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NICK SCHWIEN • Hays Daily News Terry Cunningham drives his stock car during a heat race in September at RPM Speedway in Hays.

Stock drivers ready for shot at big money

By NICK SCHWIEN

nschwien@dailynews.net

Normalcy. It's what Terry Cunningham is hoping for this week.

When it comes to big-time shows with big-time payouts, many drivers start to over-think the situation.

That's not what Cunningham wants this week entering Fall Nationals VI at RPM Speedway in Hays.

The stock car driver from WaKeeney knows he can win the big event. He did that last year.

But he's hoping to take a normal approach to the weekend and just see what transpires.

"Maybe there's a little more pressure now,"  Cunningham said after last year's victory. "I'll just try to take it like a normal race, though."

That means the same car prep, and perhaps the same setup come Friday night. The event begins Thursday night with sport compact heats and their feature, and a test-and-tune session for all other drivers.

Hobby stocks, Northern sport mods, stocks and modifieds begin their quest Friday and finish it Saturday, with large payouts in each of those four classes.

Cunningham won the large stock car payout last year and will be trying to make it two in a row this weekend.

"I guess the feeling I had last year was I never dreamed of winning a race like that,"  he said. "This year, it kind of put more pressure on me because we've struggled more at Hays this year. ... We'll go with the same setup we won it with last year and see if it works."

Cunningham was the fifth winner of the stock car feature at Fall Nationals since its inception in 2007.

Jason Schoenberger won the first crown, followed by Mike Nichols in 2008. Dustin Daniels followed in 2009, with Jeff Mueller of New London, Iowa, taking the checkered flag in 2010.

Cunningham's victory last year was capped with a smoke-filled burnout against the front stretch wall that had him and the fans going wild.

It might get even wilder if he can pull off a repeat performance.

"That would be, I don't know how to say it, phenomenal, unreal," he said. "We always go to win. We'll take it as a normal race and see what happens."

Cunningham is one of several drivers who will have a chance to win the $3,000 payout. Included in that mix is Nichols, who always is a contender for an IMCA national title in the stock car class.

"I feel the car is pretty good right now," the Harlan, Iowa, driver said. "If nothing interesting happens, I feel like I should be up front come Saturday."

Nichols didn't get a chance to compete last year at Fall Nationals. He sold his car before the weekend to Angel Munoz of Lamar, Colo.

This year, he plans to make the long haul to Hays worth it.

"You could run at Boone all week long and get $1,000 to win, or RPM for two nights for $3,000 to win," Nichols said.

After buying Nichols' car last year, Munoz finished fourth in it at Fall Nationals in 2011.

But he was a few pounds light at the scales and was disqualified.

Munoz since has sold that car and now is driving a house car for Jet Racing chassis from Beatrice, Neb.

"It's going to be tough," Munoz said. "You have to be on your game. I'm just hoping the cards fall right. It's anyone's game come feature time."

Munoz might not run regularly in Hays, but he knows how to get around the track.

He won the hobby stock features in 2010 and 2011. He's only the third driver in Fall Nationals history to win multiple titles.

Former hobby stock driver B.J. Dauer (2007 and 2009) and sport mod driver Tyler Frye (2009 and 2010) also have won twice at RPM.

"These big shows, you have to have the cards fall in your favor,"  Munoz said. "I feel I have a little knack for the track. I hope I can come out and run in the top five, and that will be a good show for us."

Colby's Tubbs brothers, Jeff and Nick, are expected to compete as well, and both wrapped up their most successful seasons in the class. Both comfortably were in the top 10 in national points, and Nick finished just ahead of Jeff for top honors in state points.

Races begin at 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and at 6 p.m. Saturday.