VINTON — As the dirt track seasons get underway at Independence Motor Speedway and Benton County Speedway, drivers are shifting from “it’s great to be back” to “how can we win?”
This creates situations where drivers are battling for the same lines on the track, which take some time to get beat into place.
Sunday at Benton County Speedway, Kaden Reynolds and Nathan Ballard battled for the same top line early in the hobby stock race when contact was made and Reynolds ended up on the outside looking in.
“I kind of came up in front of Nathan Ballard and got a little contact with him,” Reynolds said. “On the next corner he just punted me off the track. That was my first yellow.”
That was Reynolds’ viewpoint.
The Cedar Rapids native then went to the end of the line and made his way back to fourth place when he blew a tire in the same area of Turn 3 where he had gone over the edge earlier, sending him to the back with a second yellow.
While his team rushed to repair his tire in the midfield, the officials reminded Reynolds his race was officially over.
“The rule is if you have two solo yellow flags, meaning that it is all your own doing alone, then you are done for the race,” said track announcer Jerry Mackey, who was sitting with the officials in the booth. “The first time that he went off the top side, the official said that there was not enough contact to shove him off the racetrack and the officials felt like there was nothing intentional.”
The fans reacted in unison, although their screams were not all in agreement.
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Ballard continued in second place to Brett Vanous and the two spent the last half of the race battling for the checkered flag.
Vanous was able to win at Benton County Speedway Sunday night, his second win in a row after claiming a last-lap victory over Reynolds with some paint-swapping Saturday night at Independence.
“To be honest, I started second row outside and took the lead after a few laps,” Vanous said of his win Sunday. “I had no idea what was going on back there.”
The good news for the married father of two is that he seems to have found a nice groove early in the season.
“Watching the other features, they were all running around the top,” Vanous said. “I like the bottom and I was going to give it a few laps. It worked even though (Nathan) Ballard was catching me on the top. There were some ruts, but sometimes you can use those to your advantage. I just stuck it out and hoped for the best.”
For work, Vanous is a self-employed truck driver making trips to Minneapolis twice a week.
“I try to run up there Monday through Friday so I can race with the family on weekends,” Vanous said.
“It was a little slow with all of the stuff going on and truck driving got a little iffy,” Vanous said, referring to the protests in the Twin Cities over the death of George Floyd. “Especially in Minneapolis. To be honest, if you stay out of downtown you can’t tell anything is going on. I stay out in the suburbs and deliver to the auctions out there.”
Once home for the week, Vanous and his wife Nicole focus on spending time together at the track. The 2002 East Buchanan grad from Quasqueton is in his 11th season at Benton and has been bringing both 10-year-old Elisabeth and 5-year-old Charlotte, named after the North Carolina racetrack, since birth.
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“We show up, we race and try to have as much fun as possible,” Vanous said. “We’ll probably keep doing it until we get tired of it.”
Although Vanous typically is more of a streaky driver when it comes to winning, he’s enjoying the early-season success.
“I usually do good at the beginning or the end of the year, so I’m not exactly sure how it’s going to go,” Vanous said.
Regardless of performance, Vanous feels similar as the other drivers when it comes to the return of fans in the stands.
“It was weird,” Vanous said. “We raced at a giant track in Denison and it was empty. It felt weird. I don’t notice the fans when I’m racing, but it’s nice when you start and finish to see the people and what they are doing. When we raced with no fans it felt like a paid practice. It didn’t feel real. There is just something about pulling into victory lane and having people race across the track to you.”
Vanous will return to Indee and Benton County this weekend with hopes of racing toward victory lane for a third time in a row. Other class winners Sunday night included: Troy Cordes of Dunkerton in the Modifieds; Shawn Ritter of Keystone in the Stock Cars; Tony Olson of Cedar Rapids in the Sportmods; Jake Benischek of Durant in the Hobby Stocks; and Cole McNeal of Dysart in the Micro Mods