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ARCA: Thomas Holds off DuQuoin Dirt-Trackers

8 September 1998

By Don Radebaugh

Twice every season Phenix City, Alabama's Billy Thomas hauls his JW Miller Land & Timber Pontiac northward to Illinois for his best shot at glory with the ARCA Bondo/Mar-Hyde Series. That glory came in last Sunday's Southern Illinois 100 on the one-mile clay oval in DuQuoin when the dirt-track specialist held off polesitter Bill Baird by a half car length to notch his fourth career ARCA victory, and third at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds.

"I can't tell you how good this feels to come up here and beat these guys," said Thomas in victory lane. "I'd like to thank Frank Kimmel and Bill Baird for racing me so clean today. It's great to race with professionals and it's even greater to hold 'em off for the win. The track was perfect today. I love this place."

Series point leader Kimmel held on for third in Larry Clement's Visionaire-Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet ahead of Mark Gibson's JaniKing Ford with four-time series winner Bob Hill, in the Roulo Brothers ride, completing the top five.

Bob Strait led the first 21 laps before Baird raced by just before the second of seven cautions appeared. During that caution, many of the front-runners came down pit road for a mandatory pitstop while Baird elected to stay out. Strait's fine run would end just 39 laps in with overheating problems. Baird then took off like a rocket and led the next 22 laps before another caution appeared presenting the leader a chance to pit. Baird took the opportunity but had to pit unexpectedly again when it was determined that some of the hood pins were not properly fastened. The additional stop relegated the Sturgis, Kentucky driver to the extreme tail-end of the field for the restart while Thomas assumed the lead^one he would not relinquish.

For the final 47 laps Thomas hugged the bottom rail with expertise allowing Kimmel, who had worked his way to second from the 13th starting position, no opportunity to make the pass. And while Kimmel chased Thomas bumper-to-bumper, Baird, in his Saturn Machine-Spee Dee Pop Chevrolet, electrified the audience with a spirited charge from the tail-end to challenge both. One by one Baird had to pass every car on the track, most of which were on the lead lap, while the miles wore away. With 13 laps remaining Baird had hustled his way to fifth. He soon out-dueled Hill and Gibson and tracked down Kimmel eight laps from the end. One lap later Baird raced underneath Kimmel off turn four and was soon glued to Thomas's bumper setting up the dramatic conclusion. But Thomas had expertly fought off Kimmel with great success and had no intentions of giving it all away now. With the white flag already waving, Baird maneuvered his Chevrolet inside of Thomas off the final corner and drew alongside only to fall short by less than a car length at the checkered flag.

Fourth in points Jeff Finley was a threat most of the way running third and fourth before his engine expired just 16 laps from the finish. Two-time series winner Eric Smith finished sixth ahead of Andy Belmont who raced his America Online Ford from the 32nd starting position to finish seventh garnishing the Penndel, Pennsylvania driver the Hoosier Tire Midwest Hard Charger award for advancing the most positions. Joe Cooksey started outside row one to earn his best career ARCA qualifying effort and finished eighth with Curt Piercy ninth and Mark Voigt, who started 30th, rounding out the top ten.

Series Point Leaders: Frank Kimmel 4370, Mark Gibson 4005, Bob Strait 3710, Jeff Finley 3655, Bill Baird 3385, Andy Belmont 3195, Norm Benning 2820, Curt Piercy 2780, David Boggs 2735, Brian Conz 2520.