Terry Phillips of Springfield, Missouri claimed the $7,777 Duel in the Desert winner’s check tonight at the Dirt Track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Phillips, who won the 2010 edition of the Duel in the Desert, started fifth, took the lead on lap 23 and survived a last-lap drag race with Dominic Ursetta at the checkered flag to score his second consecutive Duel in the Desert win.
Last year’s event drew a record 232 entries. That record was eclipsed this year as 240 drivers towed in from 25 states and three Canadian provinces for a shot at the $7,777 payday.
The event was rough on a number of past winners: Johnny “The Jet” Saathoff (2004, 2009), Jeremy Payne (2005, 2006) and David Murray Jr. (2008) were not able to qualify for the $7,777 A-Feature.
Dylan Smith brought the field down for the opening green flag. Ricky Alvarado started second and grabbed the lead from Smith on the first lap. Alvarado led the first 23 laps but a caution flag bunched up the field. On the restart, Alvarado, Smith and Phillips raced three-wide down the back straightaway with Phillips grabbing the lead in Turn 4.
Alvarado’s stellar run came to an end on lap 29 when his car was sidelined by right-front suspension damage. Matt Brack, who started eighth, was now in second place and in hot pursuit of Phillips. Dominic Ursetta found some racing room beneath Brack’s Modified and grabbed second place as Phillips tried to motor away from his pursuers.
Phillips hugged the bottom in Turns 1 and 2 and ran high in Turns 3 and 4 as Ursetta began to close the gap.
Ursetta caught Phillips with four laps remaining and drove to his low side but Phillips managed to hold him off.
Ursetta gave it one last try on lap 39 and the feature was reduced to a drag race down the front straightaway. Phillips held him off by less than a car length at the checkered flag and earned his second Las Vegas win. Smith finished third, Jeff Taylor was fourth and Darrin Duffy charged from his 23rd starting position to claim fifth.
“I hit the hole on the back straight a couple times so hard the car came up in the air. It knocked plug wires off or something and then it got to falling on its face — especially the last two or three laps,” said Phillips. “It was just dying down the straightaway and it would take off and I’d overshoot the corner, but hey, we got ‘er done. The car worked good but we had something break on the motor but other than that, it was on the money. I was trying to keep my momentum with the motor laid down and it worked out for us just barely.”
Jason Pike of Pahrump finished 17th.
Twelve Canadian drivers entered the event but only two — Saskatchewan’s Tyson Turnbull and Steve Arpin, who now lives in N.C. — was able to qualify for Saturday’s 28-car A-Feature.
IMCA SPORT MODS: Jesse Sobbing of Glenwood, Iowa took the lead from Matt Mueller on lap 8 and went on to win the 15-lap IMCA Sport Mod feature. The win was Jesse’s 55th (in 92 starts) of the 2011 season.
NOTES: Next year’s Duel in the Desert will be held Nov. 7-10, 2012. Event announcers: Toby Kruse and Chet Christner. Live Internet TV broadcast provided by Lucas Oil and K&N Filters.