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Ballou by a Nose in Explosive Sprint Bandits TNT Go at HRP!

Lonnie Wheatley, BAYTOWN, Texas (May 1, 2010) – Race fans in the Lone Star State hadn’t been exposed to the thrills of traditional Sprint Cars in over two decades.

They won’t forget what they witnessed in the return of 410-ci wingless Sprint Cars to Texas any time soon, as Robert Ballou edged Jesse Hockett and Brady Bacon in a thrilling three-wide charge to the checkered flag in Saturday night’s season-opening 30-lap Lucas Oil Sprint Bandits Tour ‘N Topless main event at Houston Raceway Park after Friday’s scheduled opener at Beaumont was rained out.

Ballou’s seventh career Sprint Bandits TNT triumph aboard Dallas Mulvaney’s MPHG Promotions No. 81 Triple-X seemed a longshot at best after getting upside down in a wild heat race incident.

“It bent the front end over a good inch-and-a-half or so, we just got it back together as good as we could,” Ballou explained. “I really don’t know how it worked so well in the feature.”

After heat race and qualifying race action, the Rocklin, CA, native that now calls Indiana home found himself seven rows deep in the 13th starting position with Travis Rilat and reigning TNT champion Brady Bacon leading the way to the green flag.

Ballou was joined deep in the field early on by Hockett, who spun in turn four while running third on the third lap, thus setting the stage for what ultimately proved to be a three-wide scramble off the final corner for the checkered flag and $3,000 winner’s share that went with it.

Rilat, who first won his heat race and then made a last corner pass of Justin Melton to win his qualifier to earn the pole aboard the No. 50off entry, gunned into the early lead and paced the early laps in front of Bacon.

Casey Shuman moved past Ray Allen Kulhanek for third by the fifth round but surrendered the position under a lap eight stoppage with a broken fuel line. Shuman rejoined the field at the tail, only to have a similar problem end his race after 19 laps.

The feature’s initial red flag appeared for Jimmy Brooks, who jumped the cushion and went for a wild ride in turn two with eight laps in the books. On the restart, fourth-running Justin Melton did the same in turn three to bring out another red flag. Both drivers were uninjured.

Ballou was up to fourth after the pair of red flags and disposed of Kulhanek for third soon after action resumed, with Hockett steadily working his way through the field as well with Rilat and Bacon leading the way.

Bacon began pressuring Rilat for the lead at the midway point and never eased up, with Ballou joining in on the lead battle after the race’s final caution flew for Shuman on the 19th lap.

The battle soon became a four-way joust for the point, as Hockett charged past Matt Sherrell for fourth on the lap 19 restart and set his sights on the lead.

Rilat fended off his trio of challengers as long as he could until Bacon finally battled in front on the 23rd lap with Ballou and Hockett following suit over the next pair of rounds. “We made some changes on that red flag to try to loosen the car up and we just weren’t as good after that,” Rilat explained afterward.

With Bacon sticking to the low side in Mike and Megan Eubanks’ Wesmar-powered Tel-Star Communications No. 99 Triple-X, Ballou pounded the cushion in an effort to edge ahead as Hockett stuck the VKCC Motorsports No. 75 in the middle of the battle.

“I went for a tearoff with about five to go and there weren’t any left, so I just used my hand to clear my shield as much as I could, I just had to go for it up there,” Ballou explained.

Ballou finally edged ahead exiting turn four to take the white flag, setting up an epic final-lap duel. The trio diced for the top position over the final 3/8 of a mile, racing in formation off the final corner with Ballou mere inches ahead of Hockett, who was in turn perhaps a foot ahead of Bacon.

Hockett narrowly missed out on the spin-and-win, while Bacon fell one win off Ballou’s TNT total after the pair entered with six wins each.

“I was thinking it was about time to go to the top, I was about to go up there and then it was too late,” Bacon explained afterward.

Rilat slipped to fourth at the stripe, while Matt Sherrell rounded out the top five in just his second career wingless 410-ci Sprint Car outing.

Zach Chappell was sixth, with Ray Allen Kulhanek in seventh after racing among the top five much of the way.

Illinois shoe J.C. Bland edged Anthony Nicholson at the stripe for eighth, with Nicholson’s trip from Memphis netting a $500 bonus as the top-finishing 360-ci powerplant to bring his night’s take to more than $1,000.

Jake Simmons completed the top ten.

Nicholson and Rilat won the heat races, with Shuman and Rilat topping the qualifying races.

The Lucas Oil Sprint Bandits Tour ‘N Topless series returns to action next Friday night, May 7, at Devil’s Bowl Speedway in Mesquite, TX, before moving on to Little Rock’s I-30 Speedway for the TNT Front Row Challenge on Saturday night, May 8.

Lucas Oil Sprint Bandits Tour ‘N Topless Results
Houston Raceway Park:

Heat Races:

Heat One (8 Laps): 1. 16-Anthony Nicholson, 2. 99-Brady Bacon, 3. 5*-Ray Allen Kulhanek, 4. 50z-Zach Chappell, 5. 11-Justin Melton, 6. 87-Aaron Reutzel, 7. 7s-Jake Simmons, 8. 17-Channin Tankersley, 9. 51-Jimmy Brooks.

Heat Two (8 Laps): 1. 50-Travis Rilat, 2. 98-J.C Bland, 3. 75-Jesse Hockett, 4. 10x-Casey Shuman, 5. 2-Wayne Johnson, 6. 35-Matt Sherrell, 7. 81-Robert Ballou, 8. 99x-Leon Bacon. DNS: 8tw-Kent Lewis, Jr.

Qualifying Races:

Qualifier One (8 Laps): 1. 10x-Casey Shuman, 2. 75-Jesse Hockett, 3. 99-Brady Bacon, 4. 35-Matt Sherrell, 5. 50z-Zach Chappell, 6. 98-J.C. Bland, 7. 81-Robert Ballou, 8. 99x-Leon Bacon, 9. 17-Channin Tankersley.

Qualifier Two (8 Laps): 1. 50-Travis Rilat, 2. 11-Justin Melton, 3. 5*-Ray Allen Kulhanek, 4. 16-Anthony Nicholson, 5. 87-Aaron Reutzel, 6. 7s-Jake Simmons, 7. 51-Jimmy Brooks, 8. 2-Wayne Johnson. DNS: 8tw-Kent Lewis, Jr.

Houston Raceway Park Sprint Bandits TNT Main Event:

“A” Feature (30 Laps): 1. 81-Robert Ballou, 2. 75-Jesse Hockett, 3. 99-Brady Bacon, 4. 50-Travis Rilat, 5. 35-Matt Sherrell, 6. 50z-Zach Chappell, 7. 5*-Ray Allen Kulhanek, 8. 98-J.C. Bland, 9. 16-Anthony Nicholson, 10. 7s-Jake Simmons, 11. 87-Aaron Reutzel, 12. 10x-Casey Shuman, 13. 11-Justin Melton, 14. 51-Jimmy Brooks, 15. 2-Wayne Johnson, 16. 99x-Leon Bacon, 17. 17-Channin Tankersley, 18. 8tw-Kent Lewis, Jr.

Lap Leaders: Travis Rilat 1-22, Brady Bacon 23-28, Robert Ballou 29-30.

Lucas Oil Sprint Bandits TNT Points (Top 10): 1. Robert Ballou 150, 2. Jesse Hockett 142, 3. Brady Bacon 135, 4. Travis Rilat 130, 5. Matt Sherrell 125, 6. Zach Chappell 122, 7. Ray Allen Kulhanek 119, 8. J.C. Bland 116, 9. Anthony Nicholson 113, 10. Jake Simmons 110.