The SPEARS Southwest Tour Series concluded their 2015 season, this last weekend, at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Six drivers entered the event with a chance of winning their first series championship, but only one would emerge with the title. Only 3 points separated Greg Voigt from Jacob Gomes, with another 22 points back to Parker Stephens, and an additional 22 back to Carlos Vieira. Ryan Cansdale rounded out the top 5, 28 points behind Vieira, with Blaine Rocha having a mathematical chance, 33 additional points back. There were several plots and subplots to the event, but Ryan Cansdale would emerge with his first series win and Jacob Gomes would claim his first SPEARS Southwest Tour Series Title. Parker Stevens was able to finish well enough to hold off Cansdale, by a scant 8 points, to become the 2015 Rookie of the Year.
Race day for the “2015 SPEARS Southwest Tour Series 125 presented by Pinnacle Peak Steakhouse – San Dimas” started off with Carlos Vieira setting the fastest lap in final practice. Derek Thorn set quick time in qualifying with a 14.384 to earn the $250 bonus from Reeve’s Complete Automotive. The effort was only 0.076 seconds off of his own track record set in 2014. Derek drew a four for the invert, putting him fourth on the starting grid behind pole sitter Dominic Ursetta, Jeff Bischofberger and Austin Barnes. The top 4 championship contenders all struggled in qualifying to put themselves in a hole to begin the event. Championship leader Greg Voigt started 21st, Gomes 14th, Parker Stephens 16th and Carlos Vieira started 23rd in the 25 car field.
At the initial start, Jeff Bischofberger jumped out to the lead from his outside front row starting position to lead the initial laps. Thorn followed him into the second position by lap 2 as Ursetta fell back to fifth early on, with Ryan Cansdale advancing to third by lap 7, from the fifth starting. On lap 17, Thorn was able to get under Bischofberger to take the lead as a leaking rear shock began to slow Jeff’s progress. Cansdale followed Thorn through to pick up the runner-up position with Dominic Ursetta advancing to third a lap later. The Bullring’s 2015 Super Late Model Fall Classic Open Comp winner, Linny White, advanced to fourth on lap 19 as Bischofberger would settle in to run in fifth. In the meantime, Bobby Hodges was making his way forward from his ninth starting position and broke into the top 5 by lap 39.
The complexion of the race would change on lap 47, as the only yellow of the event came out for Ursetta, who stopped in turn 4 with electrical problems. Thorn gave up his ten car length advantage and eventually the lead when he pitted for brake problems. This handed the lead to Ryan Cansdale with Linny White second, Hodges third, Bischofberger fourth and Jacob Gomes up to fifth from his 14th starting position. The rest of the top 10 consisted of Craig Raudman, Cole Moore, Eric Schmidt, Dan Holtz and Parker Stephens. During the yellow, Greg Voigt also pitted with handling woes, as he was nearly lapped while running 19th. Carlos Vieira had advanced from 23rd to 12th. Thorn and Voigt would both return for the restart with Thorn starting half-a-lap back.
On the restart Cansdale selected the inside line and battled White for a lap before pulling ahead. Bobby Hodges followed Ryan through for second, one round later, and took up the pursuit of the leader while Gomes remained in fourth. While the top 4 would remain unchanged for the remainder of the event, there was plenty of side-by-side action and drama throughout the rest of the field. By lap 75, Eric Schmidt had worked his way into fifth and Dan Holtz worked his way past Craig Raudman and Bischofberger to advance to sixth by lap 86. As both Schmidt and Holtz began closing on Gomes, Holtz’s night would come to an end when a right rear tire blew on lap 111. Holtz was able to make it to pit road, and the yellow that many in the field were looking for never materialized. Two laps later, the 2015 Pacific Challenge Series Champion, John Moore, was able to wrestle sixth place away from Raudman, for the final position change in the top 8.
With the championship question seemingly answered, barring a racing incident, the rookie battle took center stage. With Cansdale leading, Parker Stephens would need to finish tenth or better to claim the title, as a tie in points would lead to a Cansdale victory based upon Ryan’s one win. On lap 110, Parker sat in eleventh position, tied in points with Cansdale. Upon Holtz’s exit with a flat tire the following round, Stephens found himself in position to claim the title. As the laps ran down Stevens was able to improve one more position, on the final lap, to claim the 2015 SPEARS Southwest Tour Series Rookie of the Year Award.
Cansdale would go on to secure his first SPEARS Southwest Tour Series victory by 1.67 seconds over Bobby Hodges, who was the bridesmaid for the second race in a row. Linny White ended up third followed by newly crowned SPEARS Southwest Tour Series Champion Jacob Gomes and Eric Schmidt. Rounding out the top 10 in the finishing order were John Moore, Craig Raudman, Jeff Bischofberger, Parker Stephens and Blaine Rocha. The final lead lap car was 2015 Lucas Oil Modified Champion Austin Barnes. Finishing one lap down were 12th through 18th place finishers; Jason Gilbert, Cole Moore, Derek Thorn, Greg Voigt, Carlos Vieira, Austin Reed and 2013 Rocky Mountain Challenge Series Champion Trevor Cristiani. Brandon White was 19th followed by Bob Lyon, Matthew Meech, Dan Holtz, Christian McGhee, Ken Benhamou and Dominic Ursetta. In all, 21 cars were running at the end, in a race that took a little over 38 minutes.
Congratulations go out to Jacob Gomes for his championship, Parker Stephens for his Rookie of the Year Title and Ryan Cansdale, for becoming only the second Rookie of the Year contender to win a race in the last eight years. The final top 6 in points were Jacob Gomes (1359), Greg Voigt (1320), Parker Stephens (1315), Ryan Cansdale (1307), Carlos Vieira (1270) and Blaine Rocha (1229). The next race for the SPEARS Southwest Tour Series will be the $30,000 to win, 2016 Winter Showdown at Kern County Raceway on February 27-28, 2016.
-SRL Southwest Tour Press Release & Photo