BARROWS — Another block was added to an old rivalry, and a foundation of a new one started to form as racing fans celebrated Independence day Saturday, July 4, at North Central Speedway.
Billy Kendall III and Aaron Johnson are two young drivers but they have veteran experience and the value of having fathers deeply involved in their racing programs. They have battled against each other numerous times in the Modified class and they added another layer to their rivalry in a scintillating 20-lap feature race which culminated in Kendall III celebrating his first win of the season.
Johnson, the reigning 2019 track champion, came in with two wins to his credit in the early NCS season and he grabbed the early from the second row. Kendall II started row three and soon he and Johnson were out front together with the lead changing a number of times as the two drivers tested each other and moved back and forth from the low side to the high side of the track. Kendall III regained the lead when a caution flag came out with just three laps left that tightened the field. Kendall III was able to hold off the hard charging Johnson to gain the checkered flag.
Both drivers started out in what is now the Hobby class, moved into Sportmod cars and have now been performing the last few years in the Modified class. Each driver also works with their father on their car and that experience shows in Kendall's thought process facing the 20 laps of a feature race.
"It changes every lap," he said. "I go to the bottom and then he goes to the bottom. It's also a little bit of a mind game. Tonight I was pushing into turn three and four a little bit harder than I normally do just to make him do the same thing and that would take him into the slick stuff. Just playing that game a little bit helps a lot, but I do try to focus on each lap."
Kendall III also knows that the equipment that he is racing in is high quality and that is because he has a hand in the making of it.
"My dad actually builds these chassis so there isn't anyone else who works on them," Kendall said. "We build them from the ground up and set them up. (Billy's father) has a lot of knowledge from his asphalt racing days so this car is exactly right each week and I know what I have. It is a confidence builder knowing that I am going to have a good car every week."
Last week, Hobby Stock driver Brandon Bombardo broke through with his first win of the year at NCS and it appeared that he was on that same path again Saturday night. He was pulling away from the field in the 15-lap feature. 2019 track champion Tim Gonska had worked his way up to second place, but admitted that he had little chance of catching Bombardo, when fate stepped in with a late caution flag.
"There was no chance (of catching him)," Gonska admitted. "When he got to second he was a long ways out and I was trying to reel him in, but when it got to five laps left I thought I wasn't going to get him, but when the caution came out I was pretty excited because I knew I had a chance then."
Indeed he did have a chance and Gonska used a strategy that had worked for Bombardo last week in his feature win, driving the little used high side of the track to hold Gonska at bay.
"Last week was the opposite with (Bombardo) driving the high side," Gonska said. "With as many races at the track as I have I know there is not anything up there, but he made it work last week and I had nothing for him so I went up there tonight and it worked so I figured I would give him a taste of his own medicine."
It was the second win of the season for Gonska and a look at the standing shows that he is right in the points race, trailing leader Dave Johnson by three points after four races, but eight drivers are within 20 points of the lead. Last year Gonska ran away from the field but it looks like it will be a tighter race this year, something that is rewarding for Gonska to see in his class.
"When you are sitting in staging and looking..four years ago when we started we would have six to eight cars and all four were Pure Stocks. Now I look at a field of 18 cars and all of them are nice Hobby Stocks and it is fun to see. We have really good drivers that race and it is a lot of fun."
Other drivers with wins on Saturday night were Dylan Nelson in the Super Stock class, Mark Martini for the Sportmods and Tommy Bawden in the Mod Four class. Terry Matthewman took the top spot in the Sport Compact feature event.