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Putnam Powers Past Heady to Claim Rusty Harpe Memorial Win

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Gary Putnam and his Gary Putnam Racing sponsored by Mike Curb at Curb Records car was lightning fast all day last Saturday.

Putnam Powers Past Heady to Claim Rusty Harpe Memorial

By Justin Mincey

Gary Putnam and his Gary Putnam Racing sponsored by Mike Curb at Curb Records car was lightning fast all day last Saturday. It showed when Putnam snatched the pole from James Civali by only a mere 7 thousandths. The redraw sent Civali and Burt Myers to the front row. Myers dropped to the rear of the field because he had a broken track bar that was found during his second qualifying lap. So that allowed the Danny Bohn to move up a row to start second.

Gary Putnam

Franklin County Speedway Winner and points leader heading into Caraway John Smith started third, Jason Myers fourth and Joey Coulter fifth. At the drop of the green flag it was Civali who jumped out to the lead with Bohn falling in line. Civali set a blistering pace early on and jumped out to nearly a full straightaway lead, but behind him the jockeying for position was red hot. Bohn, Myers and Smith were battling for second for so many laps. The newcomer Bohn was showing how good the Buddy Ellis owned car was.

As Civali set sail, Myers and Smith were applying pressure to Bohn consistently, every single lap. Bohn’s car would wash up the track and allowed Myers to get by, but Bohn would power ahead and regain second. For the better part of 20 laps the trio looked tied together like they were in a train race. Behind the trio Putnam was playing the conservative route alongside Brian Loftin in Grady Jeffreys #15. Further back Burt Myers was coming on strong after starting at the rear of the field.

Civali would go onto take the orange and white checkered flag to win the Jerry Hunt SuperCenter Stage Win. Bohn would take second with Jason Myers taking third. With the first caution coming out, it gave the 17 SMART Stars a opportunity to improve their cars or change tires. Bohn and Myers surrendered podium positions to pit with Caleb Heady, Jeremy Gerstner, Burt Myers and others chose to pit. Strategies varied as Bohn & Heady’s teams swapped left sides, Jason Myers team swapped rights.

As the green flew, it was quickly replaced with the yellow as outside pole sitter Burt Myers would have a flat right front tire. The cause of the flat tire is uncertain, but it was a pretty good size puncture to the center of the tire. Myers crew would make the only decision they could and replace the punctured tire with their one and only new tire. Myers would for a second time retreat to the rear of the field in hopes of clawing his way back to the front.

While teams chose to pit, others decided to stay out, so it was truly a interesting game of which strategy was going to play out? The restart had put Smith on the outside of Civali where Smith let Civali get away slightly, but Smith would track down Civali and rip the lead away from him on lap 35. Smith driving for Phil Stefanelli would show how good the PSR Products car and he is at Caraway. Smith a former three time winner of the .455 mile Speedway would show the way for the majority of the middle part of the SMART Chevrolet 99 lap race.

While Smith was out front leading, the field was settling in for the proverbial long run, drivers and teams were preparing for the end game, the end of the race. Towards the end of the run, it seemed there was a couple drivers who were getting bigger and bigger in Smith’s rear view mirror. Putnam and Heady were on the move, Putnam got around Civali for second and was moving in slowly on Smith. Heady on the other hand, pitted on lap 30 and restarted eleventh, but Heady was flying through the field. John Smith’s great run in the #17 car would come to a end as his car suffered some electrical gremlins on lap 67, it would surrender the lead to the Precision Built Spindles Pole Award Winner Gary Putnam. Caution would fly shortly after Putnam inherited the lead from Smith due to debris.

So with the caution coming out and a single new tire waiting in their pit boxes, you knew it was time for the drivers to pit for that tire. That they did, most cars came down and swapped their right sides and in the process added the new tire onto the right rear hub. The Tommy Baldwin Racing led Caleb Heady crew must have brought a cup series team to Caraway, because they got Heady out fairly quickly with Burt Myers second after only swapping the right side tires. Following the duo would be Bohn, Putnam and Loftin.

The Citrusafe Choose Cone affected the last restart greatly as it allowed Myers to choose the outside line and use that to his advantage. Myers didn’t get a good restart as Heady jumped out by a car length from the Fatheadz Eyewear Restart Zone, but the much older and more experienced Myers used his wits by using that outside line to get around Heady. The young kid didn’t let the veteran go, Heady using his skills that he learned from racing legend cars to get back by Myers. Myers started backing up, it allowed Bohn and Putnam to close in. Heady was checked out and Myers was chasing about three cars back, but Putnam’s car came to life, he got around Bohn with 19 to go. Putnam sliced under Burt Myers three laps later. He set his sites on the young gun Heady.

Heady faced off against Bobby Labonte earlier this season at Florence and won. Could Heady do it again, but with Gary Putnam trailing him? Heady was steadily running his race and hitting his marks, but Putnam was running a full tenth or two faster and caught Heady with no problems. Putnam set up the pass with 14 to go in turn three, as Heady got loose coming up off of turn four, it allowed Putnam to poked his nose below Heady going under the Racing Electronics Flagstand. Putnam forced his way below Heady going into turns one and two as the duo drag raced down the backstretch, Putnam rocketed out front and stayed there for his first win of 2021. Following Putnam was Heady, Joey Coulter, Brian Loftin and Jimmy Wallace.

“This win means so much.” Said a elated Putnam. “I love this place, I love come testing here, Darren (Hackett) is a great track owner. He does a great job and he keeps improving himself every race. Not everybody likes this track, but it fits my style. Right after the pit stop we had a great car and I knew I had a chance to win. It was just a matter of time before I got to the front and challenge for the win.”

“It was pretty fun out there!” A estatic Heady said “The first 30 laps I didn’t have a spotter, my radio came unplugged and I couldn’t really hear anything. Imanaged to get it plugged back in, but the static was still there. I think at one point we were almost last, it was hard coming from the back. It was mentally exhausting coming from the back, man I’m glad it’s over and we got a second place.”

“My God what a blast, what a blast!” A jubilant Coulter “Last year at Florence was the only race for us, so this is the only way I can compare it. That was the only notes I could base it off of, the tire management there was one thing, here when you get your new tire you can give it all you got. It was so fun, out of all the cars I’ve ever been able to hit so hard in the corners and not mess yourself up. What a fun race and a awesome group of drivers, it was a blast for sure.”

Behind the lead duo there was some drama coming to the checkered flag. Brian Loftin and Burt Myers were battling for the last spot on the podium and sadly coming to the checkered Myers and Loftin got together which sent Myers spinning and Loftin up the track, which allowed Coulter to finish third.

“Ah man it was just a racing deal,” said a deflated Loftin. “I tried to set him (Myers) up coming down the frontstretch and I didn’t have enough. I had a run off of two, I thought I had him going into three, but I got in too hard and collected him.”

“He got in way over his head,” said a hot Myers. “I mean we were racing for like fourth, why do you race someone like that for like fourth? We were racing pretty good and he just turned me coming out of four, it is what it is man.”

Finishing Order
Starting Order in Parentheses

  1. 77 Gary Putnam (6)
  2. 7 Caleb Heady (9)
  3. 2 Joey Coulter (5)
  4. 15 Brian Loftin (7)
  5. 22 Jimmy Wallace (10)
  6. 79 James Civali (1)
  7. 24 Danny Bohn (2)
  8. 55 Jeremy Gerstner (11)
  9. 07 Dennis Holdren (15)
  10. 4 Jason Myers (4)
  11. 1 Burt Myers (16)
  12. 18 Daniel Yates
  13. 12 Mike Norman (14)
  14. 8 Darin Redmon (13)
  15. 99 Jamie Tomaino (12)
  16. 17 John Smith (3)
  17. 76 Brian Weber (17)
  18. 48 Jon Kievman DNS
    Failed to Qualify: N/A
    Fast Qualifier: Gary Putnam – 16.155
    Time of Race: 0:47:02
    Cautions: 3 for 14 Laps – Lap 30 – Stage Break, Lap 30 – 1 blows tire, Lap 71 Debris
    Lead Changes: among Drivers – Civali 1-35, J. Smith 36-65, Putnam 66-71, B.Myers 72-73, Heady 74-87, Putnam 88-99 Lap Leaders: 35 Civali, 30 J. Smith, 18 Putnam, 14 Heady, 2 B.Myers
    Photo Credit: Phil Cavali Photography
    By Justin Mincey

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