By the URSS
HAYS -- He had won 10 races in a season -- the second most of any driver in the United Rebel Sprint Series. He had won a national championship in the URSS as well. But try as hard as he might, Ty Williams never had won the illustrious title of Wheatshocker Nationals champion in his years competing with the URSS. All that finally change Sunday night. Williams, after winning the opening night Saturday, finished off the two-day event with a victory in the fifth annual event -- claiming a $2,000 payout in the process at RPM Speedway in Hays.
"We've had such bad luck," Williams said about the Wheatshocker Nationals in Hays. "Last year, we lost a steering gear and hit the fence. This year, to have the track go to one of my weaknesses, which is running on the bottom and slowing down to go faster, I was nervous and really had to concentrate. I had to really be easy on the throttle and the gas. I really had to finesse the car more than flying around the top. You had to pass people real carefully, had to be super careful in lap traffic. It makes all the bad things that have happened the last couple of years worth it."
So, was he sporting a big smile as he took the checkered flag? "Glad I had my helmet on, because I'd probably be hearing about it from my buddies," Williams said. "It was a girly smile, but oh well. I know the crew and everyone has wanted it so bad. It means a lot."
Williams ran away from the field Saturday night while taking the win and locking himself into Sunday night's feature event, along with nine other drivers. On Sunday, he started eighth and made up two spots on the first lap. On lap four, he got by Jake Bubak into fifth, and on lap eight he passed Darren Bowman for fourth.
Up front was pole-sitter Lance Davis, who led the first nine laps before getting too high in turn four and spinning off the track, bringing out the first caution. That moved Tyler Knight to the top spot, followed by Keefe Hemel, Williams, Bowman and Brian Herbert.
Hemel sputtered on the restart, allowing Williams to fly by him into second. A lap later, Williams had chased down Knight and overtook the top spot. "It just didn't go. I've been fighting that all year," Hemel said. "Sometimes I can hit it, and sometimes I can't." After lap 14, the pace slowed for three consecutive cautions -- the final two resulting in red flags when Judd Sheaffer and Luke Cranston both flipped on consecutive restarts.
Hemel moved by Knight on lap 16, and Bowman got by Knight into third a lap later. "With the other cautions, we got it going," Hemel said. "The last two or three, it actually took off pretty good. I didn't get that big stumble. It got a lot better."
Knight came charging back. As Williams held down the top spot running the low line, Knight got by Bowman on lap 26 to move into third before the final caution flew for a spinning Kaden Taylor.
"We went out in the hot-lap session, and the car was just horrible," Bowman said. "It was getting over so bad on the right rear, I think we had a bar going bad on it. But we fixed the bar, and it felt good. A lot of tonight was defense. You just had to slow down and get around the bottom because there was nothing up high. Coming out, I was trying to get on the gas. But a lot of times I wasn't even on the throttle rolling through the apex of the corner."
Knight passed Hemel to move into the runner-up spot on laps 27 and 28 before Hemel came back, holding him off the final two laps to take second. Knight finished third, with Bowman in fourth.
"Sometimes, we're either decent or have bad luck," Hemel said. "And everything was good this weekend. Uncle Jon (Johnson) helped me with things, kind of got me back to the basics and told me to just drive it. It made a lot of difference -- a huge difference."
Ray Seemann, who started seventh, finished fifth after a late surge.
But the night belonged to Williams, the 2010 URSS national champion who notched his 17th career victory in the series.
"Racing is such a mental battle," Williams said. "You have one bad night, and that's all you thing about for the next week until you get back to the track. For us to go two years where we weren't bad, just sporadic -- one night we would be great, the next we were the 15th-place car -- to come out and get one I really, really wanted means a lot."
Williams also took home the Keizer Aluminum Racing Wheels Hard-Charger award.
Brian Hardman and C.J. Johnson won Sunday's two heat races, while Johnson also won the last-chance qualifier.
1. Ty Williams, 2. Keefe Hemel, 3. Tyler Knight. 4. Darren Bowman, 5. Ray Seemann, 6. Jeff Radcliffe, 7. Brian Herbert, 8. C.J. Johnson, 9. Reed Bernbeck, 10. Brian Hardman, 11. Monte Hein, 12. Willie Wynn, 13. Jake Bubak, 14. Lance Davis, 15. Mike Spear, 16. Zach Blurton, 17. Butch Hardman, 18. Kaden Taylor, 19. Shawn Radcliffe, 20. Luke Cranston, 21. Judd Sheaffer.
Last-chance qualifier results
1. C.J. Johnson, 2. Luke Cranston, 3. Zach Blurton, 4. Brian Hardman, 5. Monte Hein, 6. Reed Bernbeck, 7. Kaden Taylor, 8. Shawn Radcliffe, 9. Willie Wynn, 10. Mike Spear, 11. Butch Hardman.