Friday, July 11, 2014

1995 - For Miller, second best is a winner

Slinger, Wis. (July 11, 1995) - Gary St. Amant was so jubilant following Tuesday night’s Miller Genuine Draft Nationals finale at Slinger Super Speedway, he nearly put his fist through the roof of his car as he was celebrating.

The Columbus, Ohio, driver - a regular on the ASA circuit - looked like he had just accomplished the improbable in his first Nationals.

After recording a second-place finish in the last-chance race which he needed to even qualify for Tuesday’s 250-lap feature, St. Amant turned it on over the final 125 laps and held off Butch Miller of Vermillion, Ohio, to take the checkered flag.

Looks, however, can be deceiving. St. Amant’s car failed post-race inspection, giving Miller his second overall Nationals title. Miller, one of the top drivers on the NASCAR Super Truck circuit, also won the Nationals in 1988.

“When you win it’s a lot better to be the first one across the finish line,” said a happy but reserved Miller after the technical ruling and St. Amant disqualification was announced long after most of the fans had gone home.

“I feel bad for the (St. Amant) team because they raced hard and Gary’s a good racer,” said Miller, who won with 7,020 points and took home more than $8,000 in prize money. “But, on the other hand, you never turn down a win.”

After the ruling St. Amant was nowhere to be found. But his car owner and crew chief, Rich Wauters, admitted the tire tread width was found to be an inch too wide.

“Usually they don’t check anything after the race,” Wauters said. “This is one of them deals where they did, and we got caught.”

“There’s nothing you can do about it ... You’ve got to do what you can do to be competitive. It happens. That's why it’s called racing.”

ASA regular Scott Hansen’s second-place finish helped him to a fourth-place overall finish, and Lowell Bennett of Neenah was third to take fifth overall. St. Amant’s disqualification capped an entertaining race which featured additional controversy and more than its share of tough luck stories.

Only eight of the 24 cars which started the race finished, though there were no major incidents.

Shortly after the mandatory pit stop halfway through the race, Edgerton native Rich Bickle moved to the front and held the lead until lap 204, when he was black-flagged for spilling fuel on the track.

Bickle said a problem with the muffler caused the overflow hose from the fuel cell to melt, leading to a small fuel leak. Bickle came back to finish fourth in the race and second overall (5,400 points), but the penalty which took him out of title contention left him hot afterwards.

“(It) was just a little bit of fuel, it doesn’t make a difference,” Bickle said, adding his car didn’t handle well early. “We made adjustments to the car (and) it showed. I got in front and I was just cruising.”

First-round leader Bryan Reffner of Wisconsin Rapids ran in the top four most of the way until a tire went flat and he dropped out on lap 211. Reffner, who placed 11th, still managed to finish third overall (5,020 points).

“It was real disappointing," Reffner said. “When that stuff happens early in the race it doesn’t bother you as much. If we’d have finished second we had the (overall) thing won.”

Then there was Clinton veteran Joe Shear, who entered Tuesday night’s finale in third place. On Monday, Shear’s car developed engine problems. Cambridge’s Jason Schuler let Shear, drive his car, but Shear’s hopes of a fifth Nationals title ended midway through the race because of brake problems.

Winston Cup driver Dick Trickle put on a strong showing, finishing fifth, but had to battle back from tire problems.

And defending Nationals champion Matt Kenseth of Cambridge was never a factor, falling out on lap 118 with a drive train problem. Kenseth loaned the car he runs regularly at Madison International Speedway to Winston Cup and Busch Grand National driver Kenny Wallace and the two battled side by side during much of the first half of the race.

At one point they even bumped fenders hard enough for Wallace to be flagged into the pits to have his car fixed. Wallace later dropped out with transmission problems and finished 15th.

Even Miller, who consistently ran in the top three all night, didn’t go unscathed. Late in the race he and St. Amant got together coming off turn two.

“When we caught him it bent something on the front end and we were never as quick after that,” he said. “We were pretty fortunate just to finish second."

Make that first, Butch.

Results -

1. Butch Miller (Vermillion, Ohio)
2. Scott Hansen (Franklin)
3. Lowell Bennett (Neenah)
4. Rich Bickle (Concord, N.C.)
5. Dick Trickle (Iron Station, N.C)
6. Tony Strupp (West Bend)
7. Rich Loly (Oregon)
8. Scott Wimmer (Wausau)
9. Conrad Morgan (Mukwonago)
10. Jim Lynch (Milwaukee)
11. Bryan Reffner (Franklin)
12. Brad Mueller (Random Lake)
13. Rich Loch (Holes Comers)
14. Al Schill Sr. (Franklin)
15. Kenny Wallace (Concord, N.C)
16. Ken Schrader (Fenton, Mo.)
17. Joe Shear (Clinton)
18. Fran Prestay (Twin Lakes)
19. Joel Laufer (Slinger)
20. Matt Kenseth (Cambridge)
21. Jim Weber (Roseville, Minn.)
22. Al Schill Jr. (Franklin)
23. Dennis Lampman (Oak Creek)
24. Gary St. Amant (Columbus, Ohio).

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