For the first time all year, everything clicked for Terry Baker.
A new engine hummed without fail. The car setup was just right. And the starting position -- well, for once, Baker was on the lucky end of a break.
"Getting to start up front makes so much difference," said Baker, who won his first event this year in the modified class Saturday at Auto Tire and Parts Racepark near Benton, Mo. "The last 10 nights I've been there, I've drawn to start in the back row of every heat race. I just couldn't draw a good spot.
"The only other two times I started up front, something would break. This was a nice change."
Baker, a 22-year racer from Scott City, led all 20 laps Saturday, emerging from a tight three-car race on the final lap. It's his first win at his home track and his first overall since winning a late model event at Paducah, Ky., in 1996.
And it comes just in time to help make up for a series of rough nights. Baker, 45, was running well a week earlier before the engine blew in his No. 10 car. In weeks before that there were two broken transmissions.
Add to that an unfamiliar car. His orange and yellow No. 10 was built by a Joplin company that was sold soon after Baker bought the car. Only one other car like Baker's was manufactured before the company sold, so Baker and the other driver -- Illinoisan Mark Voigt -- have spent much of their weekdays on the phone with each other and the new owners of the company trying to iron out kinks.
"We've had a lot of guesswork as far as setting it up and making it work, and this week we just did it right," Baker said. "The guys who built it, they still have questions about the car and how we'll make it work. We've been changing everything on it to get it to work up until now."
Saturday's race was a close one from the start. Baker, starting from the front row, held a high line most of the way, but watched his competition pull alongside on the bottom of the track from time to time.
"I was a little nervous," he said. "Those last five laps seem awfully long when you're in a race like that."
His reward: a week off. ATPR will host the ATV National Series this weekend. Baker's division will be idle until next week.
"I'm not as young as I used to be," Baker said. "I'm looking forward to just taking a break this weekend getting back into it next week."
Around the tracks
ATPR: Reserved tickets go on sale Monday for the Sept. 27 event that will include autograph signings by Rusty, Kenny and Mike Wallace. MARA midgets have been added to the program, which already included sprints ($5,000 to win) and mini sprint national championships. For tickets: (877) 887-6958 between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. General info: (573) 382-2423.
FREDERICKTOWN: Rick Ruch of Perryville won for the second straight time in the RAMS min stock event Friday at Fredericktown Raceway. Among other winners Friday: Chad Zobrist in late models and Theran Pearl in pure street. The track has announced a special event Wednesday, Sept. 11, featuring UMP-sanctioned late models and modifieds. Info: (573) 78-DRIVE.
HARRISBURG: Allan Rettig of Sikeston won Saturday's late model race at Poinsett County Speedway in northeast Arkansas.
MALDEN: Rettig padded his points lead in the late model class with his feature win at Malden Speedway. Chris Hall of Sikeston won in modifieds; Nathan Rettig of Sikeston win in the pure street class.
ST. FRANCOIS: Tommy Worley Jr. of Bismarck won the sprint feature Saturday at St. Francois Co. Raceway near Farmington. Joey Montgomery of Fredericktown won the special event for non-winged sprints. The track is advertising additional money in the modified division purse for this Saturday's event. Info: (573) 756-1734.