While winning a tall first-place shiny trophy is a nice and well-earned token for victorious drivers at the LoanMart Madera Speedway, competitors in the Open Late Model Series had another incentive to come out on top – $10,000.00 was also on the line.
In front of a packed house on Saturday night (October 14, 2014) in the “Best of the West” Short Track Shootout, it was the Open Late Model drivers who we’re hoping to get their hands on the trophy that also came attached with the sizable monetary price.
The entertaining show also featured Race No. 8 of the Hobby Stock Open Series, the USAC HRD Midgets and the final points race of the season for the exciting Toyota Sedans and MST’s.
In the main event of the evening, it was Eric Holmes who won the all-important Race No. 8 of the Open Late Model Series 125 as he was presented with a giant check in the winner’s circle.
Although it may have not been the easiest prize money to get, it certainly was the sweetest for Holmes, who outlasted the 22-car field in a 125-lap race that was spilt up into three racing segments (50 laps, 50 laps, and 25 laps).
In order to win the final main of the season against what many would consider some of the top drivers from the West Coast, Holmes had to do his best to conserve his car for the long-haul while at the same not sacrificing his upper position in the race.
In the first 50 laps of the main, Buddy Shepherd was in the leading spot with Brian Herzog, Holmes, and Ryan Cansdale in the No. 2-4 positions.
“The whole night was just really long and I knew I had to save the car until the end,” Holmes said after the race. “I knew I wanted to be in the top four but in the second half I kind of lost handle of the car and we ended finding something bent on it, so we fixed it and came back in the second half.”
After the drivers returned from the pit area to run Laps 50-100, Shepherd continued to stay ahead of everyone else while Cansdale quiet sat behind in second within striking distance.
On Lap 70, Shepherd unexpectedly gave up his lead after he took a trip to the infield which opened the door for Cansdale to get into first with Holmes, points leader Matt Erickson – who was a six-time main winner this season – and top qualifier (15.368) Trevor Huddleston following behind.
Despite a caution on Lap 75, Cansdale remained in first while Holmes, Erickson, and Huddleston closely trailed after 100 laps.
When the drivers once again returned from the pit area to complete the final 25 laps, they all knew that it was still anyone’s race to take as tension clearly began to grow especially on the restarts.
Every racer also understood the importance of getting good restarts which had several in the final 20 laps.
After waving the pink flag – substituting for green in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month – on Lap 103, it was Holmes who eventually emerged to the front but at the slight expense of Cansdale.
“I knew it would be really hard to beat the 51 (Cansdale) and I tried to do it nicely in the first lap but it didn’t work so I knew the second time I’d have to just get by him,” Holmes explained. “I felt like I left him enough room to race me and we just banged off each other. I think that’s just good hard short-track racing and that’s what I had to do to win it and I knew if I got out front, I’d be hard to beat.”
As the race began to draw to a close, Holmes knew he had no choice but to make the move to pass Cansdale.
“That’s just how you got to run somebody up when the higher grove is that much faster than the bottom grove, you just have to try to take their line away and that’s what I did,” Holmes said. “The kid did a good job, he raced me hard and clean. We both came out alright and I don’t think it beat my car up too bad so I must’ve not been too hard on him.”
With each passing lap and other competitors bowing out here and there, Holmes’ odds of winning the race – not to mention the large amount of money – steadily increased before a caution with five laps to go briefly delayed his momentum.
“Yeah, I didn’t want to see that caution there in the last laps but I knew I had a good car on the top,” Holmes said.
He was right and saved his best for last with a strong takeoff on the Lap 120 restart. Holmes held off runner-up Garland Tyler and Herzog, the third place finisher. Cansdale bounced back to take fourth while Emma Tucker rounded out the top five.
It was Holmes’ first Open Late Models win in two tries at the Madera Speedway this season.
“We come here to win but we came here last month, raced and we weren’t happy with the car at all,” he said. “These tires and rules are different from anything I’ve ever raced or anything our pit crew has done before, so we went home and changed a lot of stuff. We were fast yesterday, struggled all day today and we were kind of scratching our heads. Then the race started tonight and the car was fast, so we did something right.”
In the Open Late Hobby Stocks division, both Josh Whitfield and Shelden Cooper had plenty of reason to celebrate and it showed with their simultaneous post-race burnouts.
While Whitfield – who produced the top fast time (16.585) – used his speed to blaze past the rest of the 19-car pack in the 70-lap main, Cooper celebrated earning the track championship for the class.
Cooper entered the night as the leader in points with 320 and added to that total with a fourth place finish behind Whitfield, Howard Holden and Ben Lewis Jr.
Despite having to deal with five restarts, Whitfield showed he was head and shoulders above the rest and won his fourth race out of four tries on the “Fastest 1/3 Mile in the West”.
Also celebrating a track championship on the night was Tim Curtis in the Toyota Sedans division.
Curtis capped the title-winning season with a trifecta as he won the 30-lap main, the six-lap heat race and posted the fastest qualifying mark at 17.519.
Although he started near the back of the race in the sixth position, Curtis – like in the other previous mains he’s come back to win in this season – once again worked his way to the front while Jason Lawton led for a majority of the time.
After a caution on Lap 20, Lawton was still in the lead but knew the dangerous Curtis was sneaking up on him with 10 laps to go.
On Lap 28, Curtis pulled ahead of Lawton for yet another improbable victory – his 10th of the season.
“It was really great to win the last race of the season but truthfully if that yellow doesn’t come out, there was no way I was going to get past him,” Curtis said.
Lawton finished second while Chris Altuvilla took third.
Coming into Saturday, Curtis had a substantial 172-point lead in the championship standings but never really envisioned he’d be in this spot when he first started as a rookie in the 2012 season.
“When I first started racing here, I was in the back all of the time,” he said. “I was the slowest one. I had a lot of people help me out namely the Tickels (2011 and 2012 champion Jarred Tickel). They helped me out a bunch and after that I just got faster and faster. You talk to people and learn what set-ups need to be done and you just keep tweaking everything. I just try to help everybody else to get them to go faster.”
Although Curtis was named the Most Improved driver in his second season, he had no idea coming into this year that he’d be a serious title contender.
“At the beginning it wasn’t going well,” Curtis said. “The first two races I wrecked the car so those races were shot but once Kyle (Fortney) left – he was my biggest opponent – it became wide open after that and was basically just handed to me, so it was my job to make everybody else faster.”
Hoping to pass on some sound advice to other drivers aspiring to win titles, Curtis offered some valuable tips.
“The main deal is just seeking out the knowledge,” Curtis said. “Most of the drivers in our class will help you out. There’s not a lot of people who actually work on their stuff and just figure everything is going to be good but if they want a championship, they need to actually work on it and ask for help if they don’t know what’s going on.”
After winning the title, Curtis still has many big plans for racing next season.
“I’ve got a Lucas Oil Modified that I’m working on but I probably won’t have it ready next year so I’ll be back next season in the Toyota Sedans and the MST,” he said.
Like Curtis, it was MST driver Kevin Thompson who earned the track title this season with a superb effort in the season finale.
As the division’s top qualifier (16.998), Thompson held a 17-point lead in the standings ahead of Jason Bowersox, who won a six-lap heat race earlier in the day.
Thompson, who also won the championship in 2012, padded his point total with a 30-lap victory in the main and a six-lap heat race win.
Despite starting seventh and getting turned around early in the race, Thompson recovered to take the lead away from John McCollum Jr. on Lap 19 on the way to the finish line. McCollum took second while Dave Lander finished third.
While Thompson and Curtis were very successful, Dylan Nobile also had an impressive night in the USAC HPD Midgets class.
Nobile had the fast time (14.853) and won the 8-lap heat race before finishing his remarkable evening with a 30-lap win in the main. Toni Breidingar came in second and Cody Jessop was third while Shawn Buckley also won an 8-lap heat race.
The Madera Speedway returns next Saturday (October 25, 2014) for its final race of the month in 8th Annual Pumpkin Smash Halloween Bash and Blow Up featuring the $2,000 to Win 250 Lap Enduro, Boat Drags, Destruction Derby, and Trick or Treat in the Pits and on the track Pumpkin Smash for the kids. For information, please visit racemadera.com
By Ronald Montez for the Track / Photo from Track Facebook Page
Open Late Models – 125 Laps
1. Eric Holmes
2. Garland Tyler
3. Brian Herzog
4. Ryan Cansdale
5. Emma Tucker
6. Rick Thompson
7. Blaine Rocha
8. Jason Aguirre
9. Zane Smith
10. Brandon Loverock
11. Trevor Huddleston
12. Matt Erickson
13. Ryan Hart
14. Mike David
15. Carl Pearce
16. Del McIntosh
17. Danny Guider
18. Buddy Shepherd
19. Tony Schmitz
20. Luis Martinez Jr.
21. Charles Price
22. Kyle Gottula