Staff Photo by Kristin PittsFred Smith puts on his racing gear before a practice lap at the Dixieland Speedway, Friday, July 30, 2010.
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Brett A. Clark

Staff Photo by Kristin PittsFred Smith puts on his racing gear before a practice lap at the Dixieland Speedway, Friday, July 30, 2010.

Five drivers, five races, one night

By Will Harris

Sports Writer

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Across the south, racing is one of most popular sports. Dixieland Speedway is a hidden gem in northern Pasquotank County, offering a wide variety of auto racing action.

The 3/8-mile, high-banked oval regularly runs five divisions and hosts several other special races. The racing is fast, competitive and accessible. On a typical Friday night during the season, which runs from early April through the end of August, fans can take in nearly 150 laps of competition.

This Friday was one of those nights. The stands were packed with race fans and, as usual, the infield pit area was packed with racers. Here is a look how the night went for five drivers — Russell Barclift, Alex Butler, Lew Moulton, Fred Smith and Steve Steeley. What was their goal heading into the race? How did they do? Take a look.

Russell Barclift

Age — 43; Hometown — Elizabeth City; Division — Sportsman; Car — No. 34 Chevrolet Monte Carlo; Points Position — 1st.

As co-owner of Quality Seafood, Barclift started as a sponsor, eventually getting into the driver’s seat himself about 10 years ago. It culminated in a points title in 2007 and he is on his way to a second this year, dominating the division all season. He had won eight of the first 12 events, including five in a row to open the year, and entered the night with a healthy 36-point lead in the race for the season title.

Barclift admitted he was going to be “points racing” on this night.

“We’re going to look at the big picture tonight,” said Barclift, who went out and won the pole by nearly two-tenths of a second. “If we get a chance to get by, we’re going by, we’re going to race hard, but try and race a little smarter.”

But his night went downhill from there.

The start of the race was marred by a crash in Turn 1 before a lap could be run. On the second attempt to start the race, Troy Brickhouse got below Barclift coming out of Turn 2. The two made contact and Barclift spun around on the back stretch. Surprisingly, the yellow caution did not come out as the field raced

away and Barclift limped around to the pits. It turned out not to matter as Barclift’s crew, led by Steve Steeley, discovered the rear axle was broken and his night was over without completing a single lap.

Barclift was none too happy about the turn of events.

“Rough driving and unsportsmanlike conduct,” he said. “I wouldn’t even dream of driving somebody that way and I can’t believe it’s going on out here.

“We’ll be back next week.”

Alex Butler

Age — 15; Hometown — Grandy; Division — Sissy’s Subs and More Stock 4; Car — No. 43 Ford Escort GT; Points Position — 5th.

The Moyock driver and rising sophomore at Currituck County High School, who just received his learner’s permit two months ago, is already a two-year veteran on the track. Still, his season in the Stock 4 division has been a learning process. The team has suffered from some mechanical failures during the season and admitted mental errors (they ran out of gas in one race), all of which has kept them down in the points standings.

“We’ve figured out what we’ve done wrong and we know not to do those, so really it’s trial and elimination,” Butler said. “We’ve gone through about everything that can go wrong so far, so we don’t have much to go and have eliminated just about everything.”

His night got off to a good start. Butler checked out in his heat race and won handily to earn the pole for the feature race later in the evening.

In the 15-lap main event, he got the jump and led the first five laps. But he was being hounded by James Baston the whole way and eventually ceded the position. A few laps later he fell to third, but held steady there and cruised home with a third-place finish.

Butler was pleased with the outcome, although steam was coming out from under the hood after the race, the result of a damaged radiator caused by some contact during the race.

“(It slowed us up) a little bit. I lost a little bit of power, but we’re all good,” Butler said. “I came into the race with a strong car and finished with a strong car. Overall, I’m happy. I got my top-three, which is what I wanted.”

Lew Moulton

Age — 53; Hometown — Moyock; Division — Biggs Super 4; Car — No. 57 Ford Mustang; Points Position — 7th.

Moulton’s year has been a rough one, but has nothing to do with what has happened on the track. Moulton’s brother Doug passed away July 12 and he is dedicating the season to him.

