Corona, CA – Saturday afternoon, after qualifying for the General Tire 75 presented by SuperClean is over, the eight Lucas Oil Modified Series drivers with the best times will assemble in the inspection area of The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and series promoter Greg Scheidecker will say “draw!”
That’s when the driver with the fastest time will reach into a box and pull out a Lucas Oil bottle with a number on the bottom. That number – between 3 and 8 – will determine where the fast qualifier will start and how many cars will be inverted on the starting grid for the May 5 race that will be shown live on LucasOilRacing.TV.
The broadcast will begin at 6:45 p.m. PDT (9:45 p.m. EDT) and be available to anyone with a monthly or yearly subscription to LucasOilRacing.TV, the only streaming network devoted totally to motorsports.
The post-qualifying inversion draw is conducted at every series race. But in its 13-year history the West’s best short-track touring series has become so competitive there might as well be a blind draw to pick a favorite for each race.
This week, for instance, there are a half-dozen drivers whose past performances indicate they could be strong contenders for victory – Taylor Miinch, Scott Winters, Jason Irwin, Dylan Cappello, Shelby Stroebel and Larry Gerchman. The question, though, is whether any of the other five, or one of the other starters, can stop the methodical Miinch March.
Miinch, the series reigning champion, has won the first two races this season to continue an incredible streak that began with his third-place finish at Rocky Mountain Raceways in Utah on July 23, 2016. Since then, in 18 races overall, the 23-year-old from Blossom Valley, California, has had 7 wins, 3 seconds, 6 thirds and 2 fourths. His last finish out of the top 10 (his only one in 23 races) was a 13th at Tucson, Arizona, on April 9, 2016.
Miinch has exhibited that same consistency at Las Vegas in his Lineer/Plastpro STR Chevrolet. He got the first of his eight career wins at the Bullring in November 2015 and last year won the May race on the three-eighths-mile oval by 1.086 seconds over Austin Barnes and Winters and finished third to Kyle Tellstrom and Winters in November.
Winters, who has a PhD in mechanical engineering and designs and builds optical assemblies for laser systems when he isn’t racing, is a five-time winner but hasn’t been able to get the Ferrari Farms STR Chevrolet back to victory lane since the Utah race in 2016. The Tracy, California, resident has been close at Las Vegas, finishing fourth, third and second in his past three Bullring starts.
That’s the same stepladder that took Tellstrom to first last fall. He won’t be at this race because he’s graduating from Boise State University this weekend, but he said he thinks the key to winning for Winters or anyone else is “being able to roll the center (of the turns) and getting back on the gas before anyone else.”
Cappello can do that. The series champion as a rookie in 2014 won the May race in 2015 and has been seventh or better in all but one of his eight starts on the fast oval. The 22-year-old “Hitman” was second to Miinch at Tucson three weeks ago and would love to give himself and his RBK Racing team a win to celebrate his graduation from Northern Arizona University May 11-12.
Irwin, a 20-year-old from Albuquerque, New Mexico, had a pair of fifth-place finishes at the Bullring last season after taking 2016 off to reorganize the Milwaukee Tools/Werner Ladders team, and with five runner-up finishes in 29 races would seem to be overdue for a win.
Gerchman, a 63-year-old from Lake Havasu City, Arizona, who answers to “grandpa,” has five straight top 10 finishes in Las Vegas, as does Stroebel, a 45-year-old from Meridian, Idaho, who seems revitalized this season after joining the Garcia Racing team during the winter.
Those are the drivers who history indicates will be among the contenders. But those looking for a longshot might want to consider Justin Johnson, a 32-year-old series rookie from Pahrump, Nevada. He’s been seventh and third in his two races for car builder and crew chief Chris Bray and was the Bullring’s Super Late Model champion the past two seasons.
The General Tire 75 presented by SuperClean will be the final race on a Military and Veterans Appreciation Night program that also includes the SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour and the Bullring’s familiar Super Stocks, Jr. Late Models, Legends and Bandoleros.
Spectator gates will open at 5 p.m. and racing is scheduled to get under way after Opening Ceremonies at 6:45 p.m.
-Lucas Oil Modified Series Press Release
-Photo credit: Jeff Speer