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Tennessean loves Short Track Nationals at I-30

In an event and at a track where struggles are common, Paul McMahan has enjoyed uncommon success at the Short Track Nationals and Little Rock's I-30 Speedway.

Entering the 30th annual winged sprint car event, which begins tonight and continues through Saturday night, McMahan has qualified for the main event in four of his five entries, winning twice -- numbers that outrank many of the top drivers in the sport.

Short Track Nationals

WHAT 30th Comp Cams Short Track Nationals sprint car event

WHERE I-30 Speedway, Little Rock

WHEN Tonight through Saturday night. Gates open at 5 p.m. and racing starts at 7:30 p.m.

PURSE $15,000 to win, $2,500 to start for the main event

FORMAT Full preliminary card tonight and Friday night, with the top three finishers from the prelim feature qualifying for the main event. On Saturday night, there will be a full set of qualifying heats and last-chance qualifiers, and a 40-lap main event.

ADMISSION Tonight and Friday night: Adult grandstand admission is $20 and children aged 6-12 get in for $2. Saturday night: Adult grandstand admission is $28 and children aged 6-12 get in for $5. Pit passes are $35 tonight and Friday night, $40 Saturday night.

PAST CHAMPIONS

2016 Sammy Swindell, Bartlett, Tenn.

2015 Rainout

2014 Christopher Bell, Norman, Okla.

2013 Sammy Swindell, Bartlett, Tenn.

2012 Paul McMahan, Elk Grove, Calif.

2011 Sammy Swindell, Bartlett, Tenn.

2010 Brad Sweet, Grass Valley, Calif.

2009 Tony Bruce Jr., Liberal, Kan.

2008 Tony Bruce Jr., Liberal, Kan.

2007 Jason Meyers, Clovis, Calif.

2006 Jason Johnson, Eunice, La.

2005 Tim Montgomery, Fredericktown, Mo.

2004 Gary Wright, Hooks, Texas

2003 Gary Wright, Hooks, Texas

2002 Paul McMahan, Elk Grove, Calif.

2001 Jason Sides, Memphis

2000 Mike Ward, Memphis

1999 Gary Wright, Hooks, Texas

1998 Tim Crawley, Benton

1997 Wayne Johnson, Oklahoma City

1996 Pete Butler, Mabelvale

1995 Gary Wright, Hooks, Texas

1994 Terry Gray, Bartlett, Tenn.

1993 John Gerloff, Lincoln, Neb.

1992 Rainout

1991 Steve Kinser, Bloomington, Ind.

1990 Sammy Swindell, Bartlett, Tenn.

1989 Steve Kinser, Bloomington, Ind.

1988 Steve Kinser, Bloomington, Ind.

"I really like the racetrack," McMahan said Wednesday. "I grew up in California on all those little short track bullrings, so I'm comfortable with that type of racing. And it's such a racy racetrack ... you have to like it."

McMahan, a California native who now lives in Hendersonville, Tenn., first visited I-30 and the Short Track Nationals in 2002 and claimed victories in a preliminary and the main event. He also won in 2012, holding off rising star Christopher Bell of Norman, Okla.

He also reached the main event in 2009 (20th) and 2011 (seventh).

The process to reach the STN main event is difficult, insomuch that drivers, cars and teams can be exceptionally fast and still not qualify. The key is accruing passing points in heat races and qualifiers during the opening two nights.

It all begins with the luck of the draw: a pill draw to set starting position in heat races.

"There's a good deal of luck involved," McMahan said. "If you start up front in your heat race and you win, there's not as much points. But if you start toward the back and can drive to the front, you're in better shape."

In each of his visits to the STN, McMahan has driven for Donnie Cooper Racing of Fredricktown, Mo., which also earned a victory with Tim Montgomery in 2005 and a top-five finish with Kevin Swindell in 2014.

"Donnie is always fast here," McMahan said. "The place seems to fit him well."

McMahan's racing career took a turn this summer. After a less-than-stellar season with the World of Outlaws -- 0 victories, 3 top-finishes and 18 top-10s in more than 50 starts -- he elected to step down as driver at Destiny Motorsports and remain as team manager.

This weekend's time behind the wheel figures to happen less and less, he said.

"Things happen," said McMahan, 46. "I'll be the team manager and get to go race every now and then when I can. I've been doing this for 30 years, so it seemed like a good time to stop and do some other things, spend some more time with the family."

Sports on 10/12/2017

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