Most people would have thought the look on Steven Richardson’s face would have symbolized a $2,000 smile.
Not quite, but it was just about as close as you could come for the driver in the United Rebel Sprint Car series.
Richardson lost out on a photo finish to Quinter’s Zach Blurton on Sunday night at RPM Speedway in Hays on the second night of the Wheatshocker Nationals to kick off the 2015 Ellis County Fair.
“I’m not upset about it,” the 305 sprint car driver said. “It was fun. That’s what it’s about, those photo finishes. It’s good for the fans, and the drivers love it. It doesn’t get much better than that. Well, it would have gotten a little better if I would have won, but I’m not disappointed. I’m happy with where we’re at.”
So there was a bit of disappointment for Richardson, but he still walked away with a hefty paycheck of his own and a new Ozark Mountain Grill for having the most points in the three-day run that began Friday night at WaKeeney Speedway.
“We always enjoy coming here,” said Richardson, who won Saturday night’s feature at RPM to lock himself into Sunday’s big show. “We like the track, and it’s fast. It’s fun to race in front of these fans. I don’t know that there’s a track in the state that can provide as good of racing as you get here. I don’t feel snake-bitten; maybe a little disappointed we let a few get away from us. But I couldn’t be happier with how the weekend went.”
Richardson was one of four drivers to lock himself into the show Sunday night with his outing Saturday. Ty Williams, Jake Bubak and Brian Herbert were the other three who didn’t have to compete in heat races or B features to make the 20-car finale.
But one of those drivers who did have to battle through a heat race was Blurton, who was 12th the night earlier.
He advanced through his heat race and then was chosen to start outside the front row in the revenge draw, where the top 10-point earners for the night drew a pill and then had to hand it to another driver — signifying that recipient’s starting position in the feature.
“This is the best it gets, and this is by far the biggest paying race I’ve ever won,” Blurton said. “And I’m living in Quinter now, so it’s about only an hour away from here, so it’s pretty much a hometown track.”
Blurton dominated the race at the drop of the green flag and eventually led all 30 laps. He even overcame a slew of cautions to hold down the front spot.
“Caution after caution,” Blurton said. “It’s hard being out in front because you don’t know where everybody else is. After how we ran (Saturday night) and to come back and win tonight — we were 12th last night — that’s pretty cool.”
The race had five cautions, but after each one, Blurton was able to pull away.
The final yellow flag flew with three laps remaining, and Blurton was able to distance himself from Richardson for a short time.
“The car felt really good,” Blurton said. “But you never can think that. You have to keep running as hard as you can every lap and hit your marks.”
On the final lap, Blurton missed his mark entering turn three, allowing Richardson to close the gap. Blurton slid a bit off the bottom, and Richardson powered his way around the high side, setting up a race to the checkered flag.
“I could hear someone back there every once in a while,” Blurton said. “But I could really here him then. I missed the bottom, and my caliper got stuck in the wheel. He got all the way up to my nerf bar. But, man, that was crazy. That was too close.”
The two bumped wheels, with Blurton inching ahead at the stripe.
“I had been trying to reel him in, trying to reel him in,” said Richardson, who started sixth. “Then I got a pretty good run coming off of two and heading into three, I thought that was my chance if I was going to make it. I drove it in there as hard as I could, and it stuck — which I should have been doing the whole time. It stuck real good, and I had a good run coming off four and Zach slid up the race track a little bit. Man, I’ve never been a part of a closer finish than that.”
C.J. Johnson, who won one of the two B features to start 12th in the finale, finished third but was disqualified for being a few pounds light at the scales.
That moved eighth-starting Jake Bubak into third, and 10th-starting Luke Cranston to fourth.
Blurton came to a stop of the front stretch on the cool-down lap when his brake caliper finally gave in.
“Nothing was wrong until coming out of four,” Blurton said. “I don’t know if I hit the pedal to try to get to the bottom of three and it finally dislodged, but it just got stuck in the wheel and locked it up.”
It ended up being the closest finish in the coveted Wheatshocker Nationals’ history.
“I saw a picture up on the front straightaway, and it was about a half foot — under a foot, inches,” Richardson said. “It was as close as you can get. We knocked tires coming down the front straightaway. He’s a competitor, and I’m a competitor. We’ve raced against each other a long time. Neither one of us is going to back down. It was a fun race, and they gave us a hell of a track to race on considering the conditions.”
Wheatshocker Nationals Final - Hays KS - 7.12
A Feature Results
1 Zach Blurton
2 Steven Richardson
3 Jake Bubak
4 Luke Cranston
5 Koby Walters
6 Jeremy Huish
7 Zac Taylor
8 Jed Werner - Also taking home the Keizer Aluminum Wheels
Hard Charger Award, starting 18th and moving up 9 spots
9 Tyler Knight
10 Brian Herbert
11 Ty Williams
12 Keefe Hemel
13 James Riner
14 Lance Davis
15 Clint Shubert
16 Tracey Hill DNF
17 Austin McLean DNF
18 Nate Berry DNF
19 Kaden Taylor DNF
20 CJ Johnson DQ
1 Austin McLean, 2 Keefe Hemel, 3 Tracey Hill, 4 Kaden Taylor, 5 Clint Shubert, 6 Mike Taylor, 7 Beau Ricke, 8 Ryan Walters, 9 Jordan Knight, 10 Brad Mott, 11 Keven Schramek, 12 Bob Schaeffer DNS
1 CJ Johnson, 2 Nate Berry, 3 Lance Davis, 4 Jed Werner, 5 James Riner, 6 Brian Hardman, 7 Coby Pearce, 8 Aaron Ploussard, 9 Jordan Randles, 10 Kris Moore, 11 Darren Bowman
Heat race winners - Cranston, Huish, Zac Taylor, Tyler Knight