Jason Sides crawled from his sprint car with an exhausted – and thrilled – look on his face.
Reeling from the passing of a close friend earlier this week, Sides carried a heavy heart into Saturday’s World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series doubleheader at Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 – the culmination of a pair of rainouts earlier this season.
And after a total 95 green-flag feature laps on the high-banked track on a humid and windy Midwest day, Sides captured the Spring Classic after recording a third-place finish in the Federated Auto Parts Ironman 55 presented by Summit Distributing/Coors Light in the afternoon.
“I had Mark Hardee riding with me,” Sides said. “It wasn’t his time to go, but the cancer got him and we hate that. He’ll be with us a lot in our hearts and everything, so hopefully we’ll get us a couple more wins with him riding with us.”
It was Sides’ first World of Outlaws feature win since July 2 of last season and extended his streak of at least one Outlaws victory in the each of the past four years.
“I think it was our given night to win and I’m glad we did,” he said. “We had a win the last few years and (I was) just trying to get us a win. I didn’t want to go winless, but it was coming down to the last couple of races.”
It was anything but a given for Sides, who started the 40-lap main event on the pole. He led the first eight laps before Lucas Wolfe drove around him for the top spot exiting turn four in thick traffic.
Sides eventually faded to sixth place with 10 laps remaining before he began to work his way toward the front. He passed Donny Schatz for fifth place on lap 31 and maneuvered around Kerry Madsen for fourth on lap 33. Sides restarted fourth with six laps remaining and quickly drove into the runner-up position.
“I had to learn to slow down to go faster and hit the bottom,” he said.
Sides and Chad Kemenah, who took the lead from Wolfe on lap 32, were side by side when a caution came out to set up the first of two green-white-checkered finishes. As the leader, Kemenah chose the inside line on the double-file restart and Sides drove by him as the duo exited turn four coming to the white flag.
With victory in sight, the seventh – and final – caution waved. This time Sides chose the inside line and as Kemenah appeared to have fuel issues on the restart, Sides escaped a hectic finish behind him.
With drivers sliding each other and racing wheel to wheel, Kemenah and Wolfe faded from their second and fourth restart positions as they apparently ran out of fuel.
Schatz rallied to record his second runner-up performance of the season and Brian Brown, who lined up sixth on the final restart, rounded out the podium.
“There were times I thought I was going to win it and there were times I thought I was going to run 10th,” Brown said. “Pevely is a really fun track.
“It’s a 120-mile-per-hour chess match. It just didn’t work out tonight, but we’re working really hard to get our first win on this Outlaws deal.”
Madsen finished fourth and Kraig Kinser drove from 13th to his second straight fifth-place result. Greg Wilson was sixth, Wolfe ended seventh and Brad Loyet earned the KSE Hard Charger Award for piloting from 20th to eighth. Kemenah placed ninth and Craig Dollansky rounded out the top 10.