The “SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series 125”, at Tucson Speedway, was a single race with two different winners. Three-time ARCA / CRA Champion, Johnny VanDoorn, made the journey from Michigan, to take home the $5,000 winner’s share of the SRL purse. But it was local star Sean Bray that took home the bragging rights, for the overall win, with a thrilling pass on VanDoorn, with only two laps remaining. It was the biggest win of the fourth-year driver’s career, of which the first three were on dirt.
The event drew 14 SRL cars and four local Super Late Model racers. The local teams raced under their own rules package, which found them a little short on horsepower compared to the Touring Super Late Models, but favorable total weight and left side weight percentages. With an extremely abrasive track surface, it remained to be seen which package would be most favorable after 125 laps. In the end, both VanDoorn and Bray were happy with the results.
“As far as the SRL race was concerned, we couldn’t have executed any better, VanDoorn told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “The only thing I’m bummed about is not getting the track record in qualifying. Everything went perfect this weekend, we just missed it by two-thousandths. When we come back the next time, we’ll get the record. But it was a great weekend, my crew did a great job, and I really have to thank them. I couldn’t ask for anything better.”
“It is awesome to race with the SRL, just in general, but to beat them, and technically be the winner, but we can’t be called the winner, is awesome,” Bray exclaimed. “But we know we were there, and they know we were there, so now we’re a car in Arizona that they have to watch out for.”
The night began with Derek Thorn setting a track record of 15.304, at the three-eighths mile oval. It was just two-thousandths better than VanDoorn’s best lap. The remainder of top eight consisted of Craig Raudman, Christian McGhee, Jacob Gomes, Tracy Bolin and Tucson drivers Paul Banghart and Brandon Schilling. The top 16 qualified within just over four tenths of a second. That sixteenth qualifier was Sean Bray.
The top eight individually redrew for position at the front of the field with Jacob Gomes pulling the number one position. He was followed by Tracy Bolin, Paul Banghart and Craig Raudman with Derek Thorn rounding out the top five. At the start, Gomes jumped out to a quick lead, with the other competitors scrambling for position behind him. By lap 16, VanDoorn had worked his way to the front, as Gomes continued in second. The first of only two cautions came out on lap 54, when Matthew Meech lost power, and stalled on the back stretch.
At that point, a majority of the field had gone into tire conservation mode, with McGhee advancing to second ahead of Thorn, Raudman and Gomes. Gomes pitted and rejoined the field at the rear, but never challenged for the top five again, eventually dropping out. On the restart, VanDoorn pulled away again, after a brief challenge from McGhee. Eventual winner Bray had worked his way to seventh, where he continued to pace himself after the restart. By lap 100, he had broken into the top three, and when the final caution flew on lap 112, for a Raudman flat tire, Bray found himself in second. It erased a three second lead that VanDoorn had established.
The final restart occurred on lap 115, and was single file by rule. VanDoorn pulled out to a three car length lead, but Bray began to close with about five to go. With three to go, Bray had pulled up to the rear bumper of the VanDoorn machine. Bray was able to get under the Midwest star for the lead with two to go and hold the lead to the end.
“We had a good car all night,” Bray stated. “We were saving tires, and with about 45 to go, we decided to send it. We just didn’t want to burn up that right rear, so we were just taking it easy. When that yellow came out with about 10 to go, I just had to pace myself and not overdo it.”
VanDoorn got the SRL win in the car driven by Eric Jones at the Winter Showdown and by Lance Wilson at the SRL Irwindale Speedway Event. The Wilson’s Industrial Pumps, VanDoorn Racing Development Toyota, with crew chief Butch VanDoorn, has been fast all season, and that allowed the team to pursue a different strategy than Bray.
“It was an awesome weekend”, VanDoorn began. “I’m not good at saving tires, so I figured I had to get the lead and then back the throttle off. It worked out so perfect. I think everyone’s tires were going at about lap 50, there is just nothing left. I had no idea that there was a different race going on out there, with different rules. I thought I had lost the race, but as far as the SRL race was concerned, we couldn’t have executed any better.”
Finishing third overall, and second in the SRL, was veteran driver Bob Lyon. Lyon had paced himself the majority of the race, finding himself over a half lap back and in sixth place when the final caution flew. It was his best career SPEARS Southwest Tour Series finish, and it occurred 25 years after his NASCAR Featherlite Southwest Tour Series win at Tucson. His experience at the track was a major contributor to his success.
“Our strategy came out pretty good in the end, we ended up second in the race”, Lyon began. “We knew we had to save tires. This place is tough on tires. We thought we had a decent car. We were afraid that we were too tight, the entire weekend. Last year we had a good car, and we ran second for a bunch of the race, but I ran the right front right off of the car, and it died. And so I said, I can’t let it happen that way this time, so we just peddled the car the whole time. Fortunately, what has happened in the past, some guys who are a little harder on their tires started coming back, and we moved up and up and up. It was a good race and I had a good time.”
The penultimate round, for the SPEARS Southwest Tour Series, will take place on October 28th, at Kern County Raceway, for the Bulwark ‘FR 150 presented by 51FIFTY Energy Drink. Last year, 28 machines made their way to the speedway for this event. A similar number is expected this year, with the return of multiple champions, rookies and seasoned competitors.
Official Results: 1. Sean Bray (TS), 2. Johnny VanDoorn (SRL), 3. Bob Lyon (SRL), 4. Christian McGhee (SRL), 5. Derek Thorn (SRL), 6. Paul Banghart (TS), 7. Scott Sanchez (SRL), 8. Tracy Bolin (SRL), 9. Carlos Vieira (SRL), 10. Ricky Schlick (SRL), 11. Craig Raudman (SRL), 12. Brandon Farrington (SRL), 13. Blaine Rocha (SRL), 14. Jacob Gomes (SRL), 15. Matthew Meech (SRL), 16. Brandon Schilling (TS), 17. Keith Spangler (SRL), DNS Ricky Bogart (TS).
-By Kevin Peters, Speed51.com West Coast Correspondent
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com