Al Turner had one of the worst days of his racing career, and followed it up with probably the best.
Turner’s victory in the season-opening Mopar 250 was the first for the team, now in its second year. It was surely an uphill battle for the competitive Turner, who had to use a provisional starting position to even make it into the main event, starting in 34th. The victory on the track was ample reward, but it was doubly so considering the troubles the team had to overcome–prompting a chorus of “What a difference a day makes,” as they gathered on the podium to celebrate the victory. What a difference indeed.
While Turner’s Blue Streak Intrepid had been fast in testing and early running, when it came to qualifying on Saturday it was a different story. Still getting used to the finer points of the Goodyear rubber, Turner was warned to make sure the tires were hot before taking the green flag on his time trial lap. In his bid to do so, he swung the car left and right, and then promptly put it into the wall, hard. That nixed the chance for a good qualifying time, although the team was able to tape the front end together and register a time.
Then, while leading his qualifying heat, engine temperature soared and he had to pit. Afterward, the crew worked until 3 a.m. to get the car into shape for Sunday’s event. Even so, Turner was confident the car was strong and the chance of doing well good, as long as he could keep out of trouble. In the end, that’s exactly what determined the outcome.
In a crash-filled race which eliminated or maimed many of the front runners, Turner’s car had hardly a scratch on it.
He eventually took the lead on lap 223 of the 250 lap event, with 1999 Eastern Champion Don Thomson Jr. in hot pursuit. A tangle with a backmarker eventually ended that battle, though Thomson was able to recover to finish second.
After the race Turner was grateful for the work of his crew throughout the weekend, and also for the way Thomson drove. “I came down on him pretty hard a few times and he raced me clean. I owe a lot of thanks to Don for that.”
The win put Turner in the lead in the championship, one that he is going to have to work hard to protect if past seasons are anything to judge by. The season opener has traditionally been a poor predictor of year-end results. Turner will, no doubt, be looking to change that pattern.