As the SPEARS (SRL) Southwest Tour Series comes out of its midseason break, Jacob Gomes is eyeing a turnaround, similar to the one that landed him the SRL Championship in 2015. That season, Gomes found himself seventh in the championship standings headed into the final five events of the season. The 2017 season has Gomes sixth in the chase heading to his home track at Madera Speedway (CA). It is the perfect place for the six-time series winner to get back on track.
Gomes’ 2015 championship season had a similar feel to the current season. He was able to achieve top 10 finishes, but wasn’t quite able to crack the top five. This season to date, Gomes has three top 10 finishes, but once again is without a top five. The second half of 2015 boasted two victories and four top-five finishes. 2017’s second half results have yet to be realized, but the Sunny Valley Smoked Meats, Dennis Arbini, Jacob Gomes Motorsports Team is working hard to replicate those 2015 results.
“We aren’t really where we want to be this year,” Gomes told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “The season has kind of got off to a rough start. We are trying to figure out a new car, and now we are trying to figure out other issues with the car. We started out in a slump, but we are slowly climbing out of it. At Vegas (The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, NV) we had a top-five car, but the motor started laying down on us and we finished sixth. We have found that our motor has been a big part of our problem, so we are working on getting it fixed for the next one.”
The six-time series winner and his team are working on improving their program, and to do so, sometimes it requires change. They are a group that is not afraid to try something different to make that happen. Sometimes change doesn’t pay off right away, but Gomes is optimistic that the team will figure it out.
“We have a brand new Senniker Performance car and we are just trying different things to try to catch up with everyone else,” Gomes began. “We have been talking to a lot of different people to try to figure out these new cars. We just haven’t gotten a fair shake with this car yet. We went to the (Snowball) Derby and blew it up. We went to the Winter Showdown (at Kern County Raceway, CA) and ran horrible with it. But then we found out that we were down on horsepower a little bit. We have had issues in the valve train, carburetor and even a grounding strap issue. We are just struggling and fighting to get everything figured out. But we know we will eventually get it. We did it when we won our championship and got ourselves a couple of victories.”
When it comes to the competition in the SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series, Gomes knows he is racing with the best on the West Coast and feels the competition has gotten even tougher this season.
“I think everyone is running well this year. Bobby Hodges, Blaine Rocha and Derek Thorn have all been really strong. I think everyone has stepped up their game this year,” he stated. “I don’t know if everyone has taken a big step forward, or if we have stepped back a little. It’s just hard to compete with everyone right now because we are out farming (Jacob comes from a farming family in the Central Valley of California) and doing a lot of other stuff. We are only in the shop a few days each week. Some of the other guys are full-time, ten hours a day. But we will figure it out, and once we do, we usually just keep rolling.”
Madera Speedway is the perfect track for the Manteca, CA driver to start his reversal of performance. Although he doesn’t have a SRL win there, he does have a best finish of second, with five top 5 and a 75 percent top ten finishing record. Jacob has also gotten a win, and a second place finish, in his only two Pacific Challenge Series (PCS) starts at the facility. Those finishes give Gomes another reason to feel confident headed to Madera.
“Madera is a fun track that I really enjoy going to,” Gomes stated. “We finally got our first (touring) win there last year in the PCS race. We always run really well there; we just haven’t been able to slam a win down in the SRL. It’s our home track when it comes to the SRL. I’m really excited to go there because we are so competitive there. We have been struggling a bit lately, so to go to a track that we grew up on, I feel like we can kind of get our mojo back there. We can get our car dialed in there, because we know what we need. Then we can build a baseline for the rest of the year. You really get your confidence back, when you run well, and it just really helps you overall. I’m really looking forward to Madera because I have really struggled at the half-miles, and I feel like this can really get us straightened out and get us going in the right direction.”
Winning this next race at Madera Speedway would be very special to Gomes, but with a current 14-race SRL winless streak, he would be happy to get a victory anywhere on the SPEARS Southwest Tour Series schedule.
“It would be great to win at Madera. It would be great to win anywhere right now, and I don’t care where it is, even if it was a Go-Kart race,” Gomes said. “I need to win something. It has been killing me lately and it’s killing everyone around me because I’m so competitive. I get worked up about everything and I don’t let it go. It would be awesome to win an SRL race at Madera. To win an SRL race anywhere would be awesome. We have a mojo joke going around the shop with a bunch of our guys saying that I need to get my mojo back. I’m really looking forward to Madera.”
With all the changes going on with the car to find speed, or mojo for Gomes, there is one thing that will not change. It is a tradition, or superstition, that dates back to Jacob’s early years of racing.
“I only wear black underwear and black socks,” Gomes said with a laugh. “I have a certain brand and style of black underwear that I wear and I only wear black socks. That’s something that I have done ever since I was a little kid on race days. My guys will get worked up if I flip out and only wear gray ones on race week.”
The remainder of the season will find Gomes concentrating on the SPEARS Southwest Tour Series championship, even though he would like to run more events this season and in the future.
“We are going to focus on the full SRL Tour right now, and throw in a couple PCS (Pacific Challenge Series) races the rest of the year,” Gomes said. We would have liked to run some additional events, such as the Summer Showdown (at Evergreen Speedway (WA)) and the Spud 150 (at Magic Valley Speedway (ID). But we are just running what we can right now. We won’t be going to “The Derby” this year, but we are going to try to go next year, and run some different stuff as well. This year we started a new business, so it is hard to get away. Hopefully next year it will work out to where we can run a bunch more. I’d love to run every other week or as much as I can. I feel like I am really not at my best when I only run 10 races a year, but when I run 20.”
On July 15 the SPEARS Southwest Tour Series will invade Madera Speedway for the “51 FIFTY Energy Drink 125.” It will be the 38th time the series has visited the one-third mile paved oval, the most in series history. It will be Gomes 76th consecutive start in the series, also the longest such streak in its history. The 24 year old Manteca, CA driver will almost certainly be one of the favorites after a third-place finish in last year’s event. The SPEARS Southwest Tour Series drivers will qualify on Friday evening, with Saturday’s schedule consisting of a 30 minute “warm-up” session and the 125 lap feature event, set to begin at approximately 9:00pm. They will be joined by the Local Late Models, a Junior Late Model Exhibition race, Legends of the Pacific, Toyota Sedans, MST’s and Hobby Stock divisions.
-By Kevin Peters, Speed51.com West Coast Correspondent
-Photo credit: Roger Seymour Photography