Jacob Gomes entered Saturday night's "SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour 125 presented by 51 FIFTY Energy Drink 125" at Madera Speedway (CA) with only one top-ten in a disastrous season. He left Madera with his first SRL win since his championship season in 2015. In a race that saw four different leaders, and four lead changes, Gomes emerged on top of the field for the seventh time in his career, and vaulted himself back into the top-ten in the championship standings.
"I can't thank Sunny Valley Smoked Meats, Gomes Valley Farms, David's Racing Products, Earnest Performance Shocks and everyone who stuck with me enough, through this entire time," Gomes told Speed51.com. "They never gave up on me, even when I thought I could never do it again. It was a long time in coming, and I'm glad we got the monkey off our back. Finally we are going in the right direction, and I'm excited about going back to Kern (County Raceway, CA), and to see what the rest of the year has for us."
Gomes started the weekend on the right note by setting fast time, and earning the “PFC Brakes Zero Drag Award” over the 18 car field. Eric Schmidt qualified second, followed by Blaine Rocha, Craig Raudman and Carlos Vieira. Three-tenths of a second covered the top 17 cars in the tightly bunched field.
With the top eight redrawing for position, Schmidt drew the pole position with Vieira, Gomes, Raudman, Jeff Bischofberger, Cole Moore, Bob Lyon and Rocha following. Jeremy Doss and Ricky Schlick just missed the redraw starting ninth and tenth respectively.
The race began with Schmidt jumping out to a narrow lead over Vieira. An incident on lap 17, between Keith Spangler and Kyle Neveau, slowed the action, and upon the ensuing restart, Vieira was able to take the lead from Schmidt after several side-by-side laps.
By lap 41, Raudman began to make his presence felt after dropping outside the top-five. Using the extreme low groove, he dispatched of Cole Moore, Gomes, and battled with Schmidt for second, with the top-five grouped closely together. On lap 48, Raudman and Vieira made contact battling for the lead, with both cars heading to the pits, under the ensuing yellow.
“We had an amazingly good car and no one could run the bottom like us,” Raudman told Speed51.com. “We worked our way up there, underneath everybody without touching anyone. We probably passed seven or eight cars. We were battling with the 51 car (Carlos Vieira), and he was on the outside, and somehow he just came down the track, kind of diamonding the turn I guess. He came down, and it just caught my right front, and we jumped tires.”
Raudman continued, “It blew my tire out, messed up his car, and put us in the infield, so it took us out of contention for the win. But the guys did a lot of work, and got it back together without losing a lap, and we were able to come from the back to finish third. I’m pretty happy about that.”
When the smoke cleared, Schmidt found himself the leader with Jeremy Doss taking advantage of the incident to move to second. The restart found Schmidt using the preferred outer groove to hold the lead. Doss and Gomes, however, continued to apply heavy pressure. On lap 62, contact between Doss and Schmidt resulted in Schmidt spinning in turn four with Doss relegated to the rear of the field by rule.
Ricky Schlick was able to take advantage of the incident, and assume the lead in front of Gomes. He led to the final yellow on lap 68, as Bob Lyon got into the backstretch wall, ending his evening.
The restart saw Gomes take the lead from the inside, as Schlick began to fall back with a tire going down, effectively ending his bid for the win. The result was Gomes establishing a comfortable lead immediately thereafter. As the laps began to wind down, Rocha, Raudman and Doss began to run down the leader, with Rocha closing to a few car lengths, as they wound their way through lapped traffic.
In the end, however, Gomes was able to hold off the charge from his rivals, and secure the $5,000 victory in front of his home area fans. Rocha held on for second, ahead of a hard charging Raudman and Doss, who’s end-of-race charge slowed when he lost brakes with ten to go.
Gomes credits the win to his strategy of patience, and a great race car.
“I just kept my patience the entire time, trying to take it easy,” Gomes began. “I knew those guys were going to race hard. They got together a couple of time in front of me, but I knew if we saved it to the end, we would have enough. I seized my opportunity with that last restart. Ricky (Schlick) got us a little on that one restart, and I learned from it. The car was just phenomenal.”
The victory was an emotional one for Gomes, as bad luck had hampered potential wins, resulting in a 26-race non-winning streak.
“Just leading races, and breaking and having all the heart breaks and failures, with having anything bad possible happen, which has happened this year, this win means so much. To pull it all together, and to win here, and to go to Kern the next race, at a track that we had the chance to win there the last time we went there with this car, I’m just beyond excited to go back and show what we can do. I want to win at Kern, because that is a track on my bucket list, and this win makes me beyond excited.”
Blaine Rocha, in addition to Gomes and Raudman, has had a season to forget. Heading to Madera, Rocha had only one top-ten, to match Gomes and Raudman. He sat 11thin the championship standings, after being one of the pre-season favorites.
“It feels really good,” Rocha began. “We have had fast race cars all year long, but the luck hasn’t gone our way this year. We started a little bit farther back (drawing the number eight), but I kept my nose clean the entire time. I knew I had a good car, and the biggest thing at Madera is to keep the fenders on it. I almost got wrecked on that last restart there, and I kind of let Jacob get too far out. I was hoping lapped traffic would play in my favor, but I’m happy with second.”
Rocha continued, “If I could have got to him, I would have had to use the bumper to get by him. But if I got that close, I would never do that to him. I’m on real good terms with Jacob, so I love racing those guys the hardest, because I know they will race me the hardest back, but clean. I can’t complain about second, and I want to wish him congratulations.”
Following the front four, Eric Schmidt recovered to finish fifth, with Jeff Bischofberger sixth. Rookie of-the-Year Leader Cole Moore was seventh followed by veteran Keith Spangler, Carlos Vieira and rookie Eric Nascimento Jr., who scored his first career SRL top-ten finish, in his third start. 16 of the 18 starters finished the event, with nine cars on the lead lap.
The next event for the SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series, will be the October Classic, at Kern County Raceway. It will be run in conjunction with the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West. The “Bulwark FR’ 175 presented by Coleman Powersports” will take place on the weekend of October 27 & 28, with the “West” race on Saturday, and the SRL event on Sunday afternoon. The event will pay $7,000 to the winner, and will be the season’s penultimate event, on the championship season.
Final Results: 1. Jacob Gomes, 2. Blaine Rocha, 3. Craig Raudman, 4. Jeremy Doss, 5. Eric Schmidt, 6. Jeff Bischofberger, 7. Cole Moore*, 8. Keith Spangler, 9. Carlos Vieira, 10. Eric Nascimento Jr.*, 11. Jack Wood*, 12. John Moore, 13. Jason Gilbert, 14. Matthew Wendt*, 15. Scott Sanchez, 16. Ricky Schlick, 17. Bob Lyon, 18. Kyle Neveau*
* Rookie of the Year Contender
PFC Brakes Zero Drag Fast Time Award: Jacob Gomes
Coleman Powersports Hard Charger: Keith Spangler
Top Rookie of the Year Contender: Cole Moore
Fluidyne High Performance Cool Move of the Race: Jacob Gomes
-Story By Kevin Peters, Speed51.com West Coast Editor
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com