Eric Cooley completes a qualifying lap at Magnolia Motor Speedway earlier this year. Photo by: David Miller/Special to The Dispatch Buy this photo.
July 14, 2017 10:38:18 AM
Eric Cooley has a grudge to settle with himself and Magnolia Motor Speedway.
Cooley was leading the Governor's Cup in 2013 when a late caution killed his momentum and he finished second. He has finished fifth and seventh in the last two editions of the race.
"I hope we have some luck this weekend. That's the first thing we need," Cooley said. "I got this race taken away from me a few years ago -- had it won, and I want this one back.
Cooley and other Super Late Model drivers will chase $4,000 Saturday in the 14th-annual Cliburn Tank Lines Governor's Cup. The race is part of the Southern All Stars Super Late Model Series. The race will mark the third-straight event in which Super Late Models have headlined race nights at The Mag.
"Any time there's a race like this -- $5,000, $10,000, whatever it is -- you always remember those close finishes, the ones you almost won," Cooley said. "Any big race that slips through your finger tips, you have a lot of drive to win that race."
Last week, Cooley ran three races in Illinois as part of the "The Hell Tour," otherwise known as the DIRTCar Summer Nationals, a marathon of more than 30 races in a month that began in mid-June. Cooley finished 19th at Macon, 20th at Highland, and just missed making the feature at Farmer City, finishing fourth in a B-main. The final two races of the swing paid $10,000 to the winner.
Cooley said the decision to race in Illinois was "last minute," but it presented an opportunity to put some more laps on his primary motor, recently rebuilt by Jay Dickens, after more than two months running on a backup motor. Cooley said he opted to pull off in both A races to save equipment after the car was tight in one race and loose in the other. Still, making two features against national competition is encouraging entering this weekend, Cooley said.
"We wanted to race somewhere different and have fun doing it," Cooley said. "The main goal going up there was to try to make all three races. Those guys have raced so much more than we have already this year. I wanted to run better than we did, but my thing was to have fun. Racing up there was totally different; Macon will fit in one corner of Magnolia, feels like."
Cooley has a win and a runner-up finish at The Mag this year. He made the Clash at The Mag feature and finished eighth in a Comp Cams race July 2 at Magnolia.
For Columbus native Shay Knight, finding a winning formula is more complicated than dropping in a new motor. Knight, who returned to racing Super Late Models full time last season, has two third-place finishes at Magnolia this season. However, his performances in the track's big shows have left him and his team frustrated. Knight didn't make the field for the Clash or the last COMP Cams race, and he finished last in the COMP Cams race in May.
Knight said the ebbs and flows have been equal parts mechanical failure, bad luck, and stiff competition.
"We've shot ourselves in the foot by trying to do so much different stuff," Knight said. "We've been trying to get faster, only to get slower. We've had our heads down lately."
Knight said his crew -- Roy Knight, Eric Yarbrough, and Jeremy Reed-Wood -- have worked diligently this week to reverse a trend of slow qualifying runs and to maintain the speed they find when the track slicks off for heats and the feature. He hopes significant changes to shocks and springs will produce favorable results in tonight's practice session.
"Throughout the year, we would make minor changes here and there, not wanting to kill ourselves by overhauling the car," Knight said. "But we'd be almost the same as we were the last time we were there. But we've done a lot of stuff this week. We'll practice (tonight), and that's been our big thing -- most every practice has been rained out this year."
Bullring to hold "Military Appreciation Night"
Military members will get free grandstand admission tonight at Columbus Speedway for its NeSmith touring points and track points races.
Racing kicks off at 8. Military members must present a valid military ID to receive free admission.
NeSmith Late Models, 602 Sportsman and Street Stocks will run with Late Model Stocks, Mini-Stocks, and Factory Stocks.
On Saturday, the Mississippi Karting Series will begin racing at 10 a.m. The Unlimited All-Stars (UAS) karting Series also will be in action.
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