'Betsy racers put thunder in Thunder Valley

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR Staff

   Some local drivers including those based right here in Elizabethton have been putting the thunder in racing at Thunder Valley the 2002 season.
   Highlighting the weekly bracket racing action at Bristol Dragway for our local entries is the motorcycle division.
   Elizabethton's Mike Gill leads the points standings with 180 points. Another 'Betsy racer, George Richmond, ranks second with 116 points. Jerry Turner of Piney Flats and the subject of a STAR feature last year, sets in third place.
   Former track champ Tom Lane, who grew up in Carter County, is fifth in the dragway's standings.
   Among the great performances includes three wins for Gill this season. Most interesting was the race on April 6-7 weekend, where Gill, Turner, Richmond and Mark White of Kingsport all shared the win after weather inhibited the racing action.
   Other classes are being well represented with Brandon McKinney scoring two wins in the Junior Dragster for ages 12-17 and ranking 4th in the points. C.J. Hodges of Boone is the leader in that division.
   Brandon's uncle, Todd McKinney, also has been a winner at the track this year in the Super Pro Class. Todd Whited of Richlands, Va. leads the Super Pro standings with 195 points, but a couple of Johnson City racers, Don Brandon and Michael McKinney,= are close behind.
   Maybe they should think of renaming the division the Super Pro/McKinney division as Mitchell McKinney out of Newland, N.C. is also ranked amongst the points leaders in this class.
   Mitchell Bowers of Elizabethton is seventh place in the Sportsman standings and fresh off a run to the semifinal round this past weekend. In fact, he, Richmond and Gill all were all in the semis this past weekend. Gill ended the runner-up to White in the Motorcycle class.
   There are several more drivers from Elizabethton who are racing over at Bristol Dragway and have picked up individual round wins. I encourage many of you race fans to get out and support our Carter County drivers.
   Onto the Winston Cup scene and Pocono Raceway is one of Ken Schrader's favorites when it comes to qualifying. Schrader has led the field to the green flag five times at the 2.5-mile track. He has won poles in 1989, 1992, 1993 (both races) and 1995. The No. 36 team started third last June and fourth last July at Pocono. This season, Schrader's best performance has been starting from the outside pole at Rockingham.
   "Racing at Pocono is always a challenging and interesting experience," said Schrader. "There is definitely no other place like it on the circuit. Every corner at Pocono is different, and you really have to adjust and drive each one accordingly. So it's a pretty tricky little place for both the crew and the driver.
   "When people ask what tracks I'm looking forward to, I always include Pocono.
   We've been pretty strong in qualifying at Pocono. If we can get some luck on the track, the "M&M's" team could have a good weekend."
   Schrader and the "M&M's" Racing Team are bringing the same No. 36 car they ran at Pocono Raceway last season in both the June and July races.
   "We ran well and qualified well in the car last year," said crew chief Newt Moore. "We should be pretty good and not have any problems other than the unforeseen, which is what keeps biting us anyway."
   It's not exactly in "M&M's" backyard, but Pocono Raceway could be considered the home track for the No. 36 car's primary sponsor. The famous triangular track is a little more than an hour northwest of the famous candy maker's headquarters in Hackettstown, N.J.
   In another note, the team tested at Virginia International Raceway on Tuesday in preparation for the upcoming road course races at Sears Point and Watkins Glen.