The SPEARS (SRL) Southwest Tour Series was originally known as the SRL Wild West Late Model Shootout. That name would have been more appropriate on Saturday night, when the series visited Redwood Acres Raceway for the Renner Petroleum / Bear River Casino 125. In a season in which the yellow flag has been as rare of a sight as a Dodo bird, all forms of madness broke out, leading to a wild and crazy event that saw eight slow-downs, including five red flags, and a familiar name in victory circle.
Derek Thorn scored his fourth win of the SPEARS (SRL) Southwest Tour Series season, and fifth win at Redwood Acres Raceway, to extend his lead in the championship standings. The victory came in front of a large crowd at a track that figured prominently in his early career success.
“It was great to be back in front of the hometown fans,” Thorn told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “That was definitely the highlight of the weekend. To be able to see friends and family here after ten years, I just can’t thank Byron and Carol Campbell enough for putting this together. To come up here and race this race was quite a feat.”
Saturday started with Blaine Rocha leading final practice, then setting a new track record of 15.408 on the historic three-eighths mile paved oval. It was Rocha’s first career fast qualifying effort in the series, and broke Jacob Gomes former record of 15.478. Rocha was followed by Gomes, Christian McGhee, Brandon White and Thorn. 15 of the 16 cars present timed into the 15 second category in the highly competitive, closely bunched field.
Rocha drew a four for the invert putting White on the pole with McGhee on the outside of the front row. At the drop of the green flag, White jumped to an early lead ahead of Gomes. Thorn quickly advanced to third in the early going, as the inside line moved forward.
The first yellow appeared on lap 15, for a spin by Alan Cress. It was the first, of the many slow-downs that plagued the early going of the event.
After the restart, Thorn advanced to second in the preferred lower groove, to setup a side-by-side battle with White after another yellow. White was finally able to prevail, but a red ensued on lap 34 for another incident involving Mike Mendenhall and SRL Rookie of the Year contender Andre Prescott. Both were eliminated from competition.
The lap 37 restart saw Thorn wrestle the lead away from White with an outside groove run before another multi-car accident.
“I got to the outside on the restart after he had held me off on one of them (restart),” Thorn explained. “He was starting early and was a handful to keep up with. It kind of worked out with the last restart we had together, with me on the outside. He must have got loose in one and two and it allowed me to get far enough ahead of him to close the door into three. It allowed me to get out front, save my tires and avoid all the cautions behind me.”
White was still confident that he could win the race, however.
“I struggled on restarts for the first three or four laps, but felt I was better than Derek after that, so I was confident that I could get back by him,” White surmised.
After a couple of additional restarts, a spin, and the resulting contact with the turn four wall, White was eliminated from the race. There were differing opinions on the cause of the accident, but the end result was the same.
Blaine Rocha was directly behind White and offered his opinion on the incident.
“I was about two car lengths back (of White) and he entered higher than usual, right where they put the grease sweep down,” said Rocha. “It looked like he just lost it in the sweep. He sure got fired up.”
White, on the other hand, was initially upset with Rocha, but could not be reached for comment on the incident.
After the lap 40 accident, and the fourth red flag, the field would settle down and run to lap 100 without incident. During that period, Rocha and Gomes would chase Thorn, with Ryan Cansdale not far behind.
Spangler and Hodges would trail the lead foursome while still within striking range. On lap 96 Rocha would get loose and Gomes closed to his bumper. Two laps later Rocha would once again get loose, this time in turn two. Gomes would get by and get loose himself less than a lap later with Rocha nearly taking second back.
On lap 100 the caution, then red, would come out for oil discovered all around the track from the ailing Raudman car. Once the field went back to yellow the race was called due to curfew and a slick racetrack. Thorn was declared the winner with Gomes, Rocha, Cansdale, Spangler and Hodges on the lead lap. They were the only finishers in the wild event.
After the event, Thorn was happy to survive the rare and unusual race for the series.
“That was rough on the spectators to watch that. There was a lot of tore up equipment which is always unfortunate to see. A win is a win and I’ll take it,” stated Thorn. “It was 100 laps, 25 short of the scheduled distance. Obviously we ran out of time with oil on the racetrack and all sorts of issues but all in all it was a good night for the team.”
Second-place finisher Jacob Gomes was also able to stay out of trouble, and post his best finish of the SRL season.
“Oh it was crazy out there tonight,” Gomes commented. “A lot of red flags out there tonight. I thought after the third one that maybe they would be done, but someone oiled down the track out there and…….I don’t know, it was just a crazy night.”
The pass on Rocha was also an adventure for Gomes.
“He was sideways in the oil and I don’t know what happened, but I just slid through it with him and got by him,” explained Gomes. “We went into the next corner and I about lost it and he almost passed us. He got into the back of us, so it was very interesting. I don’t what else to say.”
Rocha also ended up with his best finish of the year after having strong race cars, but bad racing luck. This time luck and skill were on his side.
“We really had a good car tonight,” Rocha remarked. “I was really excited to keep on going with that green flag run. We were catching Derek a little bit each lap, but when we hit that oil I barely saved it. I got it gathered up, but Jacob got around me. It was a good race and I was happy to finish where I did. We finally got some good (championship) points and I’m happy with a third place finish. I can’t thank all my guys enough. They really worked hard and we got it good (the car) this week.”
Ryan Cansdale felt fortunate to finish where he did in fourth following a difficult weekend with a car that they could not tighten up. He was able to smile after it was over and found some humor in the whole event.
“I’m not going to lie, with Brandon throwing the wheel at the ground and narrowly missing the car…. Yeah, that was survival of the fittest. It was pretty nuts,” Cansdale said. “We still struggled during the race, but we managed to hold on to it. Some people got knocked out so we were just kind of rolling around and holding on to it.”
Keith Spangler was also able to take advantage of the carnage and post his first top-five finish of the season. For Spangler, starting 10th made it a difficult task, but he was pleased with how the car performed as he was able to make passes early and then hold on through all the carnage.
“There were quite a few wrecks out there tonight. There were a couple in front of me, but most of them were behind me. I was in one of them, but thank God it wasn’t enough to do any major damage,” he stated. “It was still pretty fast afterward. It was fun because I could see the leader and we were all kind of right together. We were like that for maybe 60 laps so it was nice to run well as we have been in a slump.”
The SPEARS (SRL) Southwest Tour Series will take a six-week break, and then travel to Tucson Speedway (AZ) on September 17. It will be the first trip to the facility in the 16 year history of the series.
Results: 1. Derek Thorn, 2. Jacob Gomes, 3. Blaine Rocha, 4. Ryan Cansdale, 5. Keith Spangler, 6. Bobby Hodges, 7. Brandon Ash, 8. Craig Raudman, 9. Christian McGhee, 10. Brandon White, 11. Carlos Vieira, 12. Luke Hall, 13. Alan Cress, 14. Dennis Furden, 15. Mike Mendenhall, 16. Andre Prescott.
-By Kevin Peters, Speed51.com West Coast Correspondent
-Photo credit: Speed51.com