Racing returns to Benton's RacePark

Saturday, April 21, 2007
Drivers waited for their heat Friday evening as racing returned to Auto Tire and Parts RacePark in Benton for the first time in several years. (Kit Doyle)

BENTON -- The first night of racing in nearly three years at Auto Tire and Parts RacePark got off to a rough start.

The first heat of the first race Friday had to be restarted after the eighth car was late to join the field. And an accident one lap into that heat caused a delay.

The second heat of the modified division was marred by an accident when T.J. Williams crashed into the wall along the backstretch, bringing out a red flag and the ambulance.

He was treated and released.

"That's all part of it," said Joe Geisler, a modified driver from Ozora. "Hopefully, no one gets hurt out of it."

The sentiment for many on the first night of racing in 35 months at the track: Welcome back.

"I'm glad to see it open again," said driver Mark Todd of Jackson. "This is so close. It felt strange to get off the interstate so soon. We had been traveling to Poplar Bluff."

Traveling and winning. Todd, who races in the pure street division, won the track championship at Poplar Bluff last year after winning the title in 2005 at Farmington.

He got off to a good start at Benton, first winning his heat, then the dash and holding on for victory in a thrilling 15-lap feature.

"The track is as good as ever, maybe better," Todd said. "It's smooth."

Geisler concurred. "The track is good," he said. "In the past, it was pretty rough."

He became the first winner of an event at the track when he captured the first heat for the modifieds. He added a win in the dash and later captured the night's first feature.

"It felt good to start the season out like that," Geisler said. "I won a championship down here in 2001."

For Auto Tire and Parts RacePark, 2001 was at least one lifetime ago. The track had been closed since May 2004.

This year, Sikeston businessman Billy Clayton and Kevin Armstrong of Jackson brought the track back to life.

"They hauled loads and loads of dirt and worked 24-7 on that track," said Beth Clayton, Billy's daughter and one of the official scorers for the track. "Everyone out here is working hard to get it right."

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