If one is to head to their local short track on a Friday or Saturday night, often times they’ll hear complaints from other members of the crowd about the low car count and “how it used to be back in my day.” But sometimes people forget that it takes just two cars to have a race.
The fans at Arizona’s Havasu 95 Speedway were reminded of that on Saturday afternoon when just two Lucas Oil Modifieds raced for 10 laps and a check for $500. Both cars spun out in the final corner of the final lap, one driver got his car turned back around faster than the other, and the near-capacity crowd roared in approval of what they just saw.
Before we explain the rest of the story, we first need to give a little bit of a background on how the Lucas Oil Modified Series sets their starting lineup.
All but four spots in the starting lineup are determined by time-trials. After time-trials is a 40-lap B-Main in which the top four cars transfer to the feature. At the end of 20 laps, those top finishers leave the race track and are locked into the A-Main feature. The remaining cars race the final 20 laps for a check.
On Saturday at Havasu, 10 cars started the B-Main. Three cars crashed out in the first 20 laps and four cars transferred to the main event. That left 72-year-old Sal Lopez, Jeff Longman, and Kyle Ray to race, what was supposed to be, the final 20 laps.
Just as the three-car field was set to go green, Ray departed the race track in turn two with his engine overheating. Only two cars remained on the race track.
All over the track property everybody was asking the same question. “Are we really going to race with two cars? Are we really doing this?” A couple people in the tower suggested splitting the $500 evenly to both Longman and Lopez in an effort to speed up the whole racing program.
In the end the decision was made to let Lopez and Longman race. Instead of 20 laps it was now 10. Two cars. 10 laps. $500 on the line.
It was a single-file restart with Longman ahead of Lopez as they came to the green. When they went into turn one Lopez slammed the back of Longman, moving him up the race track. Lopez went by and took over the lead.
“He just plowed me so hard,” Longman told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “I got way loose and he got me off my marks. I had to get the marbles off my tires and when I did he was way loose center and off. That’s where I had him beat.”
Lopez jumped out to a 10 car-length lead, but as Longman said, Lopez was extremely loose in the center of the corners. The veteran driver realized that quickly, so he did what he could to try to adjust to the situation.
On the final lap, Lopez got hard on the brakes on the entry of turn three so that he would have enough grip coming out of turn four. Longman didn’t expect Lopez to be on the brakes as hard as he was.
Longman slammed the back of Lopez’s machine so had that they locked bumpers and both drivers spun out in the final corner. The crowd jumped to its feet wondering what was going to happen next.
Both drivers quickly tried to re-fire their race cars and get turned in the right direction. Lopez’s car re-fired first, he spun back around, and crossed the finish line to a loud roar from the crowd.
Lopez was visibly thrilled to have scored the win, but he was still mad with Longman for the contact.
“He didn’t tap me. He hit me three times to send me around because I saved it the first time,” Lopez said. “Then he hit me again. Then the third time he hit me he caved the whole dog-gone bumper in. But, I got mine started before he did. I don’t believe they’d have let him win the race (anyway) because he just flat took me out.”
Lopez also added that Longman should be happy that Lopez is just a few years older than the rest of the Lucas Oil Modified Series field.
“I just turned 72 years old Monday,” he said. “These young guys… they’re lucky I’m not young. I’ll tell you that much.”
Longman said he didn’t try to get into the back of Lopez, and that he certainly was not trying to spin him out to take the win.
“He kept his pace way down and I hit the brakes in the center of the corner but it was too late,” Longman said. “I picked up the throttle and I got into him. When we both went around I was like, ‘Well I guess it’s whoever starts it up,’ but we were hot by then. It took a minute to get it fired up. But I’m glad he won. I wasn’t trying to spin him around. That’s not the way we roll. I would have liked to get a clean pass on him, but I just ran out of time.”
In the end, both drivers said they were thrilled they got to take part in something that all those fans will remember for a long time.
While many were wondering why we were even going to have a race with just two cars, Sal Lopez and Jeff Longman reminded everyone that it just takes two to race.
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Southeast Editor – Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo Credit: Howard Twaddell