Rusty Ballenger
Rusty Ballenger

Rusty Ballenger
Seymour, TN

Erwin's Patience Proof Positive In Capturing Second Straight Steel Block Bandit Win


Steel Block Bandits

Erwin's Patience Proof Positive In Capturing Second Straight Steel Block Bandit Win

Maryville, TN (4-13-24) Russell Erwin of Beaverdam, Virginia captured his second straight win and third consecutive top-three finish in as many starts on the 2024 Vision Wheel Steel Block Bandit Late Model Challenge Series. He did so while patiently settling behind a two-wide battle between lapped cars over the final five laps of the $5,000 to win Rockin’ With The Stars 50-lapper at Smoky Mountain Speedway on Saturday night.
Twenty Steel Block Bandits, representing six states checked in on a gorgeous spring afternoon at the recently re-configured 3/8 mile oval situated in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. The battles were waged early on in HGR's Truck and Trailer Sales qualifying as Blake Craft of Canon, GA posted the overall fast time with a 16.100, only 1/1000th of a second faster than Erwin’s 16.101 and just 6/1000th of a second ahead of third-place Rusty Ballenger of Seymour, Tenn. who posted a 16.107. These drivers would each capture their respective heat race wins, sponsored by Scott Service Company, M&W Transport, and Nichols Plumbing, and would start 1st, 2nd and 3rd in the feature.
The feature would roll out at 8:45pm EDT as the sun was still setting behind the backdrop of the majestic mountain ranges off in the distance. A touching tribute with fireworks and the missing man formation was dedicated to Jimmie “Pup” Thomas of Knoxville, Tenn. a longtime Hoosier Tire Rep and racing friend and character who had a knack for bringing a smile to anyone’s face that knew him or had just met him.
A fierce battle between Erwin and Craft began from the drop of the green flag with Erwin taking a high side pass exiting turn-four to score lap one. The first of three caution flags waved just as the first lap was completed for Terry Poore of Seymour, Tenn. who slowed to a stop in turn-two.
The re-start saw Erwin again at the point with Craft in second and Tyler Arrington of Honaker, VA steeling third from Ballenger. Dan Breuer of Troutman, NC was fifth. Just as lap-two was scored another caution waved, this time for Ryan King of Seymour, Tenn. who spun in turn three.
Once the green flag waved again it was evident that Erwin had the fastest car as he was able to pull away from Craft by nearly two seconds with the best battle on the track being fought between Arrington and Ballenger for third. Erwin’s margin would diminish by lap twelve when lapped traffic came into play but he was able to maneuver it well while Craft came within striking distance until the third and final caution came out on lap 16 for heavy smoke bellowing from the #57 machine of Landen Zakalowski of Waxahache, TX.
Fluids from the apparent blown engine caused a major pileup in turn three and collected several cars including Breuer, who’s right side was completely ripped away and rear-end damage caused him to retire from the event. Wes Tilley of Knoxville, Tenn. also suffered body damage but was able to continue. A red flag was displayed, halting the action for several minutes while track crews cleaned up the carnage and soaked up the fluids.
The final 34 circuits saw some of the best battles throughout the field as Erwin was seemingly out for a Sunday cruise but by lap 26, lapped traffic once again challenged the leader. Ballenger was able to not only win the battle over Arrington for third but was also able to wrestle the second spot away from Craft. Tyler Bare of Rockbridge Baths, VA moved up to fourth, relegating Arrington to fifth.
As the final laps began to wind down, an intense side-by-side battle for tenth place was being waged between Austin Neely of New Tazewell, Tenn. and Anthony White Jr. of Clinton, Tenn. With a .672 second lead over second running Ballenger, even as he was trailing Neely and White, perhaps Erwin’s coolest move of the race was just to settle behind that battle and cruise to the finish and that’s exactly what he did in claiming his $5,000 payday. Ballenger hung on for second with Craft third, Bare was fourth and Arrington rounded out the top five.
“Man that side-by-side battle in front of me seemed like it took forever” stated a jubilant Erwin in victory lane. “I figured I would just ride it out and not leave anything on the top because I didn’t think there was anything left on the bottom for Ballenger.”
Erwin’s Rocket XR1 carries sponsorship from Motion Sensor Speed Sensing Solutions, Possum Quarter Farms, Erwin Racing, Collins Signs, Whitten Brothers Chrysler Jeep Ram and Penske Socks.
A-Feature Finish
1- 22-Russell Erwin-Beaverdam, VA
2- 29-Rusty Ballenger-Seymour, TN
3- 16C-Blake Craft, Canon, GA
4- B8-Tyler Bare-Rockbridge Baths, VA
5- 002-Tyler Arrington-Honaker, VA
6- 9E-Robby Emory-Milton, DE
7- 71-Pierce McCarter-Pigeon Forge, TN
8- 84-Ryan Tims-Georgetown, TN
9- 1-Ellory Leake-Knoxville, TN
10- 3N-Austin Neely-New Tazewell, TN
11- 24-Anthony White Jr.-Clinton, TN
12- 72-Derrick Rankin-Fishersville, VA
13- 49-James Kelso-Maryville, TN
14- 31-Wes Tilley-Knoxville, TN
15- 30-Ryan King-Seymour, TN
16- 7-Dan Breuer-Troutman, NC
17- 57-Landen Zakalowski- Waxahache, TX
18- 16-Chad Alley-Clinton, TN
19- 90J-Jason Trammel-New Tazewell, TN
20- 2-Terry Poore-Seymour, T

Article Credit: Photo by ZSK Photography

Submitted By: Hope Wade

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