( Brinkleyville, NC) After a late Friday night cold front moved through the state dumping quite a lot of rain, the sun made its appearance in the Northeastern quadrant of the Tarheel state but also brought dropping temperatures for this mid March afternoon. When the pits opened at Halifax County Motor Speedway, race cars and fans crammed into the grounds surrounding the 3/8ths mile oval for the 2nd Annual Mark Batten Memorial and the season opening event for the Steel Block Bandits Dirt Late Model Challenge. Wet grounds challenged promoter Michael Wells’ team as they began working the track and the pits at 5:00 am on Saturday morning to make the conditions as tolerable as possible for the teams.
Forty Four teams signed in at the Bandit trailer when registration opened as drivers from six different states gathered to honor Mark Batten the legendary engine builder who lost his life in 2019. It would be the first crown jewel event of the 2023 Bad Company Tour with the winner pocketing $10,000 along with over $4500 offered in contingency awards.
Two groups of qualifying started the evening festivities in HGR’s Truck & Trailer Sales, Inc.. with $1000 up for grabs for the fastest overall qualifier. Christian Thomas led Group A with a time of 14.680 holding off Dustin Mitchell’s lap of 14.690. Group B qualifying saw Michael Rouse lay down a lap of 14.638, besting Derrick Quade’s 15.137. Rouse tops the charts and bags the $1000 for his efforts.
Heat races were up next and with 44 cars signed in, the top 4 in each heat transferred to the 61 lap feature, with everyone else relegated to the Last Chance Qualifying races. Thomas and Willie Milliken would led them field to green in the Dirt Freak Racewear Heat one. Lap one saw an epic lead swap between the two shoes on the front row but the battle was halted by a wreck between AJ Belanger, Corey Almond and Dan Breuer. Thomas was able to pull away from Milliken to grab the win, Robbie Emory was third and Breuer fourth after rallying back. Samuel Bryant gains three spots but falls ww short.
The Scott Service Company heat saw Mitchell and Walker Arthur on the front row. With the heat race laps cut to six laps, the drivers started to feel the urgency as this heat saw several wrecks including Arthur on lap 2. John Stanton made contact with the Forest, Virginia resident which included Clint Hodges. A few laps later Mason Price, Michael Alderman and Jason Adams found the wall in turn one. Mitchell is able to hold off Cody Wright for the win, asphalt ace Brenden Queen was third followed by Walker Arthur.
Rouse and Tyler Bare were on the front row for heat three powered by Mega Plumbing of the Carolinas. This heat saw some calmer driving as Rouse gets the win over Bare, Michael Batten and Dale Moore. The final heat had Quade and Spencer Liggon paired up to bring the VP Racing Fuels heat to full steam. Quade dashes away from Liggon and Bobby Lilles to grab the win. Caleb Fulp advances three spots to race his way into the big show.
During the intermission, fans were treated to a meet and greet with the drivers that was well received as the drivers decompressed before tgr big show. Two last chance qualifying races would satisfy the remaining available spots for the feature and they were up next on the docket. Samuel Bryant and Stanton brought LCQ one to Jordan Medlin’s green flag with Bryant jumping out front. Tyler Arrington made his way around Stanton and began to set his sights on Bryant. With two laps to go, Arrington got a great run off turn four and advanced to the lead. The Virginia native would get the win bringing Bryant and Stanton with him to the finale. LCQ number 2 saw the Kyle and Kyle show, Hardy and Lear. Hardy leads all 8 laps after a tough challenge from Lear and Knoxville, Tennessee’s Brad Lowe makes the show as well. The field was finally set with Mason Price and Derrick Rankin receiving the final two provisionals.
The anticipation was a fever pitch as fans waited through the freezing temperatures for the first race of the season for the third year series. Thomas and Rouse made up the front row and as they crowd came to their feet,the two warriors sped off into the banking as a cloud of solid red dust rose above the Red Clay Bullring. Rouse called on his Roberts Racing engine early as he dashed by Thomas down the back stretch to grab the lead on lap number one. Walker Arthur brought out the first caution as he and Stanton found each other again. Dale Moore’s rookie campaign got off to a tough start as the Reidsville resident’s night ended early. Up front, a four wide skirmish into turn one saw Tyler Bare getting the short end of the stick, sending last year’s runner up in points in the spin cycle. Several drivers started their climb through the standings including Kyle Lear who started 20th and battled his way into the top ten. Midway through the event, defending champion Dustin Mitchell’s night ended as he pulled his MasterSbilt Race Cars to the infield along with Milliken who also retired. Thomas and Quade swapped positions on restarts allowing Rouse to skirt away and at one point compile a 4.5 second lead. Two big movers were Robbie Emory and Kyle Hardy as they tag teamed their way up the standings bringing Batten with them. Batten, who started 10th, was into the top five with ten to go. Rouse continued to be masterful on restarts and eventually pulls away for his fourth series win, his second crown jewel and his second Halifax triumph as a Bandit. Thomas finishes second, Quade was third, Batten’s rally bags him a solid fourth and Emory rounds out the top five in fifth.
A visibly tired victor, Rouse acknowledged the tough conditions; “It was like a war out there, I couldn’t see half the time and my belts really got tested tonight, the track had plenty of character. Me and CT (Thomas) had a good battle a few times but this Longhorn Chassis was just perfect tonight, all my guys have worked so hard to get us to where we are.” The Wilson driver on lapped traffic; “Honestly, I just threw it in there, when we’d come up on slow cars we didn’t have any clue where they were going because of the holes, luckily I only had one close call.” Rouse on his early season success; “It can end at any time, that’s what keeps us working so hard, we’re going to enjoy it but we’re also going to be mindful and learn from it.”
Thomas was pleased with his second straight runner- up to Rouse; “That blue car right there is gonna be the death of me, man, those guys are on it right now. We are happy but we know our time is right around the corner.” Thomas on the hard work his team has put in; “Last year was about as low as we could get, so we went to work, gotta lot of brain power in this hot rod this year, just stay tuned, we’re coming.”
Quade was thrilled with his podium; “That was a rough ride but we survived and the best part is we had speed. I’ve got a great crew and hopefully this good start will continue this year. I thought I had Rouse a couple times but it looked he’d find another gear and get away.”
BANDIT BITES :
– Tyler Bare’s Halifax jinx continues as he is involved in a wreck. Last year he pointed to his first race that maybe cost him a title.
– Batten struggles early on with brake issues but his team battles back for a 4th place finish in a brand new car and the fastest car on the track at lap 61.
– Kyle Hardy starts 18th and finishes sixth to get the $100 Hard Charger of the race award presented by Power Source.
– Samuel Bryant received the Rookie of the Race of $100 from Integrous Risk Solutions for being the highest finishing Arizona Sport Shirts rookie presented by New Point Lighting and Design.
– Skeeter Liles receives the $100 Hard Luck award from Raphine Transport after an early race spin put him to the rear.
– Brenden Queen is solid in his Bandit debut, coming home in the 9th spot. “ I’m having a blast, definitely will be back with you guys this year, hopefully at Dixieland.”
– Rookie champ Derrick Rankin struggled all night with heating issues.
Breuer battles through some incidents to an 8th place finish. A solid performance for the veteran on our tour.
Mark Batten Memorial
- Michael Rouse
- Christian Thomas
- Derick Quade
- Michael Batten
- Robbie Emory
- Kyle Hardy
- Cody Wright
- Dan Breuer
- Brenden Queen
- Tyler Bare
- Kyle Lear
- Spencer Liggon
- Samuel Bryant
- Walker Arthur
- Dustin Mitchell
- John Staton
- Willie Milliken
- Bobby Liles
- Tyler Arrington
- Caleb Fulp
- Derrick Rankin
- Dale Moore
- Brad Lowe
- Mason Price
UP NEXT: Round 2 of 17 Bristol Motor Speedway The Bristol Dirt Showcase
April 1st- $5000 to win.
EP/ Bandit PR