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Flaherty Wins! Takes second and first in his MM-equipped #17

AI West Race Report - Willow Springs, September 2002

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Round Eight of the American Iron West Series took place at Willow Springs International Raceway on September 7 and 8, 2002. The remnants of Hurricane Herman threatened to bring rain and thunderstorms to the track, but the weekend turned out to have perfect weather for racing, with mild temperatures nearly unheard of for this time of year.

In Saturday's qualifying session the majority of the field clustered near the 1:30 mark, which is quite fast for pony cars lapping the famed Nine Turns of Willow. Ryan Flaherty took the AI pole with a very fast time of 1:30.8, He was followed by Ernesto Roco, Guy Cunningham, Kevin Chambers, Vageli Karas, and Tim Gilpin, all within 2 seconds. Ross Murray laid down a 1:30 to qualify on the AIX and overall pole. The next two AIX qualifiers were John Lindsey and Mike Arnheiter at 1:32 and 1:34 respectively.

The start of Saturday's race was clean and all the cars made it through Turn One without incident. Murray took the lead on the field, followed by a tight pack that included Roco, Cunningham, Flaherty, and Karas. Roco pulled off some masterful passes in the Turn 3/4/5 complex, and the three-wide corner entries from this group made for some very exciting racing for the spectators watching. Lindsey and Arnheiter had a good battle going in AIX for second, until Lindsey's engine expired, forcing him to retire on Lap 6. The final AI result saw Roco with a long awaited and well-deserved win, followed by Flaherty in second, Karas, and Cunningham. Murray took the AIX win, followed by Arnheiter. Rookies Chaka Milby and Bill Daffron finished in third and fourth.

Ryan Flaherty took the AI pole again with an even faster time of 1:30.0. He was followed by Cunningham, Karas, Chambers, and Tim Gilpin, all clustered together near the 1:31 mark. Gilpin had been out of the game on Saturday with a blown head gasket and power steering pump, but some wrenching from series hopefuls Ryan Walton and Kerry Stockwell put him back in the fight with his fastest-ever lap times. Sunday's AIX qualifying saw Mike Arnheiter taking the pole position, with Murray right behind him, followed by Bill Daffron.

The start of Sunday's race was clean, but Flaherty's relatively underpowered 302 was unable to keep the higher horsepower cars in the rearview mirror on Willow's long straight start. Within two laps, Flaherty regained his lead in AI, just behind Murray's AIX car. Once the field spread out, Flaherty managed to keep the lead for the next 14 laps and took the checkered flag in first place. A close battle waged between Bill Daffron and Keith Videtto, which yielded an unfortunate incident which took out both Videtto and passerby Christine Knight. Ed Varon took a big ride off the outside of Turn 9 that left him sidelined. Ernesto Roco had engine problems, but kept in the game, at a much slower pace, to get the valuable points. The race was checkered a few laps early to give the safety crew a chance to get the disabled cars out of the danger zones, but the race was long enough to provide plenty of thrills for the fans in the bleachers and the pits. The final results for AI were Flaherty taking the win, followed by Cunningham in second and Karas in third. Murray took the win in AIX, followed by Tim Nichols and Bill Daffron.

It was a good weekend of racing, with the crowd spending far more time on the edge of their seats than in them.