“My expectations for tonight and for the rest of the season is to dedicate everything I do for my brother,” Moulton said. “I do the best I can do and the big thing is to have fun. My son and I come out here for one reason and one reason only and that is to have fun.”

Moulton, who has raced cars for nearly 15 years, thinks his car is a few sponsors and a few dollars away from contending for race wins. As it stands, he feels he has a “fourth-place car almost every night.” Add in a potentially good run in the race he missed to attend his brother’s funeral and he would likely sit fourth in the points.

On Friday, he went out and qualified sixth, .062 seconds out of fifth. When the green flag dropped, he quickly took over fifth place, held that position all 20 laps and cruised home a lap down for his sixth top-five finish of the season. Afterwards, Moulton felt he could have done better.

“I was running down on the 95 and 17 at the beginning and it just kind of went away,” he said. “The right front (tire) lost some air pressure. If we had tires or had newer tires, we’d be running up with everybody. We had a new guy driving the 17 car and that wasn’t expected. Fourth, fifth, it’s top-five. It’s go out, start the race, run hard and get it back on the trailer in one piece.”

Fred Smith

Age — 59; Hometown — Maple; Division — Little Caesars Super Streets; Car — No. 6 Chevy Monte Carlo; Points Position — 1st.

Like Barclift, Smith has dominated his class all season. He entered Friday’s race with a division-high seven wins and a massive 82-point lead over second place. Smith, though, was not ready to put it in cruise control for the rest of the season. His goal to begin the year was to get to eight wins, so one more on Friday night would put him at his goal.

“I’m trying to be cautious, but if I can get the eighth win right off and jump to the front and take the lead, that’s fine,” Smith said.

But the night did not go according to plan for the 11-year racing veteran and two-time track champion (2000, 2009).

He finished second in his qualifying heat race to take the third starting position. But his problems started even before the cars took the track for the main event when a competitor from another division inadvertently backed into his car while they were staging for the event. Once the green flag dropped, more trouble occurred. On lap four, he got tangled up with another car and damaged his bumper. His crew took several looks at the car as he rounding the track on caution laps and he finally entered the pits for them to take a closer look. They eventually ripped the bumper out, which caused Smith all sorts of handling problems the rest of the race.

The 20-lap race featured eight cautions in all with laps run under the yellow flag not counting toward the 20-lap total. Smith ran most of the race in the middle and back of the pack, making another pit stop later in the race to change a tire. When the checkers dropped, Smith had worked his way up to eighth, finishing a lap down.

“We’re still way in the points lead,” Smith said. “It’s been two years since I brought a car back looking like this. They were just running crazy tonight. We had three wrecks in seven or eight laps. Usually, we do better than that.”

Part of the problem, according to Smith, was some new entries on the track that run about the same speed, causing some congestion.

“We have had three cars to come back in the last month that are all real close together in speed and it gets crowded,” he said.

Steve Steeley

Age — 50; Hometown — South Mills; Division — Budweiser Allstars; Car — Chevy; Points Position — 3rd.

Steeley had the best, an easiest, night of the five spotlighted racers, although not unexpected. A 23-year racing veteran, his third-place points standing is a little misleading since his job has taken him away from the track twice this year. Despite that, he entered the night 54 points out of first, just four points from second, and led the division with five wins. Add in potentially two solid runs in the races he missed and it is conceivable he would be contending for the points title.

“If you have luck and attendance, we could probably to pretty good,” said Steeley, who earlier this season won the 100th race of his career.

On Friday, he showed that he has the car and ability to do just that.

After qualifying second, he got the jump on the green flag and led all 30 laps. Cautions on lap one and lap seven did not slow him down and he ended up running alone all night, crossing the finish line half the track ahead of second-place Troy Williams.

“It was really hooked up tonight,” Steeley said. “It was running good and I could drive it where ever I wanted to. It took a couple of laps to find the groove.”

Since Williams is the points leader, Steeley did not gain much. But that was OK since Steeley builds motors for Williams and his goal heading into the night was to beat his buddy.

“We’re neighbors and good friends for years,” Steeley said. “It usually comes between me and him.”

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