There were a number of side stories to go around as Dodge City Raceway Park opened up its 15th season Saturday night.
One driver overcame a possible life-threatening situation; another came back to racing after a year-long hiatus; and a third wanted to have a better start of the season from a year ago when he totaled his ride while leading.
All three overcame their different obstacles to claim the first feature wins in their respective categories to highlight the opening night action.
Van Gemmill had open heart surgery but decided to compete in the IMCA modifieds again in 2014. He worked out and lost weight, then showed he hadn't lost his feel on the track after a slow start to claim the 20-lap feature to close out the action at DCRP.
"I wanted to come back, but I knew I had to get back in shape to drive," Gemmill said. "It took a lot of hard work, but I wanted to be competing again."
It wasn't a good start for Gemmill in his first race back. Gemmill started on the outside of the first row, but was pushed back to fifth while Ryan Heger was able to push ahead to lead the first seven laps.
Gemmill fell back as far as fifth in the early part of the feature before finding an alternate way to get past opponents and took the lead by the eighth lap. He led the rest of the race before holding off a late challenge by Cody Gearhart before winning by two car lengths.
"I just didn't find my rhythm and I wasn't driving the race track," Gemmill said. "I didn't find the line the first few laps. I found the only choice I had was to go to the top. They had the line I wanted, so I took the alternate and it was better."
Heger finished third and Nick Link placed fourth.
Shenberger holds off Kaup for IMCA sport modified feature win
Mike Shenberger remembers how his 2013 campaign at DCRP went. He was leading when he wrecked his car and was not able to race for three weeks as the chassis was being fixed.
Shenberger had a much better start in 2014 by dominating most of the 20-lap feature before holding off 2013 season series champion Jeff Kaup despite possibly blowing
an engine in the process.
"I didn't have any oil pressure when we finished," Shenberger said in a break from checking his engine. "It's better than having a tow truck hauling your car off."
Shenberger started on the inside of the second row, but took the lead by the second lap. Shenberger spent the next few laps staying ahead of pole-sitter Tristan Barton while Kaup was going through the field to get into the fray.
Kaup passed three cars on the sixth lap to move up to second place, but couldn't get his car ahead of Shenberger.
The two drivers pulled away from the rest of the field as they had their own chess match on wheels for the rest of the race. Kaup's last chance came in a green-white-checker situation in the final two laps, but Shenberger was able to hold off for the win by two car lengths.
Shenberger said taking the high groove helped give him more traction coming off the corner better down the straightaway.
Barton finished third while Randle McRoberts came in fourth.
Misner battles back for IMCA stocks win
Perry Misner didn't have the best of starts at DCRP after taking a year off to travel.
The 2012 DCRP season series champion didn't have a good run during his heat race and was forced to start ninth in the 20-lap feature, but Misner quickly moved through the pack to dominate the race and get the win.
"We weren't running well in the heat and the car was about at 60 percent," Misner said. "I changed the right rear spring and made it better for the feature at about 80 percent. We'll definitely have to get the car working better if we want to succeed this year."
Shannon Maughlin started at the pole position and held the lead for most of the first half of the race. Misner, meanwhile, started to move up to third by the third lap and second by the fifth.
Misner was able to start to move past Maughlin on the sixth lap, but a caution allowed Maughlin back into the lead. Misner got another chance to take the lead and went inside Maughlin down the backstretch to take the lead he would never relinquish.
Misner won by half a straightaway with Reagan Sellard passing Maughlin by lap 19 to finish second. Maughlin placed third and Rich Wadel finished fourth.
Davis dominates thunder class
Cody Davis, runner-up in last year's series, dominated the race from the outside of the first row to earn the first feature win of the season in the class.
Davis actually had a rough start in the 15-lap feature and was third after the first lap, but took over by the second by getting by Will Bauer and then passing Michael Penrod, who spun out just going into turn three after a blown tire.
The Bucklin driver started to pull away in the race before a late caution allowed the field to catch up. Davis again showed his dominance and won by three car lengths.
Tobby Schield finished second, followed by Dan Rogers and Bauer.
Lunow wins hornets feature
Jarret Lunow was able to move up from the third starting position to win the 12-lap feature in defense of his 2013 season series crown.
Lunow got by Brandon Bogner by the third lap and then by pole-sitter Jarred Nightengale to the line by the fifth lap. Lunow couldn't break away from Nightengale for a comfortable lead, but ended up winning by two car lengths.
Kohl Ricke finished third in the feature and Bogner fourth by the final lap.
IMCA MODIFIEDS (20 laps) -- 1. Van Gemmill. 2. Cody Gearhart. 3. Ryan Heger. 4. Nick Link. 5. Mike Wadel. 6. Cole Traugott. 7. Austin Alle. 8. Mike Lunow. 9. William Nusser. 10. Kevin Gray. 11. Jesse Smith. 12. Kale Beavers. 13. Randy Wilson. 14. Chadd Brown. 15. Travis Simmons. 16. Jack Kirchoff. 17. Mike Martin. 18. Joel Lane. 19. Beau Davis.
IMCA SPORT MODIFIEDS (20 laps) -- 1. Mike Shenberger. 2. Jeff Kaup. 3. Tristan Barton. 4. Randle McRoberts. 5. Bart Baker. 6. Austin Walker. 7. Jason Lunow. 8. Mike Appel. 9. Brian May. 10. Jeremy Sigler. 11. Kevin Tabor. 12. Don Strecker. 13. Toby Witthuhn. 14. Don Kaup. 15. Josh Appel. 16. Randy Shenberger. 17. Andy Barton.
IMCA STOCKS (20 laps) -- 1. Perry Misner. 2. Reagan Sellard. 3. Shannon Maughlin. 4. Rich Wadel. 5. Michael Pepper. 6. Dusty Witthuhn. 7. Kyle Tillery. 8. Justin Lewis. 9. Ron Rich. 10. Randy Dowell. 11. Shane Tillery. 12. Brett Copeland. 13. Karson Love. 14. Ron Hartman. 15. Whit Taylor.
THUNDER (15 laps) -- 1. Cody Davis. 2. Tobby Schield. 3. Dan Rogers. 4. Will Bauer. 5. Dustin Walker. 6. Rob Sellard. 7. Tom Reed. 8. Norman Carr. 9. Duane Mathes. 10. Bryan Habiger. 11. Matt O'Hair. 12. Michael Penrod.
HORNETS (12 laps) -- 1. Jarett Lunow. 2. Jarred Nightengale. 3. Kohl Ricke. 4. Brandon Bogner. 5. Marci O'Hair. 6. Cheryl Copeland. 7. Mandy Switzer.