BAKERSFIELD, California – A couple of nights ago, while the Lucas Oil Modifieds warmed up for their return to Kern County Raceway Park, Travis Thirkettle talked about how nice it was to be somewhere he’d raced before. That meant he wouldn’t have to use two or three of the limited practice sessions getting familiar with the track and instead could work on getting ready for the race.
The fact Kern County is a half-mile oval was beneficial, too, because Thirkettle obviously has an affinity for those. The Lucas Oil drivers have run 150 laps on half-miles during this championship season and Thirkettle has led 135 of them.
Saturday night, he started the General Tire Super Fast 75 on the outside of the front row, took the lead from pole-sitter Linny White in turn 2 on the opening lap and kept his National Papers Race Car Factory Chevrolet in front until the checkered flag waved. In late April he had led 60 of 75 laps on the half-mile at Irwindale, California, to get the first win of his rookie season in the series.
“I just have a lot more experience on half-miles,” said Thirkettle, who raced at Irwindale on a regular basis. “I started on a quarter-mile. I ran like four races on a quarter-mile and then I said ‘enough of this.’ I went to Mesa Marin (in Bakersfield), my fifth race ever, and just fell in love with half-miles.”
With nights like this one the love affair will continue for a long time. Thirkettle qualified sixth in the 27-car field and moved up to the front row when Austin Barnes drew a 7 for the invert after his 31st fast qualifying time, then went out and picked up $400 for winning the 6-lap Trophy Dash before claiming the $2,000 winner’s share of the main event purse.
There were only two caution periods during the race, but the second came after lap 50 and could have been disastrous for Thirkettle. After several drivers voiced concern about not being able to have enough fuel to finish 75 laps series officials agreed on a mandatory caution to allow everyone to refuel. Thirkettle said he didn’t think the stop was needed but understood the reasons for it, and he could afford to be charitable because it had no effect on his race since his car “purred like a kitten” all night.
“This was the second race on this engine,” he said. “I built it and I’m really proud of it. It’s not overpowering. But it seems to be easy on tires and has enough speed to win. That’s kind of what I was shooting for.”
It was a race in which most of the passing was done by those in the middle and rear of the field. There was just one position change in the top seven over the final 25 laps. Taylor Miinch spent all night chasing Thirkettle and wound up 0.195 seconds behind in second, with Dylan Cappello third, William Camara fourth, White fifth and points leader Matthew Hicks sixth.
“I just didn’t have enough for Travis,” Miinch said. “I’m not disappointed. It was a very good points finish. We’re happy. On the start I got into him a little bit, I knew that we had something, and then on that last restart I thought I had something but my car was really, really tight the first few laps and I couldn’t get it to turn.”
Miinch went into the race, the eighth of 10 that will determine the championship, in third place in the standings, 25 points behind Hicks and 15 behind Scott Winters. He’s now 17 behind Hicks and 5 behind Winters with the next round coming at 3/8-mile LoanMart Madera (California) Speedway October 8.
LUCAS OIL MODIFIEDS GENERAL TIRE SUPER FAST 75
at Kern County Raceway Park, 1/2-mile banked, paved oval
MAIN EVENT – 1. Travis Thirkettle (5T), Newhall, Ca.; 2. Taylor Miinch (4T), Blossom Valley, Ca.; 3. Dylan Cappello (11), Peoria, Az.; 4. William Camara (57), Fremont, Ca.; 5. Linny White (99), Colton, Ca.; 6. Matthew Hicks (28), Lakeside, Ca.; 7. Scott Winters (24A), Tracy, Ca.; 8. Aaron McMorran (22), Las Vegas, Nevada; 9. Shelby Stroebel (24), Meridian, Idaho; 10. Eric Hamilton (11H), Hanford, Ca.;
11. Kyle Tellstrom (89), Ukiah, Ca.; 12. Blake Rogers (4B), Yuma, Az.; 13. Larry Gerchman (25), Lake Havasu City, Az.; 14. Dustin Tiolbury (17D), Edgewood, N.M.; 15. Rich Lindgren (27), Rio Linda, Ca.; 16. Eddie Secord (35), Oak Hills, Ca.; 17. Ryan Partridge (9), Rancho Cucamonga, Ca.; 18. Shane Skaggs (28X), Albuquerque, N.M.; 19. Michael Womack (3), Troutman, N.C.; 20. Kyle Cline (908), Hesperia, Ca.; 21. Dave Arce (5), Lakeside, Ca.; 22. Jerry Toporek (40), Venice, Ca.; 23. Wes Miller (87), Turlock, Ca.; 24. Sal Lopez (02), Sacramento, Ca.; 25. William Guevara ( 02X), Lake Havasu City, Az.; 26. Austin Barnes (51A), Escondido, Ca.; 27. Doug Hamm (4X), North Las Vegas, Ca.
Margin of victory – 0.195 seconds. Average speed – 47.602 mph. Lead changes – 1. Caution flags – 2. Fast qualifier – Barnes, 18.4492 seconds/97.566. Trophy Dash winner – Thirkettle.
-Lucas Oil Modified Series Press Release. Photo credit: Speed51.com