NICK SCHWIEN • Hays Daily News From left, Kyle Strickler, Brandon Blochlinger and Jay Noteboom pose for a photo prior to the start of Saturday night’s modified feature at the 30th annual IMCA Super Nationals in Boone, Iowa.
Kaid Calhoon competes in the sport mod championship event Saturday at the super nationals. The Beloit driver finished 19th in his first trip to the event.
By NICK SCHWIEN
BOONE, Iowa -- Brandon Blochlinger stared at the front stretch, where all the photographers, fans and track personnel surrounded Jeff Taylor's modified Saturday night.
He knew that should have been him and his car being engulfed in the frenzy.
If the race was a lap and a half shorter, it would have been Blochlinger.
But it wasn't, and the driver of the No. 9 modified watched the festivities from tech lane.
"I was counting the laps down," Blochlinger said. "It sucks."
Words were hard to come by Saturday night for Blochlinger. Rightfully so.
He had led the majority of the 40-lap feature at the 30th annual IMCA Super Nationals in Boone, Iowa. But that majority didn't get him the win he coveted most -- that of being crowned the king of the event dubbed the Super Bowl of dirt track racing.
"I should be happy because we got second," Blochlinger said. "Don't get me wrong, we are. But when it's that close, you have to be upset. It's just too close not to get it."
Close might be an understatement. Blochlinger took the lead away from Kyle Strickler on lap 11 and led through lap 38.
"I could see the race track was starting to slick off, and I knew we were going to be in trouble," said Strickler, who is from Mooresville, N.C. "Then I saw Brandon come sliding in there. It was really, really early to push it. I thought I was just going to kind of ride and see how things would go at the end. Even coming down to the stretch there, they were slide-jobbing back and forth. I thought I might have been looking pretty there for a second because you never know what will happen in a big race like this. Of course I wanted to win this thing, but I can't complain at all about any of the events that went on this week."
A myriad of cautions plagued the middle portion of the race. But Blochlinger, who won Wednesday night's A-main to notch the pole in Saturday night's championship feature, continued to edge away from the field under green.
Until Jeff Taylor came calling.
"I knew to be patient," said the driver from Cave City, Ark. "I got a little too aggressive the first few laps and about spun out. So I just tried to ride and bide my time and drive real straight. I knew at the end, I could abuse my tire a little bit. We got pretty aggressive there at the end, and it got pretty exciting."
Taylor tried a slide-job on Blochlinger as the laps trickled down. But Taylor didn't have Blochlinger cleared enough and scraped off the wall down the front stretch.
"He got me once over here (in four) when he did a slide job, and he didn't have me cleared," Blochlinger said. "I wasn't going to give it to him. I kind of took him into the wall a little bit. But at this race, you have to do that. I'm not going to give it to anybody. Then getting passed with a lap and a half to go, it's just too close to lose."
As the track slicked off, Taylor took advantage. His second attempt at a slide job came in turns one and two on lap 38. Taylor was able to nose his car ahead of Blochlinger, killing the leader's moment.
Then Taylor won a drag race down the back stretch to earn the lead before the white flag.
"I knew it was coming," Blochlinger said. "He had to do whatever he had to do to get it. This is a do-or-die deal. He was going to take the shot and make it happen if he could. Jeff's a good racer, and it slickened off. He's a good, smooth race car driver. If anybody could do it, he could do it."
"The first time, I wasn't close enough to him when I tried to make the deal go," Taylor said. "The second time, I was on him. I thought I could stick it and go. I knew if I could kind of come down across the middle -- he couldn't enter in the middle because he was loose -- I knew then I could probably get away a little bit. I done what I thought I needed to do."
Blochlinger couldn't get close enough during the final circuit to attempt a slide-job of his own, finishing a few car lengths behind Taylor at the checkered flag.
"It's a big win, and I don't race that way," Taylor said. "If it would have been a $500 to win weekly deal, I probably would have rode the door and not worried about it. But he was getting loose coming in, and I could really get in the corner deep. Rubbin's racing when it's that big of a win. He bumped me back, and then he raced me clean the next couple laps as we were sliding. It was a lot of fun."
Strickler finished second, followed by Brandon Beckendorf, Danube, Minn., in fourth.
Justin Auringer of Waterloo, Iowa, was fifth, and Jordan Grabouski of Beatrice, Neb., was sixth. Grabouski won the Fall Nationals title at RPM Speedway in Hays last year.
Blochlinger was the lone Kansas driver to compete in the big show. A total of 251 drivers in the class raced during the week.
He also led a good portion of the championship event two years ago, only to have his car fail -- seeing his chance at winning the event fade.
The same was true this year. For many laps, Blochlinger had nothing but clean air in front of him on the way to the prestigious crown.
"You're just kind of out there, hoping for the best," he said. "We just came a little short, but we'll be back next year."