Mast becomes a pole, qualifying at 172 mph

August 05, 1994|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Staff Writer

INDIANAPOLIS -- Rick Mast turned his hat sideways, allowed his tongue to loll out of his mouth and then in a voice reminiscent of Gomer Pyle allowed, "I'm just an old Southern race car driver."

The sophisticated Indianapolis Motor Speedway had never seen anything like this. The Good Old Boys revved their engines and stormed into the record books yesterday, with Mast, a rural Virginia farm boy, leading the charge.

Mast set the sixth track record of the day for stock cars, and it stood up, as his Ford roared around this 2.5-mile super speedway at 172.414 mph to earn the No. 1 starting position for tomorrow's inaugural Brickyard 400.

He was the 14th man on the track and he beat six-time Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt for the No. 1 starting position by .688 mph.

Both Earnhardt and Mast "about cried" yesterday morning when they pulled the 13th and 14th qualifying positions.

The prevailing theory was that the higher the number the better, because the perfect qualifying time would be late in the afternoon, after the steaming Indiana sun had set.

But at noon yesterday a huge rainstorm hit, and though the racetrack was dry at 3 p.m. to begin qualifying, it was still cool, as the sun stayed behind the clouds.

And as it turned out, it was the later qualifiers who had to deal with the heat and slower times.

Earnhardt stunned the crowd of nearly 125,000 with an unusually strong qualifying run of 171.726 mph. It gave him the pole for about two minutes. He hadn't even gotten his Chevrolet back to the garage before another cheer went up for Mast and his 172.414.

"We had a good lap," said Earnhardt. "But I feel like I was three- or four-tenths off what I should have run or what I was banking on running. I hesitated in the throttle in Turn 1 and I think that cost me. But I'm happy."

And so was Mast.

"It's sure a long, long way from the farm," said Mast, who qualified on Hoosier tires. "I won the pole for Richard Petty's last race in Atlanta [November 1992] and I thought that was a pretty big deal. But I believe this tops it."

Mast is now the answer to a future trivia question: Who won the first pole for the first stock car race at the Brickyard, the traditional home of Indy cars?

"It's pretty neat," he said.

But certainly no more neat than the story of how Mast, now 37, got started racing.

"I had a cow," he said. "I sold the cow. I got $575 for it and bought a 1957 Chevrolet. It was wrecked, but it had a trailer.

"I was 15. I fixed the car and I took the car to Natural Bridge Speedway. I got a speeding ticket on the way. I finished sixth in the race and took the money I won -- $28, I think -- and paid the speeding ticket off."

Mast said it was the cow "with no name" that started him on his way to this moment in victory lane at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where he celebrated his pole victory by collecting $50,000, a new van, a lot of new fans and the promise that on race day he will take home no less than another $15,000.

Mast is 21st in the Winston Cup points standings and like his old cow, something of a no-name himself until now. He has been racing in this series since 1988 and has never won a Winston Cup race.

But yesterday, none of that mattered. Yesterday, every one of the 68 drivers who managed to complete qualifying runs here was a rookie.

"This track sure gets your attention in the first turn," Mast said. "You run down that front straight at 190 and that wall is right in front of you and you have to make a 90-degree turn or run head-on into that wall.

"You want to get out of the gas so bad, but you know you can't and all you can think is 'I don't want to hit that wall.'

"So you keep your foot in it real heavy and get on the steering wheel real powerful and you pray the car turns.

"So far, for one lap, we're doing pretty good."

The qualifying session began on time at 3:01 p.m. with H.B. Bailey taking the first qualifying lap. It was completed two hours and 27 minutes later, when 68 of 70 cars had successfully completed their runs.

Only Ken Schrader, the last driver out, and Wally Dallenbach failed to complete their laps. Both had engine trouble.

"I don't have a clue about how winning the pole will affect my life," said Mast. "But I don't believe I'll be changing. I'll just try to do the best with what I have."

Which, of course, is how he got started in this business in the first place.

Qualifiers

1. Rick Mast, No. 1, Ford Thunderbird, 172.414; 2. Dale Earnhardt, No. 3, Chevrolet Lumina, 171.726; 3. Jeff Gordon, No. 24, Chevrolet Lumina, 171.125; 4. Geoff Bodine, No. 7, Ford Thunderbird, 170.982; 5. Bobby Labonte, No. 22, Pontiac Grand Prix, 170.794; 6. Bill Elliott, No. 11, Ford Thunderbird, 170.338; 7. Brett Bodine, No. 26, Ford Thunderbird, 170.084; 8. Ricky Rudd, No. 10, Ford Thunderbird, 169.933; 9. Sterling Marlin, No. 4, Chevrolet Lumina, 169.766; 10. Mark Martin, No. 6, Ford Thunderbird, 169.690;

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