The 4th of July is still two months ago, but there were plenty of fireworks in Saturday night’s season opening race at the Stockton 99 Speedway.
Manteca’s Jacob Gomes led in qualifying for the Spears SRL Southwest Tour 51 Fifty Energy Drink 151-lap feature, but was forced to start the race near midfield thanks to an invert draw of seven.
Brandon White, of Eureka, reaped the benefit of the invert draw by starting from the pole and he took full advantage of the position by leading the first 40 laps of the race as veteran drivers Tracy Bolin, of Valley Springs, and Jim Pettit II, of Prunedale, gave chase.
However, White’s fortunes suddenly went south following a massive nine-car pileup at the start/finish line that brought out a 15-minute red flag stoppage.
“We saved our stuff all weekend, had a great car and we get crashed,” said a dejected Gomes, who got caught up in the melee.
When the race resumed White, who was not involved in the wreck, faltered with suspension damage, which allowed Pettit to swoop into the lead where he would remain for the next 105 laps. When the second and third place cars of Bolin and Roseville’s Eric Schmidt tangled in turn #2 of lap 141 to bring out the sixth caution of the race, Manteca’s Ross Strmiska, who had methodically worked his way to the front, lined up behind Pettit for the single file restart.
Strmiska seemed to have a slightly better handling car and was constantly all over the bumper of Pettit as the race laps wound down. In turn #1 of lap 147 Strmiska was finally able to get his nose just under Pettit’s left rear, but as Pettit turned down the two cars spun allowing a grateful Jeff Bischofberger, of Tracy, to steal the lead. Bischofberger held off Schmidt and Bolin in the final laps to earn his first ever SRL victory while Pettit and Strimska recovered to salvage fourth and fifth, respectively.
“The crew did a great job and I put all my heart into it tonight,” said Bischofberger, age 34. “We drove the wheels off it. Those guys ahead of me are no slouches and we put it to them tonight.”
Afterward Pettit and Strmiska had a prolonged and heated discussion about the incident.
“I saved my car the whole race because I knew those other guys would burn theirs up and I wanted a better car at the end if there was a caution,” explained Strmiska. “I was faster and he was blocking. I got under him and apparently his spotter didn’t see me or something so he came down and we wrecked.”
As one might guess Pettit had a much different view as to who was at fault for their late race dance.
“We were leading and I didn’t want to make a mistake or give up the bottom,” countered Pettit. “He wasn’t all the way up to me and my spotter never called ‘inside’ and even if he was close he just kept his foot on the gas and shoved me all the way up the track. He was the last guy I expected to race me like that.”
-SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Press Release & Photo