PARK CITY, Kan.—In a classic fight to the finish that will be talked about for years to come, Rodney Sanders prevailed over Zack VanderBeek in Thursday night’s 40-lap United States Modified Touring Series main event at the 81 Speedway.
By eleven one-thousandths of a second.
After losing the lead late in the race—and eventually the win—to VanderBeek Wednesday night at the Valley Speedway, it was nearly déjà vu for Sanders Thursday night when a caution on lap 37 set up a three-lap mad dash to the checkers.
From the outside of the front row, Sanders blasted off at the drop of the green flag and disappeared from the field.
Within seven laps, his lead over second-place Stormy Scott was nearly half of a lap and he reached lapped traffic before completing lap 10.
Without some help the other 23 main event starters didn’t have a prayer, but help arrived on lap 18 when the race’s first yellow flag slowed the action and put the field right back on Sanders’ rear bumper.
But now the field was without Scott, who was the cause of the caution when an overheating engine forced him to stop on the back-stretch.
That opened the door for VanderBeek who inherited the second spot with nine-time USMTS national champion Kelly Shryock in third.
VanderBeek was able to stay close for a couple of laps but Sanders began to slowly rebuild his cushion until a second caution on lap 23 again silenced the roar of engines.
Again Sanders fended off VanderBeek for a handful of laps after the restart and then pulled away to a huge lead until Johnny Scott’s spin right in front of the leader forced the third and final caution with three to go.
This time, Sanders couldn’t shake VanderBeek and the two raced door to door with Sanders continuing to pound the cushion of C. Ray Hall’s 3/8-mile clay oval while VanderBeek ran low after unsuccessfully testing Sanders’ high line.
A bobble by Sanders—perhaps his first of the race—allowed Vanderbeek to inch ahead and lead the race for the first time as they streaked underneath the white flag.VanderBeek exited turn 4 with about a half-car-length advantage, but the momentum from Sanders’ drive around the top propelled him around the outside as they took the checkered flag in a virtual dead heat with Sanders nipping VanderBeek at the line.
Tied at 26 apiece coming into the race, Sanders also edged ahead of VanderBeek on the USMTS career wins list with his $2,000 triumph and now leads his nemesis by a mere nine points in the Major League Bowhunter Central Region points standings.
Shryock fended off Tom Tillison Jr. for third and USMTS Rookie of the Year contender Dylan Smith continues to turn heads with his second top-five paycheck in as many nights.
Tanner Mullens, Dereck Ramirez, Kip Hughes, John Allen and five-time NCRA Modified champ Brian Franz rounded out the top 10.
Back-to-back instant classics by the drivers of the USMTS Casey’s Cup powered by Swan Energy brought the crowd to their feet and left them wanting more.
They’ll get just that as it was announced earlier in the evening that the series will return to the 81 Speedway on Thursday, Aug. 7, as part of The Hunt for the USMTS Casey’s National Championship.