Oskaloosa, Iowa (August 7, 1980) – Al Unser Jr. of Albuquerque, N.M., set fast time and later took advantage of John Stevenson’s misfortune as he won the National Speedways Contest Association sprint car feature at the Southern Iowa Fair on Thursday night.The cherubic Unser, 18, but looking four years younger, blistered the big half-mile dirt track in 18.740 seconds, one of four drivers to break 19 seconds during the first time that winged sprints had ever run there.
With the top six fastest inverted by time, Unser started in the third row outside, but quickly moved to second behind Stevenson.
Stevenson, from St. Paul, Minn., and the current NSCA point leader, moved from his inside third row starting position to lead by the completion of the first lap. Unser moved to second place a lap later but couldn’t close the gap on the flying Stevenson.
However, after nine laps, Stevenson pulled off the track with mechanical issues and Unser inherited a commanding lead which he held firmly to the end.
After that story came Jimmy Sills of Sacramento, Calif. Unable to time because of mechanical woes, Sills was forced to start the last chance race at the rear. He won that event to earn the 16th starting spot in the main event.
After just five laps, Sills was already in sixth place. He moved to fifth the next time around, jumped tow spots to third place on lap 10 and got around Lenard McCarl of Des Moines on lap 14 for second place. When he took over second, Sills was seven seconds behind Unser. He finished four and a half seconds back.
Unser, obviously a big hit with the fans, was swarmed by young and old autograph seekers after the race.
“This was probably our last race before the Nationals (at Knoxville),” Unser said. “We’ve been running the Midwest this summer so that we can run three or four times a week. At home we wouldn’t be able to run that often.”
Crowd favorite Ralph “Mr. Smooth” Blackett of Knoxville won the fast dash but lost his wing at the start of the feature and never was a contender, dropping out midway through.
Heat wins went to Bill Robison of Topeka, Kan., Bob Thoman of Higginsville, Mo., Stevenson and Dan Shearen of Hugo, Minn., whose engine exploded as he crossed the finish line.
1. Al Unser, Jr., Albuquerque, N.M.
2. Jimmy Sills, Sacramento, Calif.
3. Bill Robison, Topeka, Kan.
4. Lenard McCarl, Des Moines
5. Ken Potter, Kansas City
6. David Dwyer, Columbia, Mo.
7. Mike Thomas, Des Moines
8. Art Coons, Newton
9. Chris Maurer, Colfax
10.Galen Martin, Fairfield
11.Glenn Hughes Sr., Denver, Mo.
12.John Stevenson, St. Paul, Minn.
13.Ralph Blackett, Knoxville
14.Bob Thoman, Higginsville, Mo.
15.Tom Corbin, Carrollton, Mo.
16.Mark Shaffer, Newton
17.Randy Smith, Norwalk