Just seven laps into the 20-lap Sportsman points finale Friday at Freedom Motorsports Park, it appeared that Brad Rouse would steer his potent race car from within the cockpit to a race victory and clinch his third consecutive Freedom Sportsman championship.
Rouse eventually did earn the title, but only after a dramatic turn of events. For Rouse, the championship-clinching moment did not come while in his car, but rather while Rouse was under his car in the pit area, gazing at a broken rear-end gear that almost derailed his championship aspirations in the season's closing laps.
When the feature began, Rouse could only lose the title to Kyle Inman if Rouse finished last in the small 10-car field and Inman won. If Rouse placed ninth or better the title was his.
Rouse, of St. Catharines Ont., was comfortably leading the race until his car began to slow dramatically going down the backstretch on the eighth lap. He came to a stop in Turn Four and brought out the yellow flag. During that caution period, Rouse was towed to the pits, done for the evening. All he could do now was wait to see what Inman could do.
As Rouse was under his car analyzing the gear issue, Inman finished second to Josh Wilcox and at that moment, the championship belonged to Rouse. Officially Rouse finished ninth and claimed the championship by a scant 13 markers. Rouse had five 2018 Freedom wins.
It was the second straight year that Rouse secured the Freedom title, overcoming a major dramatic twist to his point finale evening.
"There must be a black cloud over my head or something on championship night," Rouse said. "You know what, it is what it is. My problem tonight wasn't as bad as we thought. We thought it was a drive shaft but we just tore a gear out of the rear end. In the race as soon as I picked up the throttle in Turn One and Two it was just biting so hard. There was no vibration. It just took the teeth off the gears.
"We work hard to do what we do and get to where we are. My crew works hard and everybody in my family puts up for us to go racing every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, so kudos to them. They all get me to where I am."
Last season, Rouse came into the Freedom points finale with the lead only to encounter drama.
"Last year on the last night we blew the motor in the heat race and we ended up borrowing Brian Bellinger's car for the feature," Rouse said. "In the feature I got turned into the outside wall and I bent the frame and front end. I ended up finishing that race and finished second to get the title."
Also Friday at Freedom, Billy Van Pelt, also a five-time Freedom winner this season, secured the track's Outlaw Modified championship when he won his heat race. He finished second in the feature to his nephew Dylan Groover.
"My crews worked hard all season," Van Pelt said. "I've got to thank my car owner Kevin Chilson. This has just been a phenomenal season. I've been either first or second every night. It's fun racing here. I like the group of guys I race with here."
Due to a combination over the last month of a rainout, a power failure cancellation and two off-nights, Friday's Outlaw Modified race was the first Outlaw Modified feature run at Freedom since July 27. A very disappointing Freedom season field of only eight Outlaw Modifieds came to race Friday.
For the season, an average of 12 Outlaw Modifieds came to race at Freedom for the nine 2018 events held with a high of 16 cars on July 27.
After the race, Van Pelt brought up a thought that he has a desire for more cars to come to Freedom.
"I wish more cars would show up," Van Pelt said. "People just need to make their mind up where they want to race and for some reason this is just kind of like a stop and go place for a lot of people. It's a great place to come and race. A few guys who did come and race here this year loved it but apparently it's just too far for them to drive to get here or what else it is I'm not sure."
It should be noted that car counts are down at many area tracks this season.
Other Freedom champs crowned Friday were: Billy Taylor in Street Stocks and Duane Powers in Mini Stocks.
Freedom has one race remaining this season, the non-point Outlaw Modified/ULMS Super Late Model doubleheader, Sept. 15.
Revamped "Shootout" Weekend
Wyoming County International Speedway promoter Jim J. Majchrzak has announced that the "Shootout at The Bullring" event will run as a two-day event, Oct. 12 to 13. On Oct. 12, the WCIS Super Stock 50 will be showcased. On Oct. 13, the SST Modified Jim Pierce Memorial 100 will be featured.
The American Modified 100, originally set for Oct 14., has been cancelled due to American Racer making a "corporate decision" opting not to provide the purse money. Majchrzak is adding some of his own money to the Pierce Memorial purse.