CORONA, California — Austin Barnes just turned 21 and as a birthday present for its reigning champion the Lucas Oil Modified Series presented by LoanMart scheduled its regular season opener for Saturday, March 19, at Havasu 95 Speedway in Lake Havasu City, Arizona.
Actually, that’s not quite true. The West’s best short-track touring series has been racing at the scenic quarter-mile oval at about this time of year since before Barnes started competing in 2010 so the schedule wasn’t made with him in mind.
There is a grain of truth, too, though, because Barnes has admittedly “taken a liking” to the track. That could be because he won both races last year, has finished either first or second in his past eight starts at the track and set fast time on seven of those occasions. So where better to begin his quest to become the series’ first three-time champion?
Barnes won last year’s events in somewhat similar fashion. In the 100-lap March race he started third, stalked pole-sitter Matthew Hicks for 88 laps, then took the lead and pulled away to win by 1.4 seconds. In the fall the Escondido, California, resident started fourth, took the lead from pole-sitter Scott Winters on lap 62 and went on to win by 0.830 seconds.
It’s reasonable to assume Barnes is capable of a similar performance in the E3 Spark Plugs Colorado River 100 presented by SuperClean if his recent outing at the Winter Showdown in Bakersfield is an indication. Barnes led 70 of the 80 laps and finished second to Ryan Partridge in that contest at Kern County Raceway Park.
There are many others intent on staking their own early claim to the Hoosier Tire West points championship, too, and several of them have shown a liking for the Havasu 95 Speedway oval.
Hicks, who finished sixth in the 2015 point standings, has a second and two sixths in his past three races in this tourist mecca; Taylor Miinch, who was fifth in the standings, had a third and a fourth; and third-place Winters has a fourth, second and fourth in his past three outings.
Championship runner-up Dylan Cappello doesn’t share the same affinity for the facility. The best finish in four races for the 2014 champion has been a ninth, in his initial start in 2014, and he said after a 10th last fall that “we’ve thrown everything at it and nothing has worked.”
Cappello, who is starting his third season with the Garcia Racing team, does have a new crew chief in veteran driver and car builder Dean Kuhn. The 20-year-old from Peoria, Arizona, also has new teammates in Michael Womack, a 16-year-old from San Diego who’s living in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Blaine Perkins, a 16-year-old from Bakersfield who will miss this event because of a schedule conflict. Tripp Gaylord will fill in for him.
Chris Bray’s Las Vegas-based Phil’s Phabrication team has been reorganized too. Jason Irwin of Albuquerque, New Mexico, returns after finishing fourth in points last season and will team with Shane Skaggs, a DJ Safety Rookie of the Year candidate from Albuquerque. Jack Madrid, last year’s rookie of the year, is not returning and veteran Doug Hamm has retired to be Skaggs’ crew chief.
Jason Patison, the series first champion in 2006, is returning with the new Sierra Speed team after sitting out most of last season, but Doug Carpenter, the only driver to have started every race in series history, is stepping away and Pat Petrie is going to run a limited schedule at best.
A field of 24 cars will start the Colorado River 100, the feature event on a program that also includes Bandoleros and Factory Stocks. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors, military and handicapped and $6 for junors 6-16. Children 5 and under are free. Spectator gates will open at noon, qualifying is scheduled for 12:45 p.m. and racing gets under way at 2 p.m.
The Lucas Oil Modified Series presented by LoanMart is supported by a potent marketing concept known as “Team Lucas” whose members include General Tire, GEICO, E3 Spark Plugs, Optima Batteries, Carlyle Tools-NAPA, BILSTEIN Shocks, Super Clean, 4-Wheel Parts and LoanMart.
Additional sponsorship is provided by Lucas Oil Products, Protect the Harvest, MAVTV Motorsports Network, Lucas Oil Racing TV, Hoosier Tire West, Sunoco Race Fuels, Aero Racing Wheels, ASI Racewear, Five Star Race Car Bodies, Frank’s Radios, Racing Plus-Parker Pumper, EFI University, Joe’s Racing Products, Scribner Plastics, Fast EZ-EFI System-COMP and DJ Safety.
Detailed information on the series is available at www.LucasOilModifieds.com.
-Lucas Oil Modifieds Press Release
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com