sprint car Hutch Nationals winners

2012: Jeremy Campbell, Wichita.

2011: Jordan Boston, Lincoln, Neb.

2010: Danny Jennings, Norman, Okla.

2009: Garry Lee Maier, Cimarron.

2008: Mike Chadd, Lincoln, Neb.

2007: Jon Freeman, Salina.

2006: J.D. Johnson, Goddard.

2005: Derek Drown, Amarillo, Texas.

2004: Steve King, Jetmore.

2003: C.J. Johnson, Quinter.

2002: C.J. Johnson, Quinter.

2001: Dennis Park, Liberal.

2000: C.J. Johnson, Quinter.

1999: Clay Bontrager, Hutchinson.

1998: Shelby Steenson, Salina.

1997: Mike Peters, Wichita.

1996: Danny Jennings, Norman, Okla.

1995: Clay Bontrager, Hutchinson.

1994: Mike Peters, Wichita.

1993: Scott Brown, Amarilla, Texas.

1992: Garry Lee Maier, Dodge City.

1991: Garry Lee Maier, Dodge City.

1990: Garry Lee Maier, Dodge City.

1989: Jim Selenke, Wichita.