C.J. Johnson and Steve King had been friendly rivals through their racing days before King lost his life in a racing accident in Knoxville, Iowa.
Johnson had the fortune of good luck not once, but twice, in winning the NCRA/ASCS Sooner 360 sprints feature honoring his friend at the sixth annual Steve King Memorial Race at Dodge City Raceway Park.
Johnson's engine blew just after crossing the start-finish line to win his heat race, but since it was after the race, it gave him plenty of time to put in a new motor. The Quinter driver got another break in the 25-lap feature when leader Jake Martens hit the wall on turn two and Johnson was able to dive underneath to lead the remaining laps and win the trophy, his first King Memorial in a 360 sprint race.
"I'm pretty proud of that," Johnson said. "He might have been with us the whole night tonight. Everything just worked out for us and sometimes, you wonder if people are looking out for you. Everything just happened at the right time."
Johnson, who is second in the NCRA point standings, said it was also gratifying the feature winner was from his organization.
"It was nice for the NCRA to beat them," Johnson said.
Johnson had to be pushed off the track after winning the heat race which ended up putting the driver on the pole in the feature. It also gave his pit crew more than two hours to get a new engine put in his sprint in plenty of time before that final race.
Martens, who runs in both organizations, had a good jump at the start and pushed away for the lead ahead of Johnson and Seth Bergman, who were fighting each other for second place.
However, Martens kept taking the high groove and just barely missed the wall on the second turn on the eighth lap and had his tires hit the wall on the ninth to lose all his momentum. That miscue allowed Johnson and Bergman to pass him.
"We were gaining on Jake a little bit, but he was going to have to make a mistake if we were going to catch him," Johnson said. "He did what I just about had to do myself for a number laps. He had to lift coming out of turn two for a lapped car, and his car got tight and balled up in the front. You have to take them when you get them."
Bergman continued to try to close the gap to Johnson, getting within a car length around turns three and four on the 16th lap; but Bergman's engine blew on lap 19, taking him out of the race.
Johnson sailed through the lapped cars and won by half a straightaway over Martens. Sean McClelland finished third in the feature and Kevin Ramey fourth.
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Bubak wins URSS feature
Defending national series champion Jake Bubak showed that taking the lead at just the right time can make all the different in the world in the 305 sprint division of the King Memorial performance.
Jetmore's Ray Seemann led 24 9/10ths of the 25-lap feature only to have Bubak make a move under him and take the lead with less than 500 feet to go before the checkered flag.
"We were really tight at the beginning and the car really wasn't very good; but the track started drying up a little bit, just enough that the car was able to free up and we were able to get around lapped traffic and get around Ray there," Bubak said.
Bubak last won at DCRP and ended a streak of 10 different drivers claiming a URSS feature at the track (including the last two races due to disqualifications because of being under legal weight in the post-race inspection).
"I think with no caution flags, we were pretty safe to be at weight," Bubak said. "This track is fast and the track varies so different. The track can be like tonight when there really is just one lane and sticky; and other times, it's very slick until it takes rubber. You just have to be able to drive both types of race tracks."
Seemann was on the outside of the front row and got a great jump at the start of the race to pull away from the pack early, while Bubak had to push through traffic from the sixth spot.
The Colorado driver was able to start to make his move as Seemann had to go through lapped traffic. It took Bubak half the race to get to fourth; another two in getting to third and passed Nick Haygood on lap 21 for second to set his sights up for the leader.
Bubak tried to go on the inside a couple of times coming off turn four on laps 23 and 24 before finally being able to push his sprint underneath Seemann and win by two lengths.
"I don't know if he hesitated, but we were able to catch up with him on the back straightaway," Bubak said. "It was our last chance, so I had to go for it."
Haygood finished third in the feature, followed by Steven Richardson and Zac Taylor (the winner of the first URSS feature of the season at DCRP).
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STEVE KING MEMORIAL RACES
(At Dodge City Raceway Park)
NCRA/ASCS Sooner 360 Sprints feature (25 Laps): 1. 45x-C.J. Johnson, 2. 48-Jake Martens, 3. 1h-Sean McClelland, 4. 7m-Kevin Ramey, 5. 92-Jordan Weaver, 6. E85-Luke Cranston, 7. 91-Jeff Stasa, 8. 17x-Josh Baughman, 9. 1x-Tony Bruce, Jr., 10. 72-Ray Seemann, 11. 8-Alex Sewell, 12. 81-Jon Freeman, 13. 10c-Jeremy Campbell, 14. 17w-Harli White, 15. 98-J.D. Johnson, 16. 33-Kris Miller, 17. 85-Forrest Sutherland, 18. 23-Seth Bergman, 19. 21x-Taylor Velasquez, 20. 2j-Zach Blurton.
URSS 305 Sprint feature (25 laps): 1. 9x-Jake Bubak, 2. 85-Ray Seemann, 3. 1-Nick Haygood, 4. 0-Steven Richardson, 5. 86-Zac Taylor, 6. 97-Brian Herbert, 7. 98-J.D. Johnson, 8. 20-Luke Cranston, 9. 49-Kris Moore, 10. 95-Gavin Stout, 11. 30c-Barry Crane, 12. 88j-Jeremy Huish, 13. 80-Jerry Caldwell, 14. 50-Jed Werner, 15. 51-Josh Fairbank, 16. 12d-Steve Dalton, 17. 2j-Zach Blurton, 18. 77-Cody Caldwell, 19. 911-Rick Salem